Can Afghanistan nudge the Pakistani Taliban to peace?
Afghanistan’s Ambassador in Pakistan, Sardar Ahmed Khan Shakib, has shown the willingness to bring Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to the negotiating table with Pakistan to work out a truce between the two. Previously a similar effort resulted in an agreement to a month-long cease-fire from November 1 to November 30, 2021. However, the cease-fire hardly lasted a few days and was called off by the TTP. It accused Pakistan of violating the agreement by resorting to raids in Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat, Swat, Bajaur, Swabi, and North Waziristan that killed and detained many TTP militants. The militant group also relented against the Afghan Taliban for not showing any involvement after striking the cease-fire agreement.
The cease-fire agreement comprised five main elements: One, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will mediate the peace talk. Two, Pakistan would release 102 TTP militants currently held in various de-radicalization centers. Three, both sides would form a five-member committee to work out a future course of action. Four, Pakistan would enforce Sharia in the country. Five, tribal areas in Pakistan would be restored to their pre-merger status.
The question is: how does the Afghan Taliban plan to bring both the TTP and Pakistan to end the conflict when both have a rock of distrust between them and a long history of betrayals behind? Also, will a cease-fire between the TTP and Pakistan bring any benefit to the Afghan Taliban? Moreover, does the Afghan Taliban hold the wherewithal to enforce a cease-fire agreement with its reputation of not honoring agreements, whether with the US or among the Afghans?
First, let us see how a truce between TTP and Pakistan can benefit Afghanistan.
If not for Russia, China, Pakistan – the Taliban would have still been the wandering insurgents.
If the TTP is stopped from using Afghan territory for attacking Pakistan or if the Afghan Taliban stop putting support behind the TTP, both materially and morally, the chances are that some faction, if not all, will throw in the towel. This will result in both a spigot to the flow of terrorism on both sides and a reflection of Afghanistan as a responsible country.
There are many factions to the TTP, and not all are under the influence of Afghanistan. We cannot dismiss India’s involvement, nor can we admit that the Afghan Taliban has a magic wand to unravel the militant group entirely. It is not that simple. However, if Afghanistan shows resilience and separates the wheat from the chaff, it can give the TTP a hard time, which had since the episode of Lal Masjid, the womb from which the group was born, attacked Pakistan’s strategic assets with the only purpose to weaken the state.
From 2007 to 2014, the TTP rocked Pakistan with bomb blasts from Karachi to Khyber. In addition, TTP carried out some high profile attacks: a deadly assault on the Pakistani navy’s largest air base in 2011; an attack on Karachi airport in 2014; taking the responsibility of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assasination in 2007 and a massacre at the Army Public School in Peshawar that killed 150 people, mostly students in 2014.
Now, let us see if the Afghan government has the moral authority to influence the TTP on fulfilling peace agreements.
As of now, Afghanistan does not seem to have the power to leverage peace for Pakistan through a truce with the TTP. Afghan Taliban’s own house is in disorder. The country’s will to respect internationally defined human rights is in tatters. All these abnormalities have become a source of strength for the TTP and other militant groups. It is a simple question: how can a dissenter of peace influence others to follow peace and respect truce agreements?
Afghanistan badly needs to rehabilitate its reputation as a country that respects international relations, honors international treaties and agreements and can walk on the tight-rope of a mutually cohesive work environment to garner economic benefits through trade and development. This is the only route that will bring Afghanistan out of isolation.
These are hard questions that the Afghan Taliban would have to consider before playing a mediating role in a peace truce.
So far, the Taliban have frustrated the world through their actions. The Taliban erroneously think that they won the war against the world’s mightiest powers twice on their own. The reality is that the ouster of Russia and the exit of the US from Afghanistan became possible because of the international communities’ intervention both in cash and kind. If not for Russia, China, Pakistan-- the Taliban would have still been the wandering insurgents.
Unless this reality sinks, there is little hope that Pakistan will be able to cut the wings of the TTP in Afghanistan.
- Durdana Najam is an oped writer based in Lahore. She writes on security and policy issues.