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Wednesday, February 1, 2023
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Pakistan, Afghan Taliban & TTP: What went wrong?

Tahir Khan, an Expert on Afghan Affairs, joined Dr. Moeed Pirzada, Editor of Global Village Space, in the publication’s series called “Dialogues” through its YouTube Channel, GVS News, to talk about the new unexpected challenges growing up for Pakistan in the wake of TTP resurgence and violent attacks across parts of KP and reported collaboration with Baluch insurgents.

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This shocked Pakistanis, because ever since the Afghan Taliban returned to Afghanistan in 2021, Pakistan believed that its rocky ties with Kabul would improve. Prior to the US exit from Afghanistan, Pakistan had on multiple occasions vouched for the Afghan Taliban to the international community and in return, the Afghan Taliban demonstrated that they have changed. For instance, they assisted in the evacuation of foreign officials from Afghanistan despite their belonging to the West which has waged a long war against the Taliban.

At first, it certainly seemed that things had changed for the better, however, in recent days tensions have again run high between Afghanistan and Pakistan with the terror group Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP) at the center stage. The Afghan Taliban had repeatedly gave assurances, in Doha process, that Afghanistan’s soil would not be used for any terror activities against Pakistan. However, post-Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, Pakistan is witnessing a resurgence of TTP terror activities. Pakistani military allowed a rentry of TTP fighters back into Pakistan on the assurance of Afghan Taliban that they will help mediate a lasting peace. But it never took off to a promising start, TTP ended its ceasefire with Pakistan in November 2022 and ordered its militants to launch attacks across the country. The brazen terror activities, especially in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, have raised alarm across the country. Meanwhile, the Taliban interim government in Afghanistan and the Pakistani government continue to lock horns over the matter.

Read more: US offers help to Pakistan in dealing with TTP threat & India

Amidst this backdrop, Global Village Space CEO and Editor Dr Moeed Pirzada engaged in an in-depth discussion with Tahir Khan on the Afghan Taliban & TTP nexus, where Pakistan went wrong, media’s negative role and much more. Tahir Khan is currently the Bureau Chief of Hum News, in Islamabad, but has previously served as a Correspondent, covering Afghanistan, with BBC Pashto. He is one of the most renowned experts on Afghanistan in Islamabad, Pakistan. Since 9/11, Tahir Khan has extensively and repeatedly travelled across Afghanistan and met leadership from all sides. After the Taliban take-over in August 2021, he has travelled to Afghanistan at least six times and met almost everyone in the current top Taliban leadership. Tahir Khan and Moeed Pirzada discussion has been uploaded on YouTube in two parts and has received a significant response online.

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In the opening of this discussion with GVS, Tahir Khan explains that it was pure delusion on Pakistan’s part to believe that the Afghan Taliban would launch a crackdown against the TTP. Taliban leaders do not trust Pakistan because they believe that Pakistan has always taken actions against the Afghan Taliban for its selfish gains. Furthermore, Pakistan has underestimated the Afghan Taliban’s ties with TTP which date back to before TTP was even formed in 2007. When the Taliban were forced out of Afghanistan, it was the Pakistani tribal belt that provided sanctuary to them and Pakistani Taliban grew out of that experience. Later Pakistani Taliban also fought with Afghan Taliban against the US and NATO allies. Additionally, Taliban founder Mullah Omer played a key role in solidifying the ties between TTP and the Afghan Taliban that every TTP leader, starting from founder Baitullah Mehsud to the incumbent supreme leader Noor Wali Mehsud, has sworn allegiance to Mullah Omer. As a result, the Afghan Taliban consider the TTP their own and have shown tolerance for their terror activities.

By breaking down the Afghan Taliban and TTP nexus, Tahir Khan also established that TTP and the Afghan Taliban have never been two separate entities as has been consistently claimed by the Pakistani media. To clarify, the media narrative – which is often endorsed by government authorities – paints TTP as the sole villain while presenting the Afghan Taliban as “Mujahid”. What the media fails to reveal is that both TTP and Afghan Taliban are essentially the same – like conjoined twins. On this note, Tahir Khan expressed his disappointment with the journalists.

“I myself am a journalist who has never spoken against anyone and it pains me to say this but the journalist fraternity needs to take out 10-15 minutes to verify the purported narrative so that they can learn the facts,” Tahir Khan said.

“It pains me to say this but the narrative that was given about NDS…but I’ve never heard anyone talk about the people who were imprisoned by successive Afghan governments until 2000. Where did they go? Have Afghan Taliban recaptured them? It is not like that and false statements are given and I understand because, unfortunately, media is not free in Pakistan,” Tahir Khan further said.

Read more: Government to reevaluate strategy after TTP ends ceasefire

While responding to Dr. Pirzada’s query on media claims, especially on the origins of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) which is widely believed to be created by the West in coalition with India, Tahir Khan lamented that any conspiracy claim on a group is not thoroughly researched. There are no discussions on why more and more people begin to join a certain organization. No one bothers to understand the public grievances. Tahir Khan further agreed with Dr. Pirzada that even when leaders try to highlight the issues, they are either ignored by the federal government or faced with death threats, as was recently the case of PTI leader Murad Saeed, because unfortunately in Pakistan, national security has also become politicized.

Interestingly, dispelling popular fears, Tahir Khan believes that TTP would not be used for political gains but he noted that TTP directly threatening to target PML-N and PPP leaders is alarming because TTP had earlier claimed responsibility for the attack on former Prime Minister Shaheed Benazir Bhutto.

On the resettlement of TTP in Pakistan, Tahir Khan explained that TTP’s return was always on the cards during the negotiations; however, there was a difference of opinion on TTP members carrying weapons. TTP proposed that they would keep weapons because they feared that given their past atrocities the people from the tribal settlements may seek revenge upon them and target them. But this concession on part of Pakistani military was a miscalculation if TTP were allowed weapons. Pertinent to mention, last year, pictures went viral on social media of TTP militants in tribal areas carrying weapons. Tahir Khan argues that it is unclear whether the TTP members from Afghanistan brought the weapons with them or they were supplied by the militants already residing in the tribal area.

Read more: Pakistan offended by Afghan Taliban’s statements

Tahir Khan argued that TTP has now once again become a major security challenge for Pakistan. It’s not like the past where they could be targeted in Waziristan. With TTP members having the Taliban’s protection in Afghanistan, it will be difficult for Pakistan to launch effective attacks in another country. Basing off on Tahir Khan’s arguments, Dr Moeed asked how to address the issue because it seems that Pakistan was more secure with US troops stationed in Afghanistan and the current situation appears to be a huge miscalculation. To this, Tahir Khan said that in Pakistan there is no political ownership. There is also a huge communication gap between the institutions. On this note, Tahir Khan revealed that a high level meeting at the Foreign Ministry took place recently and was attended by top diplomats including Chargé d’Affaires (CdA) to Afghanistan Ubaidur Rehman Nizamani who was targeted in the Pakistan embassy attack. During the meeting, the Foreign Secretary revealed that the Security Establishment had still not updated them on any policy towards Afghanistan and TTP. They even had no idea whether to send Mr Nizamani back to Afghanistan or not.

Another tragedy that Tahir Khan pointed out was the changing statements of government leaders which have created a confusing atmosphere. Political leaders, as was the case of Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, would give one statement then would later change it. To clarify, Rana Sanaullah, in response to the terror attacks, had warned that Pakistan would take cross border action however, he later retracted his statement. In contrast, the Afghan Taliban reacted strongly, for instance the Chaman attack. While Tahir Khan agrees that engagement is necessary but warns that negotiations will be complicated. In the end, TTP is solely a problem for Pakistan, not even Afghanistan because Afghanistan will never turn against TTP for Pakistan. And this we need to understand fully.

Editor’s Note: Naureen Salim, GVS Research Analyst, watched the interview discussions between Tahir Khan and Dr. Moeed Pirzada and contributed to this article. These videos, under the title, “Pakistan, Afghan Taliban & TTP: What Went Wrong? can be accessed at: