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After the Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan as an independent state on 14 August 1947, Islamabad military strategists have focused on the idea of strategic depth in Afghanistan: the notion that in any war with India, the defense of Pakistan’s eastern borders (specifically Kashmir) rests on its western boundaries with Afghanistan. This intended developing Afghanistan as an associated land to which Pakistan forces could departure in the occasion of war. The importance of strategic depth reduced in May 1998, when Pakistan created its own nuclear preventive. However, some elements Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) remain persuaded of the concept of strategic depth and keep continuing destructive role in Afghanistan. The ISI, whose part and power was increased following the Soviet incursion of Afghanistan, became the main instrument in bringing the Taliban regime into power in 1996 in Afghanistan. To resist Indian hegemony in the region and promote the Kashmir issue, Pakistan tries to keep distance between Kabul and New Delhi. Achieving this objective rested on unquestioned support from the Islamic fundamentalist parties and their extremist wings.

 At the time of 9/11, there were more than forty extremist groups in Pakistan all of whom were affiliated with ISI and some of them had also forged close ties with Al Qaeda to ensure Pakistan’s hegemonic ambition. However, President Pervez Musharraf had constantly deceived the United States by assuring Washington that Pakistan would give the U.S. its full cooperation and assistance in the war on terror in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s military establishment evaluation to General Musharraf was the Taliban would continue its fight into 2002. Even after the Taliban were defeated in the major cities in Afghanistan, Musharraf commanded the Pakistani military establishment to continue supplies of arms, ammunition and fuel to the Taliban in direct defiance of the directions of the UN resolutions to halt all supplies to the Taliban. It was a challenging task for the Pakistani army to help US forces to locate Taliban targets for US bombers, and in the meantime providing shelters and armaments to the Taliban and helping them raise funds through Islamic networks and military establishment in Pakistan and other regional countries.

The ISI hired former trainers of the Taliban, retired army officers and set them up in Quetta, Peshawar and other areas in FATA. After his defeat in Afghanistan, Mullah Omar arrived in Quetta in the winter of 2002. He was received by the military establishment of Pakistan and accommodated by the JUI party that had formed the government in Quetta. He appointed four commanders to reorganize the fighters in the southern provinces of Urozgan, Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul. They were Mullah Baradar Akhund, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Usmani, Mullah Dadullah and Mullah Abdul Razaq. All four men had close links to Bin Laden. The JUI party being in power in the province was of great benefit to the Taliban leadership. The Taliban began to move weapons, ammunition and food supplies into Afghanistan. In late 2002, U.S. and Afghan forces soon began to recover caches of weapons. In one cache 2100 new AK rifles, 70,000 mortar bombs and 43,000 rockets were recovered. Pakistan didn’t trust the United States, and NATO and US policymakers equally did not trust the Pakistanis either. This situation has a long history and is deep roots; keeping in view the US-Indian relations, the US policy towards Afghanistan, the rigid US policy towards Iran, Pakistan’s double standard policy and successive US drone attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region.

The Taliban began its military campaign in earnest in the spring of 2003 by launching guerilla attacks in Helmand and Zabul provinces. The first major battle took place at the end of 2003 when some eighty Taliban in Spin Boldak was targeted by a US bomber. In the summer of 2003, Ahmed Rashid made several trips in the FATA and Southern Afghanistan. Everywhere, JUI leaders told him that they supported the Taliban. In Quetta, the JUI virtually handed over Pashtunabad to the Afghan Taliban. Thousands of long-haired, black turbaned Taliban roamed the streets. New Madrassas were built to house the freshly arrived fighters. The Taliban treated Quetta as their new capital. The policy of Gen Musharraf and the ISI to settle the Al Qaeda and the Taliban in South and North Waziristan was based on the idea that they would be a threat to Afghanistan. They probably never thought then, that the Taliban would be a threat to Pakistan. As stated by Hussain Haqqani a former advisor to three Pakistani prime ministers: “The fact is, the military establishment does not regard the Taliban as adversaries.  Beyond the loss of strategic depth, Pakistan’s major dread in Afghanistan is the re-formation of ties between Kabul and New Delhi”.

Since 2004, the Pakistani Army had signed three agreements with the Taliban in FATA and all three had failed. The first was the deal signed in Shakai in South Waziristan, the second and third in North Waziristan in 2006. The Taliban has been able to use FATA areas for their sanctuary and for command and control, regrouping and supply. With the population terrorized and under the influence of the Taliban, FATA got out of Pakistan Army’s control. More than hundreds of tribal elders who opposed the Taliban had been executed in FATA.

Two decades after its campaign against terror, Washington has come to the predictable conclusion that it must give up on a military solution and embrace negotiations with the Taliban. On February 29, 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement that could mark the beginning of the end of the longest war in U.S. history. The deal under discussion could allow for withdrawing U.S. troops in phases, with those phases conditioned on three other elements: a broad dialogue among the Taliban, the Afghan government, political factions, and civil society to reach a settlement on the country’s political future; Taliban cooperation in preventing terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base to launch attacks; and a permanent cease­fire. The Taliban have long declined U.S. demands to negotiate with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, which the insurgents view as a marionette regime. The US-Taliban Agreement wouldn’t bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan unless Washington compels Pakistani military establishment to close down terrorist sanctuaries on its soil and induces Taliban leadership to commence direct peace negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Author

  • Iqbal Dawari is a political analyst and television commentator. He holds an MA in International Conflict and Security from Kent University, UK. He can be followed on Facebook at Iqbal Dawari.