It is very clear that the US is finding it extremely difficult to strike a win in Afghanistan and could even said to be losing, seemingly in part due to the rigid and intricate network of the Haqqanis and the Taliban set and spread throughout the region. Both of these groups are tightly controlled by Pakistan's ISI, with the latter group actually being founded by them during the Cold War.

The US Senate has poured pressure on Pakistan for their support of such groups and has cut down greatly on the aid which was to be provided to them, but such punishments still appear to have no effect as ISI continues to exert an enormous adverse influence over Afghanistan.

The ISI itself has great experience in such proxy-like situations, having checkmated the famed KGB in the same region during the 80s and outsmarting the CIA in a series of diplomatic games with the controversial Raymond Davis affair prior to the death of Bin Laden.

It could be argued that Pakistan is a rival rather than ally, but this could easily be debated. The situation is indeed very difficult, with two previous CIA directors offering rather different perspectives on the issue. Michael Hayden claims that Pakistan is supporting militant groups in Afghanistan, while David Petraeus claims the opposite.

Despite all this, it is a given that the Taliban (or rather Pakistan's ISI) is winning against the US in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's president Ashraf Ghani himself stated that the Taliban wouldn't last a single day without Pakistan's support, while the former US vice chief of the army John Keane says something similar; namely that for the Taliban to defeated, Pakistan must stop "propping" them up with intelligence, training and logistics assistance.

The question then arises: Why has Pakistan so far managed to outplay the US in Afghanistan? What mistakes and misunderstandings on part of the Americans has led to this embarrassment?

  • 3
    It's a fine question about military history. Unfortunately even the premise isn't factually answerable currently, and military history is probably off topic here.
    – user9389
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 2:03
  • 4
    "tightly controlled by Pakistan's ISI" citation needed
    – Colin
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 2:50
  • 6
    The U.S. is once again learning the old addage if you enter a hostile territory and bomb the population and become the oppreaive de facto rulers, the population is likely to resist. Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 4:03
  • 5
    The premise here is questionable. It's at least as plausible to argue that the US has defeated itself in Afghanistan by 1) engaging local resistance as a foreign power and 2) adopting a strategy that causes significant collateral damage and civilian casualties, thus ensuring ongoing sympathy and support for the local resistance. You don't need to be a victim of a Pakistani conspiracy to lose a war by killing hundreds and thousands of the people you claim to be interested in helping.
    – aroth
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 4:28
  • Has any liberal democracy ever successfully won a campaign against state-supported local guerillas?
    – user4012
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 19:06

2 Answers 2


How has Pakistan managed to defeat the US in Afghanistan?

I don't think the USA is already defeated. I think they are merely struggling. On the other hand, Russia and China are entering this region making the puzzle even more complex.

The possible end result would be a negotiation between the USA and Pakistan so that the USA can safely escape a Second Vietnam.

Why has Pakistan so far managed to outplay the US in Afghanistan?

Coz, it is their home turf. Most importantly, it is them.

What mistakes and misunderstandings on part of the Americans has led to this embarrassment?

Wars cannot be won only with brute force


Taliban faction is part of a large population.

Remember, Taliban are Pashtun people. Pashtuns are the ancient indegenous population of Afghanistan. In fact, the term Afghanistan literally means the land of Pashtuns. With 42% population, Pashtuns are the majority in Afghanistan.

When the Northern Alliance took control of the country, Taliban were declared pariahs. When Americans invaded Afghanistan, they sided with Northern Alliance and engaged in an effort to wipe out Taliban. A better strategy would have been to call them to participate in a dialogue so that they could be brought to mainstream politics.

All 'Talibans' are not Talibans

Times and again US politicians have proved that they don't either understand Pakistan's view of Taliban or deliberately ignore it.

Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) Pakistan is actually neither the part of the classic Taliban nor share common goals. This is a different group, based in Afghanistan who acts against Pakistan's interest. Some sources suggest that India funds this group.

Why is Pakistan maintaining links to Taliban and Haqqanis?

  1. The Durand Line: Northern Alliance and their successors are a threat to Pakistan's sovereignty in that they do not accept Durand Line as the demarcation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. That virtually makes them a demander of more than half of Pakistan's territory. Taliban do not possess such a radical theory.

  2. The Indian Job: India is constantly trying to build up a sizable presence on the Western border of Pakistan so that in war situations, they can have a strong foothold on the both sides of Pakistan. India is expanding its influence in Afghanistan. They have become successful so far in that they are being able to wage a proxy war by using Afghans. India has also established military bases on the western border of Pakistan namely Fakhor Airbase and Ayni Air Base. They have also established a port in Iran. India has also stepped up the funding of anti-Pakistan terrorist organizations in the recent years. These are direct existential threats to Pakistan. Without the Northern Alliance, there will be no Indian influence, and, the USA is encouraging both the Indian presence and the lead of Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.

Since these two factors are directly connected to Pakistan's existence as a state, neither cutting of aid nor diplomatic pressures will be able to deter them.

Same old Carrot & Stick policy

The USA has a long history of corning Pakistan when necessary and subsequently abandoning them when they were in need of help. From losing landmass to losing wars, This carrot & stick policy of the USA has done severe damages to Pakistan. On the other hand, USA's neo-love affair with India virtually signals the abandonment of Pakistan as a major ally.

Taking this as a hard truth, Pakistan seems to be shifting its policy against the dependence on US-made arms, and financial aids. Recent developments include, the Sino-Pak joint venture is jet-fighter development, Pak-Turk defense ties, and overall, the Pakistani pitch in developing its infrastructures to facilitate fast-track economic development. These initiatives will take time, but ultimately guarantees Pakistan's true independence from the USA.


Both of these groups are tightly controlled by Pakistan's ISI.

There is really no credible evidence that this is the case.

Why has Pakistan so far managed to outplay the US in Afghanistan?

In addition to the misleading premise that the state of Pakistan is at war with the US in Afghanistan, the notion that the US has been outplayed or defeated is not supported by the facts either.

In 2001 before U.S. intervention, Afghanistan was more or less 90% controlled by the Taliban, and 10% or so by the Northern Alliance that was on the verge of being crushed. Since U.S. led intervention, the civilian regime in Afghanistan quickly gained control of the entire nation, did so with minimal contest through about 2005, and still rules pretty much the entire country albeit in the face of an ongoing insurgency.

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Afghanistan is not casualty free and casualties due to Taliban attacks on civilians have gradually increased from 2007 to the present, without however, spiraling out of control. The rate of casualties and the number of refugees (Afghanistan v. Iraq) created as a result of the ongoing insurgency in Afghanistan than there were, for example, as a result of the Iraq War. Indeed, refugees from prior civil wars are now returning to Afghanistan. And, the current civilian regime in Afghanistan is more functional as a political body than the civilian government of Iraq where the central government has no control at all over much of the nation's territory (ISIS territory and also Iraqi Kurdistan).

Drone warfare has kept U.S. military casualties relatively low in this conflict, while drones have killed lots of insurgents, and the rate at which coalition forces have incurred casualties has fallen over time and is currently quite low.

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But, given that Afghanistan has been in a state of more or less continuous civil war since 1979, and has experienced more economic privation than any other country in Eurasia with the possible exception of North Korea, the status quo is definitely better than it has been for much of the past 38 years.

It isn't uncommon for insurgencies to last for decades, and failing to stop them entirely doesn't mean that you are losing.

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