Pakistan’s Air Strike on Afghanistan: The Taliban Won’t Let Revenge Slide

The Pakistanis with their surgical strike against Afghanistan have stirred the hornet's nest.

5 min read
Hindi Female

The country most infamous for the term 'Surgical Strike' i.e., Pakistan, has conducted its own. No, not against an enemy it had promised to wage ‘thousand years war’ or ‘bleed with a thousand cuts’ i.e., India – but against a 'brotherly country’ or purportedly its ‘inseparable brother’ – Afghanistan!

Irony dies a thousand deaths, as Afghanistan is now ruled by Pakistan’s homegrown creation of the 'Taliban’ which was genealogically seeded, nurtured, and unleashed by Islamabad to take over Kabul.

The burgeoning madrassas and the indoctrination/militant camps running along the dustbowl villages in the foreboding Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region are a testimony to the role played by the Pakistani State in creating the Taliban nurseries.

Afghan Taliban's Pakistan Connection 

The current supreme leader of Afghanistan, Hibatullah Akhundzada, had initially stayed in Quetta and then returned to the same after the first Taliban government fell in 2001.

The powerful Minister for Interior Affairs, Sirajuddin Haqqani, grew up in Miramshah in North Waziristan, Pakistan, and later attended Darul Uloom Haqqania seminary in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Literally, the third-in-command and Minister of Defense, Mullah Yaqoob, studied in seminaries in Karachi. Prime Minister Hasan Akhund too was part of the Quetta Shura.

Basically, almost all of the current members of the ruling Taliban’s Leadership Council of Afghanistan have a strong Pakistan connection and grooming before assuming leadership roles in a government that is widely seen as a proxy of the Pakistan State.

It was a simplistic assumption, as the Taliban in their second coming (after the first tenure 1996-2001) were to come into their own rather soon, shedding all pretence of being anyone’s proxies.


Did Pakistan’s ‘Strategic Depth’ Policy Backfire?

Pakistan’s historically imagined notions of 'Strategic Depth’ with the supposedly pliant Taliban dispensation soon came asunder, and the inevitable clash of sovereign priorities ensued.

Taliban simply refused to allow the Pakistanis an outsized role in its internal affairs. Soon, the subliminally lingering discomfort with the historical machinations of the Pakistanis surfaced. The Taliban had tactically used Pakistani support during the civil war but did not accept playing the second fiddle when they took over officially.

By 2021, the Taliban had realised the patent 'double game’ that Pakistanis routinely played (as also it barely concealed the agenda of ‘Strategic Depth’). Besides, Pakistan was in no shape to support Afghanistan financially or materially given its own dire socio-economic situation, as Islamabad itself was hand-to-mouth and surviving on doles.

Lastly, the Taliban government was also seeking legitimacy from its disparate populace who had their own perception and wounds with Pakistan, as opposed to the decidedly healthier and friendlier perceptions of countries like India.

The old Af-Pak script and the equation simply had to change – Pakistan with its suffocating, overbearing, and unproductive presence had become an 'enemy’ to such an extent, that what started as a war of words and wits, regressed to such an extent, that Pakistani Armed Forces carried out an operation within Afghan territory or Surgical Strike!


The Breach Does Not Help Pakistan’s Image

In Islamabad’s language, that it had carried out, “intelligence-based anti-terrorist operations”, brought unprecedented deterioration and escalation of violence. The target was the elements of the Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group who were ostensibly responsible for the "death of hundreds of civilians and law enforcement officials”.

All subsequent diplomatic platitudes aside, the territorial and sovereign integrity of Afghanistan was brazenly and deliberately violated, and the Afghan Taliban is understandably not amused.

The action also does not benefit the perceptions of Pakistan within Afghanistan. Clearly, the Pakistani action had the ‘green signal’ of the Pakistani Army Chief, Asim Munir, and of the new Pakistani government signalling a starkly different equation that besets the Af-Pak realm, from the one in the times of 'Taliban Khan’ (Imran Khan).

The pressures for Pakistan to act were indeed mounting with repeated 'terror attacks’ on the Pakistani State from forces across the Durand Line. The upping of the ante in terms of the controversial repatriation/pushback of Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan had not been an effective deterrent. Finally, Pakistan decided to walk the talk of cross-border operation and retaliation that it had been threatening for long.

Pakistan has officially slammed the Afghan regime by stating that, “Certain elements among those in power in Afghanistan are actively patronising TTP and using them as a proxy against Pakistan.” A new chapter, and also a new low in the Af-Pak domain have been initiated.

Ultimately, this Pakistani action is also an unequivocal expression of its exposed 'Strategic Depth’ ambition in Afghanistan, and its patently duplicitous stand on 'terror nurseries’, even when it had supposedly joined the ‘War on Terror’.

Now, a redux of Frankenstein's monster ensues. It eerily harks back to the well-intentioned advice by the then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who had warned the incautious Pakistanis, "Snakes in your backyard, will not just bite the neighbours”, as the implicit "snakes” are now biting back the hand that bred the same once.


A Dwindling Commitment and a Pro-Taliban Siding

Hafiz Gul Bahadur is a typical Pakistani story of a Pashtun who was educated in a madrasa in Multan, affiliated with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) political party.

Like most of the Pakistani ISI-supported mujahideens, he fought against the Soviets in the 80s, and the West-supported forces in the 90s. He was even part of the pro-Pakistani Haqqani Network but soon found himself against the Pakistani 'establishment’ as it pursued a cleansing drive against ‘foreign’ militants within North Waziristan. Yet again, he struck a truce deal with the Pakistanis and joined the larger Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as its first deputy.

As is his wont, he flip-flopped in his commitments to both the TTP and Pakistan to carve out his outfit i.e., Muqami Tehrik-e Taliban.

Nomenclature aside, Hafiz Gul Bahadur represents ideological affinity towards forces that were loosely and collectively labelled 'Taliban’ which successfully wore out American forces and took over Kabul in 2021.

Today, his angst is directed at Islamabad as it perceives the Pakistani State as the oppressor of its tribal/regional identity and rights and hence, attacks the same. Whereas Kabul which has its own axe to grind and pride to protect against the interfering Pakistani hand, protects forces like the TTP or militias loyal to Hafiz Gul Bahadur.

In the melee, Afghan animus against Pakistanis deepens and the future augurs even more bloody across the invisible and the unaccepted Durand Line.

The Pakistanis with their surgical strike against Afghanistan have stirred the hornet's nest and the old Afghan adage that “a man is never safe from the revenge of an elephant, a nag (the cobra snake), or an Afghan” is bound to haunt and hurt the Pakistanis yet again.

(The author is a Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Imran Khan   Taliban   Surgical Strike 

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