The TTP challenge, again

January 15, 2023

The government has vowed to employ military means to counter the TTP, which has threatened two major political parties

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fghanistan has remained plagued by wars throughout its recent, if not remote, history. In the wake of 9/11, the United States and its allies ended the Taliban’s first stint in power. However, despite the latter’s desires and designs, political and socioeconomic stability and security could not be realised in twenty years. The US, largely due to its shifting strategic interests from West Asia to Indo-Pacific, chose then to withdraw from Afghanistan. This allowed the Taliban to establish control over Afghanistan politically and militarily. However, the Taliban rule has not been formally recognised by any country including Pakistan, which has diplomatically supported the Taliban for the last sixteen months. Informally, Pakistan has accorded a de facto approval to the Taliban rule. The latter, thus, face a lingering crisis of legitimacy. In the past, Pakistan was the key player that not only recognised the Taliban rule but also urged countries like Saudi Arabia to accord recognition to their rule.

However, Pakistan has opted for a different path this time owing to certain factors. Pakistan had tense relations with the US after 9/11. Though Pakistan’s civil-military leadership opted to work with Washington on the War on Terror, it did not completely abandon its traditional position on next-door Afghanistan. Pakistan is urging the regional and global actors, particularly the US, to formally recognise the Taliban rule. The former is reluctant to formally accept the Taliban control in Afghanistan in order to avoid global implications. Pakistan was criticised for supporting the Taliban during 1996-2001 when the latter hosted non-state actors like Al Qaeda and its then chief Osama bin Laden. The US-led NATO allies attacked Afghanistan to avenge the 9/11 attacks.

However, although the US made a deal with the Taliban in Doha in early 2020 which enabled the Western withdrawal from the war-ravaged country a year later its approach towards the Taliban has remained aggressive due to divergent choices on political setup in Afghanistan. For example, the Biden-led US favours an inclusive government, representing various ethno-tribal and religious groups in Afghanistan. Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran have also emphasised the need for an inclusive political dispensation. From Pakistan’s perspective, political inclusivity projects pluralism as well as non-reliance on a sole stakeholder, i.e., Taliban.

The policy position has, however, affected bilateral relations negatively. Pakistan’s chargé d’affaires in Kabul narrowly escaped a terrorist attack in which his guard was seriously injured in December 2022. The Taliban are struggling to protect the diplomatic staff from Pakistan and Russia the countries that have extended de facto recognition to their rule.

Meanwhile, it seems that the Taliban are bent upon implementing a tribal version of governance and jurisprudence, with gender segregation, tribal economy, primitive punishments and medieval diplomacy. Little wonder then that little has been done regarding women’s education. The country is having subsistence agriculture and opium production has proliferated. There is little focus on industrial and infrastructural development. The banking sector has its limits, too. Bilateral trade is informal and on a low scale. It is limited mostly to Pakistan and Iran due to lack of formal recognition by major powers such as the US.

Same goes for Afghanistan’s defence/ security policy. The Taliban refuse to recognise the Durand Line as border between the two countries. As per (social) media reports, some elements in the Taliban regime have been seen tearing down the barbed wire fence that Pakistan claims marks its border with Afghanistan. Some Afghanistan-based members of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are also targeting Pakistan’s law enforcement. The recent attack on the police in Bannu is a case in point. Pakistan’ military personnel have also been a target of (suicide) attacks. The Afghan Taliban are seen as tactical, if not strategic, partners of the TTP. Plausibly, the Afghan Taliban also aim to get global attention through such attacks on Pakistan. A point put forth by some Pakistani scholars is that both the Afghan Taliban and the TTP are soft on Imran Khan who funded some of their seminaries when he was in office. The Taliban are trying apparently to destabilise the PDM government through terrorism in a bid to fore early elections.

The PDM government has vowed to employ military means to counter the TTP. Undeterred, the latter has issued a public letter addressed to two major political parties of the PDM government, namely, the PMLN and the PPP. The TTP leadership has threatened the said parties with dire consequences for siding with and supporting the state apparatuses including the Pakistani military. This is indeed a worrying situation not just for the said parties but also the state. There is no easy remedy for such non-state actors. Nonetheless, the Pakistani leadership must have a word with the Afghan Taliban to press the TTP to stop terrorism against Pakistan’s state and political institutions. If there are some pro-Pakistan elements in the Taliban ranks, they should be asked to improve communication.

The PDM government also needs to beef up security arrangements. The state should use military means in self-defence alone. If the government finds that the TTP are attacking the country, verifiable evidence should be presented at international fora, including the United Nations. In other words, Pakistan needs to deal with its TTP challenge in collaboration with international organisations, i.e., the UN, and major powers, such as the US and China. There is no harm in involving Qatar to ensure meaningful discussions with the Afghan Taliban. Reliance on military means alone might further destabilise the country socioeconomically.


The writer has a PhD in political science from Heidelberg University and a post-doc from UC-Berkeley. He is a DAAD, FDDI and Fulbright fellow and an associate professor.He can be reached at ejaz.bhattygmail.com



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