Pakistani Taliban and terrorism: When does it end?
For more than 40 years Pakistan has confronted terrorism emanating from Afghanistan. Prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan there was peace and quiet. Tourists going towards India and beyond would pass by Afghanistan towards Peshawar. Pakistani families would go to Paghman to spend their summer holidays. The situation changed dramatically after the Soviet invasion when Pakistan decided to confront the Soviets and support the liberation struggle of the Afghans. Prior to this there were no terrorists and at least suicide bombing was unknown to the Afghans and Pakistanis.
Coming to the present, Pakistan has been affected by terrorists of all hues and colors. The 40 years since 1979 have been phenomenal. The import of foreign fighters and ideologies along with funds and weapons have created an untenable situation that has rocked Pakistan with cycles of terrorism. In 2007, the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) Pakistan was formed and spread over erstwhile tribal regions.
The TTP was aligned with the Tehreek Taliban Afghanistan (TTA) and supported the struggle of the TTA against NATO forces in Afghanistan. After dedicated efforts, the Pakistan Army was able to liberate Swat, Bajaur and other terrorist infected regions. The TTP was effectively pushed into Kunar in Afghanistan, where it is camped and has indulged in terrorism against Pakistan.
Consisting of some 5,000 persons, these rebels have no other agenda than to gain space in the tribal and northwestern regions of Pakistan and to earn from ransoms from abductions and imposing taxes. They seek to undermine the Pakistani state and benefit from contacts and support from regional and extra regional sources inimical to Pakistan. In short, these actors have a malign agenda and are an offshoot of the troubled history of Afghanistan and the short sighted policies of the Pakistani state itself.
Pakistan’s policy is still based on the failed premise of the Taliban government being supportive.
Since the recent declaration of the TTP to denounce the so-called ceasefire, there have been attacks in Quetta and other places against the security forces of Pakistan. The attack against the Pakistani Ambassador Ubaid Nizamani in Kabul is now being claimed by Daesh. This year alone some 450 security forces personnel have been killed or injured by these terrorists. The fact is that Daesh, Al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups remain active in Afghanistan and the TTA seems helpless in restraining them.
The commitment of the TTA to rid Afghan society from international terrorists and not to allow terrorism from Afghanistan against neighboring states remains a dead letter. The TTP aligned as it was with TTA and in particular its Haqqani faction, enjoys relative comfort in Afghanistan. The Pakistani state policy to allow the TTA to operate from our territory and the lodging of the Quetta Shura and other TTA militants appears to have been short sighted. Pakistan’s initial euphoria about the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan on 15 August 2021 has proved to be short-lived. The TTA, instead of being grateful to Pakistan has taken a hard stance against the fencing of the border and despite several measures by Pakistan, is taking initiatives which are detrimental to Pakistan’s interests. The decision of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to engage with the TTP last year, which had led to a ceasefire, was wrong. It enabled the TTP to regroup and even send elements into Swat, which was strongly opposed by the locals. Pakistan’s policy is still based on the failed premise of the Taliban government being supportive.
The TTA government apparently coaxed the ISI to start a dialogue with the TTP to reach a peaceful solution. This has now proven to be short lived and abortive. It is time to think anew. The TTP has to be defeated militarily. A strong warning should be sent to the TTA that either they take action against the TTP or the Pakistani state will take corrective measures, even if it means hitting TTP targets within Afghanistan. Being soft on the TTP will not help and the situation will continue to get more intense. The TTA and TTP collaboration is ideological. If it continues, Pakistan will have to re-evaluate its policy towards Afghanistan.
— Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and as High Commissioner of Pakistan to India.