“You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to bite your neighbors; eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard.”
– Hillary Clinton
These words of wisdom by former US Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton, sum up Pakistan’s Taliban dilemma. Since its inception, Pakistan has nurtured terrorism as its state-sponsored policy against its neighbors. To fulfill its myopic and reckless objectives, Pakistan cut a deal with the devil and is now paying for it literally with its blood. Like India has created an ecosystem in the IT sector, Pakistan has done the same in the terrorism sector. This was even reiterated by Dr. Jaishanker, who said that “IT” from India is an information technology and “terrorism” from Pakistan is international terrorism. Today, Pakistan is home to 126 UN-designated terrorists and 27 UN-designated terrorist entities. In total, there are 81 proscribed terrorist outfits, of which 45 are currently active in Pakistan. By all means, it’s fair to say Pakistan is the motherland of terrorism.
TALIBAN: PAKISTAN’S BRAINCHILD
The word “Taliban” conjures up images of barren Afghan valleys, illiterate brutes waving guns, and men shouting Islamic slogans. But in reality, the foundation of the Taliban was laid in the lavish rooms of the White House and GHQ Rawalpindi by sophisticated gentlemen. The Taliban is the result of Pakistan’s “strategic depth” doctrine supplemented by US dollars. Pakistani military generals formulated the doctrine of strategic depth to counter any future invasion from India. This policy was formulated to somehow balance the geographical disadvantage Pakistan has in terms of its width. As in a war scenario, Indian forces could easily reach Pakistan’s major civil and military centers. To counter it, they formulated this strategic depth policy, whereby they attempted to turn Afghanistan into their backyard. This would give Pakistan additional depth to counter any future assault by Indian forces.
Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s dictator, acknowledges Pakistan’s role in the formation of the Afghan Mujahideens.
To further their objective of attaining strategic depth in Afghanistan, the Pakistani deep state started promoting radical elements against the Afghan government. Through the notoriously porous Pakistan-Afghanistan border, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) supported these extremist elements with money, training, and weaponry. ISI not only provided logistical support but even nurtured them ideologically by propagating Wahhabi ideology. Through constant efforts, ISI created radical extremist groups within Afghanistan near the border regions; they were known as the Afghan Mujahideen. This was done to create instability within Afghanistan through its proxies to control the country as a political pawn. Pakistan also gained US support to use these militants during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s former minister, Sheikh Rashid, claimed Taliban leaders were born and raised in Pakistan.
These militant groups, recruited and trained by ISI and equipped with US weapons, resulted in the formation of the Taliban. They were religiously motivated armed groups with military-grade training and a better understanding of Afghan terrain. All of these factors combined made them a force to reckon with, and as devised, they wreaked havoc on Soviet forces. Afghanistan became a bleeding wound for the Soviet Union. Finally, in 1989, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev announced the withdrawal of Soviet troops. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the US dropped Afghanistan like a hot potato. This created a vacuum, which was filled by the ISI, which consolidated its grip over militant factions and the Taliban. These militants were later sent to Kashmir by the ISI to fuel militancy.
Mullah Omar, Founder of the Taliban.
Pakistan’s ISI continued its assistance to the Taliban even after 9/11, despite promising support to the US during its war on terror. Pakistan double-crossed the US and provided safe haven to Taliban fighters fleeing from Afghanistan. Pakistan provided them with medical assistance, weapons, and training out of dollars given by the US as aid to fight terrorism. At times, Pakistan also snitched on the Taliban by capturing and handing over its top leaders to the US to keep dollars flowing in. Pakistan duped both sides to ensure its control over Afghanistan and its dollar supply.
STRATEGIC DEPTH TURNED INTO A STRATEGIC DISASTER
After the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, it was like a dream come true for Pakistan’s deep state. After the arduous effort of double-crossing, it will finally bear fruit. Pakistan, having supported the Taliban with arms, ammunition, and a safe haven during their 20-year insurgency against the West and the Afghan government, believed that it was time for the Taliban to reciprocate. But the ISI forgot that the Taliban had not forgotten how Pakistan had snitched on them for money and how they had captured and handed their leaders over to US forces. In fact, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s founding leader, and first deputy prime minister was arrested by the ISI and tortured for eight years in a Pakistani jail. Moreover, during their struggle against the US, the Taliban forged ties with their Pashtun brethren in the Pakistani region of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Afghanistan-Pakistan Border Divides Pashtun Communities.
Historically, Pashtuns from either side of the Durand line had deep ethnic ties, and that’s why the Taliban never recognized the Durand line. There is a deep-rooted sentiment among Pashtuns that the Durand Line (the de facto Pak-Afghan border) divided Pashtuns. The Taliban, a Pashtun-dominated outfit, has always advocated for a united Pashtunistan driven by Pashtun nationalism. This deep-rooted sentiment of Pashtun nationalism has been the biggest fault line in Pakistan. It was to undermine Pashtun identity; Pakistan tried to overpower it with Islamic religious identity but failed. Now, after gaining control over Afghanistan and freeing it from the clutches of ISI and the CIA, it is payback time. During their struggle, the Taliban built an extended outfit in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa called TTP. TTP stands for Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. So, when Pakistan crossed over to the Taliban, the Taliban was silently forging ties and creating an anti-Pakistan militant faction.
AFGHAN TALIBAN – TTP: TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN
TTP, after its formation in 2007, conducted several attacks in Pakistan under the patronage of the Afghan Taliban. TTP also carried out the infamous Peshawar school attack in 2014. Despite being aware of the TTP-Afghan Taliban link, ISI purposefully claimed the two were separate entities. These attacks were considered collateral damage, a small price to pay for ISI’s grand Afghan strategy. The rationale was that they would somehow control the Taliban and use them to crush the TTP. But, ultimately, this entire policy failed miserably. The ethnic and ideological bond between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban was far stronger than Pakistan assumed it to be.
Former ISI chief Asad Durrani acknowledged the ISI’s role in TTP and called the deaths caused by TTP “collateral damage.”
During their conflict, TTP provided shelter and assistance to Afghan Taliban fleeing US forces. TTP militants even took an oath in the name of the Amir of the Taliban. In return, the Afghan Taliban provided shelter to TTP militants after they carried out an attack on Pakistani forces. After gaining control in Afghanistan, the Taliban freed top TTP leader Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, who languished in jail. Such coordination between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban came as a shock to Pakistani policymakers. They never imagined, even in their wildest dreams, that decades of their efforts and investments would end in such a dreadful way. Worse, there is no one else to blame but themselves. Even General Bajwa acknowledged that the TTP and the Afghan Taliban were two sides of the same coin.
TTP: TALIBAN’S STRATEGIC DEPTH IN PAKISTAN
Since the fall of Kabul on August 15, 2021, Pakistan has seen a 51% rise in terrorist attacks. In this year alone, Pakistan witnessed 376 terror attacks, which resulted in a total of 973 fatalities. Interestingly, border regions like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa experienced an exponential rise in violence, with fatalities rising by 108%. Most of these attacks were carried out by TTP militants enjoying the hospitality of the Afghan Taliban. Even the Afghan Taliban revived the issue of the Durand Line and started destroying the border fence. This dual-engine offensive by the TTP from within Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban from outside Pakistan has turned Pakistan’s victory celebrations over the fall of Kabul into screams and bloodshed. The TTP is currently bleeding Pakistani forces, and the Afghan Taliban refuses to cooperate with the Pakistani army.
The Pakistan Taliban (TTP) killed a captured Pakistan soldier.
In fact, the Afghan Taliban warned Pakistan of dire consequences if it dared conduct strikes on the TTP in Afghanistan. It’s fair to say that instead of Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban has gained strategic depth in Pakistan. The porous Pakistan-Afghanistan border that was once a strategic asset to Pakistan has now become a headache. The TTP used the same borders to wage guerilla warfare against Pakistani forces. Taliban rule in Afghanistan boosted TTP morale so much that they began attacking Pakistan’s mainland. Recently, the TTP announced its parallel government in Pakistan. The TTP has already gained control of many pockets of border areas in Waziristan and captured many Pakistani soldiers. The primary objective of TTP is to replicate the Afghan Taliban, overthrow the present government of Pakistan, and establish its laws. This TTP has complete backing from the Afghan Taliban.
Video of sniper and laser operations released by TTP fighters in South Waziristan and bajaur agency of khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Pakistan is reaping today what it sowed in Afghanistan. The delusion of Pakistan’s policymakers about riding two horses at a time is what brought Pakistan into such conditions. On one hand, the West blames Pakistan for the Afghanistan debacle, while on the other, the Afghan Taliban and TTP are running amok. Nonetheless, one gets what one asks for, as one can’t fool everyone every time. Unfortunately, there is no hope for Pakistan in the near future. The year 2023 is going to be even more catastrophic, with political instability, bankrupt economic conditions, and a rising insurgency in Pakistan.