Pashtun Taliban Insurgency
The Taliban and Kabul had completely different views on what kind of government Afghanistan should have. The Taliban want a Shariah-ruled system, whereas President Ashraf Ghani's governmen wanted to preserve the parliamentary democracy. The original sin of the American-led intervention was supporting one side in a civil war come what may and not allowing the defeated side to go home in peace. All this was masked by the US ‘anti-terrorist’ agenda. Even so, it took a lot of time and disappointments for the insurgency to get off the ground.
President Ashraf Ghani fled the country 15 August 2021 amid the Taliban’s rapid advance, which saw the group capture 26 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals in less than two weeks. Ghani later said in a statement posted on Facebook that he fled to prevent further bloodshed. “The Taliban have won with the judgement of their swords and guns, and are now responsible for the honour, property and self-preservation of their countrymen,” he said.
Following initial reversals at the start of the Resolute Support Mission, the Afghans made progress in their ability to secure their populace. In 2015 the Afghans were not prepared to shoulder the burden without support. However, in 2016 the Afghan security forces were ‘tested, but prevailed’ as the Taliban tried, and failed, in eight attempts to seize provincial capitals. In 2016 President Ghani also laid out his Roadmap for governmental and security reforms, and gained continued support of the NATO TAA mission. In 2017 the Afghans began implementing the four year Afghan Security Roadmap to increase the fighting capabilities of the Afghan security forces, including doubling the Special Forces and growing the Air Force capabilities.
External support to the insurgency represented the Afghan security forces’ most significant challenge. Reducing the flow of men, weapons, and equipment from external sources and the removal of external sanctuary is key to creating sustainable security. This will reduce the capacity of the Taliban and others to conduct high profile attacks and raids.
Afghanistan faced a continuing threat from an externally supported insurgency and the highest regional concentration of terrorist groups in the world. These pervasive insurgent, terrorist, and criminal networks constitute a threat to Afghanistan’s stability. Revenue from drug trafficking, taxation/extortion, illicit mining, and foreign financial support continues to sustain the insurgency and Afghan criminal networks. Additionally, extortion and kidnappings by low-level criminal networks continue.
The Afghanistan-Pakistan border region remains a sanctuary for various groups, including the Taliban, al-Qa’ida core (AQ), al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the Haqqani Network (HQN), Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), ISIS-K, East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Terrorist sanctuaries on both sides of the border present security challenges for Afghanistan and Pakistan and pose a threat to regional security and stability.
Since the middle ages, the plains of the Indian Subcontinent have been the happy hunting grounds of successive waves of bands of marauders from Central Asia. They came with a view to loot and plunder, and then go back to their impoverished hills and rag-tag settlements laden with booty. A few years later, some local chief would organize them anew, and sally through the Khyber Pass for yet another affray.
The Pashtun Taliban Insurgency that began in 2001 was neither Terrorism nor Islamic Jihad, though it features elements of both (“taliban” means “students” in Pashto). It was simply the latest episode in a contest that has gone on for centuries between the Pashtun mountain tribes and the Punjabis of the Indus plain. With possibly one-fifth of the Pakistan Army Pashtoon, a crackdown NWFP and FATA would require the army to hurt their kinsmen in an area where kinship was everything. The added filip of al-Qaeda was but the latest installment of Wahabi enthusiasm that dates back nearly two centuries, to the Jihad against the Sikhs waged by the "Hindoostani Fanatics" - the followers of one Syud Ahmed of Bareilly.
The Durand Line broke the region's dominant Pashtun ethnic group in two, creating a Pashtun-majority Afghanistan and assigning a large portion of the Pashtun-populated areas to what was then British India. Some thirty million Pashtuns live on one or the other side of the "Durand Line," a border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pashtuns generally do not recognize the current border between the two countries as legitimate. They represent a majority of the Afghan population, and therefore, they claim a predominant role in its government. There was little benefit to winning the support of Pashtuns resident in Afghanistan, if the larger number of Pashtuns in Pakistan remain alienated.
The insurgency in Afghanistan had been raised by residents of Pakistan, some of whom are refugees from Afghanistan, others of whom are Pakistanis. It does not arise from opposition among large elements of the Afghan population toward their government. This was a Pashtun insurgency. The insurgency was organized, funded, trained and directed from Pakistan, where most Pashtuns live, and where most Pashtuns have always lived.
Reports in the spring of 2003 warned of the regrouping of al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the mountains of the North-west Frontier province, and their alliance with the radical Islamist party Hizb-i Islami. According to the Afghan ambassador to India, "[t]hese elements think that America will be distracted by the war in Iraq, and that the United States will not stay in Afghanistan." As of 2004 there were, essentially, three enemy forces operating against the Afghan government and its Coalition partners - al-Qaeda, Taliban, and Hizb-I Islami Gulbuddin (HIG). Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-I Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) organization, still seeking to influence the brokerage of power in Kabul, operated from areas east of the city and mounted [usually ineffective] attacks on ISAF, OEF, and Afghan National Army forces in the capital.
The Afghan Taliban are trying to drive the United States and NATO forces out of Afghanistan, using Pakistan as a base of operations. The local Taliban want to control the political situation through an Islamic government. This local Taliban subscribes to Sunni Islam grounded in Deobandism, from the Dar ul-Ulum madrassa established in Deoband, India, in 1867. Pashtun-based militant organizations had various agendas that are nominally Taliban but are more driven by greed and illegal activities - mainly drugs - than any religious motive. The term al Qaeda was used as a generic term applied to foreign fighters in the region - Chechen, Turk, Uzbek and others - who are loosely affiliated within financial support networks that allow them to operate or feed on each other. The result was a complex security situation that was not easy to define.
The insurgency was fractured among more than a dozen groups, including the Haqqani network, led by Pashtun militant Jalaluddin Haqqani; mujaheddin leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami; Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi; al-Qaeda and many others. HiG was shorthand for Hezb-i Islami Gulbuddin, the branch of Hezb-i Islami run by former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as opposed to the Hezb-i Islami faction run by Malawi Khalis.
There was a widespread impression in the West that Quetta, Balochistan's capital, has become the command and control center of the resurgent Taliban. But the TTP was hated by the vast majority of Pakistanis, and this they know. They may carry out terrorist activities here and there but the TTP cannot "occupy" Islamabad and Pakistan. The Taliban do not have the numbers and the capacity to become strong enough to "invade" further.
The degree of official Pakistani complicity in the insurgency was a matter of controversy. In private, knowledgeable US, NATO, Afghan, and UN officials are nearly unanimous in asserting that the Pakistani intelligence service continues to collaborate with the Taliban and other insurgent groups operating out of the border regions against Afghanistan. The Pakistani Government, at the highest levels, denies any official sanction for such activities, suggesting that these reports reflect the activity of former members of its intelligence service acting independently and against government policy.
As Tariq Mahmood noted, "... the Taliban fostered Pashtun nationalism, albeit of an Islamic nature, and began to affect Pakistani Pashtuns. The triumph of the Taliban has virtually eliminated the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. On both sides, Pashtun tribes were slipping towards fundamentalism, and becoming increasingly involved in drug trafficking. Ultimately, Pakistan became a victim of its own vision at the hands of the Taliban, as the areas that were astride the Durand Line, including the FATA in Pakistan, became a virtual Jihad highway, having links to Al-Qaeda with the revival of radical Islam."
Afghanistan's security chief directly blamed neighboring Pakistan’s military intelligence agency for being behind the Taliban’s expanded insurgent activities in his country. Briefing lawmakers March 28, 2016 in the lower house of the national parliament, Massoud Andarabi, the acting head of the National Directorate of Security, warned that the Islamist insurgent group is determined to continue and intensify its violent campaign in the coming Afghan warmer months. “Intelligence agency ISI is completely supporting them (the Taliban) and encouraging them to continue the Afghan war and capture territory,” he alleged, referring to Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Intelligence.
Even if the Taliban agreed on the parliamentary form of government, they would want an upper hand in the executive. And why wouldn't they? They control vast swathes of territories in the country and have battlefield superiority. They think they can dictate their terms to the Afghan government, which financially and militarily still depends on the US and other Western countries. Pakistan wants a strong role for the Taliban in future Afghan governance. Its regional interests are better served with a powerful Taliban presence in its western neighborhood. It could take the country back to 1996 when the Taliban captured Kabul and started their 5-year hardline rule.
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