Pakistan’s foreign minister on Wednesday rejected claims that her country’s spy agency was actively supporting the Taliban in their fight against NATO forces in Afghanistan. “We have no hidden agenda in Afghanistan,” Hina Rabbani Khar said in Kabul.
The BBC and The Times reported earlier in the day that insurgents captured by Western forces had told them that with Pakistani support, the Taliban were poised to return to power after 2014 when NATO’s mission is supposed to come to an end.
“Pakistan’s manipulation of the Taliban senior leadership continues unabatedly,” the BBC quoted a NATO report as saying.
This confirms the suspicion that was raised by America’s top military officer, Admiral Michael Mullen, last year when he said that the Haqqani network, a militant Islamist organization that is allied to but not necessarily affiliated with the Taliban, “has long enjoyed the support and protection of the Pakistani government and is, in many ways, a strategic arm” of Pakistani intelligence.
The NATO study that was obtained by British news media also asserted that Taliban leaders meet regularly with Pakistani intelligence officers “who advise on strategy and relay any pertinent concerns of the government of Pakistan.” It alleged that Islamabad was “intimately involved” in an effort to topple President Hamid Karzai’s government in Kabul.
Pakistan’s civilian authorities may not be part of the plot but there is little question that its intelligence services and possibly its military maintain ties with Afghan insurgents in order to regain their influence in the country once NATO forces pull out.
Taliban sanctuaries are known to exist in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. NATO commanders have long complained that they hamper the war effort and that there doesn’t appear to be the political will in Islamabad to crush the Islamist insurgency on their frontier.
The Pakistanis are reluctant to expand counterinsurgency operations because they have to prepare for the eventuality of a Taliban resurgence if not the formation of a “Pashtunistan” in the tribal area that manages to assert itself independently of Kabul.
Pakistan, moreover, regards the modern day mujahideen as a wedge against India, to be deployed whenever New Delhi seeks to strengthen its ties with the Afghans. India has indeed fostered relations with the Karzai regime to upset Pakistan’s quest for “strategic depth” in the country.
The rivalry that has defined South Asia for half a century won’t dissipate overnight, no matter America’s insistence that the Pakistanis have nothing to fear from India and little to gain from betraying the West.
The Pakistanis have problems of their own. Years of anti-terrorist operations by a majority Punjabi army in predominantly Pashtun territory have pushed the Muslim nation onto the brink of civil war. The army’s offensives in the region displaced nearly half a million people. Before the Afghan war escalated, the battle was confined to the tribal areas but since 2008, it has spread into Pakistan proper with bombings and assassinations taking place in major cities including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore.
Since the United States are preparing to withdraw, it makes no sense for the Pakistanis to crack down on extremists that might prove an asset in the future. The surest way for them to fill the power vacuum that will be left in Kabul once the Americans are gone is to cultivate ties with the Taliban and their allies. If they don’t, there may be a place for India in whatever power constellation emerges across Pakistan’s porous western border in the next couple of years.