With the TTP’s deadly return, the clock seems to have been turned back and the groups that the Pakistani ISI was once allies with are now after the very existence of the military.
Tensions between the Pakistan government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continue to increase as the last hope of bringing them to the negotiation table seems to be diminishing. Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, Imran Khan, while addressing a seminar on terrorism, criticised the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)-led government’s comments on carrying out military operations against the TTP hideouts in Afghanistan which will further deteriorate the already troubled ties with the neighbouring state. The sense of victory after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is now replaced by a rather hard awakening of reality in the last year for the Pakistani government, with the snakes in the backward biting the ones who sheltered them. The same ideological force that was once used to control the Taliban in Afghanistan has created a religious fervor, with demand for more stringent Islamic laws in Pakistan.
SHORT-LIVED HAPPINESS POST TALIBAN VICTORY
The Taliban after coming to power turned a deaf ear to Pakistan pulling the strings in Kabul. The recent clashes which intensified along the Durand Line prove Islamabad’s fear of the international boundary line being a continued point of contention between the two neighbours. The Durand Line, which divides the Pashtun-dominated tribal areas, has never gained legitimacy from any Afghan authority, partly as explained by Tilak Devasher in his book, “The Pashtuns: A Contested History” that the Durand Line doesn’t exist technically as the Indo-Afghan frontier border defined under the Treaty of Kabul 1921 was temporary and subjected to denunciation through an exit clause that the Afghans exercised in 1949.
The Pakistan government has been desperate to make the Taliban government legitimise the Durand Line but there have been several clashes reported at the end of 2021 and the biggest setback was at the Chaman-Spin Boldak border where a Pakistani official was shot and nine others were injured. Pakistan might use the border, though closed for a certain period to ease off the tension, as a pressure tactic to isolate the already economically unstable Afghanistan. The Pakistani forces have even encroached 15 kilometres inside the Afghan territory to erect boundary fences in the Chahar Burjak district after an initial attempt at the Nangarhar province which was met with strong reactions from the Taliban. The Pakistani military has been constructing the fence along the Durand Line starting 2014 after Operation Zarb-e-Azb in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and it has been reported that 94% of the fencing is completed to date.
THE Deadly PAKISTAN TALIBAN
With the TTP’s deadly return to Pakistan, the clock seems to have been turned back and the groups that the Pakistani ISI was once allies with are now after the very existence of the military. There has been an upsurge of Islamist militancy in Northern Waziristan and the Pakistani security forces are being targeted, the borderlands are witnessing an alarming rise in kidnappings for ransom and extortion from wealthy residents. The TTP has accused the Pakistani government of violating the ceasefire agreement when the latter were carrying out various security operations in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. This has led the TTP to break the ceasefire, which lasted for five months, and carry out a suicide bombing in Balochistan, killing three people and injuring 28 others. The TTP has carried out over 140 attacks in Pakistan in the past three months and there has been a 50% spike in terrorist attacks after the Taliban coming to power.
The Shehbaz Sharif government has complained about the Taliban in Afghanistan providing a safe haven for the TTP militants who fled the Pakistani army offensives and were using the Afghan territory as terror launchpads. The Afghan Taliban will not act against the ideological partner and is even using its fighters to remove the barbed-wire fence along the Durand Line. With the porous border considered illegitimate by the Pashtuns on both sides, the TTP is allegedly trafficking weapons left by international coalitions to undertake violent attacks on Pakistani soil. An estimated 1,000 militants have infiltrated Pakistan since last year, making it a huge security challenge for Pakistan. The Pakistani government knows the security implication of this infiltration and has been raising this in international forums asking for assistance from the Taliban in Afghanistan, but the Taliban wants to break free from the control of the Pakistani government, hence, allowing the TTP to keep the Islamabad-Rawalpindi nexus engaged.
The reported assassination attempt on Pakistan’s head of mission in Afghanistan, Ubaid Ur Rehman Nizamani in Kabul, Mullah Yaqoob’s refusal to meet Pakistan’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar and the Taliban’s attempt to normalise ties with India have further worsened the already patchy relationship between the two countries.
The relationship between Pakistan and the Taliban in Afghanistan is at a recent low but despite multiple points of contention between the two sides, Pakistan would still want to give more political space to the Taliban and want the Taliban’s support in return to materialise the trade route with the Central Asian Republics. Pakistan’s goal of having strategic depth by establishing indirect control of Afghanistan is a distant dream as the Taliban is being reluctant to let Pakistan interfere in its internal affairs. The public image of Pakistan has worsened with the air strikes carried out by Islamabad in Khost and Kunar Provinces, killing at least 47 civilians and resulting in widespread condemnation in Afghanistan. After the takeover of Kabul, the Afghan Taliban ensured the release of TTP fighters and will use it as leverage to keep Pakistan away and worse, destabilise it.
The challenges facing Pakistan aren’t limited to TTP; the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) concentrating its war in Pakistan and the increase in Baloch terror activities have put Pakistan in a strategic dilemma. Added to that, a domestic economic crisis, political turbulence and a weak government will make the coming days harder for Pakistan. It would like to think it has a strategic upper hand without the presence of a western power irrespective of the threats on its soil. With the elections due next year, and the renewed threats by TTP to attack high targets one can just hope for not a bloody election and for Pakistan to get back on the negotiation table.
Ratnadeep Chakraborty is the co-founder of an independent media company that covers the spheres of strategic affairs called, The Honest Critique. He is also the host of the podcast series, Line of Truth. Ratnadeep writes on issues related to the developments in West Asia particularly Israel, terrorism and non-state Militant actors.
Ekampreet Kaur has pursued her Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences from Guru Nanak Dev University. She has hosted shows on strategic affairs for The Honest Critique and enjoys writing about global diplomacy, narcoterrorism and international organisations.