Taliban victory threatens to be a double-edged sword for Pakistan

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 2149, September 9, 2021

ABSTRACT: Pakistani efforts to exploit the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan threaten to reinforce ultra-conservative tendencies in Pakistan itself, the second most populous Muslim-majority country in the world, long accused of supporting militant religious groups.

The idea that religious ultra-conservatism cannot remain contained in Afghanistan may be one of the reasons why US President Joe Biden decided to effectively abandon Central Asia with his withdrawal of US forces from the country of ‘Central Asia.

“Islamic activism will cause heartburn in Russia and China. It makes sense for the United States to say, “This is not an American problem. We got out of here. The Chinese and the Russians can cope with it. Going forward, we’ll focus on what’s important, the Indo-Pacific, ”said a non-US government official empathetic to US concerns.

“The ironic truth for China is that the the only thing worse than American soldiers near its borders is not having them there at allBloomberg columnist Shuli Ren added.

Biden’s move may also be a choice allowing Pakistan, which can’t seem to break away from looking at the world through the prism of its murky relationship with India, to simmer in its own juice as it tries. to ensure that the Taliban remain part of a pro-Pakistan bulwark against the predominant nuclear power and, like Pakistan, the subcontinent.

In an attempt to make the most of a complex situation, Pakistan, with China not far behind, is hoping that a Taliban-dominated government will promote infrastructure projects that boost the attractiveness of the Pakistani port of Gwadar, which it supports. through China, as a maritime gateway to landlocked Central Asia.

The sub-continental divide cuts across several layers, including religion. The U.S.-Saudi-backed jihadist insurgency that defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s made the Central Asian state as well as Pakistan more susceptible to ultra-conservative Muslim precepts like the repression of women by the Taliban and the blasphemous hysteria of Pakistan.

The Taliban and a significant number of Pakistani ultra-conservatives root their worldview in Deobandism, an Islamic current that emerged in India in the mid-19th century to oppose British colonial rule by propagating an austere interpretation. faith. Deobandism has become widespread among the Pashtuns even as the Deobandis in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India broke up after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.

The rift was widened by the Pakistanis’ use of militants as proxies even before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the Islamization of Pakistan by President Zia ul-Haq, the anti-Soviet jihad and the massive support from Saudi Arabia to Pakistani and Afghan Deobandis activists and their madrassas (religious seminars).

Islamic scholars from Deobandi’s alma mater in the Uttar Pradesh town of Deoband pointed to the divide earlier this summer as they sought to distance themselves from their Afghan and Pakistani brethren.

Arshad Madani, director of Darul Uloom Deoband, the original Deobandi madrassa established in 1886, welcomed the decision of India’s Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) to create a training centeruh in Deoband.

“There is nothing wrong with what we teach, and we invite ATS staff to join our classes whenever they want,” said Madani. A spokesperson for the madrassa added: “We are a religious school, but we are also Indians. To doubt our integrity every time the Taliban spread terror is shameful. “

Deobandism nevertheless adds a religious advantage to Pakistani support for the Taliban, reinforced by the rise of Hindoutava or Hindu nationalism in India, spurred by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

As a result, Pakistani military and government officials backed the Taliban by advising the United States to meet the August 31 deadline set by the group to end US evacuation operations in Afghanistan so that the group can move on. ‘before with the formation of a government. The Taliban said they would not form a government until US troops left the country.

This advice coincides with the Pakistani military’s long-standing efforts to persuade the United States to negotiate an end to the war with the Taliban before they take control of Afghanistan, a development Pakistani officers believed was inevitable. The United States finally followed this advice when it began negotiating with the Taliban in early 2019.

The Biden administration insisted it would meet the deadline set by the Taliban despite the attack on Kabul international airport in which at least 175 people were killed, including 13 US servicemen.

“Pakistan’s military echelons knew the United States was going and wanted to speed it up. Armed with this understanding, Rawalpindi invested primarily in the Taliban. Rawalpindi’s desire was to ensure a friendly establishment in his neighboring northwestern country, which was not exploited against the interests of Pakistan, especially by India, ”Pakistani academic Ayesha Siddiqa said. Ms Siddiqa was referring to the sister city of Islamabad, where the army headquarters is located.

Pakistan’s 27-year investment has produced mixed results. It certainly did not translate into the fact that the Taliban carried out orders from Islamabad. The Taliban Papers, a cache of leaked Pakistani Foreign Ministry cables written in 2000 and 2001 before the September 11 attacks and the US invasion of Afghanistan, illustrate the panic among Pakistani officials at the time because ‘they had lost control.

“The Pakistani establishment maintains close relations with the Taliban, but with a decreasing level of influence… But the two sides continue to benefit from each other, ”Pakistani academic Muhammad Luqman said.

Lieut. General Faiz Hameed, managing director of Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s notorious ubiquitous intelligence arm, warned MPs during a closed-door briefing attended by Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, that Pakistan was losing its influence over the Taliban. The general was speaking in early July as the Taliban advanced in the Afghan countryside.

Pakistani support for the Taliban is a double-edged sword. The question is, which worldview will be exported: will the Taliban emulate some aspect of Pakistan’s tarnished democratic facade, or will the group’s ultra-conservative religious outlook gain further momentum in Pakistan?

One does not prevent the other.

Siddiqa described Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid’s promise that the Afghan media would be free as “a reminder of similar assurances on media freedom by Pakistani generals, raising awareness of ongoing efforts to make it look like more in addition a regime led by the Taliban in Pakistan (or even in India): hybrid-authoritarian and hybrid-theocratic … This is where the real problem begins for Pakistan: there is too much opacity around this what Pakistan can offer and what it cannot.

However, fertilization can be a two-way street.

While Pakistan fears that the Taliban victory could give a violent boost to Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban, who have close ties to their Afghan relatives, the Taliban in Kabul may not have need the help of the militants who re-launched the attacks. in Pakistan even before the capture of Afghanistan by the Taliban.

The Taliban’s victory benefits from decades in which religious ultraconservatism has been woven into the fabric of Pakistani society as well as some of its key institutions.

Islamist leader Jamaat-e-Islami Sirajul Haq has already used triumph to demand a sharia-based system in Pakistan. To be fair, Haq at the same time condemned the harassment of a Pakistani girl in Lahore for not wearing a traditional shawl. Likewise, Fazal ur-Rahman, leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), another Islamist party, praised the Taliban for taking control of Afghanistan.

indian media reported that the fugitive leader of Jaish-e-Muhammad Masood Azhar, a violent Pakistani Islamist believed to have the backing of the Pakistani armed forces and intelligence services, recently met with Taliban leaders in Kabul to seek their support for a intensification of operations in disputed Kashmir. Reports cannot be independently confirmed; nor did it seem likely that this was the Taliban’s first order of business.

Siddiqa said: “The fact remains that despite the ambition to soften the tone of religion in Afghanistan, Pakistan itself runs the risk of becoming more like its neighbor to the northwest, more religious and more. authoritarian.

This concern has not escaped Islamabad, where officials pushed the Taliban to opt for a truly inclusive government. A recent visit to the Pakistani capital by representatives of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and other Afghan politicians suggested that Pakistan was seeking to expand its Afghan network beyond the Taliban.

“Ironically, Islamabad has sought strategic depth against New Delhi by supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Now the Taliban regime in Afghanistan will provide Pakistani jihadists with strategic depth to launch attacks on Islamabad. For Pakistan, the chickens go home to roost, ”said Abdul Basit, analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

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Dr James M. Dorsey, a non-resident Senior Associate at the BESA Center, is Principal Investigator at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and co-director of the Institute for Fan Culture at the University of Würzburg.

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