Why Pakistan is happy to pay a heavy price this time for strategic depth in Afghanistan


For the first time in over 75 years, not only are there no Indian advisers in Afghanistan, but there are now Pakistani advisers in their place. This alone may be worth the price Pakistan will continue to pay for its victory in Afghanistan.

File image of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. PA

For the first time in 20 years, Pakistan thinks it has a friendly government in Kabul. All the pesky nuisances – like the US and India – have been defeated and their embassies closed, while the embassies of Pakistan, China and Russia (Pakistan’s newest ally) remain open for business. This trade is not healthy for the international community and, above all, for Afghans. This came at a high price: Pakistan’s own Tehreek-e-Taliban-Pakistan was revived in Pakistan. Yet more and more Afghans are trying to flee the brutality of Pakistan’s puppet regime and Pakistan is the only option as international efforts to evacuate Afghans have ended. And the Taliban – like every other regime in Kabul – rejects the colonial-era Durand Line, which Pakistan recognizes as the legitimate border.

Far too many ingenues are busy writing dismal retaliation for the unrest in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, respectively, the seat of power for the military and the ISI and their elected prime minister, Imran Khan. These are all prices that Pakistan’s true political masters in khaki are happy to pay. It is the ordinary Pakistani who will pay the price. Luckily for the Khaki Condominium that rules Pakistan, the country is not a functioning democracy, but rather a praetorian state with a democratic patina. This means that while Imran Khan may not be re-elected, it will not be because of the impoverishment of Pakistanis. Instead, it will be because the Men in their Pajeros finally created an alternative to Imran Khan after he stopped being a useful idiot. From the perspective of the military and the intelligence agency it controls, the ISI, it’s not just about prizes but about investing in the future. Here I explain why.

For much of the Raj period, Afghanistan was a stronghold of the British. British Indians were very active in Afghanistan. With the start of World War I (1914-18), the Afghans supported Ottoman Turkey against the British. After the defeat of Ottoman Turkey, the so-called Khilafat movement (1919-24) would start in earnest in South Asia. The Afghan leader, Habibullah Khan, pursued a policy of non-involvement in the war while British Indians were sent to fight there. Habibullah was assassinated in February 1919 by anti-British militants. His son, Amanullah Khan, took the throne and promised complete independence from Britain. People. With this declaration, the Third Anglo-Afghan War began in May 1919. War-weary Britain was exhausted and the British Indian Army was exhausted from the brutal demands of World War I. In August 1919 the two sides signed a treaty in Rawalpindi – not Calcutta or Delhi.

After a month of rambling skirmishes, the Afghans had managed to secure their own sovereignty with one caveat. Afghanistan has always been a rentier state, dependent on financial support from the British to maintain its army among other important functions. When the British left, they took their chests with them. Therefore, before formalizing the treaty, Amanullah’s government signed a treaty of friendship with the Bolshevik regime in the Soviet Union. In fact, Afghanistan was one of the first states to officially recognize the Soviet Union. Increasingly, the Soviets took the tab of Afghanistan and their involvement culminated in the invasion of the country on Christmas Day 1979.

Until Indian independence in August 1947, British Indian Muslims played an important role in Afghanistan as advisers. Additionally, during the Khilafat movement and at the behest of many religious leaders, many Indian movements spontaneously moved to Afghanistan where they could be freed from British bondage. The Khyber Pass choked with those seeking to enter Afghanistan with their animals and carts adorned with their belongings. Overwhelmed by this migration, Afghanistan blocked their emigration. Unfortunately, their misfortunes were not over: many emigrants were robbed by Afghan tribesmen or died of hunger or heat. Those who returned to India were destitute.

With India’s independence, the Afghan government preferred to work with the Indians as the Afghan government repudiated the Durand Line, which was the international and legally recognized border with the new state of Pakistan; rejected Pakistan’s admission to the United Nations; launched military incursions along the border; and fanned the flames of Pashtun irredentism. From Pakistan’s point of view, another irritant was the reliance on Indians to advise the various Afghan regimes from 1947 until the Geneva Accords of 1988 which officially ended the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. During this period, estimates of Indian advisers assisting the various governments in Kabul at any given time range between several hundred and 1,500. After the Soviets withdrew, Afghanistan entered a long and drawn out period of civil war followed by the Taliban regime which terrorized Afghans from 1994 to 2001 when the United States routed them.

For the first time, Pakistan is sending advisers to Afghanistan. While the Soviet Union left Afghanistan a great rentier state, the United States and its NATO partners built the largest Afghan government in its history and the the largest rentier state in its history. Whereas when the Russians left, they paid about 35% of the government’s recurrent costs, the Americans were picking up the lion’s share of the huge tab to keep the government afloat. The Taliban, who have never been very interested in governing, are now under pressure to do so. However, they inherited a large rentier state.

Even though the Taliban claimed to offer amnesty to civilians who have worked in the government for the past 20 years, many did not trust them, and they left if they could with the international community which was still able to evacuate the terrified Afghans. In fact, some 120,000 left Afghanistan despite the objection of the Taliban who felt that these Afghans should have stayed to “rebuild” their emirate. Despite the former Taliban claimed they had the money to pay the new government, including the salaries of civil servants, it is now clear that the freezing of Afghan sovereign wealth funds and the sanctions have made this impossible. Moreover, the Afghan “government” now faces a severe shortage of personnel.

Following this report, Pakistan announced that it would send “skilled and trained Pakistani workforce in Afghanistan“, especially those of”medical, IT, finance and accounting”. The Pakistani Prime Minister also ordered “Pakistani officials concerned to expand cooperation in the fields of railways, minerals, pharmaceuticals and media to help in the rehabilitation and development of Afghanistan”. Afghans understood that their country’s Taliban defeat was in fact Pakistan’s victory over Afghanistan via their proxies. The Afghans now fear that their colonization is over.

For Pakistan, it’s a dream come true: for the first time in more than 75 years, not only are there no Indian advisers in Afghanistan, but there are now Pakistani advisers in their place. That alone may be worth the price Pakistan will continue to pay for its victory in Afghanistan.

The author is a professor of security studies at Georgetown University. She is the author of ‘In Their Own Words: Understanding the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba’ and ‘Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War’. She tweets @cchristinefair. His website is christinefair.net. The opinions expressed are personal.

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