Pakistani Military Intelligence Influence Over the Taliban Is Easily Overstated

"I’ve never met a Taliban member who hasn’t hated and resented the ISI, while also being quite afraid of them"

What’s the relationship between the Taliban and Pakistan? The reality is more complicated than the view that the Talian are simply Pakistan’s puppets (as Kabul claims) or that they are completely independent (as Pakistan claims).

After 9/11, the Pakistani military establishment was closely aligned with US aims. They arrested several high-ranking Taliban leaders on Pakistani soil and handed them over to the US.

However, seeing the US install an India-friendly northern alliance-dominated government in Kabul made the Pakistani military second guess its Afghan policy. But—at this point—there was nothing they could do about it.

Then the US and proxies waged a one-sided war against rural Afghans in the name of “counterterrorism.” They killed/imprisoned many innocent people. They hounded retired Taliban, forcing them to flee to Pakistan. By 2004, this led to the revival of the Taliban as an insurgency.

The Taliban insurgency was therefore an entirely endogenous reaction to US/Afghan govt repression. Once reconstituted, Pakistan sought to exert influence over the movement by sheltering its top leaders.

But that influence was rarely tactical. Nor did Pakistan arm or fund the movement. Instead, Pakistan tried to influence Taliban policy by pressuring top leaders. When leaders went against Pakistani wishes, Pakistan imprisoned them. Examples include Mullah Beradar and Mullah Obaidullah.

Over the years, this leverage became a major source of consternation within the Taliban. I’ve never met a Taliban member who hasn’t hated and resented the ISI, while also being quite afraid of them.

In recent years, the Taliban has sought to carve out more independence. The opening of the Doha office was an important step. Also important was the emergence of Helmand as the de facto capital of the movement.

Saddar Ibrahim, deputy head of the Military Commission, is the real overall commander of the movement. He’s probably the most powerful person in Afghanistan today. He was imprisoned by Pakistan. Same with the late Mullah Manan, former Taliban governor of Helmand. After release, both moved to Helmand.

From Helmand, they have built a power base that is far less reliant on Pakistan (but now somewhat reliant on Iran). Over the years, the ISI has pressured various Taliban leaders to travel to Helmand to try to bring these figures back into the fold, but without success.

So in other words, today the movement is being run out of Helmand as much as it is out of Quetta. This means that Pakistan has less leverage over the Taliban than it ever has.

So, in sum, Pakistan did not create the Afghan insurgency, which was an indigenous response to failings of the post-2001 order. Pakistan tried to manipulate this insurgency in its interests, sometimes with success, sometimes not.

The US, on the other hand, created the Afghan government, brought its warlords into the country, and funded and armed them. The Kabul ruling class is therefore ultimately beholden to its patrons and not to its constituents. Therein lies the difference between the two sides.

There’s plenty Pakistan should be blamed for—the ISI has treated Afghans as cannon fodder for its own political aims for four decades. But so too has the US and the Soviet Union. And right now, it’s time for the Western powers and their proxies to take a hard look in the mirror.

Source: Anand Gopal

1 Comment
  1. yuri says

    this is utter drivel—while US and India will no longer possess any influence in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, China will

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