Taliban is different this time than what it was 20 years ago. It would be a mistake to read the Taliban that is now certain to form a government on its own, or with other factions in Afghanistan, in isolation or merely as an extension of Pakistan.
It has assumed larger than life shape as it has stirred the geo-politics of the whole region, effects of which would be felt worldwide. It is all because of an additional factor, China. This is what has made a big difference to its current existence. It is to be read in the same line – The Taliban, China and Pakistan. And that is what has increased its role and appeal to the elements sympathizing with it in different parts of the world.
Pakistan was known as creator, patron of the Taliban ever since 1994, when it was given name and structure to rule in Afghanistan. That Pakistan was one among the three countries that recognised Taliban ruled Afghanistan in 1990s was no surprise. It wanted to give legitimacy to the obscurantist forces in Afghanistan tells all what Pakistan had been denying all along that it is having no influence over the Taliban . And, it was the same, Pakistan, scared of America, which turned its back to the Taliban immediately after post 9/11, to mislead the world that it is not aligned with the terror groups, the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Those who remember the then Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf’s address to the nation on September 19, 2001, can easily recall that he had called upon all the Pakistan-origin jihadis ( in Afghanistan) to come back. “You have no business to be there ( in Afghanistan). This is no jihad. The real jihad is against jahalat”. These high-sounding words were for the consumption of Washington and other western powers. The real meaning was to keep Pakistan safe, and he did not hesitate in iterating that, to him, ‘Pakistan comes first.” The fact, however, is that Pakistan and Taliban are two sides of the same coin.
In his interviews, once he was out of power, Pervez Musharraf spilled the beans and said that Taliban had created and brought up the Taliban. It was, he had stated, “our strategic asset”. That strategic asset theme is still relevant, because without Pakistan’s support , there would have been no Taliban. then and now.
China has come up as a new benefactor and patron of the Taliban . On August 16, a day after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, the Chinese government foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying remarked “ We respect the will and choice of the Afghan people.” These remarks were not an immediate reaction. This line must have been rehearsed several times before it was spoken, for China knew that what all was happening and what would be the outcome. This accorded a respectability and recognition to the takeover ( of Afghanistan by Taliban) and the would-be Taliban led government. Hua Chunying’s subsequent observation removed all the doubts about the old and growing relationship between Beijing and the Afghan Taliban. She said “On the basis of fully respecting the sovereignty of Afghanistan and the will of all factions in the country, China has maintained contact and communication with the Afghan Taliban and played a constructive role in promoting the political settlement of the Afghan issue.” This revealed that China had been in touch with the Taliban for long, or may be for years, in its look out for the moment when the US troops would be returning home, and it also recognised the takeover as “political settlement of the Afghan issue.” That is the Chinese version of the “will of the people”. It may be asked if this is what the people of Afghanistan desired, why are they desperate to get out of the Taliban controlled territory, why did they cling to the US Air Force aircrafts to fall to deaths? Moreover, it is beyond comprehension why there is a resistance to the Taliban rule and the people are rising in revolt against them. Beijing doesn’t give credence to these questions, because it can ignore or decimate all the inconvenient questioners.
The main point is that China, Pakistan and Taliban have set up a troika which is having strategic sway over the region. Anyone talking about the Taliban today is not talking of the Afghan Taliban alone, Beijing and Islamabad too form the part of the discourse. This alliance has surfaced with ferocity at a time when America is not only down but also out , notwithstanding the rhetoric of President Joe Biden. All the three would guard the interests of one another in the geo-political landscape that has emerged since August 15.
This is no ordinary difference between the Taliban of 2001 and that of 2021 . It is part of troika that will export fundamentalism and extremism elsewhere. This is the real danger.