Pakistan’s Pyrrhic Victory in Afghanistan: A Response


This piece is a response to Mr. Hussain Haqqani’s article titled “Pakistan’s Pyrrhic Victory in Afghanistan:Islamabad Will Come to Regret Aiding the Taliban’s Resurgence” published in Foreign Affairs on 22 July 2021.Mr. Haqqani has been biased to hold Pakistani military establishment responsible for U.S. failure and Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan. In the entire article he, does not blame America for her misadventure in Afghan territory which

Akhilesh Pillalamarri calls as the ‘graveyard of empires’.Mr. Haqqani also does not highlight Indian strategic ambitions to insecure Pakistan’s western border and make it unmanageable for Pakistan. Mr.Haqqani perhaps did not review the already published literature on Taliban’s gains in the wake of U.S. retreat and now pointing finger at Pakistan like a street urchin.

Peter Beinart’s “In Afghanistan, Trump is Poised to Re-Escalate a Hopeless War” Published in The Atlantic on 12 May,2017

Before I respond to his frail argument I would like to mention an article of Michael McKinley, “We All Los Afghanistan: Two decades of Mistakes, Misjudgments, and Collective Failure published in Foreign Affairs on 16 August,2021.I would like to remind my readers that Michael McKinley had illustrious career as an Ambassador of the United States to Afghanistan(2014-2016) as he also served as U.S. Ambassador to Brazil, Colombia, Peru and as a senior advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The gist of his argument is that “The blame for this terrible tragedy cannot be laid at any one door.” Then how could Mr. Haqqani blame Pakistan for U.S. failure in Afghanistan. It sounds quite absurd. This response to Haqqani’s article has picked some of his points from whole manuscript and response to clarify facts that have either been absent or misrepresented.

Mr. Haqqani writes “Pakistan’s security establishment is cheering the Taliban’s recent military gains in Afghanistan. The country’s hard-liners have funneled support to the Taliban for decades, and they can now envision their allies firmly ensconced in Kabul. Pakistan got what it wished for—but will come to regret it.” Well! Pakistan’s security establishment is deliberating like China and other regional actors that how to respond to such a situation in Afghanistan. Pakistan never wished anything contrary to the interest of the people of Afghanistan and overwhelmingly extended an extraordinary support which even is unthinkable.

If I ask Mr. Haqqani a question, “Does America let any Mexican enter in the U.S. even if there is a serious humanitarian crisis in Mexico?”. The answer must be a big, fat No! Pakistan has done so decades ago and even now people of Afghanistan pin high hopes on Pakistan as a savior, international media can show massive gatherings of Afghan refugees seeking exit from Afghanistan. Pakistan has already hosted millions of Afghan refugees who were fed, clothed, educated and later granted citizenship of Pakistan. That era wreaked a great havoc in Pakistan as drugs and sectarian killings ruined the social fabric in Pakistan. But how many times Pakistan held America responsible. Instead, the U.S. lashed sanction under Pressler Amendment(1985 Originally banned most economic and military assistance to Pakistan unless the U.S. president certified, on an annual basis, that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear explosive device) and later Brown Amendment that Pakistan could not get access to U.S. military aid. Strategic allies are not treated like this as U.S. did by using carrot and stick approach.

Haqqani’s point that a “Taliban takeover will leave Pakistan more vulnerable to extremism at home and potentially more isolated on the world stage.” Is somewhat valid only in terms of waves of extremism otherwise as international isolation Pakistan is concerned that is not a logical argument. But organized attempts of international propaganda machinery to isolate Pakistan cannot be denied whose hub is New Delhi. Indian organized media propaganda campaigns against Pakistan have been counterproductive. U.S. did not trust Pakistan while waging war in Afghanistan and the outcome is trillion dollars, loss of servicemen and major blow to U.S. national prestige.

Pakistan stood by the U.S. in war against terrorism beyond former’s capacity, hosted bases to U.S. for military operations despite intense internal pressure and also earned title of non-NATO ally. United States did not treat Pakistan like other non-NATO allies. According to the U.S. Department of State “Major Non-NATO Ally(MNNA)status is a designation under U.S. law ,that provides foreign partners with certain benefits in the areas of defense trade and security cooperation. The Major Non-NATO Ally designation is a powerful symbol of the close relationship the United States shares with those countries and demonstrates our deep respect for the friendship for the countries to which it is extended.”On the other hand, the U.S. treated Pakistan like an opponent and adopted discriminatory policies towards it. The glaring example of U.S. discrimination is Indo-US civil nuclear deal and U.S. outright support for Indian candidacy by the former U.S. President Barack Obama for United Nations Security Council(UNSC) as a permanent member(with or without veto power).The U.S. launched drone strikes deep into Pakistan’s territory that caused much collateral damage and public outrage. Collateral damage in drone strikes increased anti-Americanism in Pakistan.

Pakistan suffered with a direct and indirect cost of $126 billion. It is the economic cost of war that Pakistan fought to support U.S. in Afghanistan otherwise Taliban were not as major threat to Pakistan as to the U.S.

Pakistan’s major military operation starting from operation Alimizan(2002) to Zarbe-Azb(2014) and Raddulfasad(2017) achieved greater success against terrorist groups and dismantled their networks, strongholds and also restored normalcy in turbulent areas. Also successfully managed gigantic challenge of internally displaced persons (IDPs).National Action Plan(NAP) helped Pakistan to address menace of terrorism through institutions as well. Statistics of terrorist incidents from 2003 to 2017 can compared with 2017 to 2021 which shows a complete eradication of terrorist networks on this side of the border unlike Afghan territory where U.S. troops did every effort to establish a so-called democratic government and train army but it proved a soap-bubble that seemed beautiful but quickly burst.

The U.S instead of appreciating such sacrifices blamed Pakistan of playing double-game rather U.S. proved an untrustworthy partner in war against terrorism. The incident of Salala incident (2011) shook Pakistan when NATO troops killed 24 soldiers of Pakistan in an unprovoked incident. No Non-NATO ally has been ever threated like this especially the one who remained a lynchpin of U.S. war against terrorism.

Haqqani’s claim that “The Taliban’s victory will have an equally disastrous effect on Pakistan’s domestic peace and security.”

Pakistan, over the two decades has learn to respond to traditional and non-traditional security threats very efficiently. Taliban may pose a threat to Pakistan if they try to export their ideology beyond border and once again engage in drug trade and transnational terrorist groups set up ties with Taliban. But contrary to the expectations of millions, Taliban after taking over Kabul announced general amnesty for the people. They also appealed for economic aid and cooperation. They provided a safe passage to Indians who wanted to leave the country. American embassy was neither attacked nor ravaged .That is a drastic change in Taliban’s thinking and approach to conduct affairs of the state. The IMF has suspended economic assistance over $370 million to Afghanistan scheduled to arrive on 23 August 2021.An IMF spokesperson said it was due to “lack of clarity within the international community”.

Haqqani’s claim about “ Pakistan’s generals see the Taliban as an important partner in their competition with India. Weak civilian leaders in Islamabad, meanwhile, have acquiesced to a policy that prioritizes the elimination of real or perceived Indian influence in Afghanistan”

Such a claim must properly be analyzed that what are the ground realities. India was never desired by Afghans to be on their soil as investor or partner in reconstruction, as Afghanistan due to landlocked geography has highly been dependent upon Pakistan. If that was the case why did Indians flee from Afghanistan after the takeover as Taliban could themselves see material contribution of India on Afghanistan soil.

Mr. Haqqani forgot to highlight doomy U.S. involvement in Afghanistan to overpower Soviet troops. Taliban were partners with the U.S. when Jallauldin Haqqani met with President Regan and the latter termed him as a freedom fighter against Soviets. Reuters published a story on September 14, 2011 in which the former U.S. Congressman 

Charlie Wilson, who fund-raised for the Afghan resistance, once called Jalaluddin ‘goodness personified’. The warrior was held in such high esteem he visited the White House when Ronald Reagan was president.” U.S. betrayal to Taliban and leaving Afghanistan without reconstruction after the war with Soviet Union enraged Taliban and they decided not to trust the U.S.

Therefore, leveling such allegations against Pakistan makes Hussain Haqqani himself a double agent who was ambassador of Pakistan in the U.S.(2008-2011) but worked for the latter’s interest.

Mr. Haqqani has not mentioned any U.S. failure in Afghanistan as puppet governments that U.S. established were not true representative of Afghan People. That is why Ghani had to flee and his forces had to surrender.

Haqqani mentioned General Hamid Gul(late) and referred to 2014 television talk .Haqqani quotes : “When history will be written, it will be stated that the ISI(Inter-service intelligence) defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan with the help of America. Then there will be another sentence added . The ISI, with the help of America, defeated America.”He, in other words acknowledges that the ISI has the potential to defeat America with American help.

This statement was cherrypicked out of context leaving whole of his talk aside just to malign Pakistan’s security agencies. Pakistan has been a partner in global war against terrorism and how could it defeat world’s strongest power which failed in Afghanistan due to its flawed strategy and prolonged unnecessary presence in Afghanistan without empowering Afghans. If Haqqani believes what General Gul (late) stated in 2014, then Haqqani does not have any confidence in operational capability of U.S. forces who are apparently are easy to defeat in Afghanistan.

Mr.Haqqani’s point of internal dysfunction and economic challenges, and terrorist attacks on minorities in Pakistan are false and baseless. Pakistan’s slow economic growth is the outcome of lending support to U.S. in war against terrorism and inviting wrath of terrorists who attacked on soft targets as well deterred investment and inflicted on Pakistan’s economy. Regarding attacks on minorities in Pakistan, Indian involvement was brought to surface when Kulbhushan Yadav was caught with organized network for aiding terrorist groups to carry out terrorist activities in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s constitution is the supreme law of the nation and it is Islamic in nature that no law can be formulated in direct contravention to Quran and Sunnah. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan respects religious and cultural values of other nations and similarly, it is obligatory for other nations to respect Islamic culture and values. No nation has any right to disrespect other religions and its sacred personalities. Such an act is tantamount to stoking fire in a jungle that can engulf whole area. Mr.Haqqani knows the sensitivity of the topic therefore, does not get much into it.

There is a huge difference between Islamizing curriculum or reforming curriculum according to the needs of the society. Mr. Haqqani forgot to mention his friend Mr. Modi who has launched nation-wide campaign of hatred for religious minorities and even introduced Citizenship Amendment Act(2019) that is a major blow to secular spirit and democratic values of so-called rising India. How many articles Mr. Haqqani published on plight of Kashmiris especially after the revocation of Articles 370 and 35-A of the Indian constitution? Did he raise the voice of poor Kashmiris that they were under siege in this modern age. No country spoke of their freedom of expression and freedom to move. There has been a complete media blackout and no one allowed to come out of their homes. Use of brutal force to implement unjust, unilateral policy of Modi.

Instead of appreciating Pakistan’s good-offices in Taliban and-U.S. negotiations Mr. Haqqani finds fault with Pakistan’s facilitation of both the parties to Agree to Doha Agreement (2020) which set the stage for U.S.-long-awaited withdrawal from Afghanistan. He quotes UN Security Council Report published in June which found that “Taliban have not broken-off ties with Al-Qaeda and that senior Al-Qaeda officials have recently been killed alongside Taliban Associates while co-located with them.”

United Nations Security Council report must be very credible but it also questions U.S. presence in Afghanistan for last wo decades, making high claims of destroying high value targets, dismantling Al-Qaeda networks. Whereas the reality is the opposite, the U.S. presence strengthened Taliban and their hold on Afghanistan which caused Kabul’s fall within three weeks of U.S. withdrawal.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, meanwhile, has said that “al-Qaeda could reconstitute itself in Afghanistan within two years of an American withdrawal.”International community collectively must ask U.S. presidents a question, what did you achieve in there? Except killing people indiscriminately. Human right organizations must dig into massive violations of human rights to unearth the truth. If Al-Qaeda still have the potential to reconstitute itself then whom were you killing in numerous operations. Regarding Mr. Haqqani’s prediction about Pakistan and U.S. relationship, he contends “The two countries’ relationship seems poised to become even more unreliable in the years ahead.” It is not due to Taliban take over, but U.S. assertiveness about backing out of CPEC, providing air bases in Pakistan and other multiple reason.

In conclusion, Taliban came to power again because they were more powerful than their 1996 rule and had backing of their own people. It was the American government that kept lying to rest of the world about gains in Afghanistan. Regional actors are deliberating to deal with the latest and unexpected development in Afghanistan. Pakistan has been the major victim of terrorism for last two decades. Like other regional actors China, Iran, Saudi, Arabia, UAE, Pakistan is also looking into that how to engage with this political reality (Taliban) and work for preventing any crisis-like situation in Afghanistan. U.S. seems not to engage Taliban politically but that will antagonize Taliban towards the U.S. and its allies. Majority of the international media are reporting from Kabul which reflects there is a sense of security for them. A stable and economically viable Afghanistan is better for regional peace and security than an economically shattered and security-wise unstable. Therefore, it is the responsibility of great power and regional actors to extend humanitarian assistance and economic aid to avoid any resurgence of drugs and Kalashnikov culture. Transition from a puppet government to a Taliban regime is crucial for people of Afghanistan. History teaches great lessons, perhaps states don’t wish to learn them.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of author’s own and do not necessarily represent or purport the organization he works for.

Dr. Rizwan Naseer
Dr. Rizwan Naseer
Dr. Rizwan Naseer is a strategic Security Analyst.He can be reached at multirizzz[at]


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