Pakistan believes that it has won a great victory in Afghanistan. But the future is highly uncertain for all players - except the military-industrial complex - in the New Great Game.
Not matter what, the military-industrial complex always wins.
Pakistan has won a spectacular victory in Afghanistan against the West and its well-equipped armed forces and also achieved the remarkable feat of getting the US to fund its nefarious exertions in doing so. For the Islamic world, Pakistan’s victory might virtually echo Sultan Saladin’s triumph at the Battle of Hattin against the combined crusader armies of Europe in July 1187 century. However, a forsaken India has not really made any serious mistakes in its Afghan policy. It was clutching a poisoned chalice from the outset and forlornly labouring to combine political and reputational gains by sponsoring development projects in the country. India was always confronted with in a ‘no-win’ situation, cut-off by geography and regarded with open indifference by the US bordering on contempt and its endeavours have now mostly come to nought.
India has indeed suffered a setback because the Taliban takeover will create problems for it regardless of what the established government in Kabul promises in public statements. It is evident that myriad terror groups empowered by the Taliban victory are not necessarily part of an established unified chain of command, controlled centrally. The mobilisation of some terrorist factions against India is unlikely to be curbed completely, whatever the authorities in Kabul might, in fact, announce or indeed attempt. In reality, not much will change on the ground for India because terrorism against it will continue to originate necessarily from Pakistani territory. However, an increasingly robust Indian policy is now in place to impose appropriate retaliatory costs on the Pakistan state for sponsoring terrorism, which only needs revisiting and fine tuning. The one change that needs to be taken on board by Indian planners is that the hardened terrorists from the Afghan theatre will be much more committed and experienced. In addition, Pakistan will also move its terrorist bases inside the Afghan border, beyond easy reach for Indian airpower.
The departure of the US and NATO from Afghanistan had clearly been negotiated in considerable detail despite the apparent chaos of the physical exit and its shockingly disastrous scheduling. The bombing of Kabul airport was probably a pointed message to force the US not to renege on its plans to leave Afghanistan by the end of August, Although US casualties due to the bombing may be a cause for private celebration in AfPak quarters, that may not have been the intended provocative unpredictable outcome. As to who colluded in the bombing of the airport, even the US has cynical reasons to refrain from revealing whatever US intelligence discovers, especially about the involvement of the official Taliban authorities and possibly the Pakistani ISI, their newly-minted co-conspirators in the region. An undisclosed understanding has been reached with Islamabad. Once again, the need to protect the Pakistani army and the ISI will remain the unwritten script of future US-Pakistan relations, backed by Washington think tanks ever solicitous of Pakistan’s welfare, as Professor Christine Fair alleges. Nothing has changed fundamentally since Pakistan joined SEATO and CENTO in the mid-1950s to become a bulwark against communism.
Pakistan was the key instrument for disciplining a self-willed India, in what the historian Iqbal Singh once described to me as the second Cold War that was a separate theatre to the first one against the USSR. And Pakistan’s geopolitical implantation, created as the crucial imperial goal of a Britain retreating reluctantly from the Indian subcontinent in 1947, bequeathed it an enviable advantage that has now prompted even Russia to seek Pakistan’s goodwill. This geopolitical advantage cannot be underestimated and the US flight from Afghanistan has not changed it, whatever indignation it might feel at being ejected from Major Non-NATO ally, Pakistan’s, Afghan backyard. The negotiations with the Taliban, with the Pakistanis always present in the vicinity to supervise, though unannounced, led to a Pakistan-backed assurance that terrorism would not be exported from Afghanistan to the US and its white European allies. The unspoken quid pro quo is the likelihood of US insouciance over its terrorist activity against India, likely to be aided by hardened Afghan levies.
What is quite shocking is that Pakistani goals in Afghanistan have not been properly adjudged by commentators from India or the handwringing West and media organisations like the BBC are working overtime to provide cover for Pakistan’s diabolical conspiracy. This may indeed be due to a reluctance to reveal the brutal truth that might prove hard to justify to their own voters and the wider world, but need to be unequivocally exposed. Pakistan absolutely needs a Taliban dictatorship to prevail and operate in Afghanistan. And that will inevitably require brutal crushing of any domestic opposition and those disquieted over Taliban policies. It will lead to the unashamed violation of every conceivable human right of women and everyone else, to assure the Taliban’s insecure hold over power in an Afghanistan significantly changed since 2001, when the US foolishly began its Afghan misadventure. The current generation of young Afghans, who grew up in the past twenty years and have become accustomed to modern freedoms like participation in global social media networks, are unlikely to take kindly to being strangled by the Pakistan-sponsored Taliban to ensure the compliance of a cowed population.
The reason for the certainty of such a harsh outcome in Afghanistan, with the full backing of the Sino-Pak duo, one an unashamed imperialist enemy of India and the other plainly terrorist, is fear of any sort of pluralism or democratic order in Afghanistan. Such an open and freer dispensation would thwart the principal goal of the Sino-Pak conquerors of Afghanistan by initiating a relationship with India, its obvious regional mentor and other countries as well. Most ordinary Afghans do not seem to have any animus against India though many spew loathing of Pakistan. And an Afghan relationship with India is what Pakistan and China cannot tolerate under any circumstances. This was the reason why the Panjshir resistance had to be crushed with Pakistani help because it would have inevitably engaged with India and also offered it entry into the region through the backdoor. Indians have never quite worked out why Pakistan attacked Mumbai in 26/11 though India’s treasonous incumbent government apparently thought it might be a convenient episode for domestic political reasons. The attack on Mumbai was actually a violent message to India for its growing activities in Afghanistan once it opened consulates in different parts of the country in 2002 and, be it noted, against the wishes of Pakistan’s faithful friend, the US.
In general, it needs to be recognised that almost all the world’s Jihadi terrorists, against whom the US is supposedly engaged, have been directly or indirectly sponsored by it in the first place for immediate local imperatives. These include the ferocious Baathist Sunni groups of Iraq, in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s overthrow and the ISIS to Al Qaeda and preceded by the Taliban itself. Islamic Jihadi terrorism has always been used by the US and both the UK and France for national goals or tolerated, as in the case of the various organisations operating from Pakistan against India. These Pakistani terrorist groups are, in reality, integrated into the operational activities of the Pakistan national army and merely an arm at one remove. And Pakistan’s principal source of succour has been, until very recently, the US. India needs to recognise the bitter truth that the value of Pakistan for cynical US and Western goals should not be underestimated. The fake US war on terror is largely a cynical public relations exercise for domestic political consumption because it has never addressed the real causes of who funds terror and Pakistan, the known lynchpin of global terror. And the costly efforts hugely benefit the US military industrial complex too.
In conclusion it is worth contemplating that the foreign policy posture of the US is of a penchant for chronic warfare around the world. It mainly benefits its arms producers rather than arising from a true rationale of long-term US geopolitical goals. The military industrial complex has managed to guarantee its own hugely profitable existence after the Cold War ended in 1990 by ensuring the US has engaged in endless though politically futile wars, in innumerable theatres under the fictitious guise of a war against terror. Of course, the emerging real apparent threat from China will bring yet another renewed lease of life for the US military industrial complex that has dominated US foreign policy since the end of WW II. However, Sino-US rivalry is unlikely to benefit India or other Asian countries, looking to the US, but it will surely further fatten US defence industries because anxious Asian countries will also purchase US defence equipment.
The US is highly likely to let Taiwan down by permitting a pro-China local political party win elections in it and then agreeing to unite with China by virtue of democratic consensus, much to the relief of the US. The US and China are too deeply intertwined and entangled with each other as economies to engage in a destructive war with each other. What has already been happening is the institution of a Sino-American condominium in Asia though the occasional skirmish defines its shifting parameters and that is the reality likely to endure. And Pakistan will be back in the US-Western fold and India will be left holding the baby, though on which side of the Ladakh LoC remains to be seen.
(Dr. Gautam Sen taught international political economy at the London School of Economics for over two decades)