Afghanistan Is Finally Standing Up to Pakistan

An Afghan National Army soldier holds tightly to a rocket propelled grenade launcher. Flickr/Georgia National Guard

Confronting the Taliban’s main sponsor at last.

As the first president of Afghanistan following the toppling of the Taliban, Hamid Karzai’s legacy will always be decidedly mixed. The famously mercurial Karzai masterfully navigated the traditional tribal politics of Afghanistan, but arguably laid the groundwork for much of the corruption and weak governance that plague the Afghan government today. During his tenure, Karzai often made headlines by frequently excoriating Pakistan for harboring the Afghan Taliban and attempting to rule Kabul by proxy. When Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank official and development specialist, came to power in 2014, he attempted to reset relations with Islamabad—even shelving a request for military assistance from India, Pakistan’s principal rival. It did not take him long to reconsider.

Less than a year into his tenure, Ghani reversed course, saying he believed Pakistan was conducting “undeclared war” on Afghanistan. Following a Taliban bombing that killed more than sixty people in Kabul in April, Ghani blasted Pakistan for providing sanctuary to the group and told the Afghan parliament he would complain to the United Nations Security Council if Islamabad failed to take action. “We don’t expect Pakistan to bring the Taliban to talks, but we ask the Pakistanis to fulfill the promises they made . . . and launch operations against the people who have sanctuaries in Pakistan,” he said. Ghani’s frustration with Pakistan’s lack of action has surely been stoked by the fact that since the U.S. military drawdown at the end of 2014, the Taliban surged, now controlling more territory in the country than at any time since the 2001 invasion, and civilian casualties continue to rise at alarming rates.

Back in May, when the late Taliban leader Mullah Mansour was killed by a U.S. drone strike, he was driving through the Baluchistan—a western Pakistani province bordering Iran—with a Pakistani passport. It is widely known that Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, is home to the Quetta Shura, the leadership of the Afghan Taliban. There have been other prominent examples demonstrating that Taliban leaders have been operating in Pakistan. When Afghan officials met with Taliban delegates at the Pakistani resort of Murree in July 2015, it was widely known that they were traveling from within the country. Last year, the Afghan government revealed that the Taliban’s late leader, Mullah Omar, died in a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan in 2013. And if anyone questions the ability and willingness of the Pakistani intelligence services and military to aid and abet extremists, let’s not forget that Osama bin Laden was eventually found in Abbottabad, Pakistan, close to a military compound.

While Islamabad has long denied that it harbors and supports insurgent groups, a 2010 report by Matthew Waldman for the London School of Economics revealed more than just furtive cooperation. Indeed, “This goes far beyond just limited, or occasional support. This is very significant levels of support being provided by the ISI [Pakistan’s intelligence agency]. We're also saying this is official policy of that agency, and we're saying that it is very extensive,” Waldman said.

But the reality is that this support is an open secret. In a candid admission this March, Sartaj Aziz, a foreign policy adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister, told a crowd at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, “We have some influence on them [the Afghan Taliban] because their leadership is in Pakistan and they get some medical facilities, their families are here.”

Meanwhile this year, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (composed of Pakistan, the United States, Afghanistan and China) has failed to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table during several rounds of talks. On July 12, Afghan presidential spokesmen Haroon Chakhansuri told the Associated Press that Kabul had no plans to revive the peace process. Simultaneously, Afghan CEO Abdullah Abdullah’s spokesman Javid Faizal accused Pakistan of failing to keep its promise to cease support for the Taliban and bring the group to the negotiating table. Pakistan “is still supporting the insurgency, providing medical facilities, training, financing, which shows they have not kept their promises to make the Taliban join the peace process,” he said.