The United Nations was born out of an idea for creating a society of nations, a global community, a brotherhood of nations built on a set of higher ideals.
These ideals would give rise to a global village with accountability to each other, including social responsibility for the collective good and sanctions for those who wouldn’t live up to this contract.
The notion of integrity implies a commitment to consistency, ethical conformity and reliability.
The contract has been breached hundreds, if not thousands, of times since the UN’s inception. Countries have fractured, failed and even ceased to exist. Conflict among nations hasn’t diminished; the frequency of conflict following the UN’s founding in 1945 is similar to the trend in conflict during the 70 years preceding the UN.
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Among the greatest failures contributing to this unfortunate record has been the inability of the Security Council, and by default the UN, to contain seemingly unending foreign intervention in Afghanistan. By any standards, Afghanistan has been the realm of a series of proxy wars – British imperialism and Soviet intervention, followed by the United States.
We are witnessing another failure – the Taliban have re-emerged in the void created by the U.S. and its allies, a void that will evoke the horrors of an extremist ideology.
Despite political spin, this ideology outlasted our fractured and misaligned occupation. The popular justification is that Osama bin Laden was found and eliminated and Afghanistan is no longer at risk of being a base for terrorist acts against the U.S. or its allies.
If these were the war’s sole goals, it should have ended decades ago. So why the continued presence that has cost allied forces thousands of lives and billions of dollars?
It’s simply disingenuous to suggest that the U.S. withdrew recently because it has accomplished its two primary goals. The U.S. has given up on instilling any lasting foundations for human rights, the protection of women and children, mitigating an Afghanistan macro-economy that has funded the Taliban, or bringing Afghanistan into the international community. In fact, it has given up on the task of shoring up Afghanistan against the medieval horrors of the Taliban’s Islamic ideology.
The U.S. remained in Afghanistan for far broader and complex reasons.
The Soviet Union spent 10 years in Afghanistan because of its strategic location – as the corridor to Iran, Pakistan and India. The U.S. openly backed the Taliban against the Soviet Union and then spent the next 20 years fighting the Taliban in favour of a more moderate, democratic government.
Pakistan has been an instrument of American policy for containing and removing the Soviets from Afghanistan and now for containing the Chinese.
China hasn’t been idle in the conflict. It has adeptly gained favour with the Afghan government and the Taliban for future influence and access to the bounty of mineral resources. It has the same strategic interests as Britain, the Soviet Union and the U.S.
Two other players with strategic interests have entered the scene: India and Pakistan. Pakistan and India have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947 and have been engaged in an arms race. For India, Afghanistan is a counterforce on Pakistan’s eastern flank. Pakistan has also allied with China.
Pakistan also allied itself, at least rhetorically, with the U.S. in its war in Afghanistan and on terrorism. That is obviously duplicitous – the Pakistani military intelligence service (ISI) has been the Taliban’s strongest and most valued ally.
While Pakistan was allegedly co-operating with U.S. forces, providing forward access to Afghanistan, the U.S. was also conducting covert killing operations against al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other associated forces in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
The Taliban’s attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan and its links to global terrorist networks based in Pakistan lead many in the U.S. to question Pakistan’s commitment to fighting the global war on terrorism.
Pakistan has relied on violent extremists to accomplish its strategic objectives in Afghanistan and India. Although its elected leaders convey a desire to turn Pakistan into a moderate and modern Islamic state, its military has not only suppressed democratization it also has done little to make the country unwelcoming for terrorists.
In 2021, Pakistan’s supreme court released Omar Saeed Sheikh, the man responsible for the kidnapping and gruesome murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, a decision the White House called an “affront to terrorism victims everywhere.”
This wasn’t Sheikh’s first involvement with terrorism. Educated in the U.K. and a graduate of the London School of Economics, he was imprisoned in India in 1994 for his involvement in the kidnapping of Western tourists. Indian authorities freed Sheikh in 1999 in exchange for the release of 150 passengers after Pakistani militants hijacked Indian Airlines flight 814 in Kathmandu and diverted it to Kandahar.
In 2011, Adm. Mike Mullen, America’s most senior military officer at the time, testified before U.S. senators that the jihadist militant Haqqani network planned and conducted an assault on the U.S. embassy in Kabul with ISI’s help. That was the same year bin Laden was found hiding at his compound near Islamabad, not far from a Pakistani military base.
Former Canadian politician and diplomat Chris Alexander has been vocal in accusing Pakistan of being complicit in “proxy war and war crimes” and engaging in an “act of aggression” against neighbouring Afghanistan. Alexander went further than anyone when he tweeted a message including a photograph of Taliban fighters on the Pakistan side of the border: “Taliban fighters waiting to cross the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan … anyone still denying that Pakistan is engaged in an ‘act of aggression’ against Afghanistan is complicit in proxy war and war crimes.”
Alexander is absolutely right that our ignoring Pakistan’s duplicitous proxy war makes us complicit. The evidence and track record are so overwhelming that complicity is an appropriate term. The rise of radical extremism to prominence under the protection or willful blindness of the Pakistani military is now a matter of record.
Many more terrorist incidents and groups can be linked to the patronage they have received from the Pakistan army and the use of these groups as instruments of Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policy.
Pakistan has nurtured growing social extremism, sustained radical Islamist groups, used terror as an instrument of state policy in Kashmir, continued meddling in Afghanistan and even provided nuclear technology to Iran and North Korea. Each action was in conflict with international norms and in opposition to Western interests.
Pakistan is one of the most anti-American countries and, by extension, anti-West. A 2012 Pew survey found that as many as three in four Pakistanis consider the U.S. an enemy.
Pakistan must be held to account for undermining democracy in Afghanistan.
Anil Anand is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
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