Pakistan: Wages Of ‘Keeping Snakes In The Backyard’

It was in 2011, when former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had warned Pakistan about the dangers of providing safe sanctuaries and sustenance to terrorists by saying that “you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours.” She further added that “Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard.” However, at that time, no one in Pakistan took her prophecy seriously. However, just a decade later, Pakistan army’s illogical ‘strategic asset’ philosophy of nurturing and using terrorist groups to wage proxy war against its neighbours has come home to roost.

Rawalpindi put all its eggs in the Afghan Taliban ‘basket’, as it was confident that by hosting its leadership for over two decades and providing them wherewithal to wage war against US led coalition forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan army had earned the Taliban’s implicit obedience. Furthermore, as an additional safeguard to protect its interests, Rawalpindi air-dashed its ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed to ensure that members of the Haqqani network [which it had created and fostered] got key positions of power in the Interim Taliban Government. So, when the pro-Pakistan Afghan Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, the Pakistani army leadership was obviously ecstatic.

However, Rawalpindi’s euphoria was short-lived because things didn’t exactly work out the way it had anticipated. Instead of doing Islamabad’s bidding as an act of gratitude for the patronage it had so generously received from Pakistan, Afghan Taliban expectedly accorded more importance to furtherance of its own interests. So, despite frantic pleas from Islamabad, Afghan Taliban unconditionally released hundreds [some even claim, thousands] of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] terrorists who had been jailed by former governments of Afghanistan.

Similarly, while it did make a promise that no individuals or groups would be allowed to use Afghanistan soil for carrying out attacks against Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban hasn’t kept its word. Infact, after Afghan Taliban seized Kabul, not only was there was an unprecedented increase in the frequency and fierocity of TTP attacks against Pakistani security forces, but this terrorist group also unilaterally abrogated a month-long ceasefire with Islamabad. The recent attack by motorcycle borne TTP terrorists on a checkpost in Islamabad that left a policeman dead and two injured is a clear indication of its growing belligerence.

Despite the two-decade long patronage provided by Rawalpindi, the Afghan Taliban has patently demonstrated its unwillingness to accept Islamabad’s diktats, and rejecting Pakistan’s arbitrary alignment of the Durand Line is one such example. Not only this, by refusing to take action against TTP despite frantic appeals by Islamabad, the Afghan Taliban has also made it abundantly clear that it is not willing to make a new enemy just to please its erstwhile benefactor, Pakistan. Reports of Pakistani NSA Moeed Yusuf abruptly cancelling his proposed Afghanistan visit without assigning any reasons could well be due to strained Islamabad-Kabul relations.

Rawalpindi may feel cheated or even betrayed by Afghan Taliban’s ingratitude, but this shouldn’t come as any surprise since it was expected all along. TTP’s close proximity with the Haqqani network is well known, and the very fact that it was Taliban interim government’s Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani who personally brokered the Pakistan government- TTP ceasefire leaves no room for any doubts as regards the cordiality in Afghan Taliban-TTP relations. The analogy of Islamabad’s patronage to Afghan Taliban with keeping snakes in the backyard and expecting them to only bite neighbours is actually playing out today.

However, since both Islamabad and Rawalpindi were forewarned on this account, they have no one but themselves to blame for the royal mess they have created for Pakistan.