Pakistan: embers beneath the ashes

In recent times, #SanctionPakistan has become a noticeable movement trending on social media platforms. It’s not unexpected as Afghanistan under the Taliban offensive has been suffering from internal and external terrorism. Worldwide, there is extensive public sympathy for the Afghans and its accepted that Pakistan sponsored violence has affected innocent citizens in the region. Afghan society is divided-those suffering with the return of a Sunni-Wahhabi Pakistan sponsored Taliban government, demanding Pakistan be designated a terrorist state. The most surprising aspect in the entire Afghan fiasco has been the silence of various western governments and institutions who have been traditionally the bulwark of human rights, democracy and western values. There has not been a single rebuke towards Pakistan, when the Taliban governing council is formally referred to as the Quetta shura, after the city in Pakistan where it has operated from for the past 20 years.

While traditionally India has been one of the key countries demanding that the global community act against various militant groups like Lashkar e Toiba and Jaish e Mohamed operating out of Pakistani territory, the fall of Kabul and Pakistan’s open joy at the US retreat has brought the “Pakistan problem” to the fore.

Pakistan, ISI and Jihad

An insurgency fought over two decades, a long bloody battle to power over the last six months and the recent bomb blasts outside the Kabul airport while Afghans have been desperately trying to leave the country all have a Pakistan involvement in them, irrespective of which terrorist group claims credit, Taliban or the ISKP (ISIL-K) .

Each of these organizations have worked as proxies for the Pakistani establishment, particularly its intelligence wing, the Inter-services Intelligence to fuel insurgency and execute terrorist attacks in countries at differing points in order to promote its agenda.

The UN, sanctions on terror and a humanitarian crisis

With a humanitarian crisis now following the fall of Kabul, the United Nations has remained remarkably ineffective, making arbitrary statements that have no real effect or meaning. However, the UN as an international body can exercise real power through Chapter VII, which empowers the Security Council to “determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression” and implement corrective measures under Article 41 that may comprise breaking communication channels or economic dealings and cutting diplomatic exchange.

Under Article 42, the UNSC is also empowered to use armed force against the state. as was earlier done in the case of Afghanistan, and for the Balkan crisis. There can also be specific UN Resolutions, under the general principles of international law and a series of Conventions against international terrorism.

After the Al-Qaeda bombed US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-as-Salaam, the Taliban was sanctioned in 1999 for giving refuge to Osama Bin Laden. In January 2021, India took over as the Chair of the Taliban Sanctions Committee and the Counter-Terrorism Committee. The Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee, which is usually linked together with the two committees, for the first time has a separate Chair as due to Chinese objections at the behest of Pakistan, politics played a part in sanctioning international terrorists.

As such, the UNSC Resolution 1373 specific to Afghanistan and terrorism adopted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks obliges all United Nations Member States, to take the crucial steps to thwart the commission of terrorist acts, to criminalize support for terrorist actions, reject financial sustenance and secure haven to terrorists, stop their movement through border controls and regulate issuing of travel permits.

It also mandates countries to assist with criminal investigations or proceedings, including on trafficking of weapons, explosives or other sensitive supplies. It calls for the observance of Resolution 1368, which blocks providing any form of backing, active or passive, to units or persons indulged in terrorist acts, including by blocking recruitment to terrorist groups and abolishing the source of weapons to terrorists. However, despite Pakistan having violated all these provisions there has been limited repercussions due to its importance in the “war against terror”.

Pakistan and the Taliban a symbiotic partnership

In fact, the Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid went on record to state that Taliban fighters were receiving treatment in Pakistani hospitals and that their families are sheltered in Pakistan. There is extensive research which details the relationship in between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Taliban, along with the close links in shura councils. Pakistan has supported the Taliban providing a full range of services, from weapons to logistics, including fuel, ammunition, spares and food.

Pakistan is not just a staging area for the Taliban, but are trained, directed and controlled by Pakistan. Pakistani advisors with Taliban leaders is a common sight. Using Pakistani passports, Taliban leaders were seen travelling to major capitals of the world, whether it was signing the Doha accords with the Donald Trump administration or meeting with the Chinese foreign minister, legitimizing their presence as political representatives of Afghanistan rather than a criminal terror group.

Pakistan has been lobbying extensively on legitimizing the Taliban, hoping that it cannot be sanctioned for nurturing an entity that in many ways is being given an alternative status while ignoring an elected Afghan National government that was in place.

The havoc of this humanitarian crisis which is stifling Afghans now and is likely to transcend national boundaries can be stopped only if the UN, US, and other permanent members of the Security Council understand the Taliban’s violent ideology and inherent connect with Pakistan.

A global terror network

Both the Taliban and Pakistan are continuously exposed to sanctions for their closeness to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The UN monitoring team recent report accuses the Taliban of having a close connection with Al-Qaeda, active in the Pakistan border regions, and highlights its links to the Pakistan-based terrorist Haqqani network. Furthermore, the report also records extended ties of the Taliban with some 8,000-10,000 foreign terrorists. All these units, created by Pakistan as proxies, whether it is the IS (KP), the Taliban, the Haqqani network, the LeT are related to each other with the Al- Qaeda remaining their uniting intermediary.

In fact, Pakistani nationals were found to be among the 112 Al-Qaeda members who were killed in Helmand during the fight between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces. Many dead bodies were brought back to Pakistan and their deaths were celebrated as martyrdom by the locals.

The ISI advantage and the role of China

Pakistan understands very well that the so-called great powers wish to have Pakistani intelligence agencies on their side, to avoid terrorist attacks in their own country. The US, UK and the west follow this diligently having repeatedly tried to pressurize the Pakistani Deep State to influence the actions of terror groups. The recent spate of events in the region only make it apparent that if the global powers and the responsible and progressive nations aim to bring democracy and freedom to Afghanistan, they must sanction Pakistan, its proxy war and its allied terrorist groups which start with the Taliban.

In fact, in a move to save face amidst increasing global criticism for its role in festering terrorism, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan blamed Washington for having abandoned the Afghans at the mercy of the Taliban. One must carefully also consider the role of China, which uses Pakistan and its proxies to extend its geopolitical influence but is very wary of the impact of the instability in the Afghan region on its province of Xinjiang which has a significant proportion of Muslims.

China has multi billion-dollar investments in Pakistan and given its indebtness of around $24.7 billion , Pakistan depends heavily on China. Against this background it is quite possible that China uses Pakistan as an ally in altering the power equation in Afghanistan to suit its economic and strategic interests. While the stakeholders are busy negotiating their deals and weighing their influences, it is the common Afghan citizen who had the dream of freedom, peace, and development is suffering at the hands of the Taliban.

The road to peace to Kabul starts from Islamabad. The international community must act.