Taliban leadership change – victory for Pakistan?

As reported, Taliban as well as Afghan Govt announced the death of Mullah Omar and the appointment of Mullah Akhtar Mansour as his successor. There have also been reports of dissents, walkouts by rival groups in the meeting to (s)elect him. As if all this is not confusing enough, we also hear Haqqani Sr, leader of the so-called Haqqani network has also died.

The timing and location of the deaths of these two leaders have been disputed. But it seems to be widely acknowledged that announcements were made or initiated by Pakistan. In addition to controversy and confusion, these two events have also resulted in delay to the Afghan-Pak (Taliban) talks monitored by China and US.

What’s going on?! Why would Pakistan release this news at this point in time?

Let us assume for the moment that Pakistan has finally given up on using its terror proxies in Afghanistan and is now pushing peace aggressively. This could be because they found that strategy harming them more, or due to pressure from USA and China or whatever. This also doesn’t mean that strategy has been given up vis-a-vis India where the pressure from USA is rather mild and that from China or Saudi Arabia, Pakistan’s other main sponsors, is non existent. It is also entirely possible the ‘strategic depth’ policy has been merely mothballed for better days in the future.

The question now is, why would Pakistan release (or plant) this news now, knowing it will throw monkey wrench into their ‘peace’ plans, at least temporarily? That too barely days after planting another fake statement from Mullah Omar blessing these talks?

Pakistan had no choice

We can only conclude that Pakistan did not have much choice. The charade has been going on for too long, too many people knew or were getting to know the truth. And ISIS had already openly challenged Taliban cadre to prove Mullah Omar’s existence or join their group. “Caliph” Baghdadi even attacked Omar as demented, “ignorant prince of war” (1) His boast that ISIS achieved in two years what Taliban couldn’t in 10 has lot of truth, whether we like the results or not.

Indeed, Mohd. Taqi, writing for Huffington Post seems to think Pakistan’s hand was forced by Afghanistan to either deliver him or his support for the talks. (3)

Ideally, Pakistan would have preferred to keep the news in cold storage for a few more months, until talks produce some desirable results, get “Omar” to bless the package and then conveniently die. This also tells us, the talks are going nowhere. Or highly unlikely to produce the results Taliban and/or Pakistan wants in the near term.  Despite advances in the battle field, Afghan army is not looking at closing shop and surrendering anytime soon and Uncle Sam is waiting in the wings, ready to restore balance with drone or air strikes, should that scenario become more likely.

Just as it did with Karzai, Pakistan may have misread President Ashraf Ghani. While he may seek peace with Pakistan and see it as the main facilitator, he has and is also strengthening direct links with Pakistan’s handlers in China and USA. His strategy to rope in US and China is more likely part of plan to keep Pakistan’s ambitions in check. This gives the generals a little bit less room to play their games. Again, here Pakistan’s ideal scenario would be a weakened Afghanistan, militarily staring at defeat or retreat, led by a regime disliked by Americans and Chinese, loved only by India, crawling on all fours to Rawalpindi. Clearly President Ghani is not going to get there anytime soon though Karzai ticked many of those boxes.

Where do we go from here?

Clearly, the recent admission of Mullah Omar’s demise would stun the cadre even though they may have suspected it or even known it. It only reinforces Pakistan’s “reputation” for double speak and treachery among the battle hardened foot soldiers many of whom have no love lost for their main backer. After all, a steady stream of fake press releases from ISI HQ purportedly by Omar kept them fooled all this while.

While several analysts in the West and in India see this as yet another triumph for Pakistan, the fact is Taliban don’t trust them any more than the average Afghan does. They’ll have one less reason to do so with this news. Furthermore, the pull of ISIS, seen as more pure green, and more successful, will be irresistible to some. To the few that get tired of all this and want to go back to peaceful life, Afghan government, funded by the West will be a more attractive proposition.  Pakistan will still be in their memory as an exploiter not to be trusted. Even Mullah Omar was quoted as having said its better to go to USA than trust Pakistan! (2)

All this means Pakistan is less likely to be in a  position to achieve its strategic goals after years of poisoning itself trying to control Afghanistan, and using that, control events in Kashmir and seek leverage against India.

Whichever way events turn out, Pakistan is likely to find itself at loser’s end. A strong Taliban would give it headache in the west, make it global pariah and drag it to 8th century Arabia, a weak, faction ridden Taliban running in all directions will rob it of the sole value it can provide to Afghanistan and the West. If you are not running the show, why talk to you?! A Taliban defeated or incapacitated will not be good news for Pakistan either. In that scenario, Afghanistan can go ahead with internal reconstruction leaving Pakistan to deal with the toxic side effects of its 40 year old great game.

As we mentioned earlier in another article, India has to merely get a large bowl of popcorn and watch the show, not fret about being unable to do much about the unfolding game. They’re doing quite fine without our muddling anyway!

 

1. http://www.iraqinews.com/iraq-war/isis-leader-al-baghdadi-describes-taliban-leader-demented-ignorant-prince-war/

2. http://www.newsweek.com/mullah-omar-dead-taliban-afghanistan-pakistan-358247

3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mohammad-taqi/mullah-omar-death-break-taliban_b_7912678.html?ir=India&adsSiteOverride=in