Pakistan’s biggest problem isn’t India, Islamic terrorism, or military rule. The big problem is the economy. Economic growth is down, along with the national credit ratings. Unemployment, inflation and budget deficits are up, along with the cost (in rupees, the local currency) to buy dollars (to pay for most imports). Recent loans obtained were mainly to service the $106 billion national debt. Defaulting on that debt would make borrowing even more difficult and expensive.

Reasons for this mess are many but the main ones are corruption (the rich pay the least in taxes), Islamic terrorism (a problem since the late 1940s) and military leadership that often interferes in government, mainly to enrich the military leadership. The official Pakistani reaction to all this is blaming foreigners (India and the West in general) for everything and denounce (or worse) anyone pointing out the real problems. It has reached the point were openly complaining in Pakistan can get you killed by military supplied enforcers. There is widespread popular unrest over basic problems like food hunger, increased crime and lawless activity by the military. Pakistan isn’t working out as expected and while most Pakistanis know that, the politicians and military leaders prefer to not recognise the cause of the problems, much less try and fix them.

One of the neighbours most concerned about Pakistani stability and prosperity is China. Over a hundred billion dollars in Chinese economic air and investment is coming into Pakistan, which makes Pakistani stability and prosperity a Chinese goal. Since China is a prosperous police state it prefers to work with Pakistan on these matters privately, saving the media for propaganda and other forms of distraction, disinformation and deflection.

The Peacemaker Ploy

The Pakistani “sponsored” peace talks between the Americans and the Afghan Taliban have collapsed. The Americans concluded the Afghan Taliban could not be trusted. Pakistan had earlier been classified as similarly inclined. There was much evidence of Taliban and Pakistani misbehaviour. The increased Taliban use of violence, especially against civilians, was due to the increased influence of the Haqqani Network. In fact, the Afghan Taliban are now run by the leaders of the Haqqani Network despite a non-Haqqani figurehead leader. Haqqani is another 1990s era Afghan fighting faction that is more gangster than Islamic terrorist, has long been a subsidiary of the Pakistani military and its main conduit for getting Islamic terrorists and their weapons (including large vehicle bombs) into Afghanistan. Haqqani and the pro-Pakistan Afghan Taliban still have sanctuaries in Pakistan, something that the Pakistani military denies but is not hidden in Pakistan and something of an open secret.

The new (since late 2018) Haqqani Network leader is Siraj Haqqani. He not only brought a more aggressive attitude, he also provided the ISI (Pakistani military intelligence) with better control over the Afghan Taliban. Siraj Haqqani not only dominates the Taliban leadership but also maintains his lucrative crime boss subservience to ISI. Because the Haqqani Network founder Jalaluddin Haqqani (who died in late 2018) helped Taliban founder Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders escape Afghanistan in 2001, there has always been a sense of mutual dependence. For that reason, Haqqani leaders were able to help deal with the mid-2015 power struggle within the Taliban and thwart the recruiting efforts of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Given that Haqqani works for ISI (the Pakistani CIA), Pakistan had to approve of, if not help bring about, this new Taliban leadership arrangement. There are still divisions within the Taliban but the Haqqani leaders have been able to limit the damage while also making themselves wealthier.

Haqqani leaders have more immediate problems. The cancelled peace negotiations with the Americans were supported by most Afghan Taliban factions because those factions still did not agree on how to handle Afghans who oppose them and the Afghan government, which has a lot more popular support than the Taliban. Getting rid of the foreign troops would simplify matters and would serve to unite the increasingly factional Taliban. The peace talks also served to determine how united the Afghan Taliban were and whether the Afghan Taliban could agree on anything beyond making a lot of money providing muscle for the drug gangs and using that power to sustain the idea that the Taliban can eventually regain a dominant position in Afghanistan.

The Taliban understood, from their experience after 2014, when most foreign troops left, that NATO (mainly American) air power was the key element that prevented the Taliban from defeating the Afghan security forces. It’s not just the airstrikes, it’s also the American ability to airdrop supplies to areas that the Taliban have under siege. The Taliban take heavy losses maintaining those sieges and American supply drops enable Afghan forces to survive and win most of those battles. Since 2014 there has been more hostility, and often fighting, between Taliban factions.

There are other reasons for cancelling the peace talks and the main one was that the most powerful participant in the Afghan violence, Pakistan, was not directly involved in the talks. Yet Pakistan had to sign off on any final deal for the agreement to have any chance of success. Most Afghans hate Pakistan, mainly because of the decades of Pakistani trouble making in Afghanistan. The Afghans at the Qatar negotiations were mainly Pushtuns (40 percent of Afghans) representing a minority of Pushtuns who support the drug trade and their Taliban “security associates” (hired guns). The drug gangs and Afghan Taliban are seen as the work of Pakistan and in the late 1990s that majority of anti-Taliban Afghans got organised as the Northern Alliance and prevented the Taliban from ever controlling all of Afghanistan.

This explains why the Afghan peace talks had no representatives from the Northern Alliance. This non-Pushtuin coalition represents the Afghans who will fight the drug gangs and Taliban and have done so, successfully, in the past. The Taliban had been unable to conquer all of Afghanistan (especially the north) because of the Northern Alliance. The northern willingness to unite and defend the interests of the non-Pushtun majority in Afghanistan still exists. The Northern Alliance is no longer a military coalition or even much of a political one. It is more the continued potential for the Northern Alliance to once again become an armed force opposing Pushtun tyranny (especially Pakistan supported Pushtuns). Al Qaeda once more has sanctuaries in Taliban controlled territory in southern Afghanistan and apparently has an understanding with Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban.

Then there is ISIL, a radical al Qaeda group that is at war with everyone. Al Qaeda is again in Afghanistan and allied with the Taliban or at least some of the Taliban. Pakistan considers both al Qaeda and ISIL hostile but that is just another aspect of this bizarre situation because the Haqqani Network has long supplied al Qaeda (in Afghanistan) with weapons and explosives.

When the Americans intervened in October 2001, their cash and air support enabled the Northern Alliance to defeat the Taliban in less than two months. This was humiliating for Pakistan and the Taliban. Both made plans to avoid a repeat defeat. Northern Alliance and American military and political leaders realise that as soon as there is another Islamic terror attack in the West, traced back to an Afghan based group, it will be October 2001 all over again. Why should that be such a certainty? Because Islamic terror groups do not agree with one another and never maintain alliances. There has been ample evidence of that during the last two decades, not to mention the last thousand years of Muslim history. Thinking it will be different this time, because enough negotiators are willing to believe anything to get the deal done, will not work.

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