When the Taliban swept into the capital of Afghanistan on Sunday, little of the coverage focused on Pakistan and yet that was where this victory was made. This is a pattern that has persisted throughout the war.
The former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, titled one of his books “Magnificent Delusions” and in it he explains the misunderstandings that went into relations with Pakistan right back to the beginning. The Pakistani government reached out to the West for assistance using the language of the Cold War in the 1950s, and the assistance provided by the West in terms of counter-insurgency—intended for use against Communism—was used to help strengthen a capacity Pakistan had already displayed during partition: the use of insurgent or terrorist forces against India.
It was within the context of Pakistan’s “forever war” with India, an ideological commitment for the army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that controlled the country, that Pakistan began its jihad against Afghanistan no later than 1974. The military establishment in Pakistan viewed any Indian involvement in Afghanistan as “encirclement”. (Over the last twenty years, one of Pakistan’s primary complaints about NATO has been that it allows India to open up consulates around Afghanistan, which are believed to be used for all kinds of nefarious purposes.)
To the military and the ISI, then, the only solution was an Afghanistan under Pakistani control, and the instruments they know how to use are Islamist militants. After the coup in Afghanistan in 1973, many Islamists were driven from Afghanistan into Pakistan. These exiled Islamists grouped around Burhanuddin Rabbani’s Jamiat-e Islami and a major split saw another group formed by one of his deputies, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. After the Soviets invaded and occupied Afghanistan in 1979, Hekmatyar became ISI’s favourite Mujahideen commander, lavished with the most money and weapons.
The timeline here is important because Pakistan will often claim that the West instigated the anti-Soviet jihad in 1979 and then left Pakistan to deal with the aftermath in 1990. The truth is, Pakistan drew the West into supporting its jihad policy in Afghanistan, which was a project whose relationship to the Afghan resistance against the Soviet occupation was somewhat incidental.
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