Pakistan and the Taliban

Aug 28, 2021 | AIJAC staff

Pakistan and the Taliban's Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan are close allies, with the Pakistanin security services having provided arms, bases and training to the Taliban, even while Pakistan was ostensibly assisting the US-led coalition fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. (Photo: Oleg Bezrukov/ Shutterstock)
Pakistan and the Taliban's Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan are close allies, with the Pakistanin security services having provided arms, bases and training to the Taliban, even while Pakistan was ostensibly assisting the US-led coalition fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. (Photo: Oleg Bezrukov/ Shutterstock)

Update from AIJAC


08/21 #04

In the wake of the ongoing violence and chaos in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover there, this Update focuses on the role of Pakistan, and especially Pakistan’s powerful security forces, as the major patron of the Taliban, and what policy options there are to deal with this reality.

We lead with columnist and author specialising in South Asia Sadanand Dhume, who warns that the empowering of radical Pakistani generals is one of the most dangerous consequences of the fall of Afghanistan.  He notes that Pakistanis are gloating that the US paid Islamabad billions to assist in the US-led coalition’s efforts to stabilise Afghanistan, even while Pakistan was sheltering, arming and training the Taliban. Dhume says that not only is Islamic radicalism very much in favour in Pakistan in the wake of the Taliban victory, but a takeover of the nuclear-armed country by a radical group like the Taliban is very much a possibility. For the details of Dhume’s frightening warning,  CLICK HERE.

Next up is former US diplomat and official John Bolton, who suggests a series of policies to contain and pressure Pakistan, now that its logistical support is no longer needed to sustain the war in Afghanistan. He reviews the history of Pakistan’s support of the Taliban due to the belief that Afghanistan could give it “strategic depth” in its conflicts with India.  Bolton especially focuses on the nuclear danger Pakistan now poses, with its dozens of nuclear weapons that could easily fall into the hands of Islamist radicals, either individually or collectively. For his thoughts on what can be done about this situation, CLICK HERE.

Finally, American columnist Ben Cohen makes a case for sanctions on Pakistan as a way to enforce some control over the behaviour of the Taliban. He argues actual or threatened sanctions against its key sponsor could limit both the Taliban’s internal reign of terror against Afghans – who overwhelmingly do not support Taliban rule – and the likely revival of the country’s use as a base for international Islamist terror groups like al-Qaeda. Cohen also takes on those isolationists who insist what happens in Afghanistan is of no concern to the West, reminding them this was pretty much the general attitude to Afghanistan until the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks demonstrated its folly. For his complete argument, CLICK HERE.

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Pakistan has nuclear weapons and 200 million people, many of whom celebrate Taliban victory.

By Sadanand Dhume

Wall Street Journal, Aug. 19, 2021

Since Kabul fell to the Taliban Sunday, critics have flayed President Biden for diminishing America’s global standing, empowering the Taliban and their al Qaeda partners, cold-shouldering U.S. allies, and abandoning Afghans who risked their lives to work with Americans. Add one more likely consequence of the cack-handed U.S. withdrawal: an emboldened Pakistan, whose Taliban-friendly generals and plethora of jihadist groups feel the wind in their sails.

In official statements, Pakistan says it backs a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan. But if there is one global capital where the Taliban victory was greeted with barely disguised glee, it was in Islamabad. On Monday, Prime Minister Imran Khan praised Afghans for “breaking the shackles of slavery.” On social media, retired generals and other Taliban boosters hailed the triumph of Islam, never mind that the defeated Afghan government too called itself an Islamic republic.

The late Gen. Hamid Gul, head of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency, and known as the godfather of the Taliban (Photo: Wikimedia commons)

Exultant Pakistanis shared a video clip from 2014 featuring Hamid Gul, a former head of the army’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence. “When history is written, it will be stated that the ISI defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan with the help of America,” Gul says to a fawning TV studio audience. “Then there will be another sentence. The ISI, with the help of America, defeated America.”

You can understand why Taliban fans want to gloat. Between 2002 and 2018, the U.S. government gave Pakistan more than $33 billion in assistance, including about $14.6 billion in so-called Coalition Support Funds paid by the Pentagon to the Pakistani military. ( Donald Trump ended nearly all military assistance and also slashed nonmilitary aid from its peak in the Obama years.) During the same period, Pakistan ensured the failure of America’s Afghanistan project by surreptitiously sheltering, arming and training the Taliban.

“We found ourselves in an incredibly bizarre situation, where you are paying the country that created your enemy so that it will let you keep fighting that enemy,” says Sarah Chayes, a former adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a phone interview. “If you wanted to win the war, you had to crack down on Pakistan. If you wanted to conduct operations [in Afghanistan] you had to mollify Pakistan.”

For Pakistan’s generals, winning the “double game”—ostensibly aiding America while simultaneously abetting its enemies—required finesse. At times, it appeared as though the jig was up, especially in 2011 when U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in a safe house next to Pakistan’s premier military academy. But successive administrations—Republican and Democratic—refused to take measures that could have forced Pakistan to rethink its support for the Taliban.

Ideas such as forcibly denuclearizing Pakistan, imposing sanctions on army officers, curbing the travel and education in the West of ISI operatives and their families, scrapping Pakistan’s farcical designation as a “major non-NATO ally,” and declaring it a state sponsor of terrorism never made it beyond think tank reports and newspaper punditry. Washington always blinked, fearing instability in a nuclear-armed nation of more than 200 million people.

“Pakistan is a country-sized suicide bomber,” Ms. Chayes says. “The message Islamabad sends is that if you get too close to us we’re going to blow ourselves up.”

Before the 9/11 attacks, they used Taliban-controlled Afghanistan as a training ground for anti-India jihadist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba. Afghanistan also gave the ISI a way to deflect responsibility from itself for terrorist attacks traced back to territory controlled by its protégés. Given the Taliban’s close links with groups like al Qaeda and the LeT, only the willfully naive would take at face value assurances by the jihadist group that they won’t allow Afghan territory to be used to target other countries.

The symbolic significance of an army of zealots humbling the world’s sole superpower is hard to exaggerate. In the Pakistani army it will strengthen the hand of those who view Afghanistan not merely in geopolitical terms, but as the fulfillment of a religious project rooted in an extreme interpretation of Islam that shuns all Western influence.

The same holds true in Pakistani society at large. If music-hating, anti-Western, anti-Shiite misogynists can seize power in Kabul, why can’t they do the same in Islamabad? At least one homegrown Pakistani jihadist group, the Tehreek-e-Taliban, is comprised of fighters already at odds with the Pakistani government.

A Taliban-linked madrassa (Islamic academy) in Pakistan, teaching small boys to use assault weapons. There are thousands of such madrassas in Pakistan, many of which are militant (Photo: xyz359). 


In a phone interview from Islamabad, Afrasiab Khattak, a former Pakistani senator and Pashtun-rights activist, points out that Pakistan houses some 36,000 madrassas, or religious seminaries, some of which are militant. “The same places producing the Taliban are producing similar people in Pakistan,” he says. “They will contest for power in Pakistan too.”

In early 2009, when Afghan President Hamid Karzai pressed Vice President-elect Joe Biden to crack down on Taliban safe havens across the border, Mr. Biden reportedly rebuffed him by pointing out that “Pakistan is 50 times more important than Afghanistan for the United States.” As president, Mr. Biden may have ensured that Pakistan is 50 times more dangerous to the U.S. and the world as well.

Sadanand Dhume is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. Previously he worked as the New Delhi bureau chief of the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), and as Indonesia correspondent for FEER and The Wall Street Journal Asia.

The time for equivocating about a nuclear-armed, Taliban-friendly Pakistan is over

John Bolton

Washington Post,  August 23

Like all recent Pakistani PMs, current Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is essentially just a figurehead – with the real power in Pakistan controlled by the security services, especially the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, agency, (Photo: Awais khan / Shutterstock.com) 

Many profound ramifications of America’s exodus from Afghanistan are competing for attention. Among the top challenges, Pakistan’s future stands out. For decades, Islamabad has recklessly pursued nuclear weapons and aided Islamist terrorism — threats that U.S. policymakers have consistently underestimated or mishandled. With Kabul’s fall, the time for neglect or equivocation is over.

The Taliban’s takeover next door immediately poses the sharply higher risk that Pakistani extremists will increase their already sizable influence in Islamabad, threatening at some point to seize full control.

A description once applied to Prussia — where some states possess an army, the Prussian army possesses a state — is equally apt for Pakistan. Islamabad’s “steel skeleton” is the real government on national security issues, the civilian veneer notwithstanding. Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, has long been a hotbed of radicalism, which has spread throughout the military, to higher and higher ranks. Prime Minister Imran Khan, like many prior elected leaders, is essentially just another pretty face.

During the Soviet war in Afghanistan, ISI extensively supported Afghanistan’s mujahideen against the Soviet military, for religious and national security reasons. Washington made the mistake of funneling much of its assistance to “the muj” through Pakistan, thereby relinquishing control over which politicians and fighters actually received the aid. Pakistan also enabled terrorist groups targeting India, its main regional rival, over Kashmir, a continuing flash point emanating from the 1947 partition and independence from Britain.

After Moscow exited Afghanistan in 1989, ISI unsurprisingly pirouetted to support the Taliban and others who subjugated the country in 1996. Pakistani military doctrine holds that a friendly Kabul regime ensures “strategic depth” against India, which Pakistani leaders believed the Taliban provided. When the U.S. coalition overthrew the Taliban in 2001, ISI provided sanctuaries, arms and supplies inside Pakistan, although Islamabad routinely denied it.

Now, again in power, the Taliban can return the sanctuary favor to Pakistani Taliban — the Pakistani counterpart of the Afghan Taliban — and other radicals. Obviously, the world doesn’t need another terrorist regime, but the risk in Pakistan is of an entirely different order of magnitude, even compared with the menace of al-Qaeda or the Islamic State gaining secure bases in Afghanistan.

A Pakistani Shaheen-3 missile – Pakistan is known to have dozens of nuclear weapons, which could easily fall into the hands of Islamic extremists (Photo: AFP PHOTO / HO / INTER SERVICES PUBLIC RELATIONS)

While Iran still aspires only to nuclear weapons, Pakistan already has dozens, perhaps more than 150, according to public sources. Such weapons in the hands of an extremist Pakistan would dramatically imperil India, raising tensions in the region to unprecedented levels, especially given China’s central role in Islamabad’s nuclear and ballistic-missile programs. Moreover, the prospect that Pakistan could slip individual warheads to terrorist groups to detonate anywhere in the world would make a new 9/11 incomparably more deadly.

These dangers provided compelling reasons to sustain the U.S. and NATO military presence in Afghanistan. We could have continued overwatch not just of potential new terrorist threats in-country but also observed what was happening across the borders in Pakistan and Iran. Sadly, the Trump-Biden withdrawal policy canceled that insurance policy.

From Cold War conflict against the Soviets in Afghanistan to our own efforts since 9/11, Pakistani-U.S. cooperation has been essential. It led Washington to temper vigorous criticism of Islamabad’s nuclear and pro-terrorist polices.

Now, after Kabul’s surrender, America is less dependent on Pakistan’s goodwill and logistical support. Acknowledging the enormous uncertainty, given Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities, the United States must now come down hard on Islamabad if it continues supporting the Taliban and other terrorists. It has been said that Pakistan is the only government consisting simultaneously of arsonists and firefighters. The firefighters need to step up their game. They must convince their fellow countrymen that the government’s recent path has made Pakistan less secure, not more.

Absent clear evidence that Pakistan has terminated assistance to the Taliban, the United States should eliminate its own aid to Islamabad; strike Pakistan from the list of “major non-NATO allies”; impose anti-terrorist sanctions; and more. Our tilt toward India should accelerate.

Most important, we must devote maximum attention to Pakistan’s nuclear stockpiles and weapons-production facilities. If a future terrorist regime in Islamabad (or even today’s government or like-minded successors) appears ready to transfer nuclear capabilities to terrorists, we should take preventive action. This is highly unpalatable, but the alternative of allowing these weapons’ use is far worse. China must be made very aware of our intentions and seriousness, including that Beijing’s long-standing, vital assistance to Islamabad’s nuclear efforts makes China responsible for any misuse.

Is President Biden sufficiently resolute to do the necessary? Probably not. In George Packer’s recent biography of diplomat Richard Holbrooke, he quotes from Holbrooke’s notes taken during an Obama administration Situation Room meeting on Afghanistan. “Among his notes were private interjections,” Packer writes. “Vice President Joe Biden said that every one of Pakistan’s interests was also America’s interest: ‘HUH?’”

Biden’s assertion was wrong when made and would be dangerously wrong today; Holbrooke was correct, and eloquent in his brevity. Let’s hope Biden has changed his mind.

John R. Bolton served as national security adviser under President Donald Trump and is the author of “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.”

As Taliban conquer Afghanistan, time to sanction Pakistan


If robustly applied, the pain caused by sanctions could push the Pakistanis into curbing the worst tendencies of the Taliban.

Ben Cohen

JNS.org, August 20, 2021

The logo of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, which by 2021 had convinced the Pakistani security services to wholeheartedly embrace Islamist extremist groups like the Taliban. 


As Taliban insurgents swept through Afghanistan this month on their brutal quest to return that country to the seventh century, ceremonies were held in neighboring Pakistan to commemorate the 6th anniversary of the death of a man dubbed “the father of the Taliban.”

Gen. Hamid Gul, who died in 2015, was the former head of Pakistan’s terror-soaked spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Much of his career was spent fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s when the ISI worked closely with the American CIA. With the collapse of the Soviet occupation, swiftly followed by the collapse of the actual Soviet Union, the ISI began backing Islamist groups across the region, from Kashmir to Afghanistan, where the Taliban first came to power in 1996, about two years after they were fostered by the ISI’s secret Directorate “S” with funding, weapons and military training.

The tributes to Gul in Pakistan last week centered on a television interview he gave just more than a year before he died, in which he predicted the humiliation of the U.S. military and its Afghan government allies at the hands of the ISI’s Taliban proxies. “When history will be written, it will be said that ISI defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan with America’s help,” remarked Gul. “But it will also be added that ISI defeated America (in Afghanistan) with America’s help.”

Gul’s devotion to the Taliban exemplified the divide within Pakistan’s intelligence establishment over its relationship with U.S. agencies. “Pakistan’s alliance with the U.S. against the Taliban irked many former army generals who had supported the Islamists,” Farooq Sulehria, a Pakistani expert on the Taliban, explained to the German broadcaster DW shortly after Gul’s death from a brain hemorrhage. “These divisions within the army still persist. While some military generals think that a ‘double game’ with the West—kill some Taliban and save some—is a good strategy, people like Gul wanted Islamabad to support Islamists wholeheartedly.”

By 2021, it was clear that Gul’s position had won out, as evidenced by the horror of the revived Taliban conquering cities like Faizabad, Kandahar, Mazar e Sharif and finally Kabul, 20 years after they were banished from the Afghan capital. That fact should stick in the craw of most Americans, because we’ve been pouring aid money into Pakistan year upon year, despite the nefarious role played in Afghanistan by its military and espionage services. In 2020, the U.S. was once again the top donor country to Pakistan of financial assistance that always takes the form of a grant, so as not to add to Pakistan’s debt burden or balance of payments struggles. Yet from our point of view, this was hardly money well-spent.

According to Chris Alexander, who spent six years as Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan followed by a stint as a U.N. envoy, the Taliban’s return represents a Pakistani invasion. “Apart from being Pakistan’s mercenaries, the Taliban are U.N.-listed terrorists,” Alexander recently told an Indian newspaper. “Anyone cozying up to them is playing a dangerous game.”

Chris Alexander, Canada’s former Ambassador to Afghanistan and also a former UN envoy, says the Taliban takeover is effectively a Pakistan invasion of Afghanistan. He is promoting an online campaign to #SanctionPakistan (Photo: Wikimedia commons)

Thanks largely to Alexander’s efforts, the hashtag #SanctionPakistan has gone viral over the last fortnight as the Taliban has tightened its grip, and growing segments of public opinion have grasped this reality. In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine, Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Asad Majeed Khan flatly denied that Islamabad was still supporting the Taliban, going on to make the laughable claim that Pakistan is “a free and democratic country, and there are a whole range of views for and against the policies of the government.” But when asked what exactly Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had meant when gushed that the Taliban had “broken the shackles of slavery,” the good ambassador answered only that it was “really hard to keep track” of what gets reported on social media, before offering the reassurance that Pakistan wants “inclusive” government in Afghanistan.

Nobody should be fooled by these rather amateur attempts to prettify the historically destructive role played by Pakistan in Afghanistan. To many Americans, the events of the last month suggest that we sacrificed troops and spent billions of dollars on a country that is no more united in purpose now than it was 20 years ago, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda, the Taliban’s partner in crime. But from the perspective of ordinary Afghans, that is a harsh judgment on the quiet progress they have made.

Life expectancy has risen by 10 years, to the age of 65—still woeful, by international standards. When the United States invaded, little more than 20 percent of Afghan children were enrolled in primary school, a figure that now stands at 100 percent. Literacy among female adults has risen from 17 percent to 30 percent and will likely recede once again as soon as the Taliban reimposes gender apartheid by excluding girls from school.

Most of all, Afghans overwhelmingly reject the regime that has effectively been imposed upon them by the U.S. withdrawal on the one hand, and Pakistani support for the Taliban, backed politically by Russia and China, on the other. “While generally conservative in their Muslim faith, Afghans have consistently demonstrated in poll after poll that they want nothing to do with the pathological pseudo-theology the Taliban continue to enforce wherever they gain ground,” the Canadian commentator Terry Glavin, a frequent visitor to Afghanistan, observed in the National Post. “The latest Asia Foundation polling shows that 82 percent of Afghans say they have ‘no sympathy’ whatsoever for the Taliban.”

Sanctions against Pakistan’s ruling elite would provide the west with some leverage in pushing back against the Taliban on two fronts: its never-ending reign of terror, currently being expressed in house-to-house searches for thousands of beleaguered Afghans who worked for the U.S. or other foreign governments during the occupation, and its revival of the country as a base for Islamist terrorist groups.

If robustly applied, the pain caused by sanctions could push the Pakistanis into curbing the worst tendencies of the Taliban. Pakistani Ambassador Khan pithily explained why: “The United States is still the largest export destination for Pakistan. … It is the third-largest remittance sender to Pakistan. … The United States has also been one of the top five investor countries in Pakistan.”

Taliban head Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is known as “Butcher Baradar” and directed Taliban operations against the US-led coalition from his base in Pakistan’s Quetta Province. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons | License details).

Anyone tempted to think that a more enlightened Taliban is in the offing regardless of what the outside world does might reflect that the man slated to become Afghanistan’s next president, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is more commonly known as “Butcher Baradar.” It was Baradar who directed Taliban operations against the international force in Afghanistan from his base in Pakistan’s Quetta Province in the late 2000s. Captured by the reluctant Pakistanis at the CIA’s behest in 2010, Baradar was released from prison in 2018 at the request of Zalmay Khalilzad, the former Trump administration’s Afghan envoy, in order to participate in what was creepily described as “peace negotiations.” Three years on from those shameful talks in Doha, Qatar, the appropriate term is “capitulation.”

For those who argue that foreign interventions are the height of irresponsibility and naivete, there remains the knotty question of what to do in the event that a terrorist like Baradar becomes the leader of a sovereign state like Afghanistan.

Invariably, the answer of these isolationists is this: We shouldn’t concern ourselves overly, all is under the control, “they” don’t want us over there anyway, and a hundred other platitudes, all of which collapse when an atrocity like 9/11 occurs, and Western publics are reminded of Soviet Red Army founder Leon Trotsky’s dictum: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

Ben Cohen is a New York City-based journalist and author who writes a weekly column on Jewish and international affairs for JNS.


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