After their defeat in Vietnam, the Americans were looking for a similar opportunity to avenge their humiliation from the erstwhile Soviet Union. The Soviet Union had limited influence on the borders of Eastern or Western Europe at the time, and any military influence from both sides was impossible, with the Cold War waiting to breach those borders. In other parts of the world, there was no longer similar level of potential to contain Moscow. The only place in the world where the Americans could engage the Soviet Union in a war of attrition turned out to be Afghanistan. There is evidence on how the United States secretly and mysteriously encouraged the Soviet Union to enter Afghanistan, and that the Soviet Union did not face any opposition in entering Afghanistan since it received a subtle signal from the United States, so it could be drawn in the battle of attrition foe the final time.
Almost four decades down the line, as Taliban took over Kabul for the second time since the 1990s, Pakistan will enter this great game. On the one hand, it must play its role well for the United States and the West, and on the other hand, it must serve its regional interests (which face challenges from within and across the borders). On the one hand, it must settle accounts with the Afghan government regarding assertive tendencies among the Pashtun nationalist sentiment, and on the other hand, balance the delicate situation in its eastern borders.
Pakistan, for long, invested heavily in supporting religious and sectarian movements, which were successfully deployed in Kashmir and Afghanistan. A small but destructive loop was running a part of the the larger game among the great powers, of course with domestic connotations from Pakistan. The collapse of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was a major game in which Afghanistan was weakened. The army and all the infrastructure of Afghanistan collapsed. Pashtun slogans were fading in the wake of extremist Islamism. Many Mojahedin leaders obeyed the Pakistani intelligence apparatus, only to get dillusioned soon. The president, who chanted anti-Pakistan slogans at the Ariana crossroads, was now desperately seeking refuge at the UN office in Kabul. The cities of Afghanistan became cemeteries overnight. Poverty and misery were rampant. There was no system left for Afghanistan, but Pakistan still did not get what it wanted. The Pakistani deep state imagined Afghanistan to be Pakistan’s fifth state; although it is impossible, but the thoughts of its strategic allies also seemed move in the same direction when the Taliban were given due importance and attention despite their actions. Pakistan’s strategic depth in Afghanistan has only beem enhanced with the help of the West’s belief in the indispensability of the Taliban. Even Burhanuddin Rabbani or Ahmad Shah Massoud could not provide such benefits due to their tribal and linguistic ties with Iran and Tajikistan. Ethnicity is a major issue in Afghanistan. The idea of perpetuating three hundred years of Pashtun domination could pave the way for the elimination of the Tajik and Hazara elites. Having influence over the Pashtun politics as well Afghan refugees, Pakistan could afford to prioritise the Pashtun sentiment over other ethnicities in Afghanistan.
Three decades have passed since the Mojahedin came to power, but they were not able to shape their party interests in line with Pakistani politics, something that the Taliban promises to do. In the 1990s, the newly established small Central Asian republics with their rich energy reserves were tapped to turn Afghanistan into an energy transit hub.
Central Asian oil and gas needed the energy strapped South Asian market, and large multinational corporations sought to gain market share. The Taliban too were seemingly ready but 9/11 scuttled the vision. Meanwhile, Pakistan convinced the world that a fundamentalist regime was better than a democratic, inclusive national government in Afghanistan to secure the gas and oil pipelines and power lines from Centre.
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