The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Pakistanis aren’t rejoicing over the triumph of the Taliban

People read news about the Taliban taking over Kabul at a newspaper stall in Karachi, Pakistan, on Aug. 16. (Shahzaib Akber/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Hamid Mir is a Pakistani journalist and author.

I am sure there are many in the United States or Europe who would expect the news of the Afghan Taliban’s triumph to trigger euphoria in Pakistan. There are those in the West who have depicted the Taliban as a sort of Pakistani creation or parasite — and, as with every oversimplification, there is some truth to this. Over the past two decades there have been elements in the Pakistani military, government and society that offered logistical and material support to the Afghan Taliban.

Some Pakistani officials reacted to the news of the Taliban takeover with ill-concealed glee. Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari compared the fall of Kabul to the end of the U.S. presence in South Vietnam in 1975. Planning Minister Asad Umar wrote: “Everyone is surprised why afghan army collapsed without resistance. Soldiers fight for 3 reasons: For a cause, for a leader or for money…. The cashflow would dry up after the withdrawal. So no reason to fight.” Some religious parties, such as the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Pakistan and the Jamat-e-Islami, congratulated the Afghan Taliban for its victory.

In fact, though, Pakistanis have little reason to celebrate this defeat — and many of us are only too aware of that. It is worth recalling that the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks actually brought an upgrade of Pakistan’s international status, prompting Washington to declare us a major non-NATO ally. Pakistan provided bases to U.S. forces and received billions of dollars in return. The cabinet of Imran Khan is filled with ministers who served under General Pervez Musharraf, who — for a while at least — became one of the United States’ most important international partners. Meanwhile, in the years that followed, the Pakistani Taliban — closely allied with their Afghan counterparts — waged an insurgency against the Pakistani government that devastated entire regions and took thousands of lives.

People such as Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani were not imposed on Afghanistan directly from Washington. They were sent via Islamabad, with Pakistan’s full and enthusiastic support. I vividly recall the honor guard given to Ghani in the headquarters of the Pakistan Army in 2014. And how can I forget that the current national security adviser of Pakistan, Moeed Yusuf, wrote a long paper in support of Ghani in 2015 for a U.S. think tank? He described Ghani as a very balanced leader fighting against unfavorable odds. I remember that Ghani received another guard of honor from Prime Minister Khan in 2019.

The relationship between Khan and Ghani deteriorated in 2020 after Pakistan facilitated a peace deal between the Trump administration and the Afghan Taliban. Ghani was forced to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners without a cease-fire. He started doubting both Pakistan and the Taliban. Ghani responded by moving closer to India in order to counteract Pakistan. But the Taliban was cleverer than Ghani. They engaged India through back channels and tried to neutralize New Delhi. The friendship between Ghani and Pakistan proved fragile. Still, I can assure you that no one in Islamabad is celebrating his departure as a victory.

Just a few weeks back, Khan wrote a column in The Post opposing a military takeover of Kabul by the Taliban. He wrote: “The interests of Pakistan and the United States in Afghanistan are the same. We want a negotiated peace, not civil war. We need stability and an end to terrorism aimed at both our countries.” Some might dismiss this as political niceties, but Khan was entirely right.

The Taliban released thousands of prisoners from several Afghan jails — including Pakistani Taliban leaders such as Maulvi Faqir Muhammad. He is wanted in Pakistan for publicly acknowledging his close ties with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Will people such as him abandon their war against the Pakistan, or will he join the ranks of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan leader Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, who openly declared a war on Pakistan in a recent CNN interview? We need answers from the Taliban leadership now sitting in the presidential palace of Kabul.

The Afghan Taliban has also been coy about its views of the current border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which was drawn up by the British colonial power (the “Durand Line”), leaving many ethnic Pashtuns on both sides of the line. Many experts suspect that the Taliban, which still draws primarily on Pashtun support, might begin to question the legitimacy of the border now that it is in power.

Fazelminallah Qazizai, an Afghan freelance journalist, watched as armed Taliban fighters rode through the streets of Kabul for the first time in 20 years. (Video: Jon Gerberg/The Washington Post)

The Taliban’s military takeover of Kabul violates the peace agreement signed by the Afghan Taliban and the United States in Doha last year, so that agreement is essentially dead. Now we face a state of yawning uncertainty — one that affects Pakistan, perhaps, more deeply than any other regional power.

Afghanistan has been famously dubbed “the graveyard of empires.” Now the Taliban can claim that, following in the footsteps of the Afghans who beat the British and the Soviets, it has defeated the United States. Yet the Taliban and their Pakistani supporters should not feel proud of turning Afghanistan into a graveyard yet again. The real challenge should be to turn this graveyard into a paradise of peace.