May 26, 2005Foreign Affairs

Who benefited from the Afghan religious outrage?

And what are those Pakistani students’ doing there?

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Ten years ago, it was a bunch of students’ that overran Afghanistan and captured power. Those students, of course, were simply the handmaidens of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in pursuit of its quest for strategic depth’ in Afghanistan. Despite Musharraf’s much publicised post-9/11 u-turn”, it has been long apparent that it has not shelved its ambitions to dominate Afghanistan.

Nor, as Sarah Chayes reveals (via Jagadish), has it changed its tactics — a new batch of Pakistani students’ enrolled in Afghan universities is now in action.

For me, after three years in southern Afghanistan, something felt not quite right about the more virulent demonstrations across the country. The instant tip-off was that they were initially led by university students. Afghans and Westerners living in Kandahar have often wondered at the number of Pakistani students in what passes for a university here. The place is pathetically dilapidated, the library a locked storeroom, the medical faculty bereft of the most elementary skeleton or model of the human body. Why would anyone come here to study from Pakistan? Our unshakable conclusion has been that the adroit Pakistani intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, is planting operatives in the student body. These students can also provoke agitation at Pakistani officials’ behest, while affording the government in Islamabad plausible deniability.

In other words, it’s a mistake to focus on the Newsweek article as the cause of the recent demonstrations in Afghanistan. Instead, the reason was President Hamid Karzai’s May 8 announcement that Afghanistan would enter a long-term strategic partnership with the United States.

Such an alliance discomfits Afghanistan’s neighbors. Pakistan, for one, is used to treating Afghanistan as an all but subject territory…

Several Afghan investigators looking into the instigation of the recent riots, especially in Kabul, told me that if anything, the involvement of Iranian agents was even more pronounced than that of Pakistanis. [NYT]For his part, the otherwise cosmopolitan Mr Imran Khan may have got more than he bargained for when he used the Newsweek report to bolster his political fortunes in Pakistan (via Jaideep of Zoo Station). There is little evidence to connect his role in sparking off the anti-US riots with the ISIs own project, but in the broadest sense, their ends and means were the same — achieving political objectives using religious outrage.

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