12. The role of Pakistan in supporting the Taliban
Pakistan supported the development of the Taliban from the beginning. Motivated by the desire to gain influence in Afghanistan’s affairs, the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) provided military training and finding to Mullah Omar and his supporters. Further support came from Al-Qaeda, both financial and military, under the leadership of Osama bin Laden. The Taliban allowed the latter to establish safe havens in Afghanistan. Training camps for Al-Qaeda terrorists emerged in areas where the Taliban had control with funding and support of the ISI and the Pakistani regular army. Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan was described by Ahmad Shah Massoud as a “creeping invasion”. By 1998, both Russia and Iran had accused Pakistan of direct military intervention in support of the Taliban operations during the Afghani civil war. Both claimed army troops and airstrikes supported the attacks against the Northern Alliance.
In August 1998, US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were the targets of bombings launched by Al Qaeda. In retaliation, US Navy cruise missiles struck Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan’s province of Khost. The attacks were intended, in part, to decapitate Al Qaeda’s leadership by killing Osama bin Laden, but intelligence failed to note that he was not present in the camps at the time. International pressure on the Taliban led them to promise to deliver bin Laden to Saudi Arabian security forces. The Taliban later reneged on the promise. Bin Laden remained sheltered in Afghanistan camps, under the protection of his Taliban allies, for the rest of the decade, though he frequently crossed the border into Pakistan undetected. Casualties from the American strikes were relatively light, and included Afghanis, Pakistanis, and other nationalities among them. The American strikes drew remonstrations from the international community.