Pakistan needs to acknowledge the actual militant dynamics of the Pak-Afghan region

Pakistan needs to acknowledge the actual militant dynamics of the Pak-Afghan region

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Pakistan’s special envoy for Afghanistan paid a visit to Kabul last week, where he held a meeting with Taliban’s foreign minister. The two sides agreed to work jointly to remove the irritants that plague relations between the two countries. But no ‘real’ progress was made in addressing the core issue of border management. Pakistan has to acknowledge that the current dynamics of the militant situation is that groups other than the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are also operating. 

Further there has to be an institutionalized liaison between Kabul and Islamabad on the existence of any safe havens for groups that can launch raids into Pakistani territory. The issue of how such elements succeed in crossing over despite a fenced border and heavy security presence must also be addressed. A fundamental issue of border management arises. Formulation of policy and execution becomes more daunting when those in charge of policy lack the credentials to formulate and pursue a policy with clarity and consistency.

Relations became strained as recent militant attacks on government installations and forces have spiked in Pakistan. In a strongly worded message, the army high command conveyed a tough message to the Afghan Taliban, threatening to take retaliatory action against the ‘safe havens’ of TTP supposedly operating across the border. Taliban reacted, and asserted no such safe havens exist and that any incursions would be met with swift resistance.

TTP has no agenda that it can sell to the people of the tribal areas. It has no hierarchy, no acknowledged leadership, no strategy and no defined goals.

- Rustam Shah

At a time when the two countries should be focusing on trade, issues of connectivity, accessing energy reserves of Central Asia and jointly promoting the cause of peace and stability in the region, attention is diverted too often to handling terror attacks and cross-border raids, much to the grief and frustration of the local population.

Some pertinent questions must be addressed regarding how such militant attacks are being executed. The long border between the countries has been fenced completely, with a large number of security personnel deployed round-the-clock. The security guards have the latest equipment and weapons to ensure no one dares to cross the border at any point. Then, how is it that this tight border management system fails to such a degree so often, that militants armed with lethal weapons cross into Pakistan, carry out attacks and re-enter their ‘safe havens’ across the border?

The fact is, TTP is not the only militant outfit operating in Afghanistan. Groups like Daesh and others operate all along the border and deep inside Afghanistan. After the Taliban take over, Daesh has been fighting for survival and will strike any target it can manage. They are operating in Pakistani territory as well. 

It is also important to shed some light on Afghan Taliban-TTP relations because many in Pakistan are under the impression that TTP is just an affiliate of the Afghan Taliban.

Afghan Taliban were a group of volunteers who united under the grand objective of fighting foreign forces in their country in 1994. TTP on the other hand emerged as a reaction to General Pervez Musharraf’s policy of aligning Pakistan completely with the US, following the Afghan war in 2001. TTP appeared on the scene to ‘fight’ for the cause of tribesmen who felt betrayed and disillusioned because their autonomy was under fire.

It’s true some TTP activists may have fought alongside the Afghan Taliban, but that does not mean the two entities have embraced each other or that the TTP have become an integral part of Afghan Taliban. As a matter of fact, the TTP has no agenda that it can sell to the people of the tribal areas. It has no hierarchy, no acknowledged leadership, no strategy and no defined goals. Its remaining few activists are spread all over the border areas-- on both sides of the border. The Pakistani government made some efforts to strike a deal with the remnants of TTP but there was no clear objective or strategy and negotiations were abandoned. This was a grave error. Giving up the option of talks made the group more desperate. Most of the attacks in Pakistan now are carried out by elements entrenched in Pakistani territory.

Afghan Taliban would never acquiesce in a situation where their territory is used for raids into another country. Such a group, if left unchecked, could pose a potential threat to the Taliban government itself. Because Taliban do not have an organized law enforcement infrastructure, remnants of TTP can from time to time, encourage attacks inside Pakistan. But these attacks will not necessarily be launched by crossing the border that is heavily fenced, but by their agents inside Pakistani territory.

The problem can be addressed by constant engagement with Afghan Taliban, by increased surveillance of the border, and by inducing many of the hard core TTP fighters to break ranks and surrender. 

- Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.

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