Afghanistan and Pakistan Face Threat of Talibanization

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 10

The bilateral relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan remains frozen and is governed by the two countries’ geopolitical rivalries, which have unwittingly helped Taliban militancy in the region. As a result, both states are in danger of “Talibanization” (Dawn, April 27). The immediate challenges that face Afghanistan and Pakistan have to do with four factors: (a) cross-border infiltration; (b) a territorial dispute centering on the Durand Line; (c) India’s growing influence with Kabul; and (d) Pakistan’s Afghan policy, which is opposed by all factions in Afghanistan including Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Pashtun nationalists and even the Taliban (Dawn, November 13, 2005).

Infiltration into Afghanistan

Frustrated by Islamabad’s tepid response to his repeated calls for disabling the Taliban’s operational bases in Pakistan, Afghan President Hamid Karzai turned to personal diplomacy. On February 15-17, he made a three-day visit to Islamabad to seek its cooperation in ending terrorist violence. He conveyed to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf his deep concern over the recent spike in lethal violence in southern Afghanistan (Dawn, February 16). In 2005, Afghanistan watched 1,700 people die in insurgent violence. In the three months since December 2005, 70 people, predominantly members of the security forces, were killed in suicide bombings. In March, Taliban leader Mullah Omar vowed that “with the beginning of summer, Afghan soil will turn red for the crusaders and their puppets, and the occupiers will face an unpredictable wave of Afghan resistance” (The News, March 17).

President Karzai believes that the Taliban have their bases in Pakistan, where even their leader Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden have found safe haven (Dawn, February 26). In his one-on-one meeting with Musharraf on February 15, Karzai shared with him “verifiable” intelligence about 150 key Taliban suspects who are based in Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta (Dawn, February 26). Pakistan’s security agencies, however, found Afghan intelligence “unreliable.”

Infiltration into the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP)

Like Afghanistan, Pakistan is battling a violent insurgency in its northwestern and southwestern provinces. The situation in Waziristan in northwestern Pakistan, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, has spiraled out of Islamabad’s control. On February 17, Tolo, an independent Afghan television news channel, aired grisly scenes of men in South Waziristan holding up three severed heads to a crowd chanting, “Long Live Osama bin Laden. Long Live Mullah Omar” (Dawn, April 18). It also showed half a dozen corpses chained to a vehicle and being dragged, while a uniformed Pakistan military officer drives past.

The Taliban have so far executed 150 pro-government tribal chiefs without getting punished for their crimes (Daily Times, April 18). Similarly, the losses in life of government troops have grown five times more than those of U.S. troops in Afghanistan (Dawn, April 21). Between January 2003 and April 2006, 600 Pakistani soldiers were killed, while 200 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan since 2001 (The Nation, April 29).

Yet, critics say, the military operation in Waziristan has not yielded one single terrorist dead or alive since 2003 (Nawa-i-Waqt, March 11). Most terrorists have rather been arrested in Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore, Faisalabad and Gujrat. Islamabad, however, has claimed for the past three years that these operations have been a success. Pakistan’s most pro-Afghan and pro-Karzai Pashtun leader, Asfandyar Wali Khan, blames the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) for orchestrating military operations in Waziristan to deflect attention from its “guests” elsewhere. Mehmood Khan Achackzai, another prominent pro-Afghan and pro-Karzai Pashtun leader from Balochistan, calls the military operation in Waziristan a “genocide of Pashtuns,” which he wants ceased immediately. Despite the military operation, Waziristan, which the Taliban has declared as its “Islamic Emirate,” has steadily slid into anarchy. Stunned by their sweeping reach, Musharraf publicly announced on April 26 his plan to pull out troops from North and South Waziristan (Dawn, April 27). Despite this unenviable performance, the United States continues to offer Pakistan $840 million a year in military aid for its operations in Waziristan (Dawn, April 21).

Infiltration into Southwestern Pakistan: Balochistan

Similarly, Pakistan is battling an even fiercer insurgency in Balochistan, which it blames on Afghanistan. During his recent visit to Islamabad, Pakistan shared intelligence with President Karzai on “weapons smuggling into Balochistan” (China Brief, March 2). Pakistan also raised the matter at the Tripartite Commission’s meeting in Kabul on February 25.

In addition, Pakistani intelligence officials claim to have proof of India’s involvement in Balochistan, which is accused of funding and arming the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) (Khabrain, February 25). In April, Pakistan banned the BLA as a “terrorist” organization. The United States has not yet agreed to Pakistan’s assessment of the BLA. Most recently, Pakistan claimed to have seized weapons worth 500 million rupees (around $8.3 million), which were shipped from Kabul for subversion in Balochistan (The Nation, February 12).

Pakistan wants Afghanistan to have India close its consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar, each of which borders the NWFP (also known as Pakhtunkhaw) and Balochistan. President Karzai, however, disagrees that his country’s scaled-back relations with New Delhi will make Pakistan safe. Responding to charges that Afghanistan is behind the Baloch insurgency, he said: “We will never support an insurgency in Balochistan or allow the use of our soil for terrorist activities” (Dawn, February 18). Pakistan is not convinced, however. As a precaution and at great financial cost, it already has deployed 90,000 troops along the Durand Line since the fall of the Taliban (Nawa-i-Waqt, September 13, 2005). In addition, 70,000 members of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps are deployed in the border areas.

Fencing the Durand Line

To bolster cross-border security, Pakistan has proposed to fence the 2,300-kilometer Durand Line. Karzai off-handedly rejected the proposal, saying that “barbed wire is a symbol of hatred, not friendship and hence it cannot stop terrorism” (Dawn, February 18). Earlier, speaking at the National Defense College on February 16, he said: “fencing is separation” of the “inseparable” people living on each side of Durand Line (The Nation, February 17). Pakistan has long been toying with the idea of fencing. In September 2005, Musharraf shared the idea with President Bush, who publicly endorsed it. Karzai’s rejection of fencing further confounds the issue of the undefined border between the two countries.

Since it was drawn in 1893, the Durand Line has been a tentative marker between Afghanistan and British Raj, which divided Baloch and Pashtun tribal areas on both sides. Afghanistan gave the British Raj its southern territories in Balochistan and the NWFP on a 100-year lease, which expired in 1993. Pakistan has since been pressing Kabul to accept the Durand Line as an international border. Kabul, however, is unwilling to cede its historical claim to the territories it calls “South Pashtunistan” (Dawn, November 13, 2005). Even the Pakistan-backed Taliban government (1996-2001) refused to accept the Durand Line as an “international border.” It was this unsolved border dispute that led Afghanistan to oppose Pakistan’s entry into the United Nations in 1948, which sowed the first seed of a long-festering disagreement that continues to haunt both countries to this day.

The India Factor

To Pakistan’s dismay, however, Afghanistan, with the help of India, crossed the Durand Line into South Asia as the eighth member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Pakistan fears that Afghanistan will use SAARC to raise “the bogey of South Pashtunistan” (Dawn, November 13, 2005). More importantly, Pakistan is concerned about India’s increasing influence with Kabul, especially its ruling Northern Alliance. A recent Indian move to deploy 300 members of its special operations forces at its consulate in Kandahar has further unnerved Islamabad ( Musharraf, during his meeting with Karzai on February 15, reportedly broached this matter with serious concern.

With or without Afghanistan’s help, India is, nevertheless, well on its way to flanking Pakistan’s western border and penetrating Central Asia with its economic allure and military muscle. It has already completed the construction of its first-ever foreign military base in Tajikistan to the west of Pakistan (Nawa-i-Waqt, March 6). It is also building a port at Chahbahar in Iran, Pakistan’s southwestern neighbor, that will be connected through a road link to Afghanistan and then to Central Asia. Pakistan, which has problematic relations with all three states—Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikistan—views their triangular axis as an Indian attempt to encircle it at its western border.

Pakistan’s Afghan Policy

Pakistan’s Afghan policy is not helping matters either. It continues to be based on the ethnic subordination of Afghanistan (Nawa-i-Waqt, April 17). Although Pakistan likes to see Pashtuns get their due share in Afghanistan’s governance, it rejects their “ethnic nationalism,” compared to the Taliban’s “Islamic nationalism” (The International Journal of Contemporary Sociology, vol. 42(2), pp. 267-293). Pakistan is apprehensive that Pashtun ethnic nationalism will infect Pakistani Pashtuns, whom Islamabad continues to keep de-politicized and thus theologized (The International Journal of Contemporary Sociology, vol. 42(2), pp. 267-293). It bars Pashtun nationalist parties, such as the NWFP-based Awami National Party (ANP) led by Asfandyar Wali Khan, and the Balochistan-based Pashtunkhawa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) led by Mehmood Khan Achakzai, from entering tribal areas of Balochistan and the NWFP, while the Taliban and their militant allies are free to establish an “Islamic Emirate” there.


Not until the “Talibanization” of Afghanistan and Pakistan has been addressed can geopolitical and geoeconomic considerations take center stage. It is, therefore, imperative for Afghanistan and Pakistan to concentrate on stemming cross-border infiltration, which will require the redeployment of Pakistani troops from the tribal areas of the NWFP and Balochistan to joint patrolling the Durand Line. Pakistan should replace its military operation in the NWFP and Balochistan with a political process, allowing Pakistan’s mainstream political parties as well as Pashtun nationalists to defuse the ticking bomb of religious fanaticism there. More importantly, Pakistan’s Afghan policy needs a makeover from the current ethnic subordination of Afghanistan and the demeaning of Pashtun nationalism, to the affirmation of Afghan nationalism and Pashtun ethnic pride to counter the Taliban’s “religious nationalism.”