Pakistan thinks it just won a huge strategic victory – the reality is much different
There is a gigantic elephant in the room that few people seem to want to talk about. In fact, it’s a herd of elephants. The Biden administration, many media and American allies are doing a very good job ignoring these elephants. How gracefully everyone dances around the copious amounts of elephant droppings is no small feat, either. The fact that no one denounces Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan over the years – and months – is alarming and appalling.
Although Pakistan has categorically denied it, it is no secret that it is playing both sides in Afghanistan. Every administration through three presidencies has ignored it, so Pakistan continues to get away with it. As the Pakistani public relations machine continues its half-hearted self-defense attempt, it has become even clearer that Pakistan is no longer cheating on anyone. However, the problem at the heart of it all is that even now no one is doing anything about it.
Pakistan is an author, not an innocent bystander
Throughout Afghanistan’s many years of conflict, just about everyone in the military knew Pakistan was the problem. This means that even considering the Taliban and al Qaeda, Pakistan has always been the key and the solution to the problem. It would never be possible to control an insurgency and a terrorist group if insurgents and terrorists could still cross the Pakistani border beyond the reach of the US military.
This has always offered an important strategic advantage to anti-coalition forces (ACF). Despite the losses and significant losses suffered by the Taliban and other ACFs, they played the game for a long time. They just had to wait. Taliban fighters did not have to win. They just had to not lose. It is a well known fact. However, in addition to any inherent challenges in countering an insurgency, the US government has made matters worse by allowing Pakistan to provide safe havens for these extremist forces by giving them the perfect place to sit and wait.
For years Pakistan has had its own share of struggles with terrorist groups and extremist jihad. The major problem is that Pakistan wants to choose which extremist organization to align itself with. He wants to both support extremist groups who advance his causes, but also wants to stop those who do not. Ordinary citizens in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan all suffer from Pakistan’s regional game. As Hillary Clinton said when she was Secretary of State in 2011, “You can’t keep snakes in your yard and expect them to bite only your neighbors.”
Pakistan is a direct support of terrorist groups
It’s much worse than that. The common thread between the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS-K is Pakistan. Any argument made that the Taliban severed ties with al-Qaeda is false. While the common link between these groups is Pakistan, the linchpin that holds them together is the Haqqani Network. The Haqqani network has long been funded and supported by Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The Haqqanis have found refuge in Pakistan over the years. They are linked to and are a part of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and ISIS-K. In fact, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani terrorist group, is part of the central leadership of the Taliban; some information suggests he is even number two in the Taliban. He was also appointed by the Taliban to the post of Afghan Minister of the Interior. This is very disturbing given the importance and role of this position, and the oversight it maintains.
While the US government relied on the Taliban to provide security at Kabul airport during the withdrawal, the Taliban, in turn, had given control of the city’s security to the Haqqanis. Therefore, it is very likely that it was members of the Haqqani network within the Taliban who allowed the ISIS suicide bomber to sneak through Taliban security and attack US troops at the airport. . This could show that while ISIS-K and the Taliban are at odds, their interests often overlap and their relationship should not be sidelined.
In addition to these groups, Pakistan will likely again use Afghanistan as a safe haven for anti-Indian terrorist groups, just as it did when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s.
The US government should take action to officially label Pakistan as a sponsor state of terrorism, just like Iran.
Pakistan has benefited financially from being a facilitator of terrorism
Between al-Qaeda’s September 11 attacks and 2018, the U.S. government granted Pakistan more than $ 33 billion in financial assistance. About $ 14 billion was in military aid to help fight terrorism and insurgents in the region. In addition, the United States relied heavily on Pakistani ports and roads to send supplies to Afghanistan. This logistical dependence combined with aid money has made Pakistan a necessary partner. Yet in addition to the aid money, the US government paid Pakistan for shipping and transporting supplies to and through its territory.
To put these financial numbers into perspective, Pakistan’s GDP in 2019 was $ 253.183 billion. Its annual defense budget in 2019 was 4% of its GDP. This equates to roughly $ 10.88 billion. An additional $ 33 billion in financial assistance, of which at least $ 14 billion goes directly to military efforts, is a significant boost.
All of this is of great concern, given that Pakistan was not only helping the terrorist organizations, but also benefitting financially from the game on both sides; the US government funded this directly and indirectly.
Pakistani strategy will turn against him
For years, Pakistan has claimed to want stability in Afghanistan. However, all of his actions say otherwise. Once the Taliban take control of Afghanistan, it is almost as if Pakistan has stopped hiding it. A few weeks after the Taliban seized power, Pakistan’s director general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was in Kabul to negotiate and work with Taliban leaders. At the same time, Pakistan was carrying out airstrikes and sending troops to aid the Taliban in their fight against the Northern Resistance in the Panjshir Valley. It was Pakistan that dislodged the Resistance from its stronghold, not the Taliban.
Another important reason Pakistan supported the Taliban’s efforts to retake Afghanistan was that India was very close to the former Afghan government.
It is as if Pakistan wants a vassal state and multiple groups to do the dirty work for them.
While Pakistan might think it has achieved a strategic and sophisticated victory in Afghanistan, this will backfire.
Neither Pakistan nor the Afghan Taliban will be able to contain or control al-Qaeda, ISIS-K or the Pakistani terrorist groups who will certainly be emboldened after seeing the Taliban take power. All of these groups want Islamic caliphates or strict Sharia law in the region. Pakistan is basically setting up a huge terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. However, these groups will not only attack India, or those Pakistan allows. Instead, Pakistan will not be able to control them and more attacks will occur – perhaps even inside Pakistan itself.
Moreover, as instability increases, China will also become impatient and intolerant. Pakistan’s alliance and strategic pact with China will therefore suffer as the Chinese government has little patience for Muslim extremism and any threat to its important economic interests in the region.
Pakistan is a threat to regional security and must be held accountable
There is no doubt that the security situation in Afghanistan and the entire region is worse than before. While an “eternal war” in Afghanistan was neither desirable nor sustainable, the US government allowed the situation to get out of hand. By playing on both sides, Pakistan has taken advantage of this fatal mistake for its own interests. Thanks to his strategic chess game with India, he made everyone less safe and secure.
We must not forget that a nuclear power plays with terrorists and factions that it simply cannot control.
The latest estimate from US intelligence is that al-Qaeda will have the capacity to threaten the United States again by 2023. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) calls this estimate conservative. Other groups in the region will certainly work to strike the United States, its allies and other countries. For example, ISIS-K has now also added the United States to its target list.
The United States and all other countries that do business with Pakistan must make their position clear: Pakistan must stop supporting terrorist groups and take responsibility for the rapidly growing regional instability.
All military aid from any country to Pakistan should stop, as this money helps support terrorist groups. It’s time to get the fox out of the henhouse.
Yet, through all of its machinations, it is possible that Pakistan created the very thing that will threaten its own safety, security and future.
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