Why are Afghan Taliban so non-committal about Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan?

Why are Afghan Taliban so non-committal about Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan?

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December 2022 saw 168 terror strikes in Pakistan, leaving over 100 killed in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.  The National Security Council reaffirmed its resolve to root out terror, while Afghan officials warned Pakistan against actions beyond its borders. 

The sudden resurgence of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has raised some questions in Pakistan: Are the Afghan Taliban doing enough to de-fang the TTP? Will the Afghan Taliban honour their commitment of not allowing their land to be used for destabilizing another country? Why are Afghan Taliban so non-committal about TTP?

The answers to these questions can be found in a realistic understanding of the environment in Afghanistan and Pakistan and also in historical context.

Traditionally, there have been two major issues causing strains between Pakistan and Afghanistan: the Durand Line and Pashtun ethnicity. In fact, in 1947, Afghanistan was the only country that didn’t readily recognize Pakistan in the United Nations, based on its concerns over the Durand Line. While fighting the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, the common Pashtun factor became a source of unity and brotherhood to fight the Soviets, and post 9/11, the Afghan Taliban were forced out by the international coalition, retreating South and West towards the Pak-Afghan border and even beyond into the Pakistani tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan.

The truth is, today’s heavily militarized TTP needs geography to establish its writ, but its own reality has changed as well.

Muhammad Zeeshan

Even though Pakistan chose to join the US-led international coalition against terrorism, Pashtun brotherhood between Pakistani tribal Pathans and Afghan refugees continued to prevail. The last two decades saw both the Durand Line and Pashtun cards at play by Kabul.

Fast forward to August 15, 2021. The Afghan Taliban took control of Kabul and the US and its allies executed a safe exit from Afghanistan. Many in Pakistan celebrated this as a victory, but some raised concerns about the rise of extremist ideologies across the border and the possibility of a resultant resurgence of similar militancy in Pakistan through the return of the TTP. 

At least for state institutions and Pakistan’s military, the resurgence of TTP in Pakistan has not come as a surprise, but an expected outcome. It was also expected in Islamabad and Rawalpindi that the Afghan Taliban would help de-fang the TTP to the extent where it would cease to be a potent threat to Pakistan’s security. Though an indefinite ceasefire was announced in June last year following talks with the TTP which the Afghan Taliban encouraged, it ended quickly. In November, the group had ordered its militants to resume strikes against Pakistani military and LEAs after their demands of establishing Islamic law in KP and the return of newly merged districts of KP to their previous status of federally administered tribal areas (FATA) were rejected by the Pakistani government.

In 2005, taking a cue from Afghan Taliban, Pakistani tribal Pashtun primarily from erstwhile FATA and Swat regions of KP demanded the imposition of Afghan-style Shariah in both areas. Subsequently, they took up arms against the state and a decade long military campaign ensued against TTP. Pakistan was struck hard by the lethality and spread of terrorism even in its major cities. The TTP scourge was further complicated by a mix of other terrorist outfits emerging out of the conflict in Afghanistan and the Middle East. From this came about about a complex but interesting set of relationships. 

For one, the Pakistani state did not want to confront Afghan Taliban and similarly, they avoided conflicts with the Pakistani military who were aggressively operating against TTP and its affiliates in the FATA region.

In Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban with their affiliates were fighting the Afghan National Army and the international coalition. 

The TTP fighting against the Pakistani state was getting support from Afghan government and intelligence agencies but the same TTP was also facilitating Afghan Taliban on the Pakistani side of the border, hosting their families.

The International Coalition was operating in Afghanistan in support of the Afghan government and against Afghan Taliban and other militant outfits. This force had declared war against terrorism, which also included TTP operating in Pakistan.

Evidence also existed of Indian support to groups operating against Pakistan including TTP.

The truth is, today’s heavily militarized TTP need geography to establish writ, but their own reality has changed as well. The TTP do not enjoy public support as they did 20 years ago. They also cannot expect to control any geography in the presence of the Pakistan Army in their traditional regions. Ultimately, they will settle for a negotiated political settlement. For the state of Pakistan, the best way forward lies in a mix of carrot and stick strategies while keeping Afghan Taliban on board for lasting peace.

— Brig (R) Muhammad Zeeshan served in the Pakistan armed forces for over three decades, and is an expert on subjects related to national security and military strategy. 

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view