U.S. Sees 'Critical' Afghanistan Role for Pakistan Despite Taliban Ties

As anger mounts in Afghanistan over allegations that Pakistan is helping the Taliban defeat the final resistance units and set up its new government in Kabul, the U.S. State Department said Islamabad can play a "critical role" in the country's future.

Pakistan and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency have historic ties to the Taliban and helped the group seize control of neighboring war-torn Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. Now, many Afghans fear they will become a proxy of Islamabad.

People took to the streets of Kabul on Monday and Tuesday to decry perceived Pakistani influence in Afghanistan. "Long live Afghanistan, death to Pakistan," chanted some protesters in the capital on Monday night.

On Tuesday, Afghan women and men marched to the Pakistani embassy in Kabul condemning the offensive in Panjshir. "Support Panjshir, death to Pakistan," they shouted.

Meanwhile, a State Department spokesperson told Newsweek the U.S. administration has "been in regular touch with Pakistani leadership and have discussed Afghanistan in detail."

"Pakistan has frequently and publicly advocated for an inclusive government with broad support in Afghanistan and we look to Pakistan to play a critical role in enabling that outcome," the spokesperson added.

"The entire international community has a stake in ensuring the Taliban live up to their public commitments and obligations.

"It's critical that the members of the international community with the most influence in Afghanistan use all the means at their disposal to ensure that Afghanistan lives up to its obligations under the UN Charter."

With the fall of the U.S.-backed civilian government in Kabul last month, the Taliban has seized control of most of the country and is now defeating the last resistance groups in the Panjshir Valley as it prepares to announce the makeup of its new government.

National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF) leader Ahmad Massoud claimed this week that Pakistan facilitated his forces' defeat in Panjshir.

Massoud alleged that his forces had been under "bombardment by Pakistan and Taliban," and that "foreign mercenaries supporting the Taliban have always existed, they did so in the past, and will continue to do in the future."

The NRF has been posting propaganda posters online framing the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan as subservient to Pakistan.

Some Afghans were also outraged by a photograph of ISI chief Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed visiting Kabul last week as the Taliban discussed the formation of their new government. His presence was taken as a sign of Pakistani and ISI influence over the incoming government.

There have also been reports that the ISI is fuelling Taliban infighting between those loyal to political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and members of the powerful Haqqani network.

The U.S. is in the process of recalibrating its Afghanistan strategy, following the humiliating retreat from Kabul and the stunning failure of its costly two-decade nation-building effort.

American officials are still in touch with the Taliban as the U.S. tries to extract all remaining American citizens who wish to leave the country. The diplomatic effort is being run through a team in Doha, Qatar, following the abandonment of the U.S. embassy in Kabul during the withdrawal.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has denied that his country is taking sides in Afghanistan.

One week before the Taliban swept into Kabul, Khan told journalists: "Pakistan is just considered only to be useful in the context of somehow settling this mess which has been left behind after 20 years of trying to find a military solution when there was not one."

Khan added: "I think that the Americans have decided that India is their strategic partner now, and I think that's why there's a different way of treating Pakistan now."

Newsweek has contacted the Pakistani embassy in Washington, D.C. to request comment on the allegations of Islamabad's support for the Taliban offensive in Panjshir.

Taliban fighter and protester women in Kabul
Afghan women shout slogans next to a Taliban fighter during an anti-Pakistan demonstration near the Pakistan embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan on September 7, 2021. HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images