taliban: Taliban can assert independence from their Pakistani paymasters: William Dalrymple



Don’t underestimate the Taliban, warns historian-author William Dalrymple, saying they have been unquestionably trained and funded by Pakistan but there is now the possibility of them asserting their independence from their “paymasters”.

The US government’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is “strategically wrong-headed” and “emotionally ill-considered”, the author of the bestselling “Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan” said as the last American plane flew out of Kabul on Tuesday and the war-ravaged country was left in the hands of the Taliban.

“If some Indian strategists/writers tag the Taliban as entirely a Pakistani movement, that’s simply not right. It is an Afghan movement that reflects an extremely hardline ultra-puritan rural Afghan movement. But it is unquestionably funded, trained, armed, put into the field and sheltered by Pakistan, and it has been for 20 years,” Dalrymple told PTI in a phone interview.

“I think some Indian right-wing commentators underestimate the autonomy of the Taliban and there is a possibility now — it may not happen though — that Taliban can assert their independence from their Pakistani paymasters as now they are in power… so I don’t think it is a simple case of (being) an entirely a Pakistani puppet,” he added.

Taliban insurgents have swept Kabul after the US-backed Afghan government collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled on August 15, ending 20 years of what is described as the US’ longest war.

Dalrymple used the ‘guest-host’ analogy to explain his Taliban-Pakistan relationship theory point better.

“When you are a guest in someone’s house it is very difficult for you to follow your own will as you have to worry about your host. But now the Taliban are back in power in Kabul, they at least have the potential to follow their own interest,” he said.

So while Pakistan will still influence issues where interests converge, one might see the Taliban take an “independent line” on those where the interests of the two diverge, the Scottish author said.

That said, Pakistan is “of course pleased” over what has happened and “India, America and Britain have their influence and power reduced”, Dalrymple argued.

He described the Afghanistan chapter as one of the “great strategic errors” of America’s foreign policy in the last 100 years, leading to an “enormous dent” in the country’s prestige.

US President Joe Biden‘s statement defending his move to withdraw troops from Afghanistan as “logical, rational, and right decision” was actually “strategically wrong-headed, emotionally ill-considered, and a disaster in terms of his total failure to project any empathy for the Afghans whose lives have now been destroyed by his policies”, Dalrymple said.

“It hands America’s enemies a major victory and all of America’s allies, be it India or Britain or many other allies around the globe, have their standing diminished. The only government that seems to welcome this is of course Pakistan. Particularly their intelligence agencies who have sheltered and funded the Taliban all these years,” he said.

Terming the present situation in Afghanistan a “global tragedy” where it is impossible to look at any other thing except the “very very bad news”, Dalrymple said he had been predicting the “demise of the government” for a decade now and even he was taken aback by the pace at which all of it happened.

“There were interviews that I gave in 2010, 2011 and 2013, all online, when I said this won’t work… but the speed of the final collapse surprised me. I didn’t see the speed of the collapse of the government anymore than anyone else did. I thought that it would happen but I didn’t imagine it would happen so quickly,” he said.

Dalrymple, who has travelled to the country extensively for research for his books and elsewise, said many of his friends have turned homeless. His friend Amarullah Saleh, latterly Afghanistan’s vice-president who also helped him in writing his book “Return of a King”, is presently fighting for his life and his people in Panjshir valley, he said.

The Panjshir Valley, north of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, is the country’s only province that has not yet fallen to the Taliban. The resistance in the region is being led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of legendary Afghan rebel commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Several top officials from the ousted government have also taken refuge in the valley.

Published by Bloomsbury in 2012, “Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan” is the retelling of the First Anglo-Afghan war (1839-42) fought between the British Empire and Afghanistan. The conflict resulted in Britain’s greatest military humiliation of the 19th century.


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