The New York Times this morning printed a story that was focused on this matter and was pretty forthright about it:
Pakistan was ostensibly America’s partner in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Its military won tens of billions of dollars in American aid over the last two decades … But it was a relationship riven by duplicity and divided interests from its very start after 9/11. Not least, the Afghan Taliban the Americans were fighting are, in large part, a creation of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the I.S.I., which through the course of the war nurtured and protected Taliban assets inside Pakistan.
Pakistan presented itself as a partner in the War on Terror even as ISI “provided planning assistance, training expertise, and sometimes on the ground advice to the Taliban all through the war”, the Times noted.
Robert Grenier, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) station chief in Pakistan, is quoted in his admirably blunt assessment: “The Pakistanis and the ISI think they have won in Afghanistan”. The military-intelligence establishment has not been coy about this, even allowing their puppet Prime Minister Imran Khan to gloat in public about the Taliban victory.
The Times added details about how Pakistan’s ISI had brought about the victory of its jihadists in Afghanistan:
In the last three months as the Taliban swept across Afghanistan, the Pakistani military waved a surge of new fighters across the border from sanctuaries inside Pakistan, tribal leaders have said.
In other words, what goes under the name of “the Taliban” is not only foreign-controlled; it is significantly composed of Pakistanis and other foreigners. It is in no serious sense “Afghan”.
The Times underlined this point that there is no distinction within the multinational ISI-run jihadist network—the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Al-Qaeda, and so on—that just seized Afghanistan:
A Pakistani protégé, Khalil Haqqani, a Taliban leader who was a regular visitor to Pakistan’s military headquarters in Rawalpindi, is one of the new rulers of Afghanistan. Known to American intelligence as the Taliban emissary to Al Qaeda, Mr. Haqqani showed up in Kabul last week as their new chief of security …
The nexus between the Pakistanis and the victorious Mr. Haqqani was indisputable and indispensable to the Taliban victory, said Douglas London, a former C.I.A. counterterrorism chief for South and Southwest Asia. The head of the Pakistani army, Qamar Javed Bajwa, and the head of the I.S.I., Hameed Faiz, met with Mr. Haqqani on a “recurring basis,” Mr. London said. …
Pakistan’s help, he said, encompassed a gamut of services. Safe havens in the borderlands of Pakistan, particularly in the city of Quetta, sheltered Afghan Taliban fighters and their families. Medical services treated wounded fighters, sometimes in hospitals in the major cities, Karachi and Peshawar. Free rein for the Haqqanis to run lucrative real estate, smuggling and other businesses in Pakistan kept their war machine churning. …
The I.S.I. also provided the Taliban with assets that elevated their international status. The Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar traveled on a Pakistani passport to attend peace talks in Doha, Qatar, and to meet in Tianjin, China, with Wang Yi, the foreign minister.
“The Afghan Taliban would not be where they are without the assistance of the Pakistanis,” Mr. London said.
Fazelminallah Qazizai, co-author of one of the best books on this subject, Night Letters: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Afghan Islamists Who Changed the World, has written that Haqqani has not been given “official authorization from the Taliban’s central command” as security chief in Kabul:
The Taliban divided Kabul into three security zones, each with several police districts. In only one of the zones, groups from Khost and Paktia, the Haqqani heartlands, control about half of the police stations. These groups do not act independently of the Taliban but report to the governor. According to Taliban sources, Haqqani is in Kabul as a tribal and religious elder rather than as an official sent by the Taliban.
Regardless, the point stands.
In 2015, in the wake of the raid that killed Usama bin Laden in Pakistan, President Barack Obama pointedly did not visit Pakistan when he visited India, the Times recalls, “But the Obama administration never said publicly what it suspected: that the Pakistani military knew all along that bin Laden was living with his extended family in Abbottabad”, a town housing a garrison that is to Pakistan what West Point is to the United States.
The problem was then, as it has been throughout the war, that if Pakistan was declared a state sponsor of terror and cut off from the American chequebook, it would close the ground lines of supply for NATO forces in Afghanistan and above that there was always the fear that under pressure the Pakistani state would melt down and jihadists would grab the nuclear weapons. This nuclear blackmail is what has allowed Pakistan to use jihadists to kill our people and even more Afghans without consequences from the West.
Importantly, the Times concludes by noting that Russia and China have gained from all of this: their Embassies remain unmolested in re-Talibanized Afghanistan, and China is hoping to work through the Pakistanis to exploit Afghanistan’s mineral wealth.
An important development a few days ago, to add to the statements of Grenier and London, was the statement from the former head of Britain’s SIS/MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, that “there has to be an understanding internationally that the Taliban couldn’t succeed like this without Pakistani backing”.
This is all very late in the hour for what should have been the central story of the past two decades—it is absurd that the Taliban has been spoken of as an indigenous insurgent group, rather than an instrument of foreign aggression in Afghanistan—and the signs are not all good. The Financial Times gave space yesterday for Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United Nations, America, and Britain, to print unadulterated ISI propaganda.
Still, the Times piece is a good start and it is positive that officials who had to deal with Pakistan’s malignant behaviour are speaking up. It presents a chance to put the debate about dealing with Pakistan going forward on a better footing.