Is Pakistan the Real Winner of the Afghan War?

Just days after the Taliban took Kabul, their flag was flying excessive above a central mosque in Pakistan’s capital. It was an in-your-face gesture supposed to spite the defeated Americans. But it was additionally an indication of the actual victors in the 20-year Afghan warfare.

Pakistan was ostensibly America’s companion in the warfare in opposition to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Its navy received tens of billions of in American assist over the final 20 years, whilst Washington acknowledged that a lot of the cash disappeared into unaccounted sinkholes.

But it was a relationship riven by duplicity and divided pursuits from its very begin after 9/11. Not least, the Afghan Taliban the Americans have been combating are, largely, a creation of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the I.S.I., which by means of the course of the warfare nurtured and guarded Taliban property inside Pakistan.

In the final three months as the Taliban swept throughout Afghanistan, the Pakistani navy waved a surge of new fighters throughout the border from sanctuaries inside Pakistan, tribal leaders have stated. It was a last coup de grace to the American-trained Afghan safety forces.

“The Pakistanis and the I.S.I. think they have won in Afghanistan,” stated Robert L. Grenier, a former C.I.A. station chief in Pakistan. But, he warned, the Pakistanis ought to watch what they need for. “If the Afghan Taliban become leaders of a pariah state, which is likely, Pakistan will find itself tethered to them.”

Pakistan’s already shaky popularity in the West is prone to plummet now, as the Taliban take over Afghanistan. Calls to sanction Pakistan have already circulated on social media. Absent overseas financing, Pakistan faces reliance on a jihadist drug commerce inspired by the new rulers in Kabul. A Taliban-run state on its border will little question embolden Taliban and different Islamist militants in Pakistan itself.

Not least, relations with the United States, already on the downslope, will unravel additional. Aside from sustaining the stability of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, the Americans now have much less incentive to take care of Pakistan.

So the query for the Pakistanis is what is going to they do with the damaged nation that’s their prize? Already Pakistan, together with Russia and China, helps fill the area the Americans have vacated. The embassies of the three nations have remained open since the Taliban seized Kabul.

A Pakistani protégé, Khalil Haqqani, a Taliban chief who was a daily customer to Pakistan’s navy headquarters in Rawalpindi, is one of the new rulers of Afghanistan.

Khalil Haqqani, a Taliban chief, delivering a sermon after Friday prayers at the Pul-e Kheshti mosque in Kabul on Friday.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Known to American intelligence as the Taliban emissary to Al Qaeda, Mr. Haqqani confirmed up in Kabul final week as their new chief of safety, overtly armed with an American-made M4 rifle, with a safety squad wearing American fight gear.

“Governing a war-ravaged country will be the real test and imposing challenge especially as the Taliban have been a warring force, not one adept at governing,” Maleeha Lohdi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in a column in The Dawn newspaper this week.

During the warfare the Americans tolerated Pakistan’s duplicitous sport as a result of they noticed little selection, preferring to combat a chaotic warfare in Afghanistan to warring with nuclear-armed Pakistan. Moreover, Pakistan’s ports and airfields offered the important entry factors and provide strains for American navy gear wanted in Afghanistan.

Pakistan did that, whilst its spy company offered planning help, coaching experience and typically on the floor recommendation to the Taliban all by means of the warfare, American officers stated.

Though Pakistan was speculated to be an American ally, it all the time labored towards its personal pursuits, as nations do. Those pursuits didn’t embrace a big American navy presence on its border, an autonomous Afghanistan with a democratic authorities it couldn’t management, or a powerful and centralized navy.

Rather, Pakistan’s objective in Afghanistan was to create a sphere of affect to dam its archnemesis, India. The Pakistanis insist that India makes use of separatist teams like the Balochistan Liberation Army, working from havens in Afghanistan, to stir dissent in Pakistan.

Members of the Jamiat Ulema-e Islam Nazryate occasion celebrating the settlement signed between the U.S. and Taliban throughout a rally in Quetta, Pakistan, in March 2020.Credit…Banaras Khan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The Pakistani army believes Afghanistan provides strategic depth against India, which is their obsession,” stated Bruce Riedel, a former South Asia adviser to the Bush and Obama administrations. “The U.S. encouraged India to support the American-backed Afghan government after 2001, fueling the army’s paranoia.”

The Pakistanis have been incensed that former President Barack Obama visited India in 2015 however conspicuously boycotted Pakistan, he stated.

Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan ›

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During a go to to Washington this spring, Moeed Yusuf, the nationwide safety adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, confused the have to eradicate the Indian presence in Afghanistan, Americans who met him stated.

Mr. Yusuf is taken into account a reasonable on the Pakistani political spectrum, and the Americans stated they have been struck by his vehemence on India’s function in Afghanistan.

When Indian diplomats have been amongst the first foreigners to evacuate from Kabul, their departure was performed in the Pakistani press as a singular victory.

The nexus between the Pakistanis and the victorious Mr. Haqqani was indeniable and indispensable to the Taliban victory, stated Douglas London, a former C.I.A. counterterrorism chief for South and Southwest Asia.

The head of the Pakistani military, Qamar Javed Bajwa, and the head of the I.S.I., Hameed Faiz, met with Mr. Haqqani on a “recurring basis,” Mr. London stated. The prolonged Haqqani household has lengthy been recognized to reside in the largely ungoverned areas of Pakistan alongside the Afghan border.

“All the time Bajwa was pressed by the U.S. to give up Khalil Haqqani and two other Haqqani leaders, and all the time, Bajwa would say, ‘Tell us where they are,’” stated Mr. London, who has written an upcoming memoir of his C.I.A. years, “The Recruiter.” “My favorite quote was when Bajwa said: ‘You just have to come to my office and we will go in a helicopter and we will go and pick them up.’”

Pakistani police standing guard outdoors the compound the place U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden on 5 May, 2011, in Abbottabad.Credit…Warrick Page for The New York Times

Pakistan’s assist, he stated, encompassed a gamut of providers. Safe havens in the borderlands of Pakistan, significantly in the metropolis of Quetta, sheltered Afghan Taliban fighters and their households. Medical providers handled wounded fighters, typically in hospitals in the main cities, Karachi and Peshawar. Free rein for the Haqqanis to run profitable actual property, smuggling and different companies in Pakistan stored their warfare machine churning.

Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan

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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that got here after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, together with floggings, amputations and mass executions, to implement their guidelines. Here’s extra on their origin story and their document as rulers.

Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the prime leaders of the Taliban, males who’ve spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is understood about them or how they plan to manipulate, together with whether or not they are going to be as tolerant as they declare to be.

How did the Taliban acquire management? See how the Taliban retook energy in Afghanistan in a number of months, and examine how their technique enabled them to take action.

What occurs to the girls of Afghanistan? The final time the Taliban have been in energy, they barred girls and women from taking most jobs or going to high school. Afghan girls have made many positive aspects since the Taliban have been toppled, however now they concern that floor could also be misplaced. Taliban officers try to reassure girls that issues shall be totally different, however there are indicators that, at the least in some areas, they’ve begun to reimpose the previous order.

What does their victory imply for terrorist teams? The United States invaded Afghanistan 20 years in the past in response to terrorism, and plenty of fear that Al Qaeda and different radical teams will once more discover secure haven there.

The I.S.I. often stored its operatives out of the precise battle, fearful that they is perhaps captured in Afghanistan, delivering a smoking gun to the Americans, Mr. London stated.

The I.S.I. additionally offered the Taliban with property that elevated their worldwide standing. The Taliban chief Abdul Ghani Baradar traveled on a Pakistani passport to attend peace talks in Doha, Qatar, and to fulfill in Tianjin, China, with Wang Yi, the overseas minister.

“The Afghan Taliban would not be where they are without the assistance of the Pakistanis,” Mr. London stated.

Washington’s relationship with Pakistan cooled after Navy SEALS killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 at a secure home positioned close to a Pakistani navy academy. Top American officers stopped visiting Pakistan and help was lowered.

But the Obama administration by no means stated publicly what it suspected: that the Pakistani navy knew all alongside that bin Laden was residing together with his prolonged household in Abbottabad, one of Pakistan’s best-known garrison cities.

If Washington had declared that Pakistan was harboring bin Laden, then Pakistan would have legally been a state sponsor of terrorism, and topic to necessary sanctions like Iran, stated Mr. Riedel, the former South Asia adviser to the Bush and Obama administrations.

Supporters of the spiritual political occasion Sunni Tehreek setting ablaze an effigy of former President Barack Obama in Hyderabad, Pakistan, in 2011.Credit…Akram Shahid/Reuters

That would have compelled the Americans to finish its assist for Pakistan and that in flip, would have led Pakistan to cease American warfare provides from transiting Pakistan, growing the price of the warfare.

The bin Laden raid performed into longstanding fears inside the Pakistani navy that the Americans wished to dismantle Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, and would violate Pakistani territory to do it.

Despite the strained relations, the U.S. continues to work with Pakistan by means of the Department of Energy to assist present safety for the weapons, and fissile materials, stated Toby Dalton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment.

But Pakistan can be agile in its alliances. China, a longtime patron of Pakistan — they name one another as “close as lips and teeth” — is investing closely in Pakistani infrastructure.

Publicly, China says it’s cheered to see the Americans exit Afghanistan, and is able to step into the void, increasing its Belt and Road initiative into Afghanistan, the place it hopes to extract minerals.

But privately, the Chinese are cautious. Chinese staff in Pakistan have been killed in terrorist assaults, which might presage a tough trip in Afghanistan. And the Taliban favor isolation to roads and dams that would serve to loosen their management on the inhabitants.

China is relying on Pakistan to function its facilitator in Afghanistan, stated Sajjan Gohel, International Security Director of the Asia-Pacific Foundation in London.

“The Chinese appear confident that they will be able to secure more security guarantees from the Taliban,” Mr. Gohel stated, “because of their mutual ties with Pakistan.”

The safety put up at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing in Chaman on Tuesday.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Jane Perlez is a former bureau chief for The New York Times in Islamabad and Beijing.