Following 9/11 attacks and the Taliban government’s refusal to turn Osama bin Laden to the U.S., it was clear that the U.S. war in Afghanistan was bent on becoming a costly, lengthy and ultimately devastating war.
The question of its end came down to be how long was the Afghan War going to be a defensible war?
The overwhelming sentiment of vengeance in the American public propelled a swift American invasion vis-a-vis Pakistan on October 13, 2001.
Since then, over 250,000 Afghans, 33,000 Pakistanis and 2,461 U.S. servicemen and soldiers have died, millions have been injured, tens of millions have been displaced, and an entire generation of educated and allied Afghans have made a mass exodus. The U.S. spent over $2 trillion dollars in military campaigns and nation-building efforts and an entire Western-backed government in Afghanistan collapsed, rendering an Afghan population of 18 million helpless in the hands of an extremist, militant group that America created forty years ago and fought for the last twenty.
When the U.S. returned to Afghanistan in 2001, Pakistan quickly offered to share their bases for U.S. air support after initial doubts. However, Pakistan showed that it did not share the same interests in the region, favoring an Afghanistan in chaos it can control to an Afghanistan where India has a firm footing. As a nation dominated by its military since its inception, Pakistan has avoided rather predictably by continuing to sponsor non-state militant groups under its nuclear umbrella to undercut its regional rival they lost four wars to—India.
Behind the twenty-year puppet show of the Taliban fighting against America and its allies, lies the sinister reality of Pakistan arming, funding, training and providing safe haven for the Taliban as both their creator and alternative for rule in Afghanistan. The Taliban was created by Pakistani intelligence services in 1994 in order to implant a government favorable to Pakistan after the U.S, U.K . and Saudi Arabia contracted Pakistan to train and fund the Afghan resistance against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989 known as the Mujahideen.
While the Taliban may be a new enemy to the U.S., Pakistan was a neighboring ally whom the U.S. sided with during two wars: Bangladesh in 1971 and Afghanistan in 1979. The latter brought Pakistan a humiliating defeat to India despite U.S. backing; however, the former brought phenomenal success in the form of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The decade after the Bangladesh Liberation War saw Pakistan launch its first nuclear weapons test, establish the Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.) agency and plant seeds for the beginnings of Pakistan’s brand of Islamic nationalism to deter any future separatist movements among other ethnic minorities in Pakistan like Pashtuns or Balochis.
On the American dime, Pakistan has expanded their nuclear capabilities and demonstrated their commitment to a whole fleet of terrorist organizations over the past two decades. Pakistan’s double-dealings over the past half-century proved a decisive factor over the U.S. war in Afghanistan, which had roots from a prior American military intervention also in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion between 1979 and 1991. The same Mujahideen which the Pakistan intelligence community assembled and funded with American dollars and CIA support to fight the Soviets in Operation Cyclone forty years ago, would become Pakistan’s covert allies once again in resisting two decades of American occupation as the now victorious Taliban. Pakistan’s cooperation with the U.S. during the global war on terror, proved duplicitous as the I.S.I. simultaneously provided training, funds, safe havens within Pakistan, passports for Taliban leaders, intelligence and even requests to unfreeze individual funds of Taliban leaders.
The Taliban has since grown on the world stage, earning international legitimacy from a 2020 agreement signed in Doha with the Trump administration, generating billions in revenue from opium production and courting major world powers. China’s recognition of the Taliban seems all but inevitable while India finds itself at a loss with the fall of a regional ally, the Afghan National Government, and years of strategic support from Iran and Pakistan, also set these former Taliban & Al Qaeda handlers and co-conspirators on a trajectory for formal relations. The Taliban have made it clear that they want to be recognized and not be a “pariah state.”
The Western media focuses on the decline of the Western empire and the damage done to either America’s or Joe Biden’s reputation, rather than look in the mirror and realize yet another failed U.S. and Europe-backed counter-revolutionary puppet government. This time, the human and material costs, still not enough to outweigh the costs on America’s reputation, but enough to demand the attention of the American public for an indefinite time. The attention could finally urge sanctioning Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror, but more importantly, help navigate a world in which the Taliban reign supreme over Afghanistan.
The Human Cost of the Collapse of Empire
The last C-17 plane evacuating the last American soldiers and evacuees from Kabul on August 30, 2021, marked the end of America’s longest military campaign and another Pakistani strategic victory in the region. Since evacuations began on April 14, 2021, approximately 122,170 people were evacuated from Afghanistan and the remaining 2,500 U.S. and 7,000 NATO troops withdrew, leaving behind a war chest of equipment, vehicles, planes, helicopters and other state-of-the-art technologies valued at over $85 billion at the hands of the Taliban. At the mercy of the Taliban is the entire 40 million population of Afghanistan, deeply traumatized by four decades of U.S. and Soviet-funded wars and left with a failing economy shaped by foreign aid and corruption at hands of warlords and Afghan government officials like self-exiled President Ashraf Ghani himself.
The same group which the U.S. has been fighting the last two decades, and bombing earlier in the month, was suddenly entrusted by the U.S. to help coordinate evacuations of U.S. citizens and Afghan Allies who qualify for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) between the Taliban takeover of Kabul on Sunday, August 14, 2021, and the August 31st U.S. deadline.
Some policymakers claim that the Taliban has changed over the years and are presumably ready to transition from foreign terrorist organization to national government, while others claim that this is undeniably a bigger and badder Taliban than ever before. “It’s frankly idiotic to think that this is somehow a softer, gentler Taliban than the one of 2001. If anything this is a harder, harsher Taliban,” said former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker. “After 20 years in the wilderness, the Taliban are finally getting their game back. They’re not interested in talking to anybody unless it’s about terms of surrender for the Afghan government.”
The Taliban’s new all-male cabinet is composed of 33 seasoned senior Taliban leaders as well as leaders of the Haqqani Network which is another foreign terrorist organization (FTO) that operates as the F.B.I. equivalent in Afghanistan within the new interim government including their leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head. A majority (29 of them) are ethnically Pashtuns, including a few Uzbeks and Tajiks but no Hazaras. Five of the new Taliban cabinet members have documented ties with Al Qaeda, most notably Sirajuddin Haqqani who leads Pakistan’s most treasured proxy, the Haqqani Network, that holds the most leverage and influence over Al Qaeda and India. Women have no role in the new interim government as the former Ministry of Women has been abolished by the Taliban government who also banned women from participating in sports. The new Taliban Ministry of Education recently stated that education is unnecessary.
The Taliban’s leadership is also very well organized. The Taliban leader, Haibatullah Akhunzada, heads the Rahbari Shura Council which oversees a dozen commissions in charge of government sectors ranging from Finance, Health, Education, Military, Culture, etc. Under these Commissioners are Field Officers who administer everyday services in their respective geographic regions.
Major streets, roads, and checkpoints are all now manned by Taliban forces. The Taliban control major highways, effectively rendering total control over the country to the Taliban, who also control the borders. Taliban fighters casually patrol Afghanistan dressed in local attire or wearing American military uniforms, walking in sandals or army boots and making their presence known as the new rulers. Outside the former U.S. Embassy in Kabul’s Green Zone, which was a diplomatic quarter built to keep the new rulers away from U.S. and Allied forces, is a huge Islamic Emirate flag with a message written in Persian that reads, “We defeated America.”
Over the past two decades, the U.S. has spent $145 billion dollars on nation-building in addition to the $837 billion that went to U.S. military spending. The amount spent for nation-building in Afghanistan alone was more than the U.S. spent in the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II ($137 billion). While foreign aid went to building infrastructure in the form of schools, roads, and healthcare facilities, the private sector was not self-sustaining due to immense corruption. Afghanistan’s economy was dependent mainly on foreign aid, which evaporated overnight with the Taliban takeover.
“When aid was there, we were able to pay salaries, buy electricity and we were able to fund our national army,” said Salma Alokozai, who was the former Afghan finance and education minister. “The private sector was doing fine. Right now, there is no private sector, and there is no aid money.” Since 2014, the U.S. has contributed about 75% of the $5-$6 billion per year required to fund the Afghan National Security Forces while the remainder was paid off by NATO allies in the U.S. coalition. By 2020, foreign aid made up for 43% of Afghanistan’s economy according to the World Bank.
There is now a sense of ongoing panic and hysteria in the streets of Afghanistan as people wait in line for hours at banks hoping to withdraw cash in a nation that has its bank reserves frozen by the U.S. out of fear of the Taliban. Nearly $10 billion in reserves within Afghanistan’s central bank are inaccessible within Afghanistan and will remain in U.S. bank accounts and the Federal Reserve because it is legally impossible to unfreeze funds to a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
“The United States has the legal authority to freeze assets that were held by the government when that government is replaced by non-government,” according to Robert Hackett, Cornell Professor of Law and Finance. Professor Hackett attributes this to the fact that the Taliban are “not recognized as a legitimate government by the United States,” and went further to state that “it’s all but impossible to tell you the truth both practically and legally.”
Money flowing into Afghanistan for everyday Afghans also faces obstacles such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) blocking $460 million in emergency reserves. Ajmal Ahmad, the former Minister of Commerce & Industry for the Afghan National Government, said he believed that the Taliban could access the central bank reserves only through negotiating with the U.S. government.
An entire generation of Afghans that benefited socioeconomically and politically from the U.S. occupation including Afghan National Government employees, U.S. Army interpreters, women’s rights activists, American University in Afghanistan students, musicians, and anyone else who supported or was affiliated with the U.S. government, was marked for death overnight. The story of Zaki Anwar, the 19-year old Afghan soccer player, who fell to his death after clinging onto a C-17 plane evacuating from Kabul, captures the sheer desperation and fear of many of the Afghans who thrived during the U.S. occupation and now fear for their lives. Following the U.S. invasion in 2001, over 241,000 people have died in the Afghanistan-Pakistan war zone, 71,000 of whom were civilians. In August alone, in addition to the 13 U.S. servicemen and 200 civilians killed in the ISIS-K bombings on Friday, August 27, 2021, thousands have been displaced fleeing to countries like Pakistan, Tajikistan, Iran, or Turkey for refuge.
UNICEF reports that an estimated 3.7 million children in Afghanistan were out of school, 60% of whom are girls. As of August 14, 2021, that number is assumed to now be 100% as women became invisible in the streets of Afghanistan overnight. Taliban spokesperson Habib Agha told the media, “women will be in the government only where they are needed and not for any and every role like in the Karzai and Ghani governments.”
Women took to the streets in order to protest the all-male interim government on Tuesday, September 7, 2021, and were met with whips and sticks from Taliban members tasked with containing the protest. “Long live the women of Afghanistan,” chanted the women. Similar protests led by women and minority group members like Hazaras continue to this day and are met with Taliban responses ranging from active surveillance to violent break-ups. Members of the Hazara ethnic minority group, in particular, comprise 19% of Afghanistan’s population and have been increasingly subjected to subjugation that is bordering on genocidal.
The Taliban have also told the media on the day following their takeover, that they will grant full amnesty to all who have served or assisted the U.S. However, their actions have shown otherwise as confirmed reports of door-to-door targeted killings, forced coercions of high-level women to work for them, and executions of musicians and other high-profile individuals.
Sudden cooperation between the U.S. and the Taliban was taken by surprise, if not full-on disbelief by the American public and media outlets. However, this sense of cooperation rose earlier questions posed by Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, in 2012, who is due for 175 years in an American prison for releasing thousands of incriminating government documents, exposing government secrets including signs of a U.S. ponzi scheme and military failure. The Afghan Papers, which Assange released to the public, including over 9,800 classified documents proving that the war was by design, meant to have no strategy other than remaining an endless war in which the U.S. could move money out of tax bases in Europe to the U.S.
“The objective is not to subjugate Afghanistan. The goal is to wash money out of the tax bases in the United States out of the tax bases of Europe through Afghanistan and back into the hands of the transnational security elite.”– Julian Assange
Assange’s life-threatening truth coupled with the facts that 80-90% of profits and contracts coming out of Afghanistan went to American defense companies at the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars a year, displays how the propaganda surrounding Afghanistan as a good war, whether in the Bush, Obama or Trump administrations, contributes to this Ponzi scheme of endless war-making in Afghanistan.
News started spreading in early May when CNN reported about an Afghan interpreter for the U.S. army getting beheaded. Over the months and particularly following the weekend of August 14, 2021, the evacuation requests and SIV visa applicants skyrocketed to never-before-seen levels of bureaucratic backlog. Overnight, the Afghan diaspora underwent shockwaves as everyone with family, friends, or former colleagues in danger tapped into their networks for evacuation of their loved ones. SIVs are the premier gateway for Afghans hoping to immigrate to America, established with the 2009 Afghan Allies Protection Act in which the U.S. promised those who have risked their lives working for the U.S. government to immigrate to the U.S. following at least two years of employment. This collapse completely blind-sighted the U.S. State Department and U.S. congressional offices; the former of which has been criticized for being the “worst consular system” in the world with over half a million visas in extended processing. A backlogged bureaucratic system combined with an understaffed and demoralized American Diplomatic corps following the Trump administration’s draconian budget cuts and undermining of career diplomats only added to the suffering of U.S. civilians and Afghan allies desperate to leave the country.
Scenes of human suffering on an unprecedented scale, fierce criticism of U.S. President Joe Biden, news that centered mainly on the material decline of the U.S. military presence, and the Islamophobic refugee-related commentary spurned by more right-wing outlets, flooded the news nonstop for the remainder of the month of August. August 2021 indeed marked the formal end of American military presence in Afghanistan, earning the Graveyard of Empires, their third empire, and costing the Afghan people, another exodus and war etched into their people’s history. The British and the Soviets, like the Americans, all failed in their imperial projects here, costing them gravely within their respective contexts.
Only a hundred years ago, Afghanistan was a fiercely independent empire caught between British India and the Russian Empire. Both the British and Russian empires would vie for influence in Afghanistan during the early 1900s in what was known as the Great Game. However, when the British heard that the Czar planned an attack on Afghanistan, it rolled out an unsuccessful invasion on Afghanistan. Decades later during the height of the Cold War during the turbulent 1970s, the U.S. and the Soviet Union would compete in the Great Game over Afghanistan through infrastructure projects, in which the Soviet Union would far surpass the U.S. Although Soviet investments in Afghanistan would show no results in their failed conquest of Afghanistan, the U.S. would learn the same lesson in the 21st century this time, by losing the Great Game to their supposed ally Pakistan and the Taliban in 2021.
However, a Taliban takeover is much different than Zahir Shah invading British India and reclaiming Waziristan in 1923 or the Mujahideen victory over the Soviets in 1989, in that Taliban was a creation and ongoing ally of America’s own top partner in the past two wars in Afghanistan spanning over the past four decades—Pakistan.
The Eye of the Storm: Pakistan’s Role as a Ringleader for the Taliban, Haqqani Network & Al Qaeda
“Everything will be okay,” reassured Pakistan’s Head of the I.S.I. Faiz Hameed as he sipped tea alongside senior Taliban leaders in Serena Hotel in Kabul on August 27, 2021, two weeks after the Kabul takeover. Hameed’s visit served the purpose of assuring his long-time Taliban proxies that they would have a part in the new Afghan government after Pakistan covertly invaded Afghanistan when the U.S. did not abide by the initial May 31st deadline to withdraw.
Following the Kabul takeover, Pakistan’s army and intelligence helped the Taliban accomplish what the Soviets and the Taliban failed to do for the last forty years—conquer the Panjshir Valley. Panjshir was home to Shah Ahmad Massoud, who led the Northern Resistance, which was the most formidable fighting force against the Taliban which the U.S. backed in 2001. However, as of this month, Panjshir Valley was claimed by the Taliban following assistance from Pakistan in the form of drone strikes, air assistance, and on-the-ground intelligence. Telephone and internet lines were cut off in Panjshir Valley as Pakistani drones, helicopters and armed forces aided the Taliban in conquering the last holdout from their new rule. Massoud’s son and current leader of the Northern Resistance, Ahmad Massoud, held out until late September when he fled to Tajikistan with other senior leaders when Pakistan’s invasion of Panjshir reached its climax.
Pakistan’s role as a puppet master over Afghanistan may have started with the Soviet invasion in 1979, but was actually further deeply rooted in its geopolitical position as a frontier land during the British Raj. Before Partition, British India which included Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, had not totally consolidated its control over the territory that is now Pakistan because of its proximity to threats like China and Afghanistan. When Pakistan became independent in 1947, the new capital in Karachi was not as familiar with running institutions for as long as Dhaka had, having been a regional center of the first British colony in South Asia—Bengal. Whereas East Indian territories like Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and even Delhi, had long-running institutions since the 1800s under British rule, then-West Pakistan’s territories of Balochistan, Punjab, and Sindh were more recent territories more familiar with military occupation from the British. More concerning to the newborn Pakistani central government in Karachi were the security threats exclusive to Pakistan’s western border with Afghanistan, Russia, and China, where the British faced earlier invasions and ongoing instability. The quest for strategic depth over Afghanistan thus became inherited by Pakistan from British India.
In inheriting this security architecture from the British, Pakistan was the clear loser of Partition. While India’s territories were more attuned to running government institutions, Pakistan found itself under constant threat in its newly acquired territories which included the disputed Baluchistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where the Pakistani army has been fighting off insurgencies to this day. When considering its East Pakistan territory on the more stable and resource-rich part of the newly independent subcontinent, Pakistan’s central government was willfully negligent to its own detriment. Rather than build off the human capital in East Pakistan, which would later become Bangladesh, Pakistan did not consider Bengalis as equal citizens. Immediately after Pakistan’s first military coup in 1954, Pakistan’s first military dictator Ayub Khan barred Bengalis from being in positions of power, particularly the Pakistani army.
Post-Partition Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan was equally tense as Afghanistan’s leadership did not acknowledge the Durand Line, which was the British-administered border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan has blocked Pakistan’s membership in the United Nations and even invaded Pakistan on September 30, 1950 in order to secede the Pashto-majority regions as part of the Pashtunistan movement. As a result, Pakistan’s first secessionist fear stemmed not from its Bengali population but from its Pashtun population, which dominated both the Mujahideen and the Taliban. However, as history has shown, Pakistan would manipulate Islam and its most extremist elements to deter, contain and control all ethnic groups within Pakistan’s post-Partition territories.
Why Pakistan actively engages beyond its border using Islam to form coalitions is threefold: (1) fifty years of military dictatorship which has given birth to a deep state composed of military and intelligence personnel free to carry out their agenda without accountability from civilian politicians, (2) an existential obsession with India, and (3) its unique position as both a leading state sponsor of terrorism as well as a victim.
While signs of Pakistan’s covert support to the Taliban has been present since November 2001, the U.S. has remained convinced that Pakistan was too dangerous to sanction, too dangerous to punish, and too dangerous to hold accountable. Any condemnation towards Pakistan’s militant adventurism beyond its border or its nuclear program could result in similar scenarios which occurred in the 1990s when Pakistan led a smuggling network called the A.Q. Khan Network that enabled Libya, North Korea, Iran, and others to purchase nuclear technologies through black market activities. Additionally, Pakistan has a huge multi-billion dollar lobbying presence in Washington particularly towards Kashmir, which aids the U.S. media’s portrayal of Pakistan as anything but rogue or unstable in mainstream coverage.
Pakistan’s footprint on its western border with Afghanistan didn’t just increase with each U.S. war effort, it engulfed and manipulated the borders of Afghanistan and its own through U.S.-funded, I.S.I-facilitated religious militancy that would grow so powerful that it would end up beating the U.S. while staying on favorable terms with the U.S.
Every Taliban fighter is convinced on the individual level that they are fighting for Islam, whereas the Afghan national forces were fighting for money and the status quo of a U.S.-funded puppet government. Pakistan manipulates the Taliban’s religious militancy as a mutual trait by employing a network of mosques, madrasas, mullahs, and militias into its carrot-and-stick tactic to direct Taliban activities and safe-havens. This network is embedded in the Taliban’s Deobandi Islamic orientation, which Pakistan capitalizes on. The city of Quetta in western Pakistan erupted into celebrations when the Taliban took Kabul. The majority-Pashtun population in Quetta flooded into the streets as members of Pakistani political parties distributed sweets in celebration of their ethnic accomplishment of reconquering their former state. Quetta was the biggest safe haven for Taliban senior leaders outside of Afghanistan, where many took shelter during the U.S. fighting. Looking around the streets of Quetta, the unmistakable glorification of jihadi activities is present in posters, restaurant conversations, and the political climate.
Pakistan’s military and security establishment see Afghanistan as the final frontier. Without any foothold or control over Afghanistan, Pakistan fears encirclement by India and its allies, one of which was the Afghan National Government. Seeing India as its rival since 1947, it is only natural that the Pakistani state goes to any length in order to undercut any Indian influence in its regions. India has invested nearly $3 billion dollars into the Afghan National government, making its collapse a victory for the Taliban and their Pakistani handlers. Over the last two decades, India has provided over $1.4 billion in infrastructure investments including irrigation projects, highways, and building projects as part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Neighborhood First” policy towards neighboring countries in South Asia.
Pakistan’s efforts towards the Taliban, ranging from providing safe havens, medical services, funding, transportation, logistics and intelligence, passports, public relations campaigns portraying militants as local heroes, and of course international legitimacy, has managed to accomplish their shared goal of freeing Afghanistan from U.S. occupation and Indian influence while maintaining Pakistan’s position as a treasured U.S. client state with additional international aid.
However, this is not all due to the sole actions and machinations of Pakistan as a state, but more so do with the security architecture established between the U.S. and Pakistan as a result of U.S. Cold War counter-revolutionary agenda launched in 1945, but implemented in 1979.
Before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan drew Pakistan’s attention and the I.S.I., the first battlefields of influence were Kashmir and Bangladesh. Pakistan would use its army in both regions, as well as its Jamaat-e-Islami political party which espoused Islamic nationalism to remind Bengalis and Kashmiris of their Islamic loyalty to Pakistan. The U.S., as a force hoping to prevent communism in South Asia, has been friendly with India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan by keeping diplomatic relations and international development projects in all three countries. While India and Pakistan would receive more aid and gravitate towards the U.S. over the next few decades, Afghanistan would receive disproportionately more aid and international development projects from the Soviet Union. Airports, roads, irrigation projects, and other infrastructure were rolled into Afghanistan from the Soviet Union between 1950 and 1978.
Pakistan, which included Bangladesh at the time, was a strategic ally of the U.S. against communist influence from the Soviet Union. Prior to independence as well, British India was threatened by the Russian Empire entering British India from the border with Afghanistan. Pakistan’s role as a loyal Western ally against the Red Scare, was demonstrated when the U.S. would offer complicit support for West Pakistan during the 1971 Liberation War.
The incumbent U.S. President presiding over office during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War was Richard Nixon, who was a staunch ally of Pakistani President Yahya Khan. To the U.S. at the time, the Bangladesh secessionist movement within Pakistan was an internal matter. As both a Western Bloc nation and strategic ally against the Soviet Union, the U.S. under the helm of Richard Nixon demonstrated its commitment to Pakistan in military aid as well as silence to the atrocities committed by Pakistan’s Army and its non-state actors and fundamentalist paramilitary units.
Even in Kashmir in 1947, Pakistan deployed a terrorist organization called Lashkar-e-Tayyaba in order to incite a Muslim rebellion among Kashmiris against the Indian government, rather than deploying the Pakistani military. Thirty-four years later in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, Pakistan would again mobilize fundamentalist groups under its command to undermine the Bengali independence movement. Groups like the Razakars, Al Shams, and Al Badr were active during the six-month Pakistani military campaign in Bangladesh and carried out the deliberate, systematic rape of over 400,000 Bengali women following a fatwa declared in a Pakistani mosque. The fatwa declared Bengali women as booty of war who were required to be islamicized as part of the military campaign in Bangladesh. This tactic would prove just as disastrous and counterproductive as the 1971 war itself, where Pakistan lost the war and Bangladeshi territory. Pakistan’s deployment of fundamentalist militant groups that share its ideological Sunni extremism, is a recurring behavior in Pakistan’s way of war.
Most importantly, Pakistan facilitated the U.S. opening to China in 1969, in which the U.S. conducted highly secret exchanges with China and were on the verge of a breakthrough. In an interview with Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, on November 12, 2016, Kissinger revealed that any condemnation of Pakistan’s human rights violations would have destroyed the Pakistani channel to China, which would prove essential in potential diplomatic recasting towards the Soviet Union and the pursuit of peace.
Kissinger stated: “There was never the choice between suffering in Bangladesh and the opening to China. It is impossible to go into detail in one far-ranging interview. However, allow me to outline some principles:
- The opening to China began in 1969.
- The Bangladesh crisis began in March 1971.
- By then, we had conducted a number of highly secret exchanges with China and were on the verge of a breakthrough.
- These exchanges were conducted through Pakistan, which emerged as the interlocutor most acceptable to Beijing and Washington.
- The Bangladesh crisis, in its essence, was an attempt of the Bengali part of Pakistan to achieve independence. Pakistan resisted with extreme violence and gross human-rights violations.
- To condemn these violations publicly would have destroyed the Pakistani channel, which would be needed for months to complete the opening to China, which indeed was launched from Pakistan. The Nixon administration considered the opening to China as essential to a potential diplomatic recasting towards the Soviet Union and the pursuit of peace. The U.S. diplomats witnessing the Bangladesh tragedy were ignorant of the opening to China. Their descriptions were heartfelt and valid, but we could not respond publicly. But we made available vast quantities of food and undertook diplomatic efforts to resolve the situation.
- After the opening to China via Pakistan, America engaged in increasingly urging Pakistan to grant autonomy to Bangladesh. In November, the Pakistani president agreed with Nixon to grant independence the following March.
- The following December, India, after having made a treaty including military provisions with the Soviet Union, and in order to relieve the strain of refugees, invaded East Pakistan [which is today Bangladesh].
- The U.S. had to navigate between Soviet pressures; Indian objectives; Chinese suspicions; and Pakistani nationalism. Adjustments had to be made—and would require a book to cover—but the results require no apology. By March 1972—within less than a year of the commencement of the crisis—Bangladesh was independent; the India-Pakistan War ended; and the opening to China completed at a summit in Beijing in February 1972. A summit in Moscow in May 1972 resulted in a major nuclear arms control agreement [SALT I]. Relations with India were restored by 1974 with the creation of a U.S.-Indian Joint Commission [the Indo-U.S. Joint Commission on Economic, Commercial, Scientific, Technological, Educational and Cultural Cooperation], which remains part of the basis of contemporary U.S.-India relations. Compared with Syria, Libya, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the sacrifices made in 1971 have had a far more clear-cut end.”
Pakistan would never forget about its territorial loss and international condemnation over its holistic failure in Bangladesh. In General Parvez Musharraf’s campaign in 1993, his slogan against the Pakistan’s People’s Party was “you gave up Dhaka, we took Kabul,” crediting the military and security establishment he represents for their post-Soviet capture of Kabul and the latter with their loss of East Pakistan in 1971. While Pakistan enjoys good relations with Bangladesh today and has never made covert attempts to hamper Bangladeshi sovereignty, Pakistan took the 1971 Liberation War as a lesson regarding any future opportunity of India to undermine Pakistan’s territorial borders. Pakistan was effectively ejected from governance and influence in Bangladesh after 1971, which Pakistan would make sure did not repeat in their Afghan frontier on the Western border of Pakistan.
Immediately, after the Bangladesh Liberation War, Pakistan’s military-industrial complex accelerated its nuclear programme as Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto demanded nuclear tests within three years of the Liberation War. Also occurring within three years of the Bangladesh Liberation War was the establishment of Pakistan’s notorious and world-renowned intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.). Pakistani Prime Minister Zia Al Haq, who oversaw the execution of Bhutto, would ultimately engage the U.S. in a collaborative war effort against the Soviet invasion into Afghanistan in 1978, in a bid to offer America revenge for their recent defeat at Vietnam. Operation Cyclone was launched by the CIA, which was their most expensive covert operation yet, where funding that initially began with $695,000 in 1979, was increased dramatically to $20–$30 million per year in 1980, and further rose to $630 million per year in 1987.
The I.S.I. and CIA would nurture close ties with future international terrorists during Operation Cyclone, many holding multi-million dollar FBI bounties, including Osama Bin Laden, the Haqqani Network and other senior Taliban leaders. Pakistan’s eagerness to facilitate other countries’ support for the Taliban, also earned them funds and close ties with Saudi Arabia, China and the U.K. Saudi Arabia would play a crucial role in the Afghan resistance to the Soviet Union, when Palestinian leader Abdullah Azzam declared a religious fatwa, calling upon all Muslims, and particularly Arabs from the Gulf, to join the Mujahideen. Over 30,000 Arab-Afghans would answer the call to jihad and work with Azzam in his Arab Services Bureau, which administered all the Arab Mujahideen. Additionally, during the crucial years of fighting against the Soviet Union in 1984-1989, for every billion the Americans gave the Mujahideen, the Saudis were matching that in petrodollars.
While the Mujahideen were successful in their fight against the crumbling Soviet Union, Afghanistan’s aftermath showed no political compromise following the Soviet withdrawal. This led to years of Civil War, where a new group called the Taliban would rise in 1994 and claim power over all of Afghanistan in 1996, except the Panjshir Valley. More importantly, Pakistan was left as the custodian of Afghanistan’s future, similar to now, while the Soviets, similar to the Americans, cut their losses.
Bottom of the Iceberg: EIsenhower doctrine’s prophecy to use islam as a weapon against communism
How Pakistan’s military and security establishment funded and supported the Taliban while playing the 20-year role as the premier U.S. ally in the war on terror, is a story that may have started in 1974 with Pakistani Prime Minister Zia Al Haq offering U.S. President Jimmy Carter an opportunity for revenge against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan after Vietnam, but actually had its roots in 1945 with U.S. President Harry Truman’s search for a force to combat communism during the Cold War that culminated in the U.S.’s ongoing involvement and alliance-building in the Sunni Muslim world.
In many ways, the so-called war on terror truly began in 1945 and the U.S. war in Afghanistan was just another counter-revolutionary U.S. war waged since World War II in order to assert imperial control at the cost of millions of lives over nearly a century. The first counterrevolution involved the U.S. glorifying jihad by arming and supporting the Mujahideen against the Soviet Union, and the second counterrevolution involved supporting the Northern Alliance in 2001 that successfully fought off the Taliban since they first came to power in 1996. However, what compelled the U.S. to rush into Afghanistan and support the Mujahideen in the 80s, draws parallels with what compelled the U.S. to rush into Indonesia and support the right-wing fundamentalist Muslims that massacred millions of communist Indonesians in the 60s—the strategic purpose of all-out, ruthless jihad as a counterweight to the creeping force of communism.
This seed was planted with the Truman Administration who first showed interest in Islam and embarked on looking for a Muslim leader to lead a crusade against the Soviets. During U.S. President Truman’s administration between 1945 and 1953, the U.S. State Department created the National Psychological Strategy Board (NPSB) which was created to command centralized psychological operations (PsyOps) in the face of a post-World War II atmosphere in which war required more than just bloodshed but winning the hearts and minds of people, especially from communism and Soviet influence. The PSB was established in order to produce propaganda and research for the purposes of preventing communist influence.
In February 1953, Truman adopted a programme that affirmed that “contrary to received wisdom in the West…Islam was not a natural barrier to communism. Many reformers who took power in these countries put economics before religion; that weakened the role of faith and made the region vulnerable to communism.” Edward P. Lilly, the chief psychological warfare strategist of the PSB, wrote a memorandum titled “The Religious Factor” in 1953 that called upon the U.S. to manipulate religion explicitly to fight the Soviet Union, mobilizing tens of millions of Soviet Muslims to the U.S. advantage. The year after in 1954, the CIA deployed spies to Mecca during the Hajj Muslim Pilgrimmage to instill anti-Soviet sentiments among Soviet Muslims. One of those CIA spies was later dispatched to the Bandung Conference in Indonesia the year after in 1955, in order to propagandize against the Soviet Union and support right-wing Indonesian fundamentalist organizations that would later stage infamous massacres against the Indonesian Communist Party.
In January 1957, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced the Eisenhower Doctrine which declared that the U.S. would come to the aid of any country in the Middle East threatened by communism. Eisenhower and CIA founding father Frank Wisner had an agenda to prop up an Arab leader in the Middle East to fight communism, stressing that “we should do everything possible to stress the ‘holy war’ aspect.”
John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, drew up a memo on March 28, 1956, entitled Near Eastern Policies. In it, Secretary of State Dulles presents the case for building up the Saudi King as a spiritual leader of all Muslims and a counterweight to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, whose ambitions as true leader of the whole Arab world solidified through Soviet associations, posed a fundamental problem to U.S. interests in the Middle East. Countering Nasser’s brand of Arab unity, required a “spiritual leader” that could dwarf Arab Unity with Muslim Unity.
To that end, Saudi Crown Prince Faisal organized an international Islamic conference in Mecca in 1962 to combat the popularity of Arab nationalism, secularism and socialism, and launched the World Muslim League. The conference declared: “Those who disavow Islam and distort its call under the guise of nationalism are actually the most bitter enemies of the Arabs, whose glories are entwined with the glories of Islam.” In response to Faisal’s attempt to replace Arab unity with Islamic unity, Nasser condemned the new Islamic alliance of really being an “American-British conspiracy aimed at dividing the Arab world and undermining Arab hopes for unity.”
Two decades after Truman’s programme and the Eisenhower doctrine, U.S. counterrevolutionary, anti-communist efforts brought right-wing Indonesian Muslims to power with President Suharto while Saudis worked alongside Egypt’s Sadat and successor, Hosni Mubarak, in training fundamentalist fighting forces to prepare for the final battle against the Soviets. One of the individuals who traveled to Afghanistan from Saudi Arabia was a young Saudi royal named Osama bin Laden.
This U.S. policy of subcontracting client states like Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan through ideological and military support against Soviet interests, ultimately led to the creation of not just the Taliban, but Al Qaeda and the Islamic State from the very ranks of U.S.-created and trained fundamentalists who helped the Mujahideen take over Afghanistan in 1992. Once the Soviet Union fell and the American commitment dissipated from its Muslim-majority client states, the resultant jihadi culture morphed into a juggernaut that the state that once hosted its growth can no longer restrain.
Pakistan’s client state relationship with the U.S. began with Pakistani President Zia Al Haq in 1978, but unlike any other U.S. pro-jihad interference in the Muslim world, continues to this day and ultimately overwhelmed the U.S. At first, Pakistani Prime Minister Zia Al Haq, who was a general during the 1971 Liberation War and received part of his military training in the U.S., visited the White House in October 3, 1980, to speak with then-U.S. President Jerry Carter. The Carter administration initially pressed Zia to abandon Pakistan’s nuclear program, but refused and ultimately offered Zia over $400 million when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, to which Zia dismissed as “peanuts” as he wanted stronger security commitments against India.
Ultimately, Zia offered support for revenge against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan following the U.S. humiliation in Vietnam. The U.S. also looked forward to working with Pakistan, despite their nuclear non-compliance, as a Sunni counterweight to the newly former Islamic Republic of Iran, which was now a U.S. adversary. Additionally, Pakistan’s cooperation with the U.S. meant less chance that Pakistan would get any closer to China. Above all, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was considered a threat to global security and oil supplies to the Persian Gulf. Under his leadership, the Pakistani Intelligence service, the I.S.I., would scout, train and direct over 40 Afghan resistance groups out of the seven major factions within Afghanistan at the time. Pakistan would intentionally choose the most fundamentalist sects of warring Afghan factions ready to resist the Soviets because this ideological commonality served as insurance to Pakistan that the Mujahideen would be loyal and indispensable to Pakistan following the Soviet invasion.
President Ronald Reagan’s meeting with his Afghan Mujahideen guests at the White House on February 2, 1983, became a keystone moment, showing a peak in the relationship between the alliance that was currently beating the Soviet Union. “The goal of the United States remains a genuinely independent Afghanistan,” stated Reagan following his meeting. Reagan compared the Mujahideen to the Founding Fathers and stated during the visit and pledged U.S. support for “a just struggle against foreign tyranny that can count upon worldwide support, both political and material.” Arabs, Indonesians, Filipinos and Iranians also trained with the Mujahideen and brought their skills to the table against the Soviets. For bin Laden, that meant bringing his family’s construction vehicles in order to make ammunition dumps, forts and other buildings for resistance.
When this meeting occurred, it was clear that the U.S. was going to every and any length but still abiding by their gameplan of only supporting contenders to political power with legitimacy rooted in fundamentalist Islamic unity. In the 80s, observing the U.S. stance on Mujahideen’s support against the Soviet Union was a breathtaking display of realpolitik. America’s narrative as leader of the free world depends on its ability to frame its counter-revolutionary activity as promoting self-determination.
At the time, the Mujahideen with their austere form of Islam offered a more viable and freedom-contingent alternative than the communist alternative that the Soviet-backed Afghan Democratic People’s Republic. This was clear to the American public when they read in the western press after 1978 about the “fiercely anti-communist Moslem insurgents” in Afghanistan and training camps in Pakistan in need of more weapons. Once the CIA supplied stingers in Afghanistan, the rules of warfare changed as the Mujahideen were now capable of downing billion-dollar Soviet M16 helicopters with one shot. The Mujahideen were victorious within eighteen months of the first shipment of stingers.
The U.S. had beaten the Soviet Union by standing by the Eisenhower and Carter doctrines, but at the cost of internationalizing and arming jihad unlike ever before. A monster was born when Osama bin Laden and like-minded former Mujahideen allies of the U.S. would come to realize that the U.S. was no different than the Soviet Union when the U.S. & Britain deployed troops into Saudi Arabia after Iraq invaded Kuwait in an effort to protect their oil interests. This fusion of religion and politics, by simply funding jihad globally and glorifying their violence and ideology because they serve U.S., Pakistani, Saudi & Western interests, would come back to haunt the U.S unlike it’s ever been.
Now the jihadists that America had glorified through propaganda and funded through the CIA, had their sights set on ridding the world of the last superpower—the superpower that manipulated their motives, sympathies and religion in order to fulfill their own interests of dismantling the Soviet Union.
Revenge against the U.S. was imminent for using jihadists and most importantly, jihad, as a tool for Western interests. After all, the Mujahideen technically fought for the CIA and the I.S.I., masquerading their self-interests as a holy war against a mutual enemy—the Soviet Union.
Post-soviet afghanistan: a graveyard & Birthplace of global terror
Pakistan’s role in prolonging the war by aiding and abetting the Taliban began almost immediately. Four days after 9/11, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, met with the Head of the I.S.I., Massoud Ahmed, in order to stress to the Pakistanis that they were either with us or against us. To this, I.S.I. Head Massoud Ahmed insisted that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage must consider the history of the region, to which Armitage responded “history begins today.” The tension was clear, but the warning of a two-faced Pakistani alliance in the war on terror was regrettably dismissed.
The group the U.S. was fighting was not the same Mujahideen they funded in the 80s to fight the Soviet Union, but a far more powerful and organized group born out of the Civil War that ensued between the Afghan Communists and the Mujahideen. This group was known as the Taliban, which is Arabic for “students.”
When the Mujahideen became victorious in 1979, the CIA & I.S.I.-backed Mujahideen leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, claimed “It was like I have achieved one of my biggest dreams unexpectedly and before it was supposed to happen.” Hekmatyar, a 33-year-old former engineering student at Kabul University at the time of the Soviet occupation, was known as the “Dark Prince”, because of the dark turban he always wore. However, Hekmatyar and his Mujahideen would prove incapable of stepping up to the task of running Afghanistan after toppling the Soviet Union.
When the Soviet invasion ended, Pakistan was left as the sole custodian of Afghanistan while the CIA got rid of all its South Asia analysts. Afghan society was heavily militarized after the Soviet-Afghan War which led to a huge presence of armed police, civil defense groups, private bodyguards and military vehicles. By 1992, a civil war broke out between then-Afghan President Mohammed Najibullah stepped down from power and dissolved his Soviet-backed People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan.
The Afghan Civil War broke out shortly after when Gulbuddin Hekmatyar refused to form a coalition government with other mujahideen groups on April 25, 1992. Supported by the I.S.I., Hekmatyar and his former militia turned political party, Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin, attempted to conquer Kabul for themselves. Already ravaged by the Soviet invasion, Kabul was reduced to ruin and rubble and the Afghan Civil War’s death toll was at over 176,000 people. A new group would be victorious and rise in the midst of the conflict to rule Afghanistan not just after the Civil War, but to this day.
The Taliban was founded in 1994 by former Mujahid, Mullah Omar, who worked closely with the CIA as well as the I.S.I., which was composed of students who attended Pakistani madrasas during the Soviet invasion. They were simply the most dominant fighting force in town that was also up to the task of ruling Afghanistan, which the Mujahideen were not capable of. Crime among Afghans was rare under Taliban rule which started in 1996, as the public greatly feared the Taliban whose idea of justice involved austere and draconian interpretations of Islamic law. A soccer stadium built during the Soviet invasion by the U.N. was used by the Taliban as an infamous public sharia court used for floggings, beheadings and honor killings. Women were suddenly forced to be completely covered up from head to toe, without any show of their faces, and forbidden from walking on the street unaccompanied or taking up any employment outside of medicine. Girls were also not allowed to go to school during Taliban rule.
Left in Afghanistan was a population of 14 million where a third were killed, wounded or displaced, cities reduced to rubble and a dangerously armed and brainwashed fighting force that would grab power in 1996.
The Taliban that rose to power in 1996 was known to Western media as an ultra-conservative dictatorship, where public executions, bans on women from the public eye and employment and most importantly, terrorist training networks found safe haven. However, some of the Afghan population remember this time as the only time in the recent history of Afghanistan, where security was guaranteed due to fear of the Taliban courts.
To many Muslims and Western audiences at the time, Afghanistan was a just war, a righteous jihad and a cause worthy enough to attract fighters from all over the world. Not only were fatwas declared that rewarded Muslims for killing communists with the equivalent of 80,000 prayers, leaders of the Western nations like the U.S. also met and endorsed the Mujahideen in their righteous jihad.
Journalist and best-selling foreign policy author, Ahmed Rashid, remarks about this fusion of religion, politics and international financial support for war in the name of Islam: “Now we have a relationship where jihad was funded and supported by everyone [America, Saudi, China & Pakistani] , creating a monster in the region.”
Between 1978-1992, the I.S.I. trained over 100,000 insurgents, which served as an intermediary for military training, funds distribution, arms dealing and financial support for Afghan resistance groups. On the American end, U.S. funding started in 1979 at $695,000, then jumped to $20-30 million in 1980, and finally rose to over $630 million per year in 1987. The Afghan Mujahideen were officially the “biggest bequest to any Third World Insurgency.”
To answer questions about the Taliban’s founding and recruitment in Afghanistan, we need to visit the life of Osama bin Laden himself. The son of a wealthy Saudi real estate mogul, bin Laden came up in a religious and comfortable household. His family earned a great reputation in Saudi Arabia for his father’s work on the Mosque in Mecca as well as lavish estates for the Saudi royal family. While bin Laden lived a life free from struggle and misfortune, he was intent on pursuing Islam through jihad. He was one of a very few Arab youth who traveled to Afghanistan following 1979 in order to join the Mujahideen. Osama would join the Arab Services Bureau, started by Palestinian Mujahid Abdullah Azzam, which administered the Arab Mujahideen. Al Qaeda would later form among this Arab Mujahideen population.
Another prominent Mujahid who worked with the CIA in 1978 and is now a leader of a separate yet complementary group to the Taliban was Jalaludin Haqqani, founder of the Haqqani Network. Since 1978, members of Jalaludin Haqqani’s family have benefited from his ability to forge relationships with outsiders prepared to sponsor resistance to the Soviets including the CIA, I.S.I. and wealthy Arab donors in the Persian Gulf. During the U.S. War in Afghanistan, the Haqqanis’ global financial network was responsible for many bombings, assassinations and attacks of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
In 2013, CIA South Asia Expert Bruce Riedel mentioned that the top three most wanted individuals in the U.S. FBI’s most-wanted list were in Pakistan, including Haqqani and Hafiz Saeed, mastermind behind Mumbai’s bombing and former Mujahid as well.
The environment of a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan offered fertile ground to jihadists from across the globe; now without an enemy like the Soviet Union to fight. Post-Soviet Afghanistan became a place where weapons were readily available, women were rare, jihadists would flock and anti-American sentiment reached historical levels.
The recently victorious jihadists later found America to be the true enemy after Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991, which triggered the U.S. and Britain to position their troops around Saudi Arabia to protect their oil interests in the region. Deploying U.S. and British troops to protect the Muslim world’s most precious natural resource was regarded as such a cruel display of self-interest, which convinced leaders like Osama Bin Laden that America was their foe all along.
Bin Laden would frequently declare war on America from his Al-Qaeda outposts in Afghanistan. On August 23, 1996, issued and signed a declaration war against the United States titled, “Message from Usama bin Laden to his Muslim Brothers in the Whole World and Especially in the Arabian Peninsula: Declaration of Jihad Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Mosques; Expel the Heretics from the Arabian Peninsula.” Once considered a freedom fighter by Ronald Reagan’s administration, Bin Laden was now convinced that America was no better, if not worse than the Soviet Union.
Bin Laden saw this display of Western self-interests as an exposure of their true desire to occupy Muslim lands and seize the Muslims’ ultimate natural resource—oil. Following this, we witness Al Qaeda perform multiple bombings that grips the U.S.’s attention.
Additionally, the assassination of Palestinian Mujahid Abdullah Azzam in Peshawar, Pakistan by Israeli or U.S. elements further angered the jihadist population in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Bin Laden even wrote of the perpetual crimes America committed with its unconditional and exponential military aid to Israel and the need to fight for the plight of the Palestinians living in lands occupied by Israel. By the end of the 1990s, Al Qaeda and the emerging jihadi threat was under U.S. government radar, but simply never demanded too much attention.
The American reaction was there, but nowhere as serious as when the homeland was finally attacked on September 11, 2001.
FBI Agent John O’Neill spent the latter years of his career in the mid-90s studying and monitoring Osama Bin Laden. In a 1997 Associated Press story, O’Neill stated , “A lot of these groups now have the capability and the support infrastructure in the United States to attack us here if they choose to do so.” To O’Neill, Osama Bin Laden was the most dangerous man in the world, who personified America’s greatest mistake during the Cold War. However, O’Neill was personally disliked by his superiors within the FBI, denying his warnings about Osama and later urging him to find new employment as security for the World Trade Center. Special Agent O’Neill died during the 9/11 attacks.
The 9/11 attacks fundamentally changed the course of history and every aspect of American society. It marked the beginning of the 21st century and ushered in a new era of modern, perpetual warfare. The Taliban-controlled Afghanistan was now a nest for international terrorism, which U.S. intelligence ignored for nearly a decade, but which the American public was now vengeful against.
While popular opinion surrounding 9/11 in America called for revenge against Al Qaeda, the popular Pakistani public opinion was less sympathetic and less vengeful for the West.
In a head-to-head interview with Mehdi Hassan in the Oxford Union in 2015, retired Pakistani general and Head of the I.S.I. from 1990 to 1993, Asad Durrani, offered his take on the public opinion of Pakistan following 9/11. “When 9/11 occurred, there was this reaction in the streets of Pakistan that it was time a befitting response was given to the sole, remaining superpower. [America] thinks it can go wherever and get away with anything, and finally had someone brave enough to stop them.” The worldview of Pakistani intelligence and that of the jihadists that they covertly support, aligns almost perfectly that it would be fair to call sections of the Pakistani military and security establishment jihadi sympathizers. Later in the same interview with Mehdi Hassan, General Asad Durrani asked the audience for “applause” considering his organization’s ability to help Afghanistan relieve itself of foreign occupation and stand up to the West.
General Durrani’s attitude is reflected in the actions of Pakistani President Parvez Musharraf in 2001 when under his leadership, Pakistan withdrew support for the Taliban following Musharraf’s commitment to the U.S. President George W. Bush’s post-9/11 mission against Al-Qaeda operatives. However, Musharraf simultaneously maintained Pakistan’s ‘open-door’ policy towards Taliban members and other jihadists to freely cross the border into Pakistan in order to evade the U.S. This dynamic would only adapt to U.S. efforts to undermine this covert alliance as well as Taliban efforts to evade, regroup, organize and launch future insurgencies. The Taliban were essentially given training, planning, logistics and access to safe havens by Pakistan, in order to sustain themselves as a political force in Afghanistan and a fighting force against India and the U.S. In many ways, Pakistan’s tactics were simply means to fulfill their own self-interests while also cordially and cooperatively receiving aid from their proxies’ opponent—the U.S.
Within the first two months of war, the U.S. invasion proved overwhelming to the Taliban. First, the U.S. established contact and a later military alliance with the premier opposition to the Taliban, the Northern Alliance headed by legendary general Ahmad Shah Massoud. The CIA launched Operation Jawbreaker, where CIA agents made contact with the Northern Alliance and gave them $3 million in cash. Within the first week, U.S. F-16 fighter jets avoided radar and bombarded all of the Taliban’s air defenses while ground troops were airlifted into the remote Panjshir Valley and southeast Kandahar.
The U.S. forces alongside the Northern Alliance liberated both Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul within the first two months, before cornering several Taliban leaders and over 5,000 Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the city of Kunduz. The confrontation in Kunduz lasted 12 days while the U.S. 75th regiment attacked Taliban camps in Kandahar, sending a strong message that the U.S. could be anywhere, at any time, without any warning.
When the Taliban and Al Qaeda surrendered in Kunduz, suspicion arose over how all the alleged Taliban leaders were mysteriously absent when the city fell. Multiple sources confirm that the I.S.I. indeed airlifted all the Taliban leadership before Kunduz was captured. This airlift is remembered as the ‘Airlift of Evil.’
War on terror: Lost & Forgotten
When 9/11 occurred, 2,996 innocent U.S. civilians died from coordinated plane attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A third plane aiming to attack the U.S. Capitol building crashed before it reached D.C. when its passengers realized what was happening and attempted to stop the hijackers themselves.
The U.S. would found a new federal government agency called the Department of Homeland Security following the most devastating attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor as well as a 9/11 Special Commission to bring all perpetrators to justice. Of all 496 U.S. Senator and Congressmen who voted on the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) to go to war in Afghanistan, only one (California Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee) voted against the decision, due to the bill’s broad language which has justified 19 wars in the last 20 years since 9/11.
The U.S. and British forces invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, in a military operation called Operation Enduring Freedom.
The reaction was engulfed with rage and absolutely no plan. When Osama bin Laden claimed the attack on behalf of Al Qaeda, the U.S. government gave their once-ally, the Taliban, a chance to turn over Bin Laden to the United States. When they refused, the U.S. swiftly invaded Afghanistan vis-a-vis Pakistan and supported the Northern Alliance, which was the part of Afghanistan in Panjshir Valley that successfully resisted Taliban advances from 1996 to 2001. By December 2001, Kabul had been captured, women came out into the streets unveiled for the first time in years and the Taliban were making a last stand in their birthplace of Kandahar.
Donald Rumsfeld, who was Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush, professed his intention to simply take out the bad guys within a country and leave, maybe coming back a decade later. This was called the Rumsfeld Doctrine. On the other side of the argument were people like U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, who believed that nation-building should also be our priority. Following the recent Kabul takeover, the two sides remain the same as people still remain divided about what was the right approach in Afghanistan.
Within two years, the U.S. had demonstrated an absolutely new approach that involved using false intelligence to prove that Al Qaeda and Iraq’s President, Saddam Hussein, were manufacturing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Lebanese-American CIA Operative, Ali Soufan, explains how U.S. torture and black site prisons would lead the American government to hastily force itself into another war.
The week after 9/11, George W. Bush visited the Islamic Center of Washington D.C., in order to emphasize that “America was not at war against Muslims.” However, U.S. government actions contradicted his PR stunt following the attack.
Within the U.S., the F.B.I. conducted surveillance and issued “no-knock” warrants to Muslim-American households, allowing them to search homes and businesses at any time. On August 2002, Berkeley Law Professor and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General, John Yoo, drafted the infamous Torture Memos, which would legally justify enhanced interrogation techniques including mental and physical coercion, prolonged sleep deprivation, binding in stress positions and waterboarding. This alongside the NSA’s Operation Stellar Wind, which completely legalized unsolicited and unwarranted wiretapping and surveillance for whoever was deemed a threat, brought a hostile and unconstitutional environment into our country’s legal system and society. When apparent Al Qaeda members entered Guantanamo Bay, there was an insistence from the Pentagon to not call them prisoners, but rather detainees. This is due to the fact that prisoners were afforded certain rights and comforts according to the Geneva Conventions. However, because the Taliban did not wear a uniform, they were not afforded Geneva Conventions privileges and were instead considered detainees to avoid that consideration.
Ali Soufan explains the difference between cooperation and compliance with respect to torture. Compliance, which torture typically accomplishes, means that the detainee will tell the torturer whatever they want to hear in order to make the torture stop. Cooperation, on the other hand, involves working with the detainee in order to really get the truth.
The perfect example of compliance was American-born, former San Diego imam and Al Qaeda leader, Anwar Al-Bini, who was tortured into confessing ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam, which was the main testimony that the government relied on to justify invading Iraq. When the smoke settled, buildings were toppled, refugees flowed in and Saddam was captured, it turned out neither WMDs nor the Al Qaeda connection was true.
Iraq was seen as the bad war and Afghanistan was seen as the good war. President Barack Obama ran his election campaign on a platform that decried the wasted war efforts and intended to close Guantanamo Bay. Neither happened. In fact, Obama exponentially increased the number of drone and targeted airstrikes as a less costly alternative to fighting the war on terror, now approaching its second decade. Thousands of people, including children, would die brutally over the next decade along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, further demoralizing the Afghan national army and sending scores of Afghans and Pakistanis into the hands of the Taliban.
Pakistan’s double game of aiding and arming the Taliban while also serving as a frontline U.S. ally in the war on terror, came with overwhelming consequences felt in daily society. In 2002, the Pakistan Army carried out military incursions in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border with Afghanistan in order to pursue suspected Al Qaeda fighters of largely Uzbek, Chechen and Arab origin. Military operations in civilian areas led to immense, unforgivable collateral damage among Pakistan’s tribal population. The result was the rise of a new Taliban chapter within Pakistan that exclusively targets elements of the Pakistani state. This new jihadi organization was known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan (TTP).
There are between 3,000 and 4,000 active TTP fighters active in Afghanistan according to a 2019 Department of Defense report. Between 2002 and 2014, car bombings, shootings and attacks by the TTP were commonplace as the war on terror spilled over into Pakistan’s borders. Pakistan was instrumental in tracking and capturing Al Qaeda members and also destroyed most of the TTP’s infrastructure over the years as the vast majority of their remaining fighters are in Afghanistan. Perhaps the most devastating TTP attack was In 2014, when the Peshawar School Massacre occurred. Six TTP militants stormed the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan and opened fire on school staff and children. Of the 149 people killed, 132 of them were children. Pakistan’s Special Security Forces launched a successful rescue mission, killing all six TTP militants and rescuing 890 within the school.
To this day, Pakistan pays the price of using jihadi groups on a daily basis. Major Pakistani cities like Lahore go into lockdown during the day so the children of Pakistani generals and army officers can go to school without the threat of suicide bombers. Similar to Kabul, major Pakistani cities like Lahore have huge cement walls, sandbag encampments, guard towers and a huge military and police presence as a daily reminder of the ongoing militancy that has become ingrained into daily life for every Pakistanis caught in the decisions made by their deep state.
Osama Bin Laden’s ultimate goal was to destroy the Western liberal democratic system of nation-states and re-establish the era of the Muslim ummah living without borders. Following 9/11, Bin Laden expected the American public to take to the streets and protest the American government into withdrawing all American troops in Muslim countries. While Bin Laden and Al Qaeda did not succeed in ridding the Muslim world of U.S. military presence, Bin Laden was remarkably successful in proving his worldview that America was aiming to destroy and dominate the Muslim world.
Iran has risen in the last twenty years as a dominant hegemon in the Middle East as a result of U.S. violence in the region. The rise of Iran was essentially facilitated by Iran filling in the power vacuum in countries that were facing Western aggression from the U.S. and also Israel. Iran supports non-state militant groups to resist mutual enemies within Lebanon (Hezbollah) , Occupied Palestine (Hamas), Yemen (Houthis) and Afghanistan (Fatemiyoun Brigade). While the Taliban are expected to be a rising force in Central and South Asia, Iran has already established itself as the premier rising power following two American occupations in the Middle East through proxy wars with the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel.
On the other end of the border, India may potentially benefit in the long run with Pakistan’s strategic victory with the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. On September 24, 2021, the alliance between India, Japan, the U.S. and Australia known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue which was established in 2007, met in Washington, D.C. to discuss the threat of China in the Asia-Pacific region—which is the main center stage of U.S. foreign policy after Afghanistan. Assurances and sympathy for India, who insists on taking the lead on holding Pakistan accountable, will win India much leverage in the future over Pakistan considering India’s better reputation in the region at the moment. Pakistan is seen as the source of decades of war, while India is perceived as a balancing power that more Western countries currently sympathize with.
Why the Afghan Government Failed
During the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, the Afghan National government was known by the acronym VICE (Vertically Integrated Criminal Enterprise). Contracts and interaction with U.S. officials typically went through warlords and Afghan politicians.
Initially, the central strategy and mission following the invasion of Afghanistan was the issue which policymakers in Washington remained split over. Some American officials believed the purpose was to take out Al Qaeda and leave Afghanistan to pick itself up, while others believed that the U.S. should funnel in resources, impose a Western-style democratically elected government and work towards building both Afghanistan’s army and government in America’s image. In due time, both approaches would prove to be both unsustainable and even counterproductive as the Afghan national government could never pay more than 25% of the bills since 2001.
The approach the U.S. ultimately carried out in Afghanistan was a low-footprint approach, which meant troop surges when politically convenient and only orders to keep the enemy on the defensive.
However, the U.S. itself was not expecting or even intending to pay the bills in Afghanistan properly. In the U.S. intervention in Bosnia, the United States and other donors provided economic assistance of about $1,600 per inhabitant per year for the first several years after that war. The relative figure in Afghanistan was about $50 per person, clearly displaying the flaws of the occupation as a recipe for disaster.
Typically, the troop-to-population ratio is an important determinant of the success of a stabilization operation. Two years before the invasion of Afghanistan, in 1999, the United States and its NATO allies had deployed 50,000 troops to stabilize Kosovo, a country of 1.9 million. Afghanistan’s population in 2001 was 21.6 million—yet by the end of 2002, there were only around 8,000 U.S. troops in a country that was more than ten times Kosovo’s size and had no army or police force of its own. There simply weren’t enough U.S. boots on the ground to secure the country the United States had captured.
The Bush administration’s first mistake was a failure to fully appreciate the geographic obstacles in the way of an Afghan reconstruction effort. Afghanistan is on the other side of the world from the United States, and in addition to being landlocked and inaccessible, it is surrounded by several powerful and predatory neighbors, including Iran, Pakistan, and nearby Russia. The only way the United States could get most of its forces and their supplies into or out of Afghanistan was through or over Pakistan—a country that did not share American objectives there and actively sought to subvert them.
Historically, the United States has launched military interventions with the intention of putting a stop to something, such as military aggression, genocide, nuclear proliferation—and, in the case of Afghanistan in 2001, ongoing terrorist operations. When the objective is achieved, as happened in Afghanistan once the immediate threat from al Qaeda was eliminated, the intervening force reaches a crossroads. Seeking to preempt any repeat episodes, it must choose between occupying permanently, reinvading periodically, or committing to help build a minimally competent successor regime, ideally allowing it to leave behind a society at peace with itself and its neighbors. The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, unwilling to govern Afghanistan and faced with the threat of an al Qaeda resurgence, chose the third option—but failed to grasp the full dimensions of the challenge it was taking on.
The Bush administration made other critical mistakes that limited the possibility of a successful stabilization. There were no substantial early efforts to build a national Afghan army or police force, which left security in the hands of predatory local warlords and made confronting returning Taliban fighters more difficult. There was no single point of leadership for the international reconstruction effort, which consequently lacked coherence. And, perhaps most significantly, it took U.S. officials several years to realize that although Pakistan had withdrawn its support for the Taliban government, it hadn’t abandoned the Taliban as an organization. After they were routed from Afghanistan, the Taliban’s leadership and the group’s remaining members were given sanctuary in Pakistan, where they recuperated, retrained, resupplied, and later restarted an insurgency in Afghanistan.
For 20 years, Washington has struggled and mostly failed to reduce the overall level of global terrorism and to create a healthier political climate in the Muslim world. It has also endured slow, grinding quagmires and sharp, humiliating setbacks. Yet on the most fundamental level, the United States has achieved its strategic objective: it has prevented catastrophic attacks against the U.S. homeland, mainly by becoming extremely proficient at destroying terrorists’ sanctuaries and pulverizing their networks. Even Barack Obama noted the assistance the U.S. was receiving by Pakistan’s crackdown on Al Qaeda.
Condoleeza Rice mentioned in a recent interview that looking for a stable foundation for counterintelligence and operations was a big initial issue for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Finding a base for air support was challenging as countries surrounding Afghanistan were either hostile or unwilling towards the U.S. Before Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, the U.S. paid the Uzbek dictator Karimoff a “king’s ransom” to use just one of their airfields and eventually worked with Pakistan for air and ground support in order to supply U.S. and Afghan troops.
Former Secretary of State Rice was sure to mention that, “one thing we never accomplished, was we were never able to get a handle on Pakistan.” Safe havens in Pakistan were well-known throughout the twenty-year war and while the U.S. assumed that their involvement in Afghanistan would allow them to keep a better eye on Iran and Pakistan, the opposite occurred. Rice herself stated that she was a fan of Barack Obama’s troop surges, which changed the mission from holding territories to retrenching in popular areas and using territory as their base. In the words of Donal Rumsfeld, “you have to take the fight to them.” In taking the fight to them, the U.S. wished to continue and finish the war on terror at its roots rather than finding it within the American homeland.
Ultimately, the entire operation fell apart within a matter of eleven days. Immediately, the world looked for answers as to how such a well-equipped and long-standing army and police surrendered, in most cases, without firing a shot.
The Afghan National Army can be categorized as a Faberge egg military, which means that while the forces were flashy, expensive and advanced, they were simply unsustainable in the long run due to systemic flaws.
The Afghan National Army was built in the image of the U.S. army—meaning that they required immense airpower which required American contractors and pilots to physically aid them. When the U.S. forces withdrew from Bagram airbase, they did not alert the commander at Bagram, deepening the sense of abandonment and hasty mismanagement from the higher echelons of the Pentagon and the Biden Administration.
However, the Western media coverage and U.S. officials like National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan wholeheartedly pin the blame of the collapse on the Afghan National Army.
“When push came to shove, the Afghan army did not fight.” The absolute heartlessness regarding the Afghan fighters, who lost over 66,000 in the last two decades, has been a recurring theme. The entire society and economy of Afghanistan revolved around the war and in the end, the Taliban’s will and resources to win the war overwhelmed that of the fragile and unsustainable Afghan National army. While the Afghan Special Forces unit is particularly effective, the bulk of the Afghan National Army was either poorly trained, insufficiently armed or undersupplied. Towards the end of the fighting between the army and the Taliban, it became clear that the Taliban were well-funded and well-fed as the Afghan Army reportedly fought in the scorching heat without food or water for days.
Even though the U.S. foothold in Afghanistan is lost, U.S. officials praise the success of the U.S. war in Afghanistan for its undeniable role in preventing another 9/11 type attack. Similar attacks were planned later in the Los Angeles International Airport, but were foiled by American intelligence and law enforcement in the nick of time. Intelligence agencies went through an entire revamping of their capabilities post -9/11 and were very successful in taking out nests and tracking jihadi networks. When the U.S. captured 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the American effort now had a sense of where Al Qaeda operated from and who was involved.
“Credibility is not divisible,” according to Condoleeza Rice when asked about the reaction of U.S. adversaries overseeing the Taliban takeover. Rice explained that when the U.S. did not respond befittingly to the Al Qaeda attacks on U.S. Embassies in 1998 and the coal rig in 1999, the jihadist movement became emboldened. Similarly, today the jihadist movement has secured a historical victory by ridding a superpower from its borders. Osama Bin Laden himself referred to America as a “paper tiger,” whose threats were not meant to be taken seriously as they are assumed to be incapable.
While the twenty-year occupation may have contradicted the paper tiger designation, the U.S. has taken a hit. The Taliban just defeated a major Western world leader, which will boost its popularity and allow for more recruits. This loss in Afghanistan sends a strong message about Taiwan.
Given all the blood and treasure in Afghanistan, will we help Taiwan against China or help Ukraine against Russia?
Taliban Diplomacy: An Unwelcome Welcoming to the International Community
The international community has been predictably very split about either their disappointment or enthusiasm for the newly declared Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The mock funeral which the Taliban and its regime supporters staged the day after the August 31st U.S. deadline, spoke volumes about the loyalties and motives of international involvement in Afghanistan.
Western media and world leaders alike, expressed their grief and desperate assurances to their troops that their sacrifices weren’t made in vain. U.S President Joe Biden made repeated attempts to assure the American public that his State Department reached out to American citizens in Afghanistan 19 times before the evacuation completed, and that the ordeal would have been “disastrous regardless.” Trump joined Sean Hannity on Fox News the day after the Taliban takeover to express his opinion that America was “humiliated.”
Across the Atlantic in Europe, conservative candidate for the German chancellorship, Armin Laschet, calls the withdrawal “the biggest debacle that NATO has suffered since its founding.” French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly chided Biden by phone to show greater “moral responsibility,” conveniently ignoring the fact that France withdrew its own forces from Afghanistan way back in 2014, not to mention his speech from a week ago saying France needed to “protect itself from a wave of [Afghan] migrants.” Russian President Vladimir Putin told a news conference shortly after the Taliban takeover that the U.S. two-decade operation yielded “zero result.” Putin spoke further to admonish the Western attempt to install their own values in other countries, questioning whether the U.S. and its NATO allies learned what the Soviet Union learned forty years ago.
Seen draped over coffins are the flags of the U.S., Britain, France and Australia. Naturally, Western media has expressed an unmistakable tone of humiliation, grief and irreparable damage to repute. To this, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told his viewers: “release yourselves from the shackles of mental slavery.” Essentially, Khan as a Pakistani civilian leader is issuing tacit support for the newly established Taliban regime, which majority Western NATO forces just lost to after two decades. Clearly, Pakistan has proven and will remain culturally, politically and economically linked to Afghanistan, unlike its once more involved Western counterparts.
While the growing chorus of Western politicians, academics and everyday Afghans condemn Pakistan as the mastermind behind Taliban, the Haqqani Network and Al Qaeda, Pakistani civilian leaders express that they are just as scared and vulnerable to wanton violence.
In recent years, Pakistan has had a jihadist insurgency of its own
Interviews from some Taliban members show that the group is frustrated by Pakistan’s control over their group and looks for closer links to their other neighbor, Iran.
Taliban’s own branch within Pakistan has more immediate concern, as the Tehrik-e-Taliban has killed over 33,000 Pakistani civilians in the last twenty years through means of car bombings, suicide bombings and armed attacks in pubic settings. When former head of the I.S.I. during the Bush administration, Ahmed Durrani, was interviewed in Oxford Union by journalist Mehdi Hasan, a panelist mentioned that the cost that Pakistan has paid as a result of the breathtaking display of realpolitik by the Pakistani intelligence, is much too high. Civilian casualties alone have devastated the Pakistan to the point that everyday life in major Pakistani cities are forever altered.
In a recent Op-Ed on the Washington Post, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan urged the international community to stop scapegoating Pakistan for the aftermath of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. Khan made sure to mention how the U.S. imposed this war on Pakistan, which spilled into its borders and has costed tens of thousands of lives.
While Khan’s statements hold some truth, this and his UN General Assembly Speech were mere smokescreens, considering even Khan himself nor anyone who holds his office as Prime Minister may ever get the Pakistani deep state to be held accountable. After ruling the country for fifty decades and gaining a reputation for killing journalists, bypassing civilian leaders and mobilizing military or paramilitary forces to carry out its own foreign policy, the deep state has been regarded as a state within a state and some have suggested treating it as such.
Neoconservative U.S. foreign policy voices like Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton condemn the I.S.I. as a “hotbed for international terrorism.” Some scholars and U.S. officials have called for the sanctioning of certain Pakistani generals as well as the country altogether, but this obvious suggestion raises fears of an adverse reaction from Pakistan, making its nuclear arsenal of more immediate concern.
India is by far and undoubtedly, the biggest loser following the collapse of the Afghan National Government. Not only seeing the Afghan National Government as an ally against the Taliban but also Pakistan, India simply gained the most benefit from the U.S. occupation in terms of regional stability, containment of Pakistan and commerce.
The India’s government has provided nearly $3 billion in infrastructure projects and aid, making it the largest regional donor to Afghanistan. These investments include highways, building projects, dams and even the new Afghan Parliament House at the tune of $90 million which was inaugurated in 2015 by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi’s BJP government promoted its “Neighborhood First” foreign policy that upheld peace and maintained mutually beneficial relationships with regional neighbors, which in practice led to the investment of billions of dollars into countries like Nepal and Bhutan.
Immediately after the Taliban takeover in Kabul, India administered flights for 550 people, including 290 Afghans who fit their NRC-based definition of “religious minorities.” Namely, non-Muslim Afghans from Hindu and Sikh communities were evacuated in good faith according to Indian government authorities. Indian Spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs Arindam Bagchi mentioned “We were able to bring out some Afghan nationals as well as nationals from other countries. Of these, many of them were Sikhs and Hindus. Primarily, our focus will be on Indian nationals, but we’ll also stand by Afghans who stood by us.”
With a new Taliban government in charge, the Indian foreign policy establishment is left with their nightmare—a fundamentalist Islamic regime that defeated the U.S. through 20 years of jihad and armed struggle. While India invites America’s balancing to China, considering their openly adversarial relationship and border skirmishes with China’s military in the Ladakh region that resulted in the deaths of 28 Indian soldiers, India may now have to deal with new threats in addition to Pakistan’s proxies in Kashmir. The BJP government stepped up to Pakistan’s complicit support for cross-border terrorism by authorizing aerial attacks on jihadist training camps in Pakistan and cross-border military raids. India also mobilized its Financial Action Task Force in order to crack down on Pakistan’s financial support of terrorist groups.
Pakistan’s proxy terrorist groups that operate within Kashmir, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba & Jaish-e-Mohammed, have reaped immense destruction throughout India, killing hundreds in the past two decades. Under Modi, the Indian Air Force conducted cross-border airstrikes on suspected supply lines used by Pakistani-backed groups. India will surely continue its hard-line stance with Pakistan considering the aggressive BJP party in power at the moment, which is now receiving immense Western sympathy and support for taking the lead on blaming Pakistan for the Taliban takeover.
Iran is also another country that has demonstrated a trajectory of favorable relations with a Taliban-led Afghanistan. Similar to Pakistan, Iran’s military establishment, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, has been seen on multiple occasions aiding and abetting the Taliban. Iran’s primary reason for their ongoing involvement in Afghanistan and support for the Taliban is Iran’s need for water which flows in from Afghanistan. Iran has been in close cooperation with militants in Afghanistan’s upper Helmand province, where the Alizai, Noorzai and Ishaqzai tribes reside, which control a USAID-built dam which empties into Iran’s Sistan region that waters over a million people.
In a question-and-answer session with an Iranian journalist on July 31, 2021,Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said: “We always wanted to establish an Islamic system, and we want an Islamic system.” In fact, some media commentators on the day of the Taliban takeover remarked and drew parallels between the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran. Now, Iran is a military, economic and social force in and of itself in the Middle East that has conducted numerous operations beyond its borders in order to exert its influence in neighboring Arab states and undermine Israel. The Taliban, drawing inspiration from Iran’s ideological and socio-political aspects, has also drawn military and material support from Iran as well.
Chris Martin stated that “the support Iran has provided to armed groups inside Afghanistan has ranged from money to weapons to routes for exfiltrating drugs, and has gone on for at least the last decade, if not twice that—the water from the river Helmand is a vital national interest for the Iranian government.”
In August 2, 2020, Foreign Policy interview a tribal elder and police chief who alleged about a Taliban leader from the Shali Kot district: “his bodyguards are Iranian.” Weeks later, that individual was hanged.
In Kandahar in early August 2021, dead Taliban members were found with Iranian weapons. Foreign Policy Writer Shelly Kittleson was later told by multiple security officials that they received intelligence on more Iranian fights operations in Herta, Nimroz and Helmand provinces along the western and southwestern Afghanistan bordering Iran. An earlier Foreign Policy report in 2016 showed that Iran was “providing Taliban forces along its border with money and small amounts of relatively low-grade weaponry like machine guns, ammunition, and rocket-propelled grenades.”
Multiple reports in recent years attest to the claim that Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are providing weapons and training for the Taliban. In February 2017, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan told Congress that Iran was supporting the Taliban to undermine the U.S. mission in the country, noting that “Russia, Iran, and al Qaeda are playing significant roles in Afghanistan.”
When the Taliban captured the Islam Qala border crossing with Iran on July 9, 2021, Iranian officials were reported to have welcomed them. Later on August 6, 2021, when the Afghan capital of Nimroz province was teetering on collapse, Afghan refugees attempting to enter Islam Qala, were refused entry.
The long-standing relationship between Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has been evident since the IRGC have been active in Afghanistan following the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. By 2013, the IRGC had recruited tens of thousands of Afghans, many of whom speak Farsi or are Tajiks. Iran has also supported millions of Afghan refugees over the course of forty years and two U.S.-backed military campaigns, which is unlikely to change. On the same token, Iran has expressed increasing concerns about their Shiite minorities in Afghanistan.
Most recently, the Taliban invaded and took over Panjshir Valley, which was a stronghold that has remained fiercely independent against both the Soviets and the Taliban. However, following I.S.I. Head Faiz Hameed’s visit to the Serena Hotel in Kabul, Pakistani military personnel, military helicopters and drones aided the Taliban in finally conquering the Pan jshir Valley. Iran strongly condemned this Taliban invasion of Panjshir Valley, which is home to a huge Tajik minority, which Iran also has significant populations within their borders.
Taliban leaders also regularly travel into Iran, which shares a 572 mile southern border with Afghanistan as well as strategic, ideological, economic and ecological reasons. On January 31, 2021, Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar met with Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif. The two discussed shared regional concerns and shared interests as do official heads of state, but seven months ahead of the Taliban takeover.
Iran has a tense relationship with Afghan refugees and its border, which is infamous for being the source of Iran’s opioid epidemic. While authorities in recent years have been tough on cracking down on drug smuggling, the growing demand to better relations with the Taliban, will bring the Iranian government to a choice over-regulating their border or risking commercial and diplomatic relations with the Taliban.
Qatar & Turkey
In recent years, Qatar has risen to the world stage. As an innovative, free-spirited Gulf state, which is home to Al Jazeera, the Al Udeid U.S. military base, Qatar has demonstrated its ability to be an economic, diplomatic and political hub for global change.
Qatar has recently assumed the role of the Taliban’s PR firm following its diplomatic and media maneuvers on their behalf. However, many are wondering what in Qatar’s self-interests makes them want to nurture such close ties with the Taliban?
As the host of talks between the Taliban, the Afghan National Government and the United States, Qatar has been an exclusive venue for the Taliban to actually receive spotlight as a political force that is here to stay.
In recent weeks, Qatar has also served as a major transit point for Afghan refugees and is currently working with the Taliban to administer commercial flights from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. On Thursday, September 9, 2021, Qatar worked with Turkey in order to transport more than 100 passengers from Kabul to Doha, Qatar, in what marked the first successful flight since the unprecedented U.S. airlift of over 120,000 people in August 2021.
While Turkey has been largely entrusted by both the Taliban and NATO to continue facilitating the airport, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed unease at the Taliban’s handling of the situation.
Of particular importance and U.S. concern, is the Taliban’s long-standing romance with China. “China is a friendly country, and we welcome it for reconstruction and developing Afghanistan,” the Taliban assured on July 10.
Afghanistan sits on top of vast mineral deposits, including copper, coal, oil, gas, lithium, talc, uranium, and precious stones such as lapis lazuli, which the British, the Russians, the Americans, and now the Chinese are offering infrastructure and partnerships to tap into their natural resources. China’s state-owned Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) struck a $2.83 billion deal for a 30-year lease in Mes Aynak, a 5,000-year-old architectural site in the Logar Province, 25 miles southeast of Kabul, with over $100 billion worth of copper buried underneath the ruins. Mes Aynak is the topic of an international effort and documentary, about the effort to save the ruin from Chinese excavation which has the potential of erasing a historical landmark that offers much potential in studying the history of Afghanistan and Buddhism.
Although China had been a longtime critic of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, it relied on the U.S. to contain the potential security threat of Uyghur resistance fighters using Afghan territory as a base for operations in their struggle for the independence of Xinjiang. The separatists go by the name, East Turkestan Islamic Movement, and have been of growing concern to China, which shares a narrow border with Xinjiang called the Wakhan Corridor. China’s other benefit from the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan was the post-9/11 American narrative of waging a war on terror, that gave the Chinese Communist Party the pretext to detain hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Xinjiang in the name of combating global terrorism in their own backyard.
To address China’s concern of future investment, Taliban Spokesperson Suhail Shaheen stated in one of the Taliban’s first press conferences since the Kabul takeover, “we care about the oppression of Muslims, be it in Palestine, in Myanmar, or in China, and we care about the oppression of non-Muslims anywhere in the world. But what we are not going to do is interfere in China’s internal affairs.”
Suhail went on further to say, “China is a big country with a huge economy and capacity – I think they can play a very big role in the rebuilding, rehabilitation, and reconstruction of Afghanistan.” This welcoming of China as the principal economic partner perfectly aligns with China’s own Belt and Road Initiative in order to integrate Afghanistan into their China-Pakistan Economic Corridor— one of the first BRI initiatives. China building road and rail connections into and through Afghanistan would anger the U.S., which always advised the previous Afghan National Government to avoid Chinese investment.
After his meeting with Taliban leader Mullah Baradar, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi publicly lauded the Taliban as a “crucial military and political force in Afghanistan that is expected to play an important role in the peace, reconciliation and reconstruction process of the country.” This stood as China’s first public acknowledgement of the Taliban as a legitimate political force, which is at odds with the Taliban’s international and even domestic standing considering the Taliban is a terrorist organization to Canada, Russia and the U.S.
To date, the two major China-led projects in Afghanistan, the MCC’s Mes Aynak copper mine and the Amu Darya basin oil project led by China’s largest state-owned oil company, China National Petroleum, have been failures. Additionally, Chinese civilians and workers are oftentimes the victims of terror attacks. The Taliban has made statements to guarantee their safety in efforts to assuage these concerns in potential Afghanistan-China commercial relations.
As the only terrorist organization to make it to national ruling party, the Taliban’s relationship to other non-state actors like Al Qaeda and ISIS-K are split. With respect to jihadist organizations that complement the Taliban’s interests and vice versa, the Taliban seems to be putting contingent groups such as the Haqqani Network and Al Qaeda to use in running national security.
However, with respect to ISIS-K, the Taliban’s triumph and reign are completely illegitimate as victory through collusion with the Americans, instead of jihad and armed struggle. ISIS-K is the ISIS branch in the Central, Southwest Asian frontier, which was historically known as Khorasan. ISIS-K perceives the Taliban as “apostates” and American agents, who they doubt will impose Sharia law and run a regime as harsh and puritanical as the ISIS Caliphate in Iraq and Syria. The Taliban and ISIS-K have long-standing tensions, as sworn enemies which the Taliban cracked down on harshly in 2016.
Pakistan’s two-faced role in the U.S. war in Afghanistan has gained more and more attention in the media and among Western politicians as #SanctionPakistan has been trending since the August 14 Taliban takeover.
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is here to stay. The looming possibility of their dismantling and destruction, a tangible reality only in the early 2000s, no longer allows any world leader to ignore the Taliban any longer. The strategy thus far has been to observe and hold the Taliban to their word, but how much trust is there to be had between nations cooperating in evacuating an airport for two weeks after two decades of exhaustive war?
The U.S.-Pakistan relationship tethers between full-frontal condemnations over Pakistan’s ideological, logistical and military support of the Taliban or deferring to their blind eye policy due to fear of Pakistan’s nuclear fallout. Meanwhile, China and Iran make advances towards a Taliban-ruled Afghan economy and India braces itself for coming tensions within Kashmir and along the India-Pakistan border. Qatar and Turkey attempt to consolidate their commercial and diplomatic relations with the Taliban, while also contributing immensely to the ongoing refugee crisis.
While world powers aim to guarantee their stake within Afghanistan, the country itself suffers from frozen money reserves at the Afghan banks, failing public services and a climate of fear from Taliban persecution and possibility of civil war.
Still, some Afghans are hopeful and try to build their country like the U.S. citizen Mayor of Kabul, who now shares an office with a senior Taliban leader. “I am here to serve the people. I don’t refuse cooperation because I do not agree with your views.” Spirits are still high and the will of the Afghan people to make do with the situation is definitely present.
Ultimately, political stability will facilitate proper commerce, trade, social services, and security within Afghan society. If the Taliban-led government can accomplish those objectives and follow through with their promises regarding amnesty, then the promises from the international community regarding unfreezing bank reserves, opening commercial and diplomatic relations and distributing aid will be much more likely prospects.
Unfortunately, at the moment, the situation in Afghanistan changes by the day depending on the consensus among senior Taliban leaders as well as the sense of calm in the streets of Afghanistan. The only alternative is to wait and see. Acting on hunches and irrational underestimations of Afghan resistance to outside efforts, has proven to be nothing but disastrous and counterproductive.
The only alternative is to wait and see.
However, with respect to the Taliban’s claim towards Islam requires little consideration.
The first revelation of Islam received by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) were the first lines of Surah of the Qur’an:
“Read in the name of Allah who created,
Created man from a clot
Read and Allah is the most generous
Who taught by the pen, Taught man what he knew not”The Qur’an (96: 1-4)
In claiming a religion that emphasizes learning and the pursuit of knowledge as an primary principle while blocking over half of their population for being women, the Taliban prove that they are not just un-Islamic but anti-Islamic.