[Islamabad] Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister said on Monday that weapons left behind by US forces during the withdrawal from Afghanistan were now in the hands of “insurgents.”
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar ul Haq Kakar made the statement in response to a question asked during a conversation in Islamabad with international media representatives.
Kakar stated that the insurgents’ capabilities to attack Pakistani security forces have improved since acquiring weapons left behind by American troops. He emphasized that he was not saying so as a critique of the US, but that a “concerted effort” was needed to address the issue.
The equipment left behind ranges from night vision goggles and small guns to bombs and helicopters. “The amplified assault ability of militants due to the sophisticated weapons is a new challenge for us,” Kakar said.
Kakar was also asked about talks between the Pakistani government and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban. He said that the talks would take place only once the TTP stops its attacks.
The TTP is banned in Pakistan and is considered a global terrorist organization by the US. The organization has waged a 15-year uprising in response to the Pakistani government’s operations against al-Qaeda and armed insurgents from Afghanistan. A temporary cease-fire existed between Pakistan and the TTP from June 2022 until November 2022, at which point the TTP ended the cease-fire and declared that it would resume attacks. The group has claimed responsibility for several terror attacks since then.
Kakar began his role as caretaker prime minister less than a month ago. He was sworn in on Aug. 14 to lead a national government that would supervise legislative general elections amid one of the Islamic nation’s greatest economic crises.
Weapons left behind
Weapons left behind by US forces make up just one of the complications Kakar is faced with addressing.
Shortly after the US-led forces hastily withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021, reports emerged indicating that the coalition had abandoned billions of dollars in advanced weapons, which ended up with the Taliban and other armed factions.
Pakistan’s security officials and political leaders have been claiming for some time that the US’s leftover weapons and ammunition were being used in attacks inside Pakistan, but Kakar’s statement to that effect on Monday was the first by a prime minister of the country.
In August 2022, a year after the coalition forces withdrew from Afghanistan, the US Department of Defense revealed that coalition forces had delivered $7.2 billion worth of weaponry and military equipment to Afghan government agencies. The Taliban now controls the future of these items.
Afghan Peace Watch, a US-based organization devoted to independent analysis of peace and security in Afghanistan, conducted a survey in late 2022 regarding sales of weapons left behind by US-led forces in Afghanistan. The survey found that advanced weapons—such as night vision thermal guns, M4 rifles, and M16 rifles—were being sold and smuggled to Pakistan.
The weapons sales were concentrated in Nangarhar province, not far from the arms markets in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Nine Pakistani soldiers were killed in July in North Balochistan by TTP fighters armed with US weapons, including M16 rifles.
Inspector General of Police Moazzam Jah Ansari told the media earlier that “militants are using modern weapons like thermal night vision guns, which were left after the withdrawal of NATO forces in Afghanistan.”
The Islamabad-based independent think tank Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS) noted a sharp rise in terror attacks across Pakistan in August. Ninety-nine incidents were reported across the country, the largest number of attacks in a single month since November 2014.
According to PICSS, Pakistan experienced 22 suicide attacks in the first eight months of 2023, resulting in 227 deaths and 497 injuries.
Most of the attacks targeted security forces, with security personnel making up 50% of those killed and 63% of those wounded. Fifty percent more security personnel were killed in August compared to July.
Pakistani security forces have killed at least 24 terrorists and arrested 69 others so far this year, the report said.
The frequency of terror attacks in Pakistan has been rising gradually since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in August 2021. The majority of the recent attacks have been claimed by the TTP, which is thought to be the Afghan Taliban’s ideological offshoot and ally. Pakistani officials continuously warn Afghanistan that Pakistan will move to target terrorist hideouts in Afghanistan if Afghanistan fails to do so itself.
Security in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remains threatened by TTP forces, with the fate of peace talks between the TTP and the Pakistani government still unclear. The spike in terror attacks against Pakistani security forces has made it evident that the government is facing an uphill battle in its efforts to bring peace to the country.
Islamabad strongly believes the assaults are being carried out by outlawed terrorist organizations that have taken asylum in Afghanistan and are affiliated with the Afghan Taliban. Afghanistan consistently denies that the TTP or other foreign terrorist groups are operating in its borders.
The Media Line spoke with various analysts on the topic.
Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based national security expert, told The Media Line that the alliance between Pakistan and the US is threatened by more than just the weapons abandoned by the US in Afghanistan.
“Pakistan is not a trustworthy partner on such issues,” she said. “Factionalism inside the government and rivalry among various institutions make it inevitable that an alliance could be betrayed.”
In order to regain international trust, she said, Pakistan needs to improve its domestic situation by tackling corruption, reining in extremism, and winning local battles. “Only a show of commitment and serious resolve to move away from dubious political habits can help create a coalition and also send a signal to these groups that Pakistan can be taken seriously,” she said.
She said that the Pakistani government ought to forge an alliance with moderate opposition groups and stop trying to control Afghanistan.
Adeeb Ul Zaman Safvi, a Karachi-based defense analyst, told The Media Line that Kakar chose to draw attention to US arms left behind in Afghanistan in an attempt to prevent the US from further damaging the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
A hard-line critic of US policies, Safvi said that “the US is attempting to destabilize the region by entangling Pakistan and Afghanistan.” He said that CIA operatives in the region have an interest in increasing TTP attacks, which would keep Pakistan’s leadership busy dealing with “low to medium insurgency.”
Pakistan’s former administration failed to formulate a coherent foreign policy. The continued rise in terrorist attacks during the last few months indicates that previous administrations lacked a framework to manage relations with key neighbors such as Afghanistan.
Farzana Shah, a Peshawar, Pakistan-based defense analyst, told The Media Line that US weapons left behind in Afghanistan pose a threat to the entire region and particularly Pakistan.
She said that the international community must look for creative solutions to the problem of US weapons. The methods to address the issue are limited by the fact that the Taliban is not recognized as Afghanistan’s government by any foreign country, she noted.
“The buying back technique must be undertaken in Pakistan through a variety of avenues, both official and unofficial. The response, however, must not be limited to the buyback option,” Shah said. “With the ultimate strategic goal of denying militants alternatives, it is also vital to consider eliminating the larger cache, but, first and foremost, intelligence must be gathered to verify that no new weapons are being smuggled into the Afghan black market.”
She added that Kabul must be held responsible for commitments to the international community that it has not fulfilled. “To prevent further worsening of an already perilous position, severe diplomatic pressure coupled with economic coercion is needed,” she said.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday morning, the major border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan at Torkham was closed after border troops from both sides exchanged heavy fire.
The Torkham border point is in the city limits of Landi Kotal in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Ibrahim Khan, a senior police official, told The Media Line that Taliban forces began firing after Pakistani forces barred them from constructing a checkpoint in an area where doing so was illegal. “No casualties have been reported yet,” he said.
“The border has been closed for pedestrian and commercial traffic, and a decision will be made to reopen it after the situation has stabilized,” he added.
Since the Taliban gained control of Kabul, clashes between Pakistani security forces and Afghan Taliban troops along the Torkham border have been reported multiple times.
The border crossing has been closed several times in the past during escalations in violence, causing serious hardships, especially for Afghanis hoping to cross.