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Who is using the Taliban?

More than 280 people were killed or injured in the Afghan capital by a suicide bomber using an ambulance loaded with explosives. This is the latest in a series of Taliban terrorist acts that will exacerbate regional differences over Afghanistan. Indeed, the US for the first time announced punitive measures against its ally Pakistan.

There have always been rumors and accusations that Pakistan is behind the Taliban, but no one can prove this, at least on the media and academic levels. The high number of American casualties in Afghanistan, and the rise in violence in Pakistan, have damaged the relationship between Islamabad and Washington. 

The US regarded Pakistan as a strategic ally for more than four decades, especially during the Cold War. And the US was one of the most supportive countries after Pakistan’s independence from India. But the happy days seem to have come to an end. 

The political situation in Pakistan has been miserable since the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, in addition to the coup against her successor Nawaz Sharif, and the chaos in Afghanistan, which affects and is affected by Pakistan. 

I do not want to jump to conclusions in the absence of proven facts and accuse Iran of being a key player, but there is a lot of evidence that indicates this. Its security and propaganda presence is strong in Afghanistan, and it has increased its influence in Pakistan. Much is said about Tehran’s relationship with the Taliban, which is similar to it ties with Al-Qaeda, whose most prominent leaders still live in Iran. 

I do not want to jump to conclusions in the absence of proven facts and accuse Iran of being a key player, but there is a lot of evidence that indicates this.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed


Nor should we forget Iranian confessions of having played a major role in what was then called the jihadist resistance against the US invasion of Iraq, or the relationship between Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and terrorist groups in Syria.

Pakistan is besieging itself by not doing enough to reassure the international community that it is fighting the Taliban, which has become more violent and dangerous than Al-Qaeda and Daesh. But this does not negate the fact that Pakistan, after Afghanistan, is one of the countries most affected by terrorist groups. Indian accusations that Islamabad supports armed separatist groups make the situation more difficult.

We knew that Qatar’s attempts to contain the Taliban would fail, because Doha’s method of managing relations with extremist groups — such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (JFS) in Syria — has always been based on buying temporary political positions with huge sums of money. Qatar’s attempts to change the situation or influence these organizations via permanent deals have always failed. 

It rushed to contact the Taliban when it heard about US moves to negotiate with the Afghan organization. Qatar opened an office for the Taliban in Doha, and flooded it with funds so as to become a broker between the organization and Washington. As a result, Doha succeeded in releasing Western hostages held by the Taliban in exchange for exaggerated ransoms that looked like money laundering. Naturally, political negotiations later ended in failure.

There is no denying that the Taliban is a terrorist organization, but this does not negate the importance of its tribal and provincial relations in Afghanistan. Pakistan remains the most qualified country to deal with the situation by force, political solutions or both. This is the only opportunity for Pakistan to get out of the bad situation it is in today.

• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published.
Twitter: @aalrashed