Is Pakistan Using Its Airforce Inc JF-17 Fighter Jets To Support The Taliban Against Afghan Army?

Is Pakistan using its Airforce including the latest JF-17 fighter jets as scare tactics against the Afghan government in support of the Taliban?

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The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has resulted in the resurgence of the Taliban in the country. While the Afghan forces continue to counter the insurgents at various places, Afghanistan’s Vice President Amrullah Saleh has accused the Pakistan Air Force of extending help to the Taliban.

Amid the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, the Taliban has taken control of a major trading town located on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the Spin Boldak-Chaman border post.

The border post located to the south of Kandahar is regarded as the second most significant border crossing with Pakistan and a major source of revenue for the Afghan government.

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Reuters reported that the Afghan government managed to wrest control of the town, even as Pakistan had shut its side of the border. A media report from Pakistan stated that Islamabad, with consultation from the Taliban, briefly opened the Pak-Afghan border on humanitarian grounds. 

‘Afghanistan Too Big For Pak To Swallow’

Against the backdrop of the bitter struggle between the Afghan forces and the Taliban in the country, Afghanistan Vice President Amrullah Saleh accused the Pakistan Air Force of extending air support to the Taliban.

In a series of tweets, he alleged that the PAF has issued an official warning to the Afghan Army and Air Force from removing the Taliban from the Spin Boldak area and that any such attempt by the Afghan forces will be repelled by the Pakistan Air Force.

Amrullah Saleh further mentioned that the PAF is “providing close air support to the Taliban in certain areas”, reported India Today.

Saleh alleged that the Afghan forces are being threatened by air-to-air missiles. In another tweet, he stated that “Afghan forces as far as 10 km from Spin Boldak are warned to back off, or face air to air missiles”.

Mentioning the success of the offensive of the Afghan forces against the Taliban in Chakhansour district in Nimroz, Amrullah Saleh asserted, “It is a matter of time. Afghanistan is too big for Pakistan to swallow. Too big”.

The Pakistan-Afghanistan Conundrum

The Afghan government under President Ashraf Ghani has long accused Pakistan of helping the Taliban. Experts believe that by helping the Taliban, Pakistan seeks to counter India’s presence in Afghanistan.

New Recruits assigned to the 1ST Battalion of the Afghanistan National Army (ANA), armed with 7.62
File Image: New Recruits assigned to the 1ST Battalion of the Afghanistan National Army (ANA).

According to Afghanistan expert Ahmed Rashid, “the Taliban will not engage in a dialogue with the Ghani government, as long as the Pakistani military and intelligence continue to give them sanctuary”.

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Analysts said that Pakistan may have hoped to regain its influence in Afghanistan, after the departure of the NATO forces.

It played a key role in the US-Taliban negotiations, and through the deal in February 2020, may have hoped for a power-sharing agreement with different stakeholders in Afghanistan.

However, such hopes had been dashed with the announcement of the departure of US troops by President Biden.

Pakistan’s JF-17 Jets

In recent years, Pakistan has been developing its military arsenal with the help of its all-weather ally, China. The question remains – is Pakistan using its JF-17 jets to support the Afghan Taliban against the Kabul government?

The JF-17 Thunder/FC-1 Xiaolong is a single-engine, lightweight, multipurpose combat aircraft. It was developed by China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAC) in collaboration with Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC).

Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder

On 18 February 2010, the first JF-17 squadron was inducted into the Pakistan Air Force. These fighter jets first saw their first action in an anti-terrorist operation in South Waziristan, during which various types of weapons were tested.

On 11 April 2011, the then Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman had then stated:

“Today as we re-equip No 26 squadron, we have also raised No. 16 Squadron with the JF-17 Thunder aircraft. I would like to mention and appreciate the contribution and support of the Chinese in helping us acquire a technological breakthrough in the shape of this aircraft.”

The JF-17s have been extensively used in air-to-ground operations including bombing terrorist hideouts and for ground support operations. The Pakistan Air Force has also extensively used the JF-17s to bomb terrorist positions in North Waziristan, overwhelming them with both unguided and precision-guided munitions.

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The Chinese / Pakistani jets have also participated in ‘Operation Swift Retort’ on February 27, 2019, after the Balakot strike. Pakistan had then stated that it had used JF-17 Thunder against India in retaliation to India’s airstrikes at Balakot, days after the terror attack in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir.

Experts taking to the EurAsian Times, who wished to stay anonymous said that Pakistan has consistently used its Airforce including JF-17s to hit terror outfits within the country.

Pakistan has used its jets against almost all terror groups including TTP and Al- Qaeda and most of the strikes have not really been covered by the media.

Residents of lawless North Waziristan, have often complained that these airstrikes have resulted in heavy civilian casualties, which has only inflamed the insurgency in the already volatile region, the expert noted.

Even though there is no concrete evidence as of now, but Pakistan using its Airforce including JF-17s in support of the Taliban or even using it as scare tactics cannot be ruled out.

We have seen how the Pakistani Airforce was staunchly backing terrorists who had intruded into Kargil in 1999. They have a history of doing it and probably Saleh (Afghan Vice President) could be absolutely right.

Pakistan Responds To Afghan Allegations

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry on Friday rejected allegations made a day earlier by Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh that Islamabad was obstructing Kabul’s operations against the Taliban in the border region.

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“Such statements undermine Pakistan’s sincere efforts to play its part in an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led solution,” the ministry’s spokesperson wrote on Facebook, noting that Pakistan had, indeed received information from the Afghan side about possible airstrikes on the Taliban near the border and that it had “responded positively” to Kabul’s right to act within Afghanistan’s territory.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry stressed that it acknowledges the Afghan government’s right to “undertake actions on its sovereign territory” and cited Islamabad’s offer to provide the ANDSF with logistical support if requested.

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The ministry also affirmed its commitment to peace and “achieving an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive political settlement in Afghanistan.”

The check-post is crucial for cross-border travel and trade and has served as a key source of revenue for the Afghan government. Kabul has been attempting to re-capture the crossing ever since.