There is an extensive Taliban infrastructure and support network in Pakistan along its border with Afghanistan, which includes education, recruiting, training, financing and command and control centers.
In these areas, the Taliban often operate freely alongside the Pakistani military and with the support of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency, the ISI.
The following information was supplied by on-the-ground sources but represents only a relatively small portion of the assistance being provided to the Taliban by Pakistan.
Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan borders Afghanistan for hundreds of miles, much of it dotted with Taliban safe havens and staging areas for attacks in Afghanistan.
Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, is the home of the Taliban’s Quetta Shura, a command and control center for operations primarily in southeastern Afghanistan. The Taliban are concentrated in the Pashtun Abad and Gulistan Town sections of Quetta, through which the Pakistani military restricts civilian movement, but provides Taliban access to Cantonment, a Pakistani Army base adjacent to Pashtun Abad and Gulistan.
Wounded Taliban are known to be treated in Quetta’s medical clinics, some fighters reportedly receiving payments from the Pakistani government.
On the main highway connecting Quetta to Afghanistan, Taliban are often seen riding motorcycles or in four-by-four trucks carrying their AK-47 rifles. In Kuchlak, just north of Quetta, there are SUVs without license plates belonging to ISI officers, who monitor and protect Taliban movements.
In Chaman, the last major Pakistani town before the border, the Taliban are so powerful that they routinely interfere with and occasionally retaliate against local security forces.
The nearby village of Guldara Baghecha, just inside the border and adjacent to a Pakistani Frontier Corps garrison, is a waystation for the Taliban and their families, sections of which local police are forbidden to patrol.
West of Quetta is an area called Panj Pai, where the elders of the Mashwani tribe have long had a close working relationship with the ISI. Opposite Panj Pai is Shorawak, Afghanistan, a major infiltration-exfiltration route for Taliban operating in Kandahar Province.
Nushki district has mountainous areas, where the Taliban establish camps. The camps or other locations used by the Taliban are not permanent, but are constantly changing to counter U.S. drone operations in the border region. Local tribesmen are paid to assist the Taliban or provide camping space. The Taliban tightly control the smuggling routes and collect taxes from the smugglers.
The Chagai District, across the border from the Afghan provinces of Kandahar and Helmand is tightly controlled by Pakistani security forces because it is the area that has been used for Pakistani nuclear tests. It is also a major transit area for the Taliban, where it controls and taxes the smuggling of drugs and other contraband. Smugglers have learned to keep a small balance on their prepaid satellite phones or they will be confiscated by the Taliban for use in Afghanistan.
Throughout Balochistan, the Pakistan government has built religious schools, or “madrasas,” from where the Taliban recruit. For example, many of the new jihadis in Panj Pai are drawn from madrasas in nearby Mastung District. In that regard, it is important to note that the Taliban are neither solely Afghan nor solely Pashtun.
According to NBC News, a senior Afghan Taliban commander, who is also a member of the group’s leadership council, stated that there were around 2,000 to 3,000 non-Afghan fighters in their midst, mostly from China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, Tunisia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
There are also thousands of Pakistani nationals fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan. That paints an entirely different picture from the long-held belief that it is a local insurgency fueled by popular discontent rather than a proxy war waged from Pakistan.
Pakistan and its mentor China now see the light at the end of their tunnel, a negotiated withdrawal of the United States and NATO from Afghanistan. Through their Pakistani sponsors, the Taliban will both escalate their attacks and offer worthless concessions.
The China-Pakistan plan is a ceasefire coupled to a scheduled withdrawal and the formation of a coalition Afghan government including the Taliban. Afghanistan will be offered participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and perhaps membership in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), essentially securing Chinese regional dominance.
Not having recognized the true nature of the war we have been fighting for 17 years, the United States is well down the path to a humiliating defeat.
Having now caught “bug-out fever,” it may be too late for the United States to adopt a new strategy by embracing ethnic nationalism of the Baloch, Pashtuns and Sindhis to counter Pakistan’s aggression against Afghanistan and Chinese hegemony over South Asia.
Nevertheless, the facts remain – Balochistan is the regional center of gravity and CPEC is China’s and Pakistan’s pain point. As CPEC goes, so does BRI.
Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa.