Pakistan and its notorious spy agency ISI have become extremely active with the agenda of seeing the resurgence of Islamist militancy activities in Bangladesh as part of its conspiracy of unseating the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Pakistan’s connections, affiliations and collaborations with radical Islamist militancy is not new. For the past several decades, Islamabad’s military leadership and its spy agency have been actively harbouring militancy as Pakistan uses these forces in spreading terrorism within the region, particularly India and Bangladesh. Despite Islamabad’s active role in sponsoring terrorism, Washington was rather compelled in forming an alliance with them because of the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion. For Pakistan, a troubled Afghanistan and battle between the Taliban and Soviet forces was a ‘cash cow’ as Islamabad was making billions of dollars both from the US and Saudi Arabia under the pretence of being a partner in the war on terror.
But after many years of considering Pakistan as its ally in war on terror, Washington’s relationship with Islamabad cooled when Navy SEALs killed Al Qaeda kingpin Osama Bin Laden in 2011 at a safe house located near a Pakistani military academy. Since then, top American officials stopped visiting Pakistan and assistance was substantially reduced. But Obama administration did not publicly expose Pakistani military role in helping Osama Bin Laden in living with his extended family in Abbottabad, one of Pakistan’s best-known garrison towns. Should the US had declared that Pakistan was harboring Al Qaeda kingpin Osama Bin Laden, then Pakistan would have been legally a state sponsor of terrorism and subject to mandatory sanctions similar to that of Iran. The reason behind Obama administration’s silence in exposing Pakistan’s terrorist face was, it would have forced the Americans to end its support for Pakistan and that in turn would have led Pakistan stop American war supplied from transiting its own land, sea and air spaces. And that would significantly increase the cost of the war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
But now, when the US troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, hours after the Taliban took Kabul, their flag was seen flying high above a central mosque in Islamabad along side many other places in Pakistan. It was an in-your-face gesture intended to spite the defeated Americans. But it was also a sign of the real victors in the 20-year Afghan war.
In my opinion, Pakistan was superficially America’s partner in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Its military and the spy agency won tens of billions of dollars in American aid over the last two decades, even though Washington was aware, much of the money disappeared into unaccounted sinkholes.
Pakistan’s relations with the US was riven by duplicity and divided interests from its very beginning after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US. Moreover, America’s foes – the Taliban and other jihadist forces in Afghanistan was creations of Pakistan’s spy agency ISI, which through the course of the war nurtured and protected Taliban assets inside Pakistan.
Commenting on Pakistan and ISI’s thinking they have won in Afghanistan, Robert Grenier, a former CIA station chief in Pakistan said, “the Pakistanis should watch what they wish for. If the Afghan Taliban become leaders of a pariah state, which is likely, Pakistan will find itself tethered to them”.
If the US and other western nations will impose sanctions on Pakistan for actively helping the Taliban, Haqqani network and other jihadist groups, Pakistan would increase its reliance on jihadist drug trade with the help of rulers in Kabul. But at the end, a Taliban-run Afghanistan will embolden radical Islamic militancy groups inside Pakistan as well.
It may be mentioned here that, a Pakistani protégé, Khalil Haqqani, a Taliban leader who was a regular visitor to Pakistan’s military headquarters in Rawalpindi, is one of the new rulers of Afghanistan. The head of the Pakistani Army, Qamar Javed Bajwa, and the head of the ISI, Hameed Faiz, met with Haqqani on a recurring basis. The extended Haqqani family has long been known to live in the largely ungoverned areas of Pakistan along the Afghan border.
Khalil Haqqani will certainly find his allies within a large number of Pakistani top military and intelligence officials in running multi-billion-dollar jihadist drug trade. This will cause serious threat to the countries in the region, the Middle East and the world as Pakistan onwards will emerge as the jihadist drug dealing nation.
Pakistan wants resurgence of jihadist notoriety in Bangladesh
While the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has fueled concerns of a revival of militancy in Bangladesh, amid a surge in social media posts by jihadist sympathizers and claims by Shafiqul Islam, Commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) stating the Taliban had issued a call for people to join the war in Afghanistan a day before Kabul fell, and that some Bangladeshis had “left home” in response.
He said, “It is our [understanding] that some people from Bangladesh have been caught in India, and some are trying to reach Afghanistan on foot in various ways”.
Counterterrorism experts said DMP Commissioner’s concerns were valid given the country had militants who joined the Afghan and Palestinian wars and returned to lead local jihadist groups in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The history of Bangladesh’s militancy trend that began in the 1990s during the rule of military dictator Hussein Muhammed Ershad in the 1990s, which had later received patronization from pro-Islamist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its political darling Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) has deep connection with Taliban and Palestinian Hamas as the Bangladeshi mujahideen who returned from Afghan and Palestinian war later formed several militancy groups, including Harkatul Jihad al Islami (HuJI) and Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB). Both HuJI and JMB and other jihadist groups in Bangladesh denounce democracy and promote establishment of Sharia rule or Caliphate. At a later stage Qaomi madrassa (Koranic madrassa) based Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI) also has formed nexus with HuJI, JMB and other militancy groups, including Hizbut Tahrir, while HeI has been receiving support and patronization from BNP and JeI. Hefazat e Islam opposes women’s empowerment and demand the enactment of blasphemy laws and a Shariah-driven polity.
It was later revealed that HeI has been getting patronization and funding from Pakistani spy agency ISI.