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Pakistan’s deteriorating security situation threatens ties with Afghan Taliban; 24 percent increase in militant attacks in April

“Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban are teetering on the brink of a major crisis,” Afandyar Mir, a senior expert at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), a Washington-based US government think tank, noted in a recent commentary. “After taking over the country, the Taliban gave the TTP de-facto political asylum. The TTP has used its improved political status in Afghanistan to step-up cross-border attacks and is now regularly sending fighters into Pakistan,” Mir said

May 05, 2022
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Pakistan’s deteriorating security situation threatens ties with Afghan Taliban (Photo: Dawn)

Pakistan’s security environment is deteriorating rapidly as the country witnessed a 24 percent increase in the number of militant attacks in comparison to March, according to data released by the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies. A total of 55 people, including 35 security personnel, were also killed in these attacks.

Since the Afghan Taliban's return to power, Pakistan has witnessed growing attacks by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistan Taliban, and Baloch insurgent groups. Most attacks - 16 out of 34 - took place in the erstwhile FATA region, now a part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. 

Although the number of attacks, 35, grew in April in comparison to March, 26, the number of casualties came down to 55 in April, against 115 in March. The growing trend of suicide attacks by Baloch insurgent groups, mainly the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), across major cities, is compounding its security challenge.

Furthermore, the TTP’s growing attacks and their alleged safe haven in Afghanistan are apparently now threatening Pakistan’s ties with the Afghan Taliban, as the latter remains non-committal to reining in the TTP. Last month, Pakistan’s alleged airstrikes inside Afghanistan, targeting TTP leaders, indicated its growing frustration with the Afghan Taliban.

“Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban are teetering on the brink of a major crisis,” Afandyar Mir, a senior expert at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), a Washington-based US government think tank, noted in a recent commentary. “After taking over the country, the Taliban gave the TTP de-facto political asylum. The TTP has used its improved political status in Afghanistan to step-up cross-border attacks and is now regularly sending fighters into Pakistan,” Mir said.

Pakistan’s reported airstrikes came days after a TTP attack killed over seven of its security personnel near the border with Afghanistan. However, Mir opined that with the strike Islamabad may have “overplayed” its hand as it turned out “counter-productive", generating anti-Pakistan sentiments with reports of killings of around 20 civilians.

Although the TTP, which owes allegiance to the Afghan Taliban leader, enjoys considerable sympathy among the Afghan Taliban cadre, the strike has only increased their sympathy towards their ideological ally.

Despite Pakistan’s strongest condemnation since August last year of the usage of Afghan soil against them, there has been no indication of any climbdown from the Afghan Taliban, suggesting any visible measures from them to control the TTP activities. In fact, the Afghan Taliban went on to publicly deny the existence of the TTP in their country. 

Several rounds of secret peace talks, mediated by the Haqqani faction of the Afghan Taliban, failed to broker any peace deal between the TTP and the Pakistan government. Even in the future, there is little hope for any success on this front, given the wide-ranging concessions demanded by the TTP, a group Pakistan holds responsible for the killings of over ten thousand Pakistanis.

Mir, however, noted, “Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s new coalition government, under pressure from recently ousted prime minister Imran Khan’s unrelenting political challenge, may be tempted to give talks another chance to keep a lid on violence and focus on the economy.”

On the domestic front, the government may also struggle to justify its diplomatic support for the international recognition of the Afghan Taliban, as the latter continues to shelter the TTP in Afghanistan.

With the growing TTP violence and their safe haven next door, Islamabad’s logic of their decade-long support to the Afghan Taliban in their insurgency—arguing that the group’s return to power in Afghanistan would help mitigate the TTP and Baloch threats, which they blamed on the “Indian influence” and the former Afghan government—also stands exposed in front of Pakistanis. 

With the exit of the US and India from Afghanistan, Pakistan at present has no one other than the Afghan Taliban to blame for the TTP mess.

(SAM)

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