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Monday, June 3, 2024

The TTP and Afghan Taliban

For around twenty years, Pakistan battled to see a sympathetic government in Kabul. It has long been believed that the use of Afghan land against Pakistan was due to the pro-Indian and pro-American governments of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani. In August 2021, Pakistan finally found a friendly government in Afghanistan in the shape of the Afghan Taliban- or so it thought. The recent incidents prove that the TTP is not only receiving support from Afghanistan but also has established sanctuaries deep inside Afghanistan.

The fact that Pakistan had long supported the Afghan Taliban and maintained that the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Afghan Taliban are two wholly different organizations with no connection to one another is arguably one of the most regrettable aspects of the current developments. In simple terms, Pakistan believed that the Afghan Taliban was a legitimate movement conducting jihad to free itself from Western invaders, as opposed to the TTP, which it believed was supported by foreign powers to wreak havoc in Pakistan.

Now, it appears that both groups have hostile intentions towards Pakistan and share the same objective of establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state. It should be recalled that the TTP declared Mullah Omar to be its supreme leader at the time of its inception in 2007. The TTP had also sworn loyalty to Hibatullah Akhundzada, who is currently the supreme leader of both the TTP and the Afghan Taliban.

Due to the sensitivity of the situation and the importance of Pakistan to the Taliban, particularly after they gained control of Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban has never publicly backed the TTP. However, the Afghan Taliban have never publicly renounced the TTP. Therefore, Pakistan was wrong to assume that the TTP and the Afghan Taliban are independent organisations and to hope that one will aid in the annihilation of the other.

Read more: Afghanistan and Pakistan-TTP negotiations

The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021. For a while, Pakistanis rejoiced and everything ran smoothly, but now it appears that relations between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban are strained. Currently, the two neighbors are engaged in a verbal spat. At first, it was anticipated that Pakistan’s negotiations with the TTP, which has been responsible for bombings across Pakistan since 2009, would be aided by the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan.

TTP and Pakistan signed a cease-fire in June 2022, and it was later revealed that the Afghan Taliban were serving as their mediators. When Abdul Wali, also known as Omar Khalid Khorasani, a key TTP commander, was murdered in a roadside bombing in eastern Afghanistan in August 2022, peace came to a halt. The TTP pointed the finger at Pakistan, but Pakistan did not press the Afghan Taliban for an explanation of why the commander of a group hostile to Pakistan was residing there. The TTP unexpectedly returned to the Swat Valley for reasons that are plainly unknown. Pakistan knew what was coming, but the government seemed more preoccupied with political issues than state security.

Read more: TTP leader Omar Khalid Khorasani killed in Afghanistan

The TTP ended the ceasefire in November 2022 and gave its fighters orders to launch attacks across Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban contend that Pakistan frequently put the Taliban at risk in order to advance its own interests with the West, notably the US. In addition, the Taliban harbors a bitter animosity against Pakistan for allowing the US to use its airspace for attacks against the Taliban. The Taliban was allegedly created and is still being employed as a vehicle of strategic depth by Pakistan, according to the West. Consequently, both the Taliban and the West have a trust deficit with Pakistan.

The TTP has targeted Pakistan in a number of deadly attacks since the ceasefire ended. In addition to the cross-border attacks, the Pakistani embassy in Kabul was also attacked, and there have recently been many border disputes between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan is under attack from all sides but the Afghan Taliban, the very group whose victory was celebrated in Pakistan, fails to address Islamabad’s security concerns.

Pakistan needs zero-tolerance approach to terrorism

Since government ministers frequently change their remarks on Afghanistan, it is clear that the Pakistani government has failed to develop a policy in this regard. At the western border, Pakistan must establish a clear plan that forbids both the presence and the inflow of militants from Afghanistan. Pakistan ought to have understood that a non-state actor only needs an agreement as a mechanism for a tenuous form of existence, particularly in the absence of any incentives. As a result, engaging the TTP in negotiations for a cease-fire was never going to be practical because Pakistan would only draw condemnation from an already dubious international community.

The only sensible course of action for Pakistan is a zero-tolerance approach to terrorism. Pakistan should also make it clear that it is not Afghanistan in light of the Afghan Taliban’s seizure of Kabul, which may have encouraged the TTP. Furthermore, Pakistan needs to quit sponsoring the Afghan Taliban since it has backfired one too many times. The ruling Afghan Taliban is conscious that it needs to engage and cooperate in order to survive because the Islamic Emirate is a new and weak state.

Read more: Pakistan reserves right for cross-border action against TTP: Bilawal

Both countries must realise that using force will only result in more bloodshed and no remedies. In order to stop terrorist organizations from using the area as a base of operations, Pakistan must also declare that, in stark contrast to the Taliban, it has a much more stable administrative structure and a powerful military in place.