As Afghanistan’s September 18 parliamentary elections draw closer, there are new allegations about Pakistan’s involvement in that country’s domestic politics. Pakistan has also announced the closure of more than 30 refugee camps in Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier. Afghan and U.S. officials have spoken in recent months of well-armed and well-trained militants reappearing along Afghanistan’s borders with Pakistan and inflicting heavy casualties.
Various sources allege that Pakistan is still helping the Taliban and sending fighters into Afghanistan. Since late March, when the winter snow began to melt, the Taliban have intensified their attacks against both Afghan as well as the U.S.-led coalition forces. Hardly a day passes without violence along the so-called “Pashtoon belt,” running from eastern to southeastern Afghanistan.
Some of the most serious allegations have been made by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a prominent religious and political leader and head of the opposition in Pakistan’s National Assembly. He is also secretary-general of the six-party religious coalition known as Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). Rehman has accused the Pakistani government of deceiving the United States and the West by helping militants enter Afghanistan from Waziristan, a region in northwest Pakistan. He challenged, “The government should reveal the identity of the infiltrators and explain its reasons for launching these people into Afghanistan.” Furthermore, according to Rehman, “These men are being moved from Waziristan to military training camps in Mansehra before being sent into Afghanistan.” He revealed that Taliban fighters are transported from Pakistan “in private vehicles” and are supervised in “their trouble-free entry into Afghanistan” (Daily Times, Pakistan, August 9).
Rehman was known to have had close contacts with the Taliban and was especially associated with its fugitive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Rehman is perhaps the highest ranking Pakistani public figure to speak out about Mansehra district, which is said to be “the site of one of the alleged terrorist training camps that India claims is being run by the Pakistani establishment.” “The Pakistani media” has discussed the existence of the camp as well. Also, terror suspects who have been apprehended in the West “in recent weeks have also disclosed they attended militant training camps in Mansehra, which Pakistan’s military government says does not exist” (The Times of India, August 10).
The allegations about Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan also come from Afghan officials, who believe that the attacks and tactics employed by the insurgents show a degree of sophistication. “Afghan officials allege that Taliban and allied fighters who fled to Pakistan after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 are learning new, more-lethal tactics from the Pakistani military at numerous training bases” writes the Los Angeles Times (August 10). Similarly, an Afghan army officer working with the U.S. forces in Kunar province reports, “The Taliban and its allies were proving so resilient, because they were receiving improved training and equipment just across the border in Pakistan.”
Since hostilities began to escalate in late May, more than 700 hundred people, mostly civilians, government security forces, parliamentary candidates, and election workers have been killed in Afghanistan. One of the bloodiest incidents occurred when insurgents shot down a U.S. CH-47 Chinook helicopter in Kunar province; 17 Navy Seals perished in the crash. According to various sources, the helicopter was downed by a sophisticated shoulder-fired missile (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, June 29).
Since the demise of the Taliban regime in December 2001, remnants and loyalists of that regime, disenchanted Pashtuns, religious conservatives, and, increasingly, criminals involved in Afghanistan’s flourishing narcotics trade have joined forces to terrorize parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan. This loose coalition — the neo-Taliban — has bases of operation in the tribal areas of Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan. And according to Kabul, these forces continue to receive assistance from elements within the Pakistani military, intelligence, and religious establishments. (Radio Liberty, August 8).
So far Afghan officials, opposition figures, and local media have accused Pakistan of helping the Taliban to stay strong and using them as a tool to put pressure on Afghanistan. Opposition figures in Quetta, Baluchistan, recently confirmed to Jamestown their government’s involvement in propping up the Taliban. Bands of Taliban militants could be seen moving freely about the city.
Why would a prominent Pakistani opposition leader accuse his government of “deceiving the U.S. and the West by helping militants to enter Afghanistan?” Such comments are even more astonishing coming from the same man who was once widely known as the “godfather” of the Taliban. The answer perhaps lies in the fact that Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf recently announced that he would expel all religious students studying at madrassas (religious seminaries) in Pakistan. This step came after the July 7, terrorist bombings London (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, July 25).
The other reason is that the mosque and the military, which have been allies since the creation of Pakistan, are nearing a head-on collision. Due to pressure from the international community in the wake of the London bombings, the government in Pakistan is trying “to distance itself from the religious institutions.”
Rehman was detained and then deported from Dubai on August 1, while en route to Saudi Arabia. He was alleged to be collecting funds from his followers, funds that are “then used in anti-government activities” as well as to help the Taliban (AKI, August 8).
Rehman’s revelations are perhaps the strongest confirmation yet of Pakistan’s backing of the insurgency in Afghanistan. Only time will tell whether it is an attempt to disrupt the upcoming elections or part of a broader a trend adopted to destabilize Afghanistan.