Pakistan’s dangerous ‘Great Game’ in Afghanistan comes full circle
By Jaime León
Islamabad – After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, internet users in Pakistan celebrated the occasion by sharing a video of the late Hamid Gul, who headed the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the country’s premier spy agency.
“When history is written, it will be stated that the ISI defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan with the help of America,” Gul, who was the ISI chief in from 1987 to 1989, said in an interview to a Pakistani broadcaster in 2014.
After a pause, he continued: “Then there will be another sentence. The ISI, with the help of America, defeated America.”
As Gul, who passed away in 2015, prophesied, the arrival of the Taliban in Kabul is somehow a victory for Pakistan, a country that helped the insurgents in the 1990s and was one of the only three countries then – along with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia – to recognize the extremist regime.
Much has been said about the “Great Game” in Afghanistan, a term coined by Rudyard Kipling to denote the rivalry between the United Kingdom and Russia in Central Asia in the 19th century.
But it is Pakistan that is really the expert on the “Great Game,” which although has already cost the Asian country dearly in the past.
For the past 20 years, Pakistan has played a double game in the Afghan conflict: On one hand, it has received billions of dollars from the United States for supporting the war on Afghan soil and on the other it has allowed the Taliban to use its territory against Washington.
This is the US version. Pakistan has always admitted to having influence with the Taliban, but has denied helping them.
Thus, among the few leaders that seemed to celebrate the Taliban victory in Afghanistan was Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.
A day after the insurgents took over Kabul, Khan said that that it represented the Afghans breaking the “shackles of slavery.”
Moreover, amid the chaos in which Kabul has been engulfed in recent days, Pakistan is one of the few embassies that continue to operate, and it is the only country that has access to the civilian part of the airport in the capital city.
If that was not enough, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid told reporters Monday that the Afghan insurgents have assured Islamabad that they would not allow the Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP) to operate on their soil.
Islamabad undoubtedly enjoys influence with the Taliban, whose leaders took refuge on the Pakistani soil after their defeat in 2001 during the US invasion.
Pakistan’s goal in Afghanistan is the so-called “strategic depth,” which consists of having a friendly government in Kabul to be able to better confront its arch-rival, India.
But that “strategic depth” has already come at a high cost to Islamabad in the past.
The victory against the Soviets in the 1980s resulted in four million Afghan refugees entering Pakistan, along with the so-called “Kalashnikov assault rifles and heroine culture”.
Pakistan is now home to 1.4 million legally registered Afghans and an estimated one million are undocumented.
This time, Islamabad has already announced that they will not allow any Afghans to enter without a visa.
Around 2007, there was the emergence of the TTP, which started attacks against the Pakistani state that has left 70,000 dead so far.