Violence along the Pak-Afghan border is not limited to religious extremism
iolations of border crossing protocols, in some instances by Afghan forces; attacks against Pakistan originating from Afghanistan; and increasing militancy in areas of Pakistan adjacent to Afghanistan are increasingly a source of grave concern. Since before the Soviet invasion and the Afghan War, Pakistan has had a key role in Afghan geopolitics. It was similarly instrumental in the War on Terror. Some of its policies during the past decades are part of the reason the situation in Afghanistan is spilling over onto areas of Pakistan adjacent to its border.
A Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government spokesperson recently confessed to having joined the Afghan jihad. He claimed that he had personally fought against then Afghan president Dr Najeebullah’s regime. Such interventions have resulted in hatred among certain sections of the Afghan population against Pakistan. Although the role of other neighbours in Afghanistan has not been a lot more helpful, the hatred of Pakistan is based on allegations of Pakistan sabotaging peace in Afghanistan for its own benefit. After the Taliban takeover in Kabul, some people in Afghanistan and elsewhere have seen the new government as a Pakistani puppet regime. This is the reason the Taliban have been criticised even by conservative Afghans all over the world.
Those labelled as “puppet regimes” have never succeeded politically in Afghanistan. Having themselves used the slogan against Afghan governments for twenty years, the Taliban are well aware of the fact. That is why they have been sending out mixed signals towards Pakistan from the beginning. Some Pakistani journalists were also abused during their fall of Kabul coverage in August 2021. Unfortunately, Islamabad was slow to sense the ground reality and interpret the perspectives motivating the aggression. TheAfghan Taliban have since then taken to expresstheir anti-Pakistan stance through violence. The top Taliban leaders may not have been happy with the Pakistan bashing early on but when they saw that the fighters at the lower level were appreciating the rhetoric against Pakistan, their statements too got harsher.
The main leaders of the Afghan Taliban have spent time in Pakistan.Most of them sympathise with Pakistan to some extent. However, a new generation of the Taliban is different. It is more concerned with the negative aspects of the relationship and closer to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. These are fighters born in Afghanistan over the last three decades who fought against the US and coalition forces. During these battles they met some of their Pakistani Taliban comrades fighting in Afghanistan and formed a strong bond. They stayed together on the front lines and saw their close comrades die for the same cause.
The proposal to moderate negotiations between the Pakistani government and the TTP came from the Afghan Taliban. Important TTP leaders appeared in Kabul. The Pakistani Taliban had played their share in ‘defeating’ US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Interior Minister Siraj Haqqani personally supervised these talks. The Afghan Taliban have also behaved aggressively towards Pakistan. They have not only increased patrolling in the border areas adjacent to Pakistan but also crossed the boundary in the Momand district. After Pakistan recorded its protest with Kabul, the Taliban retreated. Later, they started tearing down sections of the barbed wire fence marking the border. Several Afghan Taliban commanders also issued anti-Pakistan statements on social media.
In the last couple of months, TTP attacks from Afghanistan intensified in North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Khyber, Bajaur, Kurram, Peshawar and Mardan districts. The police and army were targeted in several attacks. Attacks were also mounted in Kohistan and a group of militants blocked the Babusar-Chilas road.
After two rounds of talks had been held between the Pakistani delegation and the TTP, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Al Qaeda leader, was killed in a drone strike in Kabul. A rumour was soon spread that the drone had flown from Pakistani territory. This prompted protest demonstrations against the drone attack in the Afghan cities along the Pakistani border. Interior Minister Siraj Haqqani, who was playing an important role in the negotiations with the TTP, also came under severe pressure and the talks stalled. Next, Abdul Wali alias Umar Khalid Khorasani, representing the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan in these talks, was killed in an explosion along with three of his colleagues and the Taliban negotiating team dispersed.
After the second round of negotiations with the government, the TTP announced an indefinite ceasefire. However, clashes broke out in the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Fear spread throughout Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the people of Malakand strongly opposed the return of the Taliban. These clashes were followed by security operations and some key Taliban commanders were killed. Exactly one year after the arrival of the Taliban in Kabul, TTP resumed attacks in areas of Pakistan adjacent to the Afghan border and in Swat. Some members of the Provincial Assembly were attacked in Dir and Shangla. Target killings peaked in Bajaur and North Waziristan. Pakistan complained that the Afghan territory was being used in attacks in Pakistan. However, a statement issued by the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Pakistan had forced some of its citizens to take refuge in Afghanistan. In the meantime, Pakistani security forces carried out targetted operations against Pakistani militants in the border regions. Hundreds of Afghan nationals and Afghan Taliban then staged protest rallies against Pakistan alleging that Pakistani forces had violated theborders.
In the month of September, TTP attacks from Afghanistan intensified in North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Khyber, Bajaur, Kurram, Peshawar and Mardan districts. The police and army were targetted in these attacks. In Kohistan, the militants blocked the Babusar-Chilas road. The highway was re-opened after successful negotiations. Due to its proximity to China, the area is of vital importance. This was the reason intelligence-based operations were started throughout Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Vigorous operations were carried out in Dera Ismail Khan, Mardan, Peshawar, Tank and Lakki Marwat. Many important TTP commanders were killed in these operations. The militants too carried out several suicide attacks, but these did not prove very effective. A suicide bomber managed to blow himself up in a field in Mardan without causing any damage.
There is no doubt that the security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating.This can have an impact on Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban fighters will be counting on the support of the Pakistani Taliban. Afghanistan faces many issues on the domestic front. Pakistan can help in some cases, particularly with humanitarian assistance. This might drive a wedge between Kabul and the cross-border fighters. Pakistan can also talk to the Pakistani Taliban seeking refuge in Afghanistan and win them over. Restoring a positive image of Pakistan in Afghanistan is the need of the hour. Efforts for peace in Afghanistan should be intensified in cooperation with all Afghanistan’s neighbours.
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer