In the Autumn of 2001, a small group of CIA operatives and Special Forces teams working with the Afghan Northern Alliance and supported by massive U.S. airpower overthrew the Taliban government in Afghanistan.
At that time, the Taliban and its infrastructure were completely exposed in Afghanistan, and its sponsor, Pakistan, was forced by the United States to help destroy what Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, had helped create and sustain.
On September 13, 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage presented Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, a religious hardliner and then ISI Director with a list of non-negotiable demands that Pakistan:
Stop al Qaeda operatives at your border, intercept arms shipments through Pakistan and end ALL logistical support for bin Laden.
Grant blanket overflight and landing rights.
Permit access to Pakistan, naval bases, air bases and borders.
Provide immediate intelligence and immigration information.
Condemn the Sept. 11 attacks and “curb all domestic expressions of support for terrorism against the [United States], its friends or allies.”
Cut off all shipments of fuel to the Taliban and stop Pakistani volunteers from going into Afghanistan to join the Taliban.
Should the evidence strongly implicate Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network in Afghanistan AND should Afghanistan and the Taliban continue to harbor him and this network, Pakistan will break diplomatic relations with the Taliban government, end support for the Taliban and assist us in the aforementioned ways to destroy Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.
Pakistan accepted all seven demands and then immediately began to secretly backtrack from the agreement.
On September 15, 2001, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf held a meeting with ISI Director Mahmood, Lt. Gen. Muzaffar Usmani, Lt. Gen. Jamshaid Gulzar Kiani, and Lt. Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan. The military officers argued that Pakistan should not help the United States at all in its war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Mahmood stated, “Let the U.S. do its dirty work. Its enemies are our friends.” Musharraf countered that publicly agreeing with the U.S. would lead to billions of dollars in aid and the lifting of sanctions against Pakistan due to its illicit nuclear activities.
The Pakistani ISI would continue to supply the Taliban in Afghanistan with fuel, weapons, and even military advisers, until at least November 2001. Just prior to the United States’ Oct. 7, 2001, attack on Afghanistan, so many fuel tankers and supply trucks were crossing the Pakistan-Afghan border in Chaman, Balochistan, regular traffic was shut down to allow ISI supplies through to the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, where Pakistani military advisors remained until November 2001.
A New York Times article described ISI-sponsored convoys of rifles, ammunition, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers for Taliban fighters crossing the Khyber Pass border from Pakistan into Afghanistan between October 8 and 12, just after U.S. bombing of Afghanistan began.
Pakistan’s duplicity has continued for seventeen years. While accepting billions of American dollars in military and economic aid, Pakistan has been slowly bleeding the U.S. to death in Afghanistan through its support of the Taliban, Haqqani Network and other terrorist groups.
Shortly before his death in 2015, Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, the former head of Pakistan’s ISI, a committed Islamist and known as the “godfather of the Taliban,” explained Pakistan’s strategy in Afghanistan in an Urdu language television interview:
“One day, history will say that the ISI drove the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan with the help of USA and another sentence will be recorded that says the ISI drove the USA out of Afghanistan with the help of the USA.”
The Pakistani audience roared with laughter and applauded in approval.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom, there is no combination of U.S. conventional, CIA or special operations assets that can defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan as long as the Taliban infrastructure and support network in Pakistan remains invulnerable.
Unlike 2001, the Taliban are not exposed in Afghanistan but sheltered in Pakistan, including a network of education, recruiting, training, financial and command and control centers. It is also no secret that the ISI employs local individuals and groups as “cut-outs” to facilitate the movement of Taliban fighters and supplies across the porous border.
After the recent Taliban attack on the Afghan provincial capital of Ghazni, large numbers of Pakistani nationals were found among the dead, presumably fighting with the Taliban. The bodies were subsequently returned to Pakistan.
In addition, the increased Chinese presence in Pakistan and China’s growing influence in South Asia has changed the strategic dynamics of the region largely rendering U.S. Afghanistan policy obsolete. Not only does China maintain enormous leverage over Pakistan, financially and militarily, Beijing has been conducting its own secret negotiations with the Taliban for over a year.
In July, Pakistan hosted an unprecedented meeting of the intelligence chiefs of China, Russia, Iran and its own ISI to map out a security strategy for the region, apparently for a post-U.S. Afghanistan.
Lacking any new ideas or even a recognition of reality, we have chosen to continue pursuing a proven unsuccessful strategy in Afghanistan.
Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D., is a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert. He is a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa.