Sunday May 19, 2024

The TTP conundrum

Another report by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) states that 78 per cent of attacks have been carried out by the TTP

By Ajwa Hijazi
April 18, 2024
Representative image of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants. — AFP/File
Representative image of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants. — AFP/File

Over several decades, Pak-Afghan relations have been characterized by phases of turbulence and stability. The current phase of bilateral relations is also marked by relative friction between the two neighbours.

The primary reason for the strained relationship is Pakistan’s concern about the interim Afghan government’s inability or lack of will by to rein in the banned TTP. Although the interim government has continuously stated that it will not allow its soil to be used for any terror activities, certain elements in the government have extended support to the TTP and its various affiliates.

Relations between the two countries reached a crisis point after Pakistan’s intelligence-based anti-terror operation in the border region of Afghanistan in the early hours of March 18, two days after the terrorist attack in Mir Ali, North Waziristan, which resulted in the martyrdom of seven Pakistani soldiers, including two officers.

This measure was taken amid brewing tensions between the two countries over several months. There have been repeated instances of Islamabad informing the Afghan Taliban about terror operations mainly from the TTP and other related banned outfits that enjoy considerable liberty to operate from Afghanistan.

Since the Afghan Taliban assumed power in Kabul in 2021 (after the US withdrawal), Pakistan has witnessed an emboldened TTP, manifested through a surge in militant attacks. According to the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), in 2023 alone, around 645 militant attacks occurred in Pakistan, causing the deaths of over 938 people.

Another report by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) states that 78 per cent of attacks have been carried out by the TTP, which also accounted for 82 per cent of the casualties. Moreover, 2023 was also marked as the deadliest year in a decade for the military and police forces, where they collectively sacrificed more than 500 personnel. Around 93 per cent of the attacks have occurred in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan – provinces bordering Afghanistan.

According to Pakistani officials, certain elements of the ruling Afghan Taliban are patronizing the TTP. This has led to the TTP carrying out cross-border terrorist attacks from sanctuaries in Afghanistan. As militant attacks ramped up, Pakistan repeatedly engaged the Afghan interim government through diplomatic channels, intelligence sharing, and international security platforms and asked them to take effective and concrete action against the TTP. However, there has been no decisive action from them so far to curb the conducive environment provided to the TTP and its affiliates.

Continued inaction by the Afghan Taliban against the TTP’s presence on their soil made Pakistan run out of patience. Amid the soaring human cost (both civilian and military) and continuous attacks on its infrastructure, Pakistan was compelled to show its ability and resolve to retaliate by striking terrorist sanctuaries in Afghanistan. In response, the interim Afghan government has recorded its protests and hinted at dire consequences to their bilateral relations.

Tensions between the two states immediately affect cross-border trade due to the closure of the Torkham and Chaman border crossings. Amid the recent tensions, Pakistan’s Ministry of Commerce delegation visited Afghanistan on March 25 to discuss matters related to enhancing trade relations. However, given the series of recent events, the continuity of any confidence-building measure between the two sides would largely depend on the extent of the willingness of the Afghan Taliban to go after the TTP on their soil.

There is no denying that Pakistan is facing the heat of terrorism, mainly due to proliferation from across the border. However, according to many analysts, Pakistan’s counterterrorism strategy against the TTP cannot solely rely on the presumed assistance of the Afghan Taliban to counter this threat. Pakistan would have to chalk out a more adequate course of action against the banned outfit.

The TTP has adopted a new ‘localized strategy’ focusing on the series of mergers and its enhanced operational skills. In this context, Pakistan needs to devise a more robust internal security mechanism that should place ‘timely and accurate intel’ at its core.

However, to garner sustainable results, Pakistan’s measures must be complemented by the curbing of the TTP’s freedom in Afghanistan. For that, the Afghan interim government needs to be convinced that, given the gravity of the issue, its current policy of patronization towards the TTP should be ceased.

Moreover, the constant reluctance of the Afghan Taliban to take decisive action against the TTP is also hampering their quest for international recognition (since one of the significant global conditions is to not let their soil be used against any other state), apart from adversely affecting their relations with their neighbour.

While the current relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are replete with contentions, the two nations need a mature and pragmatic approach to resolve these issues. Seasoned political leaders and relevant stakeholders from both sides of the border should play their role in curtailing the prevalent trust deficit between the two countries.

Active diplomacy, including communication and engagement between Islamabad and Kabul, on the issue of countering terrorism should continue. The failure to jointly combat the TTP would, unfortunately, make the whole region vulnerable to the menace of terrorism.

The writer is a research assistant at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS), Islamabad, Pakistan. She can be reached at: