October 6, 2022

Taliban: Potential threat for Pakistan and the changing strategic dynamics

This time the point of discussion is different; looking Afghan affairs from Pakistani perspective. A radical Islamic rule in Afghanistan feeds Pakistan’s unholy agenda. However, Taliban’s approach looks different this time regarding Pakistan.

By Shibdas Bhattacharjee

Taliban’s upsurge in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal is not at all surprising. The Taliban has already taken control most areas in Afghanistan. Noticeable fact is the pace at which Taliban has gained control there. The given situation has proved one important reality; power in Afghanistan revolves around the Taliban. Another concern is: Americans have committed an unforgivable crime and there should be another Treaty of Peace in the same manner signed on June 28, 1919, to punish Germany. Americans must sign an agreement that puts all blame on America and imposes a penalty on Washington. Can China, Russia and their allies put together to do it? The answer is “no”.  This logic may sound ridiculous. Some may argue that the world order has changed. However, in this changed world order, America and NATO have the leverage to make military escalations anywhere without taking the global community into confidence. America making some air strikes on the Taliban is not for Afghanistan but to remain relevant in Afghan affairs as a stakeholder.  But here the point is different; looking Afghan affairs from Pakistani perspective. A radical Islamic rule in Afghanistan feeds Pakistan’s unholy agenda. However, Taliban’s approach looks different this time regarding Pakistan. The map spells the situation better:

But why are all these happening? The question is related to Pakistan-Afghanistan relationships, the divergent ideology of Islam and the internal situation in Pakistan. Let me put the things into perspective.

Pak-Afghan turbulent relationship:

The relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan proves that religion can never be cementing ingredient in bilateral relationships. This became quite clear just after Pakistan evolved as a sovereign nation. Afghanistan does not carry the British legacy and never ratifies Durand Line as international border.  In the United Nations General Assembly on September 30, 1947, the Afghan delegation declared, “We are unable at this time to vote for Pakistan. This unhappy circumstance is because we cannot recognise the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) as part of Pakistan so long as the people of the NWFP have not been allowed free from any kind of influence to determine for themselves whether they wish to be independent or to become a part of Pakistan.” Since then, Afghanistan-Pakistan standoff has been continuing. Afghanistan is not ready to compromise with the rights of Pasthun living in Pakistan.  Afghanistan supported Baloch movement led by Karim Ahmedzai in 1948. Afghanistan also supported Mirzali Khan Wazir, popularly known as Fakir-e-Pi who led tribal movement for sovereign Pastunistan in today’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region in 1948 and 1949. Assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan by Afghan Pasthun nationalist Said Akbar Babrak in 1951 soured the Pak-Afghan relations further. In 1955, Pakistan made the One Unit Scheme. Protest began in Afghan is as the Scheme included Pasthun-dominated area. Protesting this, Afghanistan sacked Pakistani Embassy in Kabul and the consulate in Jalalabad and made heavy force deployment across the Durand Line. In 1960 Afghan soldiers attacked the Bajaur Agency followed by two separate and larger incursions in 1961. The movement for separate Pastunistan and sovereign Balochistan continues even today. 

On the other hand, Pakistani leadership always thought that the Afghan-Pak relationship has the potentiality to thrive based on Islam. All are aware of the real state of solidarity in Islamic nations. Islam has not united them rather widened the gap in the real sense. Hence it is imperative to refer to the existing state of Islam and its divergent phenomenon.

However, the significant point is the existing rifts within the organisations as per the Islamic sects. Pakistan institutionalised radicalism as a state policy. This saga bears special significance. Here comes the question of the Taliban, the Islamic model experimented in Pakistan first and then tactically shifted to Afghanistan in the name of Jihad. Let me refer to the rule that germinated Taliban here.

Representations in Pakistan:   

The concept of elite and subaltern is very prominent in Pakistan in terms of representation. One of the important points is the constitution of the Pakistani army; the nerve centre of power in Pakistan. What is the representation of different regions in the Pakistan army? The figure throws some light:

Punjabi dominance in Pakistan is a major cause of resentment in Sindh and Balochistan provinces. More so, as power in Pakistan ultimately remains in the hands of army generals, it is imperative to see the identity affiliations of the army generals so far:

Political representation is also important. What are the community affiliations of the politically influential families of Pakistan?

From the above-stated fact, it is clear that rifts are deep in Pakistan. In fact, from no parameters, Pakistan looks like a nation in the true sense. Today’s Pakistan comprises some areas or regions kept in control on gunpoint and the people living there as new-age slaves. Naturally, certain sections are not ready to accept this slavery be in the name of Islam or Islamic nationhood. But their outcry remains unheard. The reason is: Pakistan is under the control of the radical sections adamant to impose Sharia law in that country. Similarly, the Pakistani army is also radicalised. Mullah-military nexus found a fertile ground in Pakistan that has ultimately empowered radical organisations. Naturally, they have captivated governance in the name of Islam and worst radicalism. However, the significant point is the existing rifts within the organisations as per the Islamic sects. Pakistan institutionalised radicalism as a state policy. This saga bears special significance. Here comes the question of the Taliban, the Islamic model experimented in Pakistan first and then tactically shifted to Afghanistan in the name of Jihad. Let me refer to the rule that germinated Taliban here.

Zia and Jamaat leadership made the blueprint to recruit youths from rural Pakistan to take part in Jihad in Afghanistan. At that time, Pakistan was a proxy of the United States. US began funding to train Jihadis in Pakistan and gradually Pakistan became the laboratory of making extremist.

The Taliban rule in Pakistan:

General Zia-ul-Haq came to power through a military coup on July 5, 1977 and hanged former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. It was Zia’s rule that completed the process of radicalising Pakistan.  Zia decided to play the Islamic card to win the confidence of the Pakistani masses. The Soviet-Afghan war created a congenial atmosphere for Zia to initiate the propaganda that Islam in peril and Pakistani Muslims must participate in the Jihad. In Pakistan, Zia enforced Nizam-e-Islam (rule of Islam). In August 1978, Zia invited some of the prominent leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami to help him in the timely and effective implementation of Nifaz-e-Islam (Implementation of Islamic Rule). Jamaat leadership found it golden opportunity for the implementation of Islamic system in Pakistan as per Sharia law. Zia and Jamaat leadership made the blueprint to recruit youths from rural Pakistan to take part in Jihad in Afghanistan. At that time, Pakistan was a proxy of the United States. US began funding to train Jihadis in Pakistan and gradually Pakistan became the laboratory of making extremist. On the other hand, Zia convinced the Arab world that Afghan’s fight against USSR was Jihad. Funding began to pour into Zia’s hand and Muslims of Central Asia came in huge numbers to Pakistan for Jihadi training. Zia also implemented strict Islamic law in Pakistan. Please see the policies of Zia stated below:

Zia was the real architect of Taliban and apart from him the then US administration and leaderships of the Arab world were equally responsible to institutionalise Islamic terror. The result is obvious. The liberal community across the world is living under the shade of terror.

There were lot of socio-economic problems in the then Pakistan. But Zia realised that he could not solve those concerns of public discourses. He also realised that he could not take any substantive step to sort out resentment of Afghans regarding Pasthuns in Pakistan. This was the reason Zia played Islamic card as he felt only this could provide a common platform for Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, Zia’s Islamic attachment had been devil uttering scriptures. Literally, Zia did all these to legitimise his rule.

Zia was new incarnation of Aurangzeb. Whenever Zia found problem, he pretended taking asylum of religion and propagated the theory “Ilham” a state in which divine massage enters in someone’s heart as per Islamic belief. Then the Ulemas propagated that Allah communicated Zia through messenger in dream and directed Zia converting Pakistan into an Islamic nation and implementation of Sharia law there. On the other hand, Pakistani army encouraged Jihad and provided military training to the unemployed youths to go Afghanistan and take part in the holy war. In fact, Zia’s cruel brain converted the Afghan-Soviet war into Jihad and survival of Islam. This is what he tactically penetrated in Afghan masses and introduced them with the concept of Jihad. This prompted radicalization in Afghan society. Zia built nearly 50,000 Madrasas across Pakistan and assigned them the task of recruiting young people to take part in Jihad in Afghanistan. The Deobandi sect in Pakistan established Sipah-e-Sahaba (Soldiers of Prophet Muhammad). This helped in emergence of dozens of radical Islamic groups like Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP), the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Jafaria (Motto of Implementation Islamic justice), Tehrik-e-Jafaria Pakistan, the Anjuman-Sipah-e-Sahaba (Organization for rule of Islam) later renamed the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jhangavi (Soldiers of Holy War). Tehrik-e-Jafaria was established in 1979. Tehrik-e-Jafaria was the movement of the Fiqah-e-Jafaria    (school of Islamic jurisprudence) founded by Imam Jafar Sadiq in 1979 to protect the interests of the Shiite minority and to spread the ideas of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian leader.

On the other hand, Pakistani army encouraged Jihad and provided military training to the unemployed youths to go Afghanistan and take part in the holy war. In fact, Zia’s cruel brain converted the Afghan-Soviet war into Jihad and survival of Islam. This is what he tactically penetrated in Afghan masses and introduced them with the concept of Jihad. This prompted radicalization in Afghan society.

On the one hand, the Pakistan military and the JI established a close working relationship with each other. The JI aimed to establish an Islamic state that adopted the Shariah and for this the assistance of the army was imperative. In turn the Pakistan military exploited the Islamic concept of Jihad and its accessory the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) trained JI volunteers for trans-border operations into Afghan soil against the Soviet forces. On the other, the CIA took over the task of organising armed religious groups in Afghanistan in co-operation with Pakistani agencies to sabotage Russian interests as part of Cold War doctrine. When the Russian left Afghanistan, the CIA also withdrew leaving Afghanistan to Pakistan. That was the time when Taliban initiated in Afghanistan. Long spell of Soviet war and Zia’s jihad concept started a dangerous trend. Taliban perverted by jihad and Sharia concept evolved as the indomitable force in Afghanistan and this organization came to power there. Rest is an open chapter.  

Taliban-Pakistan Saga:

This is the most important point. But the points discussed so far are related to this. It was Zia’s rule that formulated Taliban. However, Zia did some historic blunders for why Pakistan is paying price till date. This is true that Zia during his rule became a strong exponent of Sunni Islam. His dominance in Islamic world can be understood from the fact that he got the opportunity to play the role of Imam in Mecca during Haz. But Zia ignored the other sects of Islam particularly the Shia. Islamic world has always been Sunni dominated one. But emergence of Iran as strong power in Central Asia changed the equation to a great extent. Iranians are not ready to accept the dominance of Saudi Arabia led Sunni Islam. More so, after the fall of USSR, new Islamic States formed on the basis of Islam became dependent on Iran. Iran’s zero tolerance policy towards terrorism and deep-rooted democratic culture transformed Tehran into an important parley of international politics in Central Asia. This attracted major powers and Iran started shaping the Shia lobby.

Foolish Zia and subsequent rulers of Pakistan failed to understand the larger ramifications of all these. In fact, buttering up Islamic sentiment, Zia empowered Sunni Muslim; Jamaat-e-Islami against other sects of Islam. I have already mentioned that other sects of Islam also formed radical organisations to face Jamaat-e-Islami.

In case of Afghanistan, Zia’s policies got some initial successes. But subsequently, this backfired for Pakistan. Actually, Afghanistan was not radical regarding Islam before the formation of Taliban. However, Zia’s policies failed in the context of Pakistan as Taliban is the outfit of Pashtun ethnic group. Zia could not heed its far-reaching impact. Pashtun becoming powerful in Afghanistan was a drastic failure of Zia strategy. But the most important point is: in case of Afghanistan ethnic identity has always been a sensitive issue. Afghans were radicalised in the form of Taliban. Nevertheless, Taliban never compromised with the Pashtun identity. Taliban took forward the traditional Afghan demand of annexing Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and Balochistan. On the other hand, Taliban’s empowerment in Afghanistan provided fresh oxygen to Pakistani Pashtun and Baluch nationalism. Following the pattern of Afghanistan, Taliban also formed its organisation comprising Pashtun people of Pakistan. Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) is a major separatist organisation evolved in Pakistan under the shade of Afghan-Taliban. Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan means movement for justice for Pakistani Taliban; Pashtun community of Pakistan.

When the Russian left Afghanistan, the CIA also withdrew leaving Afghanistan to Pakistan. That was the time when Taliban initiated in Afghanistan. Long spell of Soviet war and Zia’s jihad concept started a dangerous trend. Taliban perverted by jihad and Sharia concept evolved as the indomitable force in Afghanistan and this organization came to power there. Rest is an open chapter.  

This is true that Zia’s rule radicalised Afghans and empowered JI in Pakistan. After Zia’s regime, JI and other Islamic organisations became too powerful to control by Pakistani civil and military administrations. The religious chemistry between Taliban and Islamic organisations of Pakistan did not allow subsequent Pakistani leaders to see things beyond Islam. Pakistan was bound to recognise the Taliban regime. So also, Mullah-Military combine made things more complicated for Pakistan. These factors compelled Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif recognising Taliban. Benazir Bhutto’s regime was a turbulent era for fanaticism in Pakistan and obviously the strong influence of Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif’s first tenure from 1997 to 1999 was equally turbulent for the same reason. In fact, 1990 was the decade when Taliban-Al-Qaeda nexus became prime decision maker in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Up to that time, US stopped logistic support to the Jihadi. But terror funding continued from Saudi Arabia and of course by Osama. This was a crucial period that demanded US intervention so that Benazir and Nawaz took decisions against Taliban, Mullah-Ulema and radical elements. But Americans paid no attention to that.

Indian leadership continued raising the concerning developments taking place in Pakistan behind the curtain of the democratic regimes; be it Sharif or Bhutto. Surprisingly when Pervez Musharraf toppled the Sharif government, Benazir Bhutto legitimised this and batted for Taliban and terror outfits. Afterwards, Pervez Musharraf termed Laden, Hafiz Saeed, Masood Azhar as national heroes of Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif although at times advocated negotiated settlement of all these, but ultimately supported the radical elements for his political survival. Whatever the real intension be of Benazir and Nawaz, there was compulsion to recognise Taliban regime and support Al-Qaeda. Hence, Pakistan’s international isolation enhanced. Taliban and Al-Qaeda nexus kept on fuelling Pashtun, Baloch and Sindhi separatism. Number of terror attacks took place in Pakistan during the time. The tug-of-war between Saudi Arabia and Iran on the issue of Sunni and Shia deepened the rift between two communities in Pakistan resulting extortion, conflict and bloodbath. Pakistan’s situation became too volatile to control by the army. Army losing hold on radical elements is proved when General Musharraf came to power through a military coup. Musharraf failed to display the authority as his predecessors did because up to that time things went beyond the control of Islamabad.  

Interestingly, Afghan under Taliban displayed greater strategic maturity during this time. In fact, they were waiting for an unstable Pakistan to harness the dream of gaining control across its eastern border; the Durand Line. As a State policy, Taliban continued to send people to settle within Pakistan’s territory across the entire Durand Line. This time Taliban tactically played the Islamic card. On the other hand, Islamabad administration could not make any stern action against the Afghan people occupying vast area of Pakistan because of fraternity in the name of Islam. Apart from Ulemas, Pakistani Pashtuns continued supporting this. Baloch nationalism evolved stronger against Pakistan. The issue of atrocities against the Muslims in China became a major cause of resentment in the Gilgit Baltistan region. Protest against so-called China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor (CPEC) got hyped in Gilgit Baltistan. Pashtuns and Baloch communities also raised voice against China-Pakistan nexus. Here, again question of Islam comes prominently as funding continued from Arab. Billionaire Osama-bin-Laden’s engagement ensured more funding. Pakistan had no choice between devil and sea. Terror funding through ISI and Pakistan army made Islamabad administration totally irrelevant in public perception, international community and more significantly for Taliban. I beg pardon as the narrative is going longer. But my purpose is to point out the time when debate geared up whether Pakistan is a failed State. This debate was not insensible argument. A sovereign nation becoming hostage of radical elements and some terror fugitives means a lot as far as present doctrine of nationhood is concerned. This debate started during the late 1990s as Pakistan began to stagger falling on its own trap. As you sow, so you reap.

 9/11 and after:

No doubt, Zia-ul-Haq was the architect of the Taliban. But later on, the Taliban came under the control of Laden. His participation reshaped the so-called Jihad by the Taliban against Soviet Russia. It was Osama and his terror network Al-Qaeda that connected the Taliban movement with the mainstream Sunni Islamic movement led by Saudi Arabia. After the end of the Soviet-Afghan war, Osama became the messiah of Sunni Islam. When Osama reached Saudi Arabia, he got a red-carpet welcome. Some Sunni sects of Islam began to perceive him as a prophet. Change in Taliban policy this time is also important as the US stopped funding for Jihad. Taliban understood that the utility of Pakistan ended for them. Taliban became more dependent on Osama for funding from the Arab world. Here in Pakistan, the legitimacy issue of the Pakistani Taliban became prominent. Islamabad’s dilemma regarding TTP broadened the gap between Pakistani leadership and the Taliban. Meanwhile, Gulf War in 1990 changed the equation and this ended Osama’s honeymoon with the Arabian leadership as Laden began protesting against the American presence in Saudi Arabia on the ground of Islam. Ultimately, Saudi Arabia expelled Laden.

There is debate whether Pakistan is supporting the Taliban or the Afghan government at this point of time. I feel this argument is baseless. Everybody knew that the Taliban would capture Afghanistan after US withdrawal. I have already stated that decades ago Taliban got a new funding source. The present situation shows Taliban is irresistible not only in Afghanistan but in Pakistan as well. Both Taliban and Afghan government know the capability of Pakistan.

This incident is very important as this was the genesis of Laden’s hatred against America. After this, Laden went to Sudan first and then permanently settled in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This was the blooming period of Al-Qaeda that constructed the terror network in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). This increased volatility in Kashmir. Laden’s terror network was trained by the Pakistani army and the ISI. Meanwhile, Laden’s target was to inflict thousand wounds to United States which began with the attacks on US Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1998. Up to the year 2000, America declared Laden as one of the topmost wanted terrorists. But Laden’s revenge against America, his network, training, full-proof tactic came to focus when Al Qaeda executed the 9/11 attacks. After all, hijacking four aircraft in America and using these targeting World Trade Centre, Pentagon and Whitehouse is not a matter of joke. The world witnessed the deadliest terror attack of history against superpower America that killed nearly three thousand people, although target failed in the case of the Pentagon and Whitehouse.

This issue was no doubt between Al-Qaeda and America. But the point is Al-Qaeda cannot be seen as a separate entity from the Taliban and Pakistan. Let me explain a bit. After 9/11, the US launched attacks on Afghanistan. But the problem for Pakistan was multi-dimensional like providing asylum to Laden and company, the Taliban, US pressure on Islamabad to use Pakistan as a base for executing military operations in Afghanistan, the Afghan refugee issue, mounting pressure on Islamabad administration by Sunni Ulemas against allowing the US any base to make military operations against Afghans in the name of Islam, providing safe hideouts for Laden and Taliban leaders in Pakistan and so on. This was a tough choice for Musharraf. But he had no option or that much courage to refuse the US proposal. Significantly, a deal was signed between America and Pakistan; Pakistan would allow the US to use its base for military action in Afghanistan and in return, the US would provide a USD3 billion assistance package for Pakistan. In the regional context, the new US-Pakistan axis was dubiously seen by the Islamic world particularly by Iran for Tehran’s strategic interests in Afghanistan. Naturally, the strongest resistance came from the radical Islamic groups in Pakistan who termed Musharraf as the traitor of Islam who sold Pakistan and the dignity of Islam to Washington. Taliban-Pak organisations active in Pashtun dominated regions of Pakistan kept Pakistan-Afghan border volatile. Islamabad as part of the War against Terror became an enemy of the Taliban resulting in Pakistani TTP’s upsurge. This is mentionable that several unsuccessful attempts were made to assassinate Musharraf after the deal. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto was also the result of growing US influence in Pakistan as Bhutto continued advocating modernisation of Pakistan during that election campaign. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility of Benazir’s assassination.

Pakistan’s so-called engagement with the Global War on Terror to get rid of bankruptcy proved fatal. This enhanced Taliban action in Pakistan. Taliban never deviated from the age-old agenda of Afghanistan; establishing dominance in the Durand Line and adjourning regions of Pakistan’s territory.  TTP’s demand of Pashtunistan geared up that virtually restricted mainstream Pakistani politicians and the army from entering the entire tribal area almost for decades. Pashtun wants Sharia law to be implemented in that region. Their logic is: if Islamabad can support Sharia law in Afghanistan, why can’t it do so in the case of Pashtunistan? Islamabad neither can accept nor can reject this. Pakistani policy failed utterly to this well-chalked strategy of the Afghan Taliban. The years after 9/11 witnessed an unprecedented upsurge in movements of Baloch, Sindh and even Gilgit Baltistan. The weapon Pakistan created and handed over to the Taliban inflicted several wounds to Pakistan. Islamabad’s evil design to sabotage India backfired. Trap began to squeeze Pakistan. The presence of Mullah Omar, Osama in Pakistan created more problems for Pakistan. The US that purchased Pakistan’s loyalty did whatever it liked. Pakistan’s civil administration, army and the ISI faced the worst humiliation when the CIA and US army entered Pakistan and killed Messiah of Islam Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.

Naturally, during the regime of Khan Sahib, TTP, Afghan Taliban, hardcore Islamic sects got a congenial atmosphere to execute drastic acts against Pakistan. The irony is: the Taliban made money but the treasure of Pakistan government is empty. Taliban rightly perceived the situation that the regime of Imran who made the policy of giving provocative statements against India to prove credibility. The same is Qureshi, Sheikh Rasheed and others. This was the right time escalating in Durand Line. Series of movements taken place indicate this.  

On the other hand, the Taliban is a terror outfit. It does not believe in democracy. Nurturing such elements is bound to bring peril. Pakistan’s Taliban strategy is a classic example of this. Taliban is also aware of its strength and weakness.

This is true that the narrative has become too long. But the policy of the present Pakistani regime is related to the Taliban issue. What Imran has done so far is: hyping anti-India rhetoric and raising the Kashmir issue on different platforms. Imran thought that this will make him credible in the perceptions of radical elements, organizations like TLP, China and the Taliban. His policies have utterly failed in the case of the Taliban. Imran’s political maturity could not measure the pulse of the new-age Taliban and their long-standing demand regarding Durand Line and the adjourning regions of Pakistan.     

US withdrawal and Taliban-Pakistan:

There is debate whether Pakistan is supporting the Taliban or the Afghan government at this point of time. I feel this argument is baseless. Everybody knew that the Taliban would capture Afghanistan after US withdrawal. I have already stated that decades ago Taliban got a new funding source. The present situation shows Taliban is irresistible not only in Afghanistan but in Pakistan as well. Both Taliban and Afghan government know the capability of Pakistan. Meanwhile, this is true that radical elements of Pakistan joined hands with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan is busy safeguarding its territory, restrict Pakistan Taliban, rebel groups of Baloch-Sindh-Gilgit, secure Chinese interests in CPEC and Dasu Hydropower projects. All these are formidable challenges for Islamabad and the challenges have multi-pronged dimensions. The Pakistani government became irrelevant to the Taliban long ago. Pakistan has neither financial nor military capability to prove that it can be a stakeholder in present Afghanis. Then how does the question of Pakistan taking stand for or against Taliban come? The only thing Pakistan can do sending radical elements to help the Taliban in the name of Islam. Pakistan started doing this since the US-Afghan signed an agreement regarding the safe exit of the American army from Afghan soil.     

Taliban’s Attacks on Pakistan

If not now, then when? If the Taliban thinks that this is the right time to teach Pakistan a lesson and punish Islamabad for its decades-long anti-Afghan policy, this is logical. The situation within Pakistan provides the Taliban with much leverage. Taliban can do whatever it likes against Pakistan. I have already stated that ethnic issue has always been very crucial in Afghanistan. Taliban is no exception. Taliban that represents Afghan-Pashtuns has a legitimate reason to be assertive against Pakistan. Pakistan has suppressed Pashtuns so far. Pashtun upsurge under new leadership unveils a lot of things. But the predominant one is the killing of Pashtun people including innocent women and children in the name of counter-terror operations by the Pakistani army. Certainly, this proved to be a viable reason for the Afghan Taliban to be assertive against the Pakistani army. Unrest in the western frontier of Pakistan serves Afghan interests most. TLP is already there. This is the right time of demarcating the Pak-Afghan border afresh. So, Taliban atrocities against the security establishment of Pakistan are very natural. Similarly, Afghans are not traitors; they don’t strike on the back. But Pakistan is a traitor in the perception of the Taliban as Islamabad helped the United States during Afghan invasions. So also, the role played by Pakistan during peace-talk between the Taliban and the US also irked the Afghan Taliban.

On the other hand, the Taliban is a terror outfit. It does not believe in democracy. Nurturing such elements is bound to bring peril. Pakistan’s Taliban strategy is a classic example of this. Taliban is also aware of its strength and weakness. They are not attacking other frontier States; Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Iran. They know escalating against those countries will prove to be too costly for them. They are strong, united and well-equipped. But Pakistan is just the opposite. This is hard to say who hold power in Pakistan. Conventionally, it is thought Pakistan army. But that myth broke long ago. TLP has tested the strength of the Pakistan army, the US attacked the hideout of Osama and India exposed it better executing airstrikes within Pakistan. Similarly, the credibility of a nation depends on two basic points; economy and fraternity among the citizens. All these are non-entities in Pakistan. Pakistan is heaving Chinese oxygen and earning through selling its parts to China. All these indicate why the Taliban is attacking beleaguered Pakistan.

Despite the violence in Afghanistan, I feel Afghanistan is more stable than Pakistan. One of the strong points of Afghanistan is that despite so many ethnic communities living there, there is no issue of ethnic nationalism. There may be a rift. But nobody has heard about separatist demand on the basis of ethnic affiliation. Tajiks do not demand separate land nor want to get annexed with Tajikistan. Turkmen are there, but they neither want separate land nor getting annexed with Turkmenistan. Another point is: no foreign power could use one ethnic group against another. In the case of dealing with a foreign power, Afghan ethnic communities have always displayed solidarity.

However, the most important point is: during the last two decades and with the change of guard, the Taliban has learnt diplomacy. Interesting one section is fighting against the Afghan army. But another section made diplomatic drives and engaged with all the important nations of Central Asia, Russia and even China. There is a report regarding back-channel talks with India as well. These Taliban leaders are not those who lived in Tora Bora and other hideouts. They know the pleasure of living in luxury, travelling in Mercedes. Above all, they know the importance of international recognition. That is why they are travelling in different countries to achieve greater legitimacy about the new Taliban rule. They also know international perception, in the given time atrocities against the Pakistan army is not regarded as a crime. Also, through their diplomatic missions, they have understood that they do not need Pakistan. Rather positioning against Pakistan increases credibility level. All these may be pointed as reasons behind the Taliban targeting Pakistan. This is the new strategic ramification that gives space to liberal forces evolving as stakeholders in Afghan affairs. This is what serves India’s strategic interests not only in Afghanistan but erstwhile Central Asia and beyond.  But Pakistan needs to blame its policy and admit the fact that its policies have restricted it from evolving as a nation. Islamabad is harvesting what it has sown. Taliban seems mature but Pakistan needs to learn more. Will this be possible? The existing situation does not reflect so.

I once again express my gratitude for going through this long narrative. I have tried to be precise.

-Shibdas Bhattacharjee is an Assam-based strategic affairs analyst. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

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