“The fact that 10 years into the conflict that we would finally find Bin Laden in Abbottabad, a big Pakistani military city, should tell us something about how good a friend Pakistan was.” -Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, 2021 CNN interview
This week, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan penned an op-ed in the Washington Post, rewriting history about how Pakistan has acted since September 11, 2001. He forgot to mention that his own military and military intelligence service have bragged to Americans and others since before September 11 that they controlled the Taliban, Haqqani, and other terrorist networks. He forgot that when the U.S. and Afghans proposed a diplomatic approach to the Taliban in 2009, Pakistan’s military imprisoned the Taliban leader that was willing to talk about ending the insurgency.
Pakistan would like the world to forget that they told the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan after September 11 that they would only go after certain terrorists hiding in Pakistan and that others would be left alone. Imran Khan forgot to mention that in the 1990s, Pakistan refused to help America get Bin Laden, and that after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan hid him in a military-heavy city.
Pakistan is trying to use selective amnesia to gloss over how they have stabbed the United States and NATO in the back repeatedly since September 11. This attempt by Pakistan to move forward quickly as they establish a proxy regime in Kabul to administer Afghanistan as a fifth province is expected. Pakistan does not want the world to spend any time examining the way they have helped terrorists over the last few decades. Pakistan is the Iran of South Asia, funding/hiding/training terrorists, destabilizing neighbors, and brainwashing young people into Islamist inspired terrorism. Is it now time for the world to call them out?
My own experience with Pakistan
When Imran Khan refers to the elected Islamic Republic government of Afghanistan’s military as a foreign presence in comparison to the “native” Taliban terrorist group that has been headquartered in Pakistan since 2001, you can easily see that Pakistan is no friend to democracy or human rights. This “sleight of hand” language is how the Pakistan ISI and the Pakistan Army (the actual Pakistani government) deals with reality. Pakistan always plays the victim while bullying others. They pretend to the outside world that they are unaware of the massive terrorist training factory in their country, while at the same time being proud of it internally.
In 2001, President Musharraf (a military coup led him to power) decided to only fight some terrorists, like Al Qaeda, while continuing to train and support good terrorists that his military controlled, like the Pakistani, Afghan, and Kashmiri Islamist insurgents. He either foolishly thought he could keep the groups separate, or the U.S. foolishly thought Musharraf cared about keeping Pakistani-based terrorists under control.
As the Taliban came flooding out of Afghanistan in 2001, they were put into hiding by Pakistani operatives and told to stay out of sight until they were needed again. By 2002 and 2003, the Pakistan ISI had decided the wait was over and ordered the Taliban to start an insurgency in Afghanistan or be handed over to the US for a trip to GTMO.
One of those Taliban was a kid who was trained in a Pakistani terrorist camp for a couple weeks and then sent to Kabul at the end of 2002 to throw a grenade into a jeep driven by U.S. Special Forces. He wounded the occupants, and he was sent to GTMO. I saw that jeep the next week with blood still all over the vehicle. As fate would have it, that young Taliban would be released from GTMO just as I helped stand up a 2009 reintegration unit for NATO and the Afghan government. He was the first case I would handle as our new unit was forming.
In 2003, I vividly remember Pakistani officers tell our team building the ANA, that they will simply wait us out. That we should not build a large Army or Police force as they will put the Taliban back in power when America abandons the region again. At the same time, Pakistan was telling the Taliban leadership to start a bloody insurgency against NATO forces so that the abandonment by the West could be sped up. Pakistan wanted Afghans to be alone again.
The Taliban in Quetta by 2003 were talking to reporters and coming out of hiding. They were no longer under threat by PakISI to stay hidden. Those young men knew all the previous talking points of PakISI—that they were ready to “fight the puppet Afghan government,” and drive the “foreign occupiers from Afghan lands.” Mullah Omar was then allowed by his PakISI minders to put out a call to the hidden Taliban “to begin their jihad against Americans.”
In 2007, I sat in a college classroom at NPS with a visiting Pakistani General who was moaning about how little respect Pakistan was getting for fighting terrorists, just like Imran Khan is doing today. When my military classmates and I asked him why he couldn’t stop terrorists from training in Pakistan and killing our comrades in Afghanistan, he said it was complicated and difficult. When we suggested his military partner with U.S. forces on the ground in Pakistan to break up the camps, he was livid and declared no U.S. forces would ever operate in his country.
Earlier that same year, Pakistanis attacked an American military delegation of paratroopers after a five-hour meeting in Teri Mengel, Pakistan. The American and Afghan officials were visiting Pakistan to settle a border dispute. The ambush by Pakistanis was kept quiet at the time as the U.S. was trying to hide the fact that Pakistan was more of an enemy than an ally. A U.S. officer was killed and three American officers were wounded, along with their Afghan interpreter. My friend from an earlier Afghan tour was leading the U.S. mission that day. The Pakistanis killed and wounded Americans in revenge for Taliban/terrorists lost at the hands of the U.S. military. The truth came out more clearly in 2011 when the Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that “Pakistan’s intelligence service was undermining efforts in Afghanistan and had supported insurgents who attacked the American Embassy in Kabul in 2011.”
Before that 2011 admission, Admiral Mullen was aware of early 2009 efforts to engage the Taliban in peace talks to end their Pakistani-backed insurgency against the Afghans. ISI directly blocked those Afghan-led peace efforts, and were very clear that any peace talks with their Taliban client must go through Islamabad or the Pakistani military.
Just before the supposed-major peace talk breakthrough at Doha in February 2020, I was tasked with getting PakISI generals to get very honest in front of the intelligence community at a U.S. Central Command conference. When I publicly asked them from the podium to break ties with the Taliban, close their safe-havens, stop their funding, close their terrorist training camps, and eject the Taliban leaders from Quetta and Peshawar, the Pakistanis blurted out in anger how much they controlled the Taliban. They almost yelled out that they were going to get the Taliban to enter a peace deal with the U.S. but would not lift a finger to do anything else on the matter. They ended their response by saying what more do you want from us? Basically, they announced before the February 29 deal that PakISI was never going to stop running the Taliban/Haqqani network.
This client/master relationship was on full display after the ISI/Taliban bought, not fought, their way to Kabul in August 2021 by getting the Afghan government to surrender and order the ANA not to fight the Taliban any more. As the various Taliban factions that ISI cobbled together began to squabble over the seats at the table in Kabul, the ISI chief flew in to dictate who would play what role in the new Pakistani puppet regime. He then went to the Panjshir to help them hunt down the remaining Afghan resistance. The ISI leader left town with his more-trustworthy Haqqani faction in key positions of the regime, and then the Pakistan government began lobbying the world to quickly recognize their terrorist puppets in Kabul…to make the world safer as Imran Khan puts it.
We saw it all coming
The war ended as Pakistan laid it out in 2002. The Americans grew bored of the region and war, and convinced NATO to abandon the Afghans to face Pakistan’s military alone. As General McChrystal said in 2021, Pakistan was “simultaneously supporting and duplicitous, and that made defeating the Taliban, when they were actually being supported to a great degree by the Pakistanis, almost impossible.”
Pakistan always wants Afghans to seem divided, so Pakistan can point to Afghan infighting as a reason that Pakistan must interfere in their affairs. Pakistan keeps Afghans divided and squabbling, because it makes it easier to identify disgruntled Afghans to rent in order to undermine the actual government.
Afghans are in a tough spot now; they are alone. They need to retake power from the Taliban or somehow convince the Taliban to create a government that is acceptable to the masses. That spot is made more difficult because of the current U.S.-Pakistan relationship. This relationship is built upon Pakistan lying to America, and Americans being so preoccupied that they just ignore the lies to keep Pakistan from being an open enemy. Accepting Pakistan as a deceitful friend that repeatedly betrays Americans is an abusive relationship, but at the moment, it is a bad relationship that Congress and the White House are willing to stay in. America just keeps taking the beatings from Pakistan, and accepts the post-thrashing promises that Pakistan will do better in the future. They won’t.