Organised by: Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi.
Date & Time: October 19, 2021 at 05:00 PM
Webinar: Afghanistan Political Crisis: Regional & Global implications
Dr. C. Christine Fair, Professor, Peace, and Security Studies Program at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Shelly Johny, Senior Fellow, CPPR and Assistant Professor, St. Aloysius College, Thrissur
The return of an evolved Taliban in Afghanistan under very different circumstances has added to the unpredictability of the political dynamics in the region. In this context, the role of non-state actors like Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK) is changing.
Professor Fair reflected that ISK largely sources its members from the Taliban and various other terrorist organisations in Pakistan including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba.
Afghans argue that Pakistan has been investing in Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) to keep the Taliban in check. However, there is another opinion that the strength of ISK in Afghanistan has been exaggerated by the Taliban.
Talking about the Haqqani network and its relationship with IS, Professor Fair pointed out that the Haqqani network has always been allied with Al Qaeda, and any collaboration with ISIS/ ISK would have been for opportunistic reasons and not strategic purposes.
International stakeholders like Russia have been creating a hue and cry about ISK in Afghanistan only to cover up its deepening relations with the Taliban.
The presence of ISK is limited to the province of Kunar and Nangarhar, where there is less State penetration.
She reminded to not lose sight of the fact that the primary source of violence in Afghanistan is the Taliban.
Pakistan’s relentless and comprehensive support has elevated the Taliban from being a nuisance to becoming the major power in Afghanistan. Recent events have revived the global jihadi landscape and Afghanistan is now a destination for Jihadi tourists, who are looking for an oppurtunity for developing their Jihadi skill set.
Addressing a question about the newer phenomenon of factionalism in the Taliban 2.0, Professor Fair conceded that this Taliban is much more dangerous than the previous organisation. It has deeper links to Al-Qaeda and other global Terrorist Organisations.
She also pointed out that this is a distinct characteristic of the Deobandi militant groups, that there is contention within them and many commanders wield influence. On the other hand, this makes it easier for the ISI to exploit these fissures.
Professor Fair also differentiated Taliban 2.0 from its older version, as the younger commanders in the Taliban are much more media savvy, in fact they are deft at engaging and manipulating the media.
Discussing the role of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Professor Fair commented that it has been emboldened after Taliban came to power, as most of its members have been freed from prison. The Pakistani State and Army are happy to write off the violence perpetrated by the TTP as collateral damage, as long as it does not attack the Punjab area of Pakistan, which is the stronghold of the army.
She remarked that the biggest mischaracterization of TTP has been its conflation with Afghanistan’s Taliban, when TTP is completely focused in the theatre of Pakistan. Pakistan army’s strategy to deal with TTP has been to reorient it towards Afghanistan or merge them with other Deobandi militant organisations such as Jaish-e-Mohammad.
Despite the continuous perfidy on part of Pakistan, it has managed to ensure support from Washington over the last few decades.
She also pointed out that Pakistan has been trying to influence the regime in Afghanistan since the 1950s. It should be mentioned that Afghans rejected the Durand line; they voted against Pakistan’s inclusion in the UN, they invaded Balochistan in different agencies.
Afghan leadership antagonised Pakistan by raising the Pashtun issue; Pashtuns were historically pro-India and Pakistan viewed them as a threat to the project of Pakistan.
She noted that the creation of Taliban, including the seven main Mujahideen groups could be traced back to the efforts of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) cell created by Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, even before the soviet invasion. Subsequently, Prime Minister Zia Ul Haq persuaded President Raegan to come aboard this project, initiated by Pakistan, in light of the Soviet invasion.
Professor Fair went on to say that keeping India from actively participating in the Afghanistan dynamic was a big win for Pakistan particularly because the Afghans have always held a favourable view of India, unlike their stance towards Pakistan.
She also discussed the Balochistan issue and dismissed the idea of a ‘Rogue ISI’ as she suggested that it is logically invalid since ISI recruits directly from the Pakistani Army, and they maintain this loyalty even after completion of their tenure at ISI.
Further, she imputed the volte face in the US policy on the Taliban to the initiatives and stances of individual diplomats, in addition to economic interests in the region, citing the example of the oil pipeline by the Unocal Corporation.
Professor Fair observed that these developments are even more contradictory because of the Taliban’s track record of violence against citizens and absolute absence of any legitimate constituency in its support.
However, it does not seem likely that the US will sanction Pakistan for its unequivocal support to the Taliban. No structural re-evaluation of US-Pakistan relations is expected because the overwhelming opinion in Washington continues to favour Pakistan, owing to its strategic importance in the region.
This report was prepared by Aditi Mishra, Research Intern at CPPR