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Thursday, September 02, 2021

As Kabul Burns, Need To Talk About Pakistan

Taliban fighters patrols the streets of Kabul


It was certain that the suicide bombings at the Kabul airport during the crucial evacuation of tens of thousands of stranded foreign nationals and NATO troops, was an act of the Islamic State’s “Khorasan Province” (IS-KP), the branch of the organisation in Afghanistan and Pakistan that was officially recognised by Islamic State (ISIS) “Centre” in 2015.

The IS-KP was conspicuously quiet since the fall of Kabul, and it could be understood why.

The distinction between IS-KP and Taliban is well understood by several security experts. IS-KP is a non-state actor and the Taliban is an extension of deep state Pakistan. IS-KP is backed by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which also promised to establish Islamic Khilafat.

After 20 years, the Taliban re-entered Kabul. This time driving Humvees and riding tanks fluttering their white flag with signs “Shahada” in Arabic. The gun-trotting foot soldiers captured Afghanistan without a firefight, along with the Taliban were the Haqqani Network — is just the latest iteration of Pakistan’s jihad project in Afghanistan, since 1974.

Pakistan’s dreaded spy agency ISI has recruited, trained, armed, funded, and often led the Islamist militants in Afghanistan to create a colonial dependency because the ISI believes it is in a “civilizational” war with India.

Pakistan military hawks in Rawalpindi’s conspiracy theory insist that if India wins the heart of the Taliban for the completion of the mega infrastructure projects then India will “encircle” Pakistan.

Therefore, Rawalpindi hawks want to be the first to manipulate the controls of Afghanistan.

Twenty-five years ago, Rawalpindi began recruiting, training and arming the Pashtun tribesman to form the Taliban militia, with the knowledge of Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Major General Naseerullah Khan Babar, a retired officer of Pakistan Army and also the Interior Minister in Benazir’s cabinet admitted to a Pakistan journalist Hamid Mir of GEO TV that their government handed doles and weapons to many famous Afghan rebels like Ahmad Shah Masood, Burhanuddin Rabbani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in 1975 as boss of infamous border guards, the Frontier Corps on the directives of then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, father of Benazir Bhutto.

Pakistan provided weapons and training to the Afghan Mujahideen in 1975 because the Afghan government led by Sardar Daud was allegedly sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan in collaboration with India.

Many know that Pakistan recruited ethnic Pashtuns from Quranic schools (Madrassahs) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and was known as Taliban.

Pakistan undertook responsibility on behalf of the Americans to provide protection and security of the multi-billion dollar Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline (TAPI) by American energy giant Unocal.

The Taliban was deployed as “pipeline police” and the Americans paid up the militia for guarding the pipeline.

Zalmay Khalilzad, who signed the Doha agreement with Mullah Baradar in 2020, arranged a visit of Taliban leaders to Unocal offices in the US in 1997.

According to Hamid Mir, many people say that the Taliban of today are different from the Taliban of 2001. “I think they are still loyal to their old ideology, but they have learned some new tactics in the last two decades.”

The political office of the Taliban working out of Qatar does not have independent decision-making authority. Decision-making powers lie with “Rahbri Shoora” or grand consultative council and most of its members were part of the resistance inside Afghanistan.

The Supreme Leader of the Taliban, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, is the ultimate authority on religious, political and military affairs. He makes decisions in consultation with his three deputies.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a founding member of the Taliban, looks after political affairs; Mullah Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar, is head of military affairs and also looks after southern parts of Afghanistan. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the elder son of famous Afghan guerrilla commander Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, looks after eastern parts of Afghanistan. Yaqoob and Sirajuddin are responsible for appointing provincial and district governors.

Taliban’s after the fall of Kabul announced to form a consensus unitary government in Kabul. The Taliban are very much flexible on the inclusion of all ethnic minorities, women and even non-Muslims in a new government, but have strong reservations on “western democracy”.

Nevertheless, fighting a superpower was not difficult for them. One generation defeated the Soviet Union, and another generation defeated the Americans but running a country is quite difficult.

Indeed, the Taliban can’t afford isolation and that’s why they need to address the concerns of all those countries that fear that the territory of Afghanistan will be used for terrorist activities against them.

In the last two decades, the Taliban learned to handle diplomats and media. Now they need to learn public diplomacy and the best way to win public trust comes through the ballot, not through bullets.

First published in The News Times, 2 September 2, 2021

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad

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