Is Pakistan the Bad Seed of Afghan Turmoil?

As the Taliban has taken over Afghanistan in an unexpectedly short span of time, the fall of Kabul is reflective of the failures of a 20-year long war that smoked an infinite number of international resources and human lives in search of a snipe hunt.

Amidst this, Pakistan is being dubbed as the sole responsible for Afghanistan’s detriment. With vigorous bashing in the Western media, an international discourse is being built around scapegoating Pakistan for the US failures in the ‘War on Terror’. The country was also excluded from a crucial United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting on Afghanistan. This backlash pivots around the idea that the Taliban is Pakistan’s proxy and works under the keen supervision of Pakistani military establishment which is believed to have double dealt throughout the war in Afghanistan.

The idea of Pakistan’s tacit support for the Taliban is not far from the truth but deeming it the principal architect of the sabotage may rather be an overstretch. While Pakistan’s powerful military does exercise a considerable amount of influence on the Taliban, it is difficult to say whether every Taliban move is choreographed in Islamabad. Additionally, the current turmoil must also be understood as a consequence of four decades of continuous violence and misguided strategies of the United States (US).

When after the Soviet demise, the US habitually left the country in chaos, Pakistan felt abandoned with an anarchic neighborhood – an open theatre for regional actors to extend their strategic designs. It compelled the Pakistani policymakers to perceive the Afghan Mujahideen as an asset. This was an alliance forged through the historic Cold War partnership between Pakistan and the US. It is no secret that President Ronald Reagan called the Afghan Mujahideen “the moral equivalents of America’s founding fathers”. However, it took less than two decades for the US to wage a war on those equivalents, as Eqbal Ahmad would say.

This feeling of abandonment was only strengthened by the cutting of financial aid right after the war and the economic sanctions in the wake of Pressler Amendment. The need of such restrictions were conveniently overlooked when the US needed Pakistan as its frontline base and a recruiting pad for proxies against Moscow.

This backlash pivots around the idea that the Taliban is Pakistan’s proxy and works under the keen supervision of Pakistani military establishment which is believed to have double dealt throughout the war in Afghanistan.

Consequently, the policy options that Pakistan was left with after 9/11 were rooted in the anxieties of the past. The Islamabad strategists always believed that the US would once again withdraw from Afghanistan without much regard for the post war mess, once its objectives are met. Therefore, it was also the historical experience of partnership with the US that pushed Pakistan closer to the Islamist factions in Afghanistan. Arguably the geo-strategic condition that necessitated an intimate relationship between Pakistan and the Taliban is of Washington’s own making.

Moreover, the narrative that every Taliban action comes at the whims of some military generals in Pakistan is premised upon the importance that Pakistan wields in the Afghanistan question. There should be no overlooking the fact that this importance comes from the US’ war time dependencies on Pakistan. Historically the intimacy between both the countries has always peaked through the years of military rule in Pakistan, which empowered pro-Taliban elements in the policy elite.

The military dictatorships in Pakistan enjoyed the easiest access to aid and development. There exists a huge disproportion between the assistance that the US provided to the democratic regimes and the military dictators. Besides, the military regimes ironically coincided with the US’ active involvement in Afghanistan (Gen. Zia-ul-Haq 1977-1988 and Gen Parvez Musharraf 1999-2008). As the US endeavored to establish democracy in Afghanistan while strengthening dictatorships in Pakistan, Washington and Islamabad became essential partners in war, not in peace. It is unwise to expect peace and stability as a result of such partnerships.

As much as Pakistan has always viewed Afghanistan as a crucial site for its strategies, the US pulled out all the stops to lump both the countries together. The colossal war time aids and policies like ‘AFPAK’ created a unified security imaginary of the region. It is imperative for the international community to call out the US for its strategic failures in Afghanistan which made Pakistan an inseparable part of the Afghan problem.

While the international apprehensions over Pakistan’s approach toward the Taliban carry a weight, the complicity of the US in the continuance of violence in Afghanistan should also not go unheeded. The failures in making the Afghan National Defense Forces (ANDF) a formidable power, using the peace agreement as merely an exit strategy, and enabling the Taliban resurgence through a poorly planned withdrawal framework are the things for which the US should be considered responsible. Putting the onus on Pakistan alone is neither smart nor enough.

Hamraz Sarwani

Hamraz Ahmad is an independent political analyst who also works as a Research Associate at VTT Global, an Islamabad-based development consultancy. He has a post-graduation degree in International Relations from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan. He tweets @HamrazSarwani

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