“Pakistan Might Be About To Launch A ‘Special Military Operation’ In Afghanistan” out of self-defense in response to uncontrollable TTP (“Pakistani Taliban”) terrorist threats emanating from that country. Even if the dangerous Pakistani-Taliban security dilemma doesn’t reach the breaking point, however, it still reveals a lot of uncomfortable truths about their ties. The present piece will raise awareness about what these are in order to imbue the reader with a more solid understanding of their relations.
- The Taliban Were Never Truly Pakistani Puppets In The First Place
The Afghan Taliban (simply referred to as “the Taliban”) were never truly the Pakistani puppets that many observers took them for granted as being since they ultimately refused to cut ties with the TTP even after returning to power in Kabul partially with Islamabad’s support.
- Pakistani-Taliban Ties Since 2001 Were A Marriage Of Convenience
Pakistan and the Taliban used one another in pursuit of their own interests: the first used that group to achieve “strategic depth” in Afghanistan vis-à-vis India and the US, while the second used Pakistan as their unofficial state patron for regaining power after the American invasion.
- Taliban Leaders Suspected That Pakistan Wanted To Dominate Afghanistan
The influence that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies exerted over many Taliban across the past two decades in pursuit of its abovementioned interests led to that group’s leaders suspecting that Islamabad wanted to dominate Afghanistan, the scenario of which went against their fervent nationalist beliefs.
- The TTP Was Regarded By The Taliban As A Credible Deterrence Tool
In order to preemptively avert that scenario, the Taliban partnered with the TTP in the hopes that this terrorist group’s asymmetrical warfare capabilities could deter Pakistan from trying to dominate Afghanistan in the aftermath of what they rightly predicted would be the West’s inevitable withdrawal.
- The Taliban Lost Control Of The Increasingly Independent TTP
Similar to how the Taliban were never truly Pakistani puppets in the first place, neither was the TTP ever the Taliban’s, and this became abundantly obvious after Afghanistan’s de facto leaders failed to successfully mediate peace talks between its ideological allies and Islamabad over the past 18 months.
- Pakistan’s Post-Modern Coup Changed Its Dynamics With The Taliban
Pakistani-Taliban tensions mostly remained manageable up until the US-orchestrated post-modern coup in the first-mentioned, which led to its imported government informally reversing former Prime Minister Khan’s policy of keeping America at arm’s length, thus exacerbating the Taliban’s suspicions of Pakistan.
- The TTP Became A Prized Taliban Asset After Pakistan’s Regime Change
Despite whatever misgivings the Taliban might have had about the TTP after the group flexed its independence like was previously explained, it came to regard their partnership as a prized asset after Pakistan’s regime change raised the risk of the US military returning to the region via their new proxy.
- August’s American Drone Strike In Kabul Was The Final Straw For The Taliban
The US drone strike in Kabul in early August against the late Al Qaeda chief was widely considered to have been passively facilitated by Pakistan’s post-modern coup regime letting their traditional ally use its airspace, which confirmed the Taliban’s worst fears about those two collaborating once again.
- The TTP Became The Taliban’s Anti-Pakistani Hybrid Warriors After August
The Taliban shortly thereafter instrumentalized their TTP partners as anti-Pakistani Hybrid Warriors out of misguided desperation to deter any further strengthening of the rapidly improving Pakistani-US military partnership, thus explaining the group’s spree of terrorist attacks over the past five months.
- The Taliban’s TTP Card Backfired By Forcing Pakistan To Defend Itself
Terrorism is terrorism no matter the justification or strategic intent behind it, and Pakistan has every right to defend itself from such Afghan-emanating threats, which means that the Taliban’s TTP card backfired by further exacerbating tensions after the earlier US strike caused them to surge this summer.
- A Self-Sustaining Cycle Of Mutual Destabilization Now Afflicts Their Relations
Pakistani-Taliban tensions became unmanageable after last April’s regime change in the first and the second responding to Islamabad’s subsequently restored military alliance with Washington by tacitly weaponizing the TTP against it, with their security dilemma now rapidly spiraling out of control.
- The Taliban & Pakistan Are Influenced By The TTP & The US Respectively
Apart from domestic political reasons related to “saving face” before their populations, the Taliban and Pakistan are both struggling to step back from the brink of conflict partially due to the influence that the TTP and the US exert over them respectively due to their roles in catalyzing this latest crisis.
- Neither Side Can Comply With The Other’s Demands Without Losing Face
The Taliban can’t comply with Pakistan’s demand to abandon its partnership with the increasingly independent TTP lest it is accused of selling out its ideological allies, while Pakistan can’t comply with the Taliban’s implied demand to break with the US since it now needs American aid.
- The TTP & The US Are Exploiting The Taliban & Pakistan Respectively
The two preceding points prove that the power dynamics between Pakistan-US and Taliban-TTP are skewed towards the second-mentioned player in each pair since the US exploits Pakistan to regain its declining regional influence while the TTP exploits the Taliban to wage war on Pakistan.
- Pakistan & The Taliban Are Caught In A Trap Of Their Own Making
Pakistan and the Taliban are equally to blame for catching themselves in a trap of their own making by relying on third parties to gain leverage over the other, which resulted in the US and the TTP coming to exert disproportionate influence over their partners and thereafter perpetuating their bilateral tensions.
- Regional State-Level Actors Have Zero Influence Over This Security Dilemma
The jointly TTP- and US-exacerbated Pakistani-Taliban security dilemma is beyond the influence of regional state-level actors like Russia, China, and Iran, with it also being the case that Islamabad’s prior claims of Indian influence over the TTP are irrelevant to the latest dynamics.
- A Pakistani-Taliban War Would Likely Derail Regional Integration Plans
The outbreak of a conventional Pakistani-Taliban conflict of any duration and intensity would likely ruin their relations for years and thus prevent Afghanistan from fulfilling its geostrategic destiny as the bridge between Central and South Asia, thus derailing the broader region’s ambitious integration plans.
- Only The TPP & The US Would Gain From A Pakistani-Taliban War
The scenario of a conventional Pakistani-Taliban conflict only benefits the TPP and the US, the first of which could indefinitely rely on the Taliban as their patrons for waging their own war against Pakistan while the second could indefinitely exploit Pakistan as its regional proxy on an anti-terrorist pretext.
- It’s Pakistan’s Prerogative Whether Or Not A War With The Taliban Erupts
Pakistan can avoid war with the Taliban by bolstering its border security to prevent TTP infiltration in parallel with rooting out that group’s sleeper cells instead of dramatically resorting to major cross-border strikes or more, thus decisively shifting ties to the trajectory of a “cold war” instead of a hot one.
- Pakistan’s Post-Modern Coup Regime Might Still Go To War For Ulterior Reasons
Considering the above insight about how Pakistan can avoid war with the Taliban while still defending itself from the TTP, any decision to still go to war would likely be for ulterior reasons related to rallying the population around its unpopular regime and complying with US demands in exchange for aid.
As the reader now knows, Pakistani-Taliban ties are a lot more complicated than most observers assume, especially in light of their latest tensions. They lost control over their security dilemma after their partners who they recruited as leverage over the other exploited them in pursuit of their own self-interested ends. It’s still not too late to avoid a Pakistani-Taliban war, but the prerogative rests solely with the first-mentioned post-modern coup regime, which has ulterior reasons for launching one.
Andrew Korybko is a Moscow-based American political analyst, radio host, and regular contributor to several online outlets. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia. The article has been republished and the views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.