Pakistan’s new proxies ready for Afghan action

With the final exit of the US and its allies, Afghanistan may face an unpredictable future. However, the development is likely to bring together all the stakeholders of the country

Pakistan, angry with its US-led western patrons not giving its ‘legitimate role in the Afghanistan peace process, has now invented yet another Frankenstein in the world of Islamic terrorism, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). The TLP, a part of the Barelvi School of the Sunni sect, though known for its proximity to Sufism, is one of the aggressive cults. The Pakistani establishment or its armed forces with their intelligence wings has quietly been nurturing this cult to settle the score with those, especially those politicians, who have dared to distance themselves from its negative all-pervasive strategies accompanied by overwhelming aggressive religious overtones and narratives.

The TLP, which considers other sects of Islam as ‘kafirs’, is expected to perform multiple tasks, firstly, dilute the influence of the Saudi-USA promoted Wahabi Islam and Deobandis, secondly, weaken the domestic movement of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), and thirdly, to tell the world, especially Afghanistan’s Taliban that the Jihadis in Pakistan still have a powerful constituency. The other roles expected from this new four-year-old Jihadi group are to keep Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party PTI (Pakistan-Threek-e-Insaf) under leash and weaken JUI-F (Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam) led by Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, a militant gang, a former ally of army dictator, Zia-ul-Haq. The TLP is expected to be the JUI-F followers of the Deobandi Sunni sect.

As a part of a well-thought-out strategy, the army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, and Inter-Services Intelligence had created, TLP, to weaken the Pakistan Muslim League-Noon (PML-N) government in 2017. It received full support from Bajwa to create a counter-weight to JUI-F. Of the three main partners of the Pakistani Democratic Movement (PDM), PML-N, Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), and JUI-F, Bajwa has succeeded in weaning away the PPP, but JUI-F refused to toe his diktat. For this, the TLP is to be used against Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman.

It may be recalled that during 2017, the TLP goons had carried out a 21-day sit-in in Faizabad, and brought life in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad to a grinding halt. It was a part of the Bajwa’s strategy to destabilise and humiliate the PML-N government. He also rejected the then Interior Minister, Ahsan Iqbal, for the military assistance to the civil administration; he overruled the civilian government by stating, “we cannot use force against our own people. The two sides should resolve the matter amicably.” The ISI then ‘brokered’ a deal between the TLP and the government, with General Faiz Hameed’s signature ‘gracing’ the agreement as a witness. Hameed is now the chief of the ISI. Also, a video has been in circulation in social media exposing Major General Azhar Naveed Hayat (then DG Rangers, Punjab) handing out cash rewards to the TLP ‘protestors’.

Among the various Islamic cults, Barelvi’s were at the forefront of the Muslim League’s campaign for Pakistan before 1947 in British India, while Deobandis were opposed to the partition of India. The army’s efforts to help the TLP in occupying the centre stage of Islamic politics in Pakistan, appear to have boomeranged. The the-day clash between the TLP goons and the Punjab police, including the kidnapping of a deputy superintendent of police along with 12 other police constables and inspectors, has given a setback to the Bajwa-ISI plan to malign Khan before being deposed covertly either by ensuring the withdrawal of support of some stooges of ISI in the Pakistan National Assembly (PNA) or declaring martial law.

Khan, a world-class cricket-turned politician, appears to have foiled the Bajwa’s game for the time being, because of the violence against the policemen many hospitalised with serious wounds, and the open ‘love or affinity’ expressed between Pakistani Rangers and army men towards the TLP volunteers is in the public domain. Earlier, the Pakistani Rangers had kidnapped the police commissioner of Karachi, to force him to arrest the PML-N leader, Maryam’s husband Captain Muhammad Safdar Awan, who was also a member of the PNA between 2008-2018).

Maryam is leading the party on behalf of her father, Newaz Sharif, a three-time prime minister, her uncle, Shabaz, a former chief minister of Punjab. Sharif is in London for treatment and Shahbaz, who was in jail recently been released on bail. The Karachi arrest of the police commissioner had led to the exchange of firing between the rangers and the Sind police on October 18-19 2020.

It is being closely watched whether Bajwa like his predecessors, Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf, Bajwa could eliminate his enemies. Zia had deposed and later hanged his mentor, prime minister, Z.A. Bhutto, by implicating him in a murder case. Musharraf did not give adequate security cover to Bhutto’s daughter Benazeer, a former prime minister, was also eliminated by some ISI proxies in a bomb blast. The TLP leader, Khadim Rizvi, who dared to challenge his mentors in 2020, too was eliminated in a mysterious way without adequate treatment. He like PDM leaders too had accused the army of rigging the PNA elections. Since most of the security forces are from Punjab, Maryam’s assassination may trigger-off a civil war. Khan’s sudden decision to ban the TLP appears to have thwarted Bajwa’s immediate plan to use TLP) to serve his long-term interests.

Pakistan’s grouse

Amidst these domestic political developments, Bajwa’s plan to control Afghanistan with US funds has suffered a setback. In fact, he should have accepted the erstwhile Trump administration’s offer assigning Pakistan a pre-dominant role along with India, China, and Russia; but the Pakistanis demanded huge US financial support as well as no role for India in Afghanistan. Since US relationship with Iran had nosedived during Trump’s presidency, it would have meant handing over the entire region to China. Therefore, Pakistan’s ‘anger’ against US president, Jo Biden, is misplaced that his withdrawal plan beginning from May one, 2021, includes the role of five countries of the region, India, Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China.

Biden’s decision to withdraw has a little element of any surprise. During his tenure as the vice-president under President Barrack Obama, he was opposed to the continuance of this 21-year old “Forever War” in Afghanistan. There are also reports that there is also some decline in the earlier close ties between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani-sponsored Talibans. The Afghan Taliban had helped the ISI proxies to be caught and handed over to the Kabul Government for attacking the Gurdwara and other Indian installations in Afghanistan.

Both the Afghan Taliban as well as the two top government leaders in Kabul, president Abdul Ghani as well as Abdulla Abdulla, had refused to hand over the Paki agents responsible for the attacks to Pakistan. It may also be noted that Abdulla Abdulla, a son of Pashtun’s father and Tajik mother, who has been the chief negotiator with the Afghan Taliban, has been to Islamabad several times, but they have not been able to resolve their perception about the future of the war-torn country. It is true that the top leadership in the Kabul government has been causing anxiety due to the differences between Ghani and Abdulla Abdulla, but their decision to work together may usher in cooperation with the Afghan Taliban’s.

There are reports that Ghani , though officially welcomed Biden’s exit-plan, has fumed about the American decision. He fears that it will embolden the Taliban, and give them little to no incentive to stick to the terms of the agreement they had reached a year ago with America.

With the final exit of USA and its allies from Afghanistan, the country may face an unpredictable future; it may, however, bring together the stakeholders in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Bajwa and his cronies too have to realize that ‘genuine democracy’ is the only way to protect his country and the region from the unending sectarian violence.