Pakistan's headaches multiplying: Afghan spillover, Chinese pressure compounding economic woes

Pakistan seems headed to greater instability with Taliban cadres joining ISIS-K against China for genocide against Muslims in Xinjiang, writes Lt Gen P. C. Katoch (retd.) for South Asia Monitor

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Pakistan CPEC

Pakistan’s truce with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that came into effect on November 9 is on thin ice. The truce brokered by Sirajuddin Haqqani, Minister of Interior in the Taliban government of Afghanistan, appears to be developing cracks already despite the Pakistan-TTP talks continuing in Doha. 

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi says Islamabad would be open to giving pardon to TTP members if they promise to shun terrorism and submit to the country’s Constitution. The TTP wants its 120 odd cadres and leaders released from Pakistani prisons. A TTP commander told Reuters: "We aren't too hopeful of the immediate results of the talks but our leaders have demanded the release of prisoners if they (Pakistan) are sincere in meaningful negotiations." 

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesperson has termed the demands of TTP "ridiculous". The TTP responded: “We want to make it clear that we are sincere and committed to the negotiations, but given the actions of the Pakistani establishment, the army and their subordinates, it is ridiculous to hope for peace in the country.” 

The TTP threat 

The raison d'etre of the TTP always has been the overthrow of the Pakistani government and to establish rule of Sharia. The imposition of Sharia is part of Taliban ideology, and the Taliban and TTP are closely linked internally. This is the reason the Taliban released over 2,000 TTP cadres and leaders from prisons in Afghanistan after taking control of Kabul. Mansoor Ahmad Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, says the interim Afghan Taliban government has assured Pakistan of action against TTP and its affiliates. But this is unlikely to happen on the ground. 

If Pakistan does not release the 100-120 TTP prisoners, the TTP may resume hostilities after the one-month truce is over. Noor Wali Mehsud, Emir of TTP, recently told CNN that his group aimed to make the tribal districts of Pakistan “independent”. Ground reports indicate that many areas in Waziristan have fallen to the TTP and the group’s influence is growing in other areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) also. 

The ISIS-K challenge 

China’s genocide in Xinjiang against the Uyghur and other Muslims is finally catching up even though Pakistan never squeaked against Beijing’s atrocities. There is growing discontent amidst the Taliban on this count. According to Iraqi media, some Taliban cadres and low-level leaders have joined the ISIS-K to extract revenge from the Chinese regime and free Muslims from Beijing’s tyranny. The ISIS-K is growing into a much stronger force and is also consolidating around Kabul. They will pose a challenge to the Taliban as well as Pakistan. 

China has been asking the Taliban to act against Uyghur and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in Afghanistan and hand over their leaders. But the Taliban is unlikely to do so beyond promising China, especially now that China’s genocide in Xinjiang is causing the Taliban to splinter. 

Gwadar is witnessing sit-in protests by thousands of locals against Pakistan for unwarranted checks and check posts, severe shortages of food, water and electricity, and severely denting their livelihoods by permitting Chinese trawlers to undertake fishing along the Makran coast. Actions against the Baloch population is continuing unabated – abductions, torture, killing, rapes and the like.  

The Beijing factor

Recently, a video emerged of a school in Khuzdar district of Balochistan where Pakistanis were teaching young girls the type of dancing to sell them into prostitution. This eventually stopped after protesters vandalized the school and the principal was forced to apologize. 

Pakistan perhaps wanted to follow the Chinese example in Xinjiang where there have been reports over the years of Uyghur girls being abducted for prostitution or marriage and married Uyghur women forced to sleep with Han Chinese. If that was not enough, Pakistan has no compunction about destroying mosques, as done by China. 

TTP supporters have posted a series of videos in which they have shown Pakistani aircraft and helicopters destroying mosques, houses and killing civilians in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, especially in the areas of Mohmand Agency, Doizai, Anbar, Sheikh Baba, Chamarkand, Mahai and Shamsha. One such video can be seen at: http://twitter.com/PatilSushmit/status/1463554417706168320?t=DCHFAC8z3WlugzB0qkF2Gw&s=19

Pakistan’s headaches appear to be multiplying in conjunction with its economy spiraling down. If the ISIS-K and other terror groups target the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Beijing will come down heavily on Pakistan. 

(The author is an Indian Army veteran. The views expressed are personal.)