Just days after the Taliban took Kabul, their flag was flying high above a central mosque in Pakistan’s capital. 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.
Pakistan was ostensibly America’s partner in the war against al-Qaida and the Taliban. Its military won tens of billions in American aid over the last two decades, even as Washington acknowledged that much of the money disappeared into unaccounted sinkholes.
But it was a relationship riven by duplicity and divided interests from its very start after 9/11. Not least, the Afghan Taliban the Americans were fighting are, in large part, a creation of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, which through the course of the war nurtured and protected Taliban assets inside Pakistan.
In the last three months as the Taliban swept across Afghanistan, the Pakistani military waved a surge of new fighters across the border from sanctuaries inside Pakistan, tribal leaders have said. It was a final coup de grâce to the American-trained Afghan security forces.
“The Pakistanis and the ISI think they have won in Afghanistan,” said Robert Grenier, a former CIA station chief in Pakistan. But, he warned, the Pakistanis should watch what they wish for.