From a distance, you’d think that the relationship between Pakistan and the Taliban is quite straightforward and simple. After all, when the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan said that “Afghans have broken the shackles of slavery.” Implying that Afghanistan got its independence through the Taliban takeover. And it’s common knowledge how the Pakistani military and ISI, have supported the Taliban over the years. But as soon as you try to delve a bit deeper, you’d find that this relationship is actually very complex.
The 2011 attack on the airbase of Pakistan, and the 2014 terrorist attack on the Karachi International Airport, or the terrorist attack on the school in Peshawar, the Talibani ideology was responsible for all of them. If you look at the statistics, about the common Pakistanis supporting the Taliban, then 72% of Pakistanis, have an unfavorable opinion of the Taliban. less than 10% of Pakistanis actually support the Taliban, according to a 2015 Pew Research survey. But despite that, the Pakistani government and military, why are they openly showing their support of the Taliban?
“After years in the shadows, the Taliban spokesman’s face was finally revealed.” “Taliban have announced an amnesty for former Afghan government officials and calling on women to join the new government.” “Meanwhile, Afghans trying to flee the country are being turned back by Taliban fighters outside the airport.” “The Taliban called it a historic moment.”
In 1893, the Britishers created a Durand Line. To define the border of Afghanistan and British India. Today, this is the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The problem was that this Durand Line actually goes through the middle of the Pashtun area.
After 1947, when India and Pakistan became Independent, Afghanistan said that the Pashtun population living in Pakistan, have a right to self-determination. That they want to have their own separate country, called Pashtunistan.(Land of the Pashtuns) So they should be allowed to form a new country. But obviously, Pakistan, a newly formed country at the time, refused this. They said that the Pashtun population is actually a part of Pakistan. Since then, there is an ongoing border issue between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Afghanistan said that they do not accept the Durand Line as the border. And when Pakistan got membership to the United Nations in 1947, then Afghanistan was the only country to vote against the membership. The areas of Pakistan where the Pashtuns live, are neglected areas.
An underdeveloped area. Compared to the other regions of Pakistan. Because of this, illegal drug trade and weapon smuggling are prevalent there. Also because of this reason, the area is vulnerable to exploitation. In the areas with higher poverty, and more crime, people can be easily exploited there, they can be incited. Pakistan claims that Afghanistan has funded and supported the separatist movement in those areas.
And the Pashtuns living in the Pashtun region of Pakistan, also have a sense of Pashtun Nationalism. Many Pashtuns, around the 1970s, demanded to form a Greater Afghanistan. That the Pashtun region of Pakistan is united with Afghanistan, to form a Greater Afghanistan. In the early 1970s, the President of Pakistan, Muhammad Zia-Ul-Haq, adopted a policy of Islamisation to counter this. He constructed thousands of Madrasas in the Pashtun areas, in the hopes that the people living in those areas, will rise above their Pashtun ethnic identities, and identify with Islam and feel united with the rest of Pakistan.
In the late 1990s, the Taliban comes into power in Afghanistan, the Taliban was quite influenced by the ideology of Pashtun Nationalism. Apart from the Islamic ideology. This was the reason why even after the Taliban came into power, Pakistan tried to pressurize the Taliban but still, the Taliban did not accept the Durand Line as the border. I’m talking about when the Taliban first came into power.
In 2001, after the 9/11 attack, when the USA invades Afghanistan, and the Taliban in overthrown, several Talibanis enter Pakistan by crossing the border, and take shelter there. Now, you might be wondering this, when the Taliban believes in the ideology of Pashtun Nationalism, the ideology that can turn into a separatist movement in Pakistan, that can be a threat to Pakistan, why then did Pakistan support the Taliban for so many years? And why is Pakistan still supporting the Taliban now?
Why Pakistan supports Taliban
There are two main reasons behind it, friends. The first reason is to counter the influence of India. In 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, then the Soviet Union was a major ally of India. Pakistan was afraid that India’s influence would remain in Afghanistan. That’s why Pakistan started to support the Talibani ideology. Initially, they started with supporting the Mujahideen. A United States Institute of Peace report stated that when there was the Taliban-controlled government in Afghanistan, then they had supported in training Pakistani militants who had then conducted operations in Jammu and Kashmir.
Later in the 2000s, when a civilian government formed in Afghanistan, the Presidents of Afghanistan then, like Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, were all pro-India. Because the Afghan government was pro-India, ISI supported the movement against them, the Taliban. The second and more complex reason is related to Pashtun Nationalism. On the surface, you’d think that the Taliban favors Pashtun Nationalism and that Pakistan is trying to mitigate the Pashtun Nationalism to wipe out the separatist movement. So Pakistan shouldn’t be supporting the Taliban.
But look at it from the perspective of the Taliban. Today, the Taliban is trying its best to gain legitimacy from the world. You’d have seen in the news, friends, how the Taliban is talking about women’s rights now, of freedom of media, “Women will be afforded all the rights whether it is in work or other activities. Because women are a key part of society. And we are guaranteeing all their rights. Within the limits of Islam.” In fact, even of protection of minorities. The Hindu and Sikh minority in Afghanistan, the Taliban is promising to keep them safe and secure. It’s all over the news.
Why is the Taliban doing these? Basically so that the Taliban can seem like a legitimate government to the other governments of the world. So that the other governments stop seeing the Taliban as a terrorist group and instead, see them as the new government of Afghanistan. And to do this, the more countries that support them, the better. I told you that China and Russia have already agreed to recognize the Taliban as the new government, but even before these two countries, Pakistan was the country that supported the Taliban over the years. So Pakistan’s support is quite essential here.
So now, the Taliban wouldn’t prefer to do anything that would go against Pakistan. And the Pakistani government thinks that if the Taliban remains in their favor, then the separatist ideology of Pashtun Nationalism cropping up in the Pashtun areas of Pakistan can then be suppressed. As the Taliban wouldn’t support it. Another thing that you may have noticed, when Pakistan shows its support to the Taliban, it’s only in the form of Islamic ideology, and the national identity of Afghanistan. It doesn’t talk about the Pashtun ethnic identity ever. Interestingly, though unfortunate for Pakistan, in this whole situation, the Talibani ideology has influenced the Pashtuns of Pakistan as well. It has incited them. Because of this, a Taliban group has formed in Pakistan, which has become a terrorist group for Pakistan and terrorist attacks were conducted on the people of Pakistan. why the Taliban’s win is actually bad news for the people of Pakistan.
How Pakistan supports Taliban
“We won’t let Pakistan’s land be used against Afghanistan. I believe we are getting positive feedback about it from Afghanistan.” First, let’s discuss how Pakistan’s military and ISI helped the Taliban. Earlier, Pakistan gave a safe haven to the Talibani fighters and leaders. A place where they could hide. These safe havens were necessary when the US invaded Afghanistan in search of the Taliban. Pakistan was getting support from the US to fight against the Taliban, at the same time, they were supporting the Taliban as well, to fight against the US. Because of this, this fight continued for a long while, and Pakistan was an important player for both parties.
This isn’t a huge secret being covered up by the ISI, it’s common knowledge. The political leadership of the Taliban is based in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan. And that’s why their leadership group is also known as Quetta Shurra. About one month ago, on 14th July when the Talibani forces took over the border district of Spin Boldak, then the fighters and supporters of the Taliban took out a motorcycle rally to celebrate this in Quetta. Sheikh Rasheed, a Cabinet Minister in Imran Khan’s Cabinet, told Geo News last month, that several fighters of the Afghan Taliban, get treatments in Pakistan’s hospitals. “The matter is that the Taliban or the other people there have families living here. They’re in Pakistan. In Rawat, Loi Ber, Bara Kahuh and Tarnol.
Apart from this, sometimes their dead bodies arrive there. Even for medical treatment, there are several hospitals where they get treated.” And then some days ago, the footage of a Talibani fighter’s funeral went viral. Where did this funeral take place? In Peshawar, Pakistan. Apart from giving safe havens, Pakistan is a base of the Taliban for recruitment and fundraising. Two months ago, near Quetta, the Talibani fighters were asking for donations around a market saying that they are fighting on Allah’s path. The same happened in several mosques in north-western Pakistan. And finally, ISI gives military support to the Taliban.
Multiple times Pakistan has provided “tactical, operational and strategic intelligence” to the Taliban. “Afghanistan should have a policy of non-interference. Their race is solving their problems. But despite non-interference, you are now interfering. Because now you’re supporting their enemies that have occupied their country.” A stable Afghanistan under the leadership of the Taliban is indeed in favor of the military of Pakistan. But there is no guarantee that the Pakistani citizens would benefit from it. The first reason is that because of the Taliban’s takeover, the threat of terrorism in Pakistan may increase.
Why Taliban is not good news for Pakistanis
Terrorist groups that have been targetting Pakistan’s surveillance and security establishments for a long time, will now see the victory of the Taliban as proof that political violence does work. And that they can carry out similar attacks to achieve their goals. This can inspire the Tehrik-e -Taliban Pakistan. The TTP. TTP was a new faction of the Talibanformed in Pakistan when several militant groups in the tribal areas of Pakistan came together. TTP has mostly Pashtun terrorists. They want to avenge the military oppression in their areas by the Pakistan military.
That’s why in 2014, they conducted a horrific terrorist attack on an Army School in Peshawar. After that terrorist attack, Pakistan’s military had neutralized the TTP to a great extent. But according to the latest reports, TTP is gaining the upper hand now. In February 2021, the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted a report to the UN, In which it was written that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s strength had increased because several splinter groups have now reunified. Because of this, the threat of terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan can increase.
This report had shown that five different organizations are now supporting the TTP. Leading to an increase in terrorist attacks in Pakistan. Now, the biggest challenge for Pakistan’s military is to differentiate between the in the words of Pakistan’s Army Chief, the ‘Good terrorists’ and ‘Bad terrorists.’ To him, good terrorists are the ones that help them to fight against India. And the bad terrorists are the ones that attack Pakistan. This policy of ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ terrorists continued in Pakistan for a long time. But when there was a terrorist attack on the Peshawar school, Pakistan’s military realized that dividing terrorists like this isn’t easy. The second threat to Pakistan is because of the Taliban’s victory, the Islamist political parties in Pakistan will get motivated.
One such party is the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan. The TLP. Its founder was an extremist cleric, Khadim Hussain Rizvi. You’d recall that in April 2021, the whole Muslim world was protesting against the French government, when their government had defended the freedom of expression, and said that showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, was not wrong. Protests against France were seen in Pakistan as well. And who was leading these protests? TLP. TLP is a right-wing extremist political party in Pakistan whose main appeal is that they want to protect the Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan. What are Blasphemy Laws?
Blasphemy laws are the laws that state that if you insult Islam, then you can be given a death sentence. The supporters of TLP had protested when the Supreme Court of Pakistan overturned the death sentence of Asia Bibi. You might say that there are right-wing parties in many countries. There are such parties in Germany as well. And that this incident of protest may be a one-off incident, and that this party may not be popular. But it’s not so. In the 2018 General Elections, TLP got around 4% votes, approximately 2.2 million votes. And it was the third-largest party in Punjab. Due to the rise of the Taliban, the ideology of such parties can become even more brutal.
The third threat is that because of the Taliban takeover, the love-hate relationship between the US and Pakistan may become more complicated. As we talked about earlier, Pakistan supports the Taliban in several ways. And several US Presidents were fed up with this. This support by Pakistan is a major reason because of which President Biden has still not called Imran Khan after the start of his presidency. “President Biden hasn’t called me well, it’s his option. If he wants to call or not it’s his business if he thinks it’s necessary or not. I mean, not that I am waiting for any phone call, you know, it’s his prerogative.” And now because of the Taliban, the US can pressurize Pakistan even more to stop their support. And the last threat is that because of the Taliban, the economic problems of Pakistan may increase.
Pakistan wants to diversify its economic trade by forging a strong bond with the Central Asian countries. And because of an unstable Afghanistan, it wouldn’t be easy to build such connections. Along with this, because of instability, if there is violence on Pakistan’s border, how will Pakistan convince China that the investments for China’s Belt and Road Initiative are safe in Pakistan? “It’s more difficult to break free from the chains binding one’s mind. In Afghanistan, they’ve broken free from the chains of slavery.”
Friends, this is the geopolitical situation between Pakistan and the Taliban. As I’ve told you before, ideology is only a means for them to influence people and incite them in the favour of the side which helps them to maintain their power. All the political leaders are greedy for power above all. For them, ideology is secondary. With which they influence people into joining their side getting them to fight someone else and in the end, the common people suffer. Similarly, the Taliban’s victory may be good news for the Pakistani military and ISI, but for the common citizens of Pakistan, this may not be good news.