Regional repercussions

February 26, 2023

The recent wave of terrorism in Pakistan could destabilise regional ties

Regional repercussions


akistan has had bittersweet relations with Afghanistan since its inception in 1947. It was only in the mid-1990s that Pakistan viewed the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan cordially. Indeed, Pakistan was not only one of the three countries that rushed to formally recognise the Taliban regime but also lobbied some key countries in the North to do the same. Some Western governments, including the US, and their multinational corporations were in touch with the Taliban leadership until the 9/11 changed everything. The US-led North then directed its wrath towards the Taliban-led Afghanistan because of Kabul’s support to Al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden had been hosted by the Taliban who refused to hand him over to the Americans despite Pakistan’s insistence. The Pakistani state calculated rationally: if it did not side with the world’s only superpower with extraordinary military capacity, it would have faced consequences ranging from economic sanctions to military action, at least, in its tribal areas that bordered Afghanistan. The Taliban leadership thought and acted differently. Lacking military and financial capabilities, it defied the US, refusing to hand over Al Qaeda leadership, i.e., Laden. The US wasted no time, using military force against the Taliban whose rule thus ended abruptly. However, the top Taliban leaders including Mullah Omer could not be targeted immediately and some of them crossed into neighbouring countries including Pakistan. As an ideologically oriented group, the Taliban had already otherised the US-led Western nation-states as anti-Islam forces, occupying Muslim lands and resources.

Importantly, the Muslim states allied with the US-led North, were also dubbed as un-Islamic states and illegitimate governments, which were to be removed by force. Since Pakistan had sided with the US-led NATO, which ended the Taliban state, the latter was otherised, too. In practice, this logic resulted in (suicide) terrorism in many parts of Pakistan in the wake of US-led NATO invasion of Afghanistan. In 2007, these elements organised themselves into what is now known as Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) under Baitullah Mehsud. Since its inception, the TTP has worked in ideological camaraderie with the Afghan Taliban. Politically, these organisations/ groups vow to establish a trans-regional Islamic state where a puritanical version of sharia is enforced. Put differently, the modern nation-states like the US and/ or Pakistan have no room in the TTP’s and, for that matter, Al Qaeda, ISIS’s worldview since nation-states are grounded in secularism and democracy.

The Pakistani state has tried negotiations with the TTP in order to end terrorism. This, however, backfired since the TTP continued, on the one hand, to expand its agenda in Swat and formerly FATA and, and on the other, commit terrorist attacks to pressure the Pakistani state. The latter thus launched military operations, i.e., Rah-i-Rast and Rah-i-Nijat, against the TTP and its affiliates in 2009. These weakened the TTP, organisationally and logistically. The number of terrorist attacks also receded in Pakistan in the following years. However, 2009 onwards, the US started signaling a pullout from Afghanistan. Though this did not materialise till 2021, such policy pronouncements likely encouraged the Taliban remnants to assemble and launch a guerilla warfare against the US-backed Ghani-Abdullah dispensation that was based on Western principles of nation-state and democracy as per the Taliban. Several factors such as political incompetence of the Ghani-Abdullah setup, change in American strategic outlook, limited military capacity of the Afghan state, the Taliban were able, once again, to control more than 80 percent of Afghanistan before they eventually ousted the ‘façade’ in August 2021 after a deal with the US in February 2020.

Pakistan has accorded moral and political support to (certain sections of) the Taliban. The former wanted to neutralise the Indian influence there that gained currency under the previous regime. However, having learnt from its experiences, Pakistan has so far not formally recognised the Taliban rule, though along with China and Russia it treats the regime as a de facto government. On the other hand, faced with a severe humanitarian crisis, the Taliban are reaching out to everyone, including India. In the unstable environment, the TTP has resurged recently through (suicide) terrorism in several parts of Pakistan. With Taliban back in power in Afghanistan, it is likely that underground TTP elements might have resurfaced with the moral, if not logistical, support of the former. Indeed, the Afghan soil might have been used as a sanctuary to plan and execute terrorist attacks inside Pakistan by the TTP, which wants the restoration of status quo in the former FATA.

Currently, Afghanistan-Pakistan relations are at a crossroads. The Taliban have to stop the TTP from committing acts of terrorism in Pakistan. Islamabad is urging the international community to assist Kabul financially. Pakistan and China have also expressed willingness to extend the CPEC to Afghanistan as a means of stabilising the country socioeconomically. However, if the Afghan Taliban-backed terrorism spikes in Pakistan, the latter may withdraw the de facto recognition. Pakistan can also urge the US to support it in its war on terror and seek similar support from the international community, in particular the UN to pressure Afghanistan in this respect.

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

Regional repercussions