Pakistani terrorist groups, emboldened by the success of their Taliban brethren in Afghanistan, could turn on their benefactors in Islamabad.
Shashi Tharoor, an MP for the Indian National Congress, in an article in the Japan times said that the ISI knows, the problem with creating and sponsoring militant groups is that they do not always remain under your control.
Pakistan created and sponsored a mujahideen group calling themselves the Taliban, or “students” of Islam, who swiftly took over Afghanistan and ruled it as a wholly owned Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) subsidiary.
Lt Gen Hamid Gul, late head of Pakistan’s powerful ISI agency, use to boast that when Afghanistan’s history will be written, it would record that the ISI, with the help of America, defeated the Soviet Union. And next, he would slyly add, historians would state that the ISI, with the help of America, defeated America.
He was right to argue that it was the ISI’s tactic of sponsoring the terrorists — amply armed, supplied and financed by the United States — against the Red Army in Afghanistan that forced the Kremlin to withdraw ignominiously, wrote Tharoor.
Things were rosy for Pakistan until Osama bin Laden, a former mujahideen fighter who enjoyed the hospitality of the Taliban’s new Islamic Emirate, ordered the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the US from his Afghan hideout.
America’s furious response resulted in the overthrow of the Taliban and the exile of bin Laden, under ISI protection, to refuge in a Pakistani military post of Abbottabad.
The ISI cover was blown out when US tracked down bin Laden to a secure compound in Abbottabad and special forces killed him there in 2011.
But as America wearied of being bogged down interminably in Afghanistan, and the ISI helped its Taliban clients to rearm, reorganize and resume their operations against the US-backed regime in Kabul, the tide turned in the ISI’s favour, wrote Tharoor.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden announced that US forces will withdraw completely from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
As per Tharoor, US withdrawal from Afghanistan, with none of its long-term objectives achieved, is a defeat. Taliban became more powerful than ever and poised to reclaim power in Kabul, the only external victor will be the ISI.
As Gul foresaw, it will have defeated America with America’s help. Pakistan has now received two decades’ worth of US military assistance, totalling an estimated USD 11 billion, wrote Tharoor.
The ISI has long been obsessed with the idea that controlling Afghanistan would give Pakistan the “strategic depth” needed to challenge its main adversary, India, reported the Japan times.
But Gul’s successors would be wise to tone down their celebrations. First, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan removes a vital source of leverage for Pakistan in Washington. It may not be good news for Pakistan if the Americans need it less. Moreover, other Pakistani terrorist groups, emboldened by the success of their Taliban brethren in Afghanistan, could turn on their benefactors in Islamabad, Pakistan Taliban is a case in point.
The same thing has happened in Pakistan, where the period of sullen cooperation between the Pakistani authorities and the US during the post-9/11 American crackdown in Afghanistan spawned the rebellion of the “Pakistani Taliban.”
While the Afghan Taliban needed Pakistani refuge, ISI safe houses, funding and arms to mount the insurgency that has brought the US to the point of withdrawal, the Pakistani Taliban have attacked their own erstwhile godfathers for insufficient fealty to militant Islam, reported the japan times.
The ISI no doubt hopes that once US forces are gone and the Afghan Taliban is securely entrenched in Kabul, it can persuade the Pakistani Taliban to forgive and forget the agency’s previous transgressions.
If that happens, the thinking goes, peace will be restored, the ISI will control Afghanistan and the Pakistani mujahideen will stop targeting Pakistani Army installations and convoys — and join the ISI in intensifying attacks on the “real enemy,” India.
But a nightmarish alternative scenario for the ISI is also possible. Pakistani terror groups instead, could launch attacks with the aim of emulating in Pakistan what the Taliban have achieved in Afghanistan, wrote Tharoor.
If Afghanistan can be run as an Islamic emirate, they may ask, why can’t we do the same in Pakistan? Why dance to the ISI’s tune when we can call our own? questioned Tharoor. True, the Pakistani Taliban — without a state sponsor of their own — has less chance of success than their Afghan counterparts. But they can still do considerable damage, in the process intensifying the Pakistani public’s disenchantment with the military’s domination of their country.
Should that happen, we will need to extend Gul’s account and say that the ISI, as the agent of the Pakistani military, helped to “defeat” or at least discredit itself, splattered Tharoor.