Will Pakistan Push Afghan Taliban Towards Peace?
As President Obama meets with Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif, we explore why the two “allies” have struggled to foster a political solution in Afghanistan
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: After 14 years of military intervention, the war in Afghanistan just got even longer.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have repeatedly argued against marching into open-ended military conflicts that do not serve our core security interests. Given what’s at stake in Afghanistan and the opportunity for a stable and committed ally that can partner with us in preventing the emergence of future threats, I am firmly convinced that we should make this extra effort.
DESVARIEUX: This extra effort means 5,500 U.S. troops will still be in Afghanistan after President Obama’s second term ends. It’s an about-face policy shift, preceding a meeting between the White House and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on October 22. Some experts say Pakistan truly holds the key to stop this endless war and get parties like the Taliban to the negotiation table.
Pakistan denies supporting the Afghan Taliban, but according to Afghan’s chief executive and former presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, that’s just not true. He said in a recent interview with Al Jazeera that Pakistan is still supporting the Taliban.
INTERVIEWER: Do you believe that Pakistan is actively helping elements of the Taliban?
ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: There is no doubt that [inaud.] group receives support in Pakistan.
DESVARIEUX: A leaked NATO report back in 2012 provides some support to that claim. It alleged that Pakistan’s interservice intelligence agency, also known as ISI, was assisting Taliban leaders in directly attacking foreign troops. But if Pakistan is a known ally of the U.S., why would they support the Taliban? The Real News spoke with four leading journalists and experts on the issue to better understand Pakistan’s strategy.
VIJAY PRASHAD: There have been two outstanding problems between Afghanistan and Pakistan. One is, of course, the border, the Durand Line, which neither the Afghans nor the Pakistanis completely committed to. This line was drawn by the British in 1893. it cuts right through the heart of the Pashtun area, divides the Pashto-speaking people between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
So since the 1940s and ’50s there’s been a border dispute there. And as a result the Pakistanis have been, you know, playing a game where they’ve supported elements inside Afghanistan to push forward their claims. That’s one problem. The second problem is the Pakistanis worry that given the historically close ties between India and the Kabul government, that that relationship flanks Pakistan at two ends, from what it sees as its enemies. On the one side India, and on the other side in Afghanistan that’s somehow close to India.
DESVARIEUX: For these reasons Prashad says Pakistan helped create the Taliban in the ’90s. ISI provided support to the now-deceased Mullah Omar when he founded the Taliban. They also trained Omar even earlier in the ’80s at one of its training camps for the Mujaheddin who fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Pakistan was one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban in power in Afghanistan from the mid-1990s until 2001. The other countries were Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Also, Pakistan was the last country to break diplomatic ties with the Taliban after the U.S. invaded in 2001.
ANAND GOPAL: One of the reasons why Pakistan likes the Taliban is because the Taliban is not a Pashtun nationalist force. They’re not calling for, sort of, the ending of the Durand Line, which is the boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and a united Pashtunistan. Instead they’re calling for Islamic State in Afghanistan. So it’s something that’s very safe from the point of view of Pakistani elites compared to what existed before in the ’60s and ’70s, which were strong Pashtun nationalist movements that actually were looking to break Pakistan apart and absorb the large Pashtun population into Afghanistan.
DESVARIEUX: But in recent months that tone has shifted in Pakistan with the rise of threats from the militant group the Islamic State, or ISIS. In May ISIS claimed killing at least 40 people in Karachi when gunmen opened fire on a bus. We sat down with senior fellow for Center for International Policy Shukria Dellawar to better understand this policy shift.
SHUKRIA ELLDELLAWAR: It’s in the region’s interest also to have peace in Afghanistan. Right now it’s not just the Taliban. ISIS is taking a hold in Afghanistan. And nobody in the region wants that. So even the former foes of the Taliban, such as Iran, is actually now consulting with Taliban to block ISIS.
DESVARIEUX: Blocking ISIS is also a top priority for the Afghan government, who signal that it is open to negotiate with the Taliban directly, something Anand Gopal says frightens Pakistan.
GOPAL: The biggest nightmare for Pakistanis is if the Taliban were to go and strike a peace deal with the Afghan government and lead the Pakistanis out. So they view the Taliban as sort of their insurance policy to ensure their interest in Afghanistan. There’s been cases where Taliban leaders and commanders have tried to initiate peace talks, and Pakistan didn’t like the fact that they were doing it on their own. They got arrested, in some cases they got killed. So this is sort of a very nefarious game that Pakistan is playing, it has essentially played for the last 30 years, in Afghanistan.
DESVARIEUX: But to break the cycle of Pakistani interference, experts say China plays a critical role. Currently the Chinese and Pakistanis are negotiating a series of major Chinese finance infrastructure and development projects known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. It would carry oil and gas from Pakistan’s Gwadar Port to China. With the deal still in the works, Shukria Dellawar says China and other regional powers could hold significant influence in getting Pakistan to embrace negotiations.
DELLAWAR: And so you can get the regional countries to come and talk and do their part. I think China could use its influence with Pakistan. The Afghans have come around to that. They are in discussions with China. So there are things. There’s a lot of diplomatic ways to pursue this.
PRASHAD: Unless India, Pakistan, China, you know, these countries come to an understanding over the, the role of Afghanistan in the region as a kind of borderline state, I’m afraid many of the problems will continue.
DESVARIEUX: For the Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.