Support to Taliban: How A US Senate Bill Might Spell Trouble for Pakistan
A version of the bill will go ahead, even while influential Pakistani circles work all levers to water it down.
Pakistan is again at war, but this time in the United States. The trigger is a bill introduced by some 22 Republican Senators, titled the 'Afghanistan Counterterrorism, Oversight, and Accountability Act'.
Apart from underlining the disastrous withdrawal of US troops, the bill also intends to “impose sanctions on the Taliban and entities and countries supporting it”. That in itself is enough to create an “Uh Oh!” moment in Rawalpindi, basking in its victory in getting its proxies into power. But, there’s more and enough to cause consternation among the politicians as well, as the Karachi Stock index took a dive on the news.
This, and other developments could mark a portent of things to come, with palpable anger in Capitol Hill at the extreme humiliation thrust on US troops.
The Senate Bill – Dealing With the Withdrawal
First, the comprehensive bill covers very many sensitive issues. Since its tabled by the Republicans, including by Mitt Romney who ran for President against Barrack Obama, it naturally has no reference to why US troops left at all. As one Senator put it “That ship has sailed”.
It, however, does question the manner of withdrawal and the effects of it, calling for a State Department Task Force to concentrate on evacuation of American citizens and permanent residents. The number seems to have been at between 10,000-15,000 before the Taliban swept in. Just 6,000 were evacuated. That means there are many Americans who are in serious danger. Then there are the loyal Afghans who stood by the US and are now is serious danger.
It must be reminded that all records of who did what are held by the Interior Ministry presided over by Sirajuddin Haqqani, a terrorist with a $5 million bounty on his head. It’s the worst possible outcome for all concerned, and the bill underlines that clearly and unambiguously.
The bill also recalls the Taliban “as a specially designated global terrorist under part 594 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations” and related laws. It then calls for a complete ban on the Taliban representatives being recognised at the UN General Assembly or in any other agency, with the US using its influence towards this.
The bill recommends sanctions against the Taliban, listing out its humanitarian obliviousness and its various acts of violence. In a separate section, it demands that the USG also provide details of not only all defence articles left behind by hastily withdrawn forces – which included 75,898 vehicles, 5,99,690 weapons, 1,62,643 pieces of communications equipment, 208 aircraft, and 16,191 pieces of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment, several thousands of assault rifles and at least 20,000 grenades – but also a strategy to recover them.
That’s going to be tough, since it seems that a considerable amount would already have made it across borders, particularly into the weapons markets of Pakistan.
A whole section also demands clear counter-terrorism goals, and a call for an assessment of US ability to detect and counter-terrorist threats with an over the horizon capability. It is something which is lacking at the moment, and was made more than clear with the attack against an alleged Islamic State target that tragically turned out to be on an Afghan family.
What is interesting for New Delhi, is the section on the region. That section calls for the president to report to an appropriate committee on not just what Russia and China are up to in these countries, but also on matters “including border disputes with South and Central Asian countries that border the People’s Republic of China”.
If that’s not enough, it goes on further to say that the US should identify areas of diplomatic, economic and defence cooperation with India to address the challenges posed by these countries, and an assessment of how it has affected India’s cooperation with the US” .
That’s pretty heavy language, and is in itself enough to make Rawalpindi hit the ceiling. But there's more, much more.
Pakistan in the Dock
An entire section is focused almost exclusively on Pakistan. The bill demands a thorough survey of all covert assistance given by that country from 2001 onwards, but more specifically the provision of sanctuary space, financial support, intelligence support, logistics and medical support, training, equipping, and most importantly, the tactical, operational, or strategic direction that emanated from Pakistan.
That such direction was available was apparent from the military precision with which the entire campaign was conducted, including the show of hesitation in entering Kabul ostensibly to avoid casualties.
Interestingly, the bill would also make it mandatory for the US government to provide details on the Pakistani involvement in the Panjshir operation that not just killed civilians in the area, but also seemed to have involved use of foreign air support in the form of UAV flights. The bill makes it mandatory for the US government to also report what it did to ‘curtail’ such support. That answer would be just one word: Nothing.
Sanctions to Follow
Worse is to follow. The section on Sanctions demands that the USG similarly report to Congress on the “assistance provided to or through the government of any country or any organization providing any form of material support to the Taliban”. That means not just the government of Pakistan, but also the various bodies like the Madrassa Haqqania in Akora Khattak , as well all extremist organisations at present revelling in the Taliban victory and falling over themselves to reach Kabul.
This is followed by further details of sanctions on anyone providing paramilitary or military support, or intelligence or logistical support to the Taliban or any terrorist group operating – that last is interesting since it clearly has a broad sweep to include the Lahskar-e-Tayyba and its friends and affiliates. This particular clause is clearly related to Pakistan, and its intelligence agencies. Further are other clauses against drug trafficking, and related areas. Worse still, is the demand of stoppage of all foreign assistance to those entities or countries supporting the Taliban. Keep in mind that the US is still the largest aid donor to Pakistan, and you get the picture.
The bill is in sum, not just a Republican repartee, but a synthesis of the frustration that is apparent as criticism mounts on the nature of US withdrawal, the victorious return of the Taliban, and the ‘in your face’ triumphalism evident in Islamabad.
That anger that cuts across party lines, and is made worse as Congress hears US Generals discuss the sorry details of the Afghan withdrawal Most unusually, commentaries are now being seen in the Washington press on the toxicity of the ‘ally’ that is Pakistan.
The bill is certainly at very early stages yet. However, it cannot be ignored in its entirety, since it raises very valid questions and requirements that relate not only to Pakistan, but the Afghan situation as a whole, and most vitally, the ability of the US to protect its homeland from the rising terrorist presence in Afghanistan.
A version will go ahead, even while influential Pakistani circles work all levers to water it down. But it will gain pace, as the US grapples with the world wide loss of face that it has incurred in its hasty exit from a country that does not deserve the Taliban or its masters.
(Dr Tara Kartha is a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS). She tweets at @kartha_tara. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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