While the Afghan Peace Process seems to be repulsed, keeping in view the rising hostilities and debates like an American base for ‘over the horizon operations’ overshadowing any rejoinder for a peaceful settlement, any observer would find it difficult to read between the lines and project what lies ahead for Afghanistan and its neighbours.
The situation pertaining to Afghanistan and Pakistan’s frontier with the former becomes perplexing; in the context of developments taking place at a rapid pace. From the US withdrawal to the Taliban gaining increasing grounds, the resurgence of terrorist groups like Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) under new leadership, the emergence of ISKP which has carried out lethal attacks against civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the South Asian region, this quagmire further becomes entangled.
Not only that, the exchange of fiery statements coming from high officials serves as a blame game rather than a conducive attempt for peace that complicates things even further.
Pakistan will not Support the Takeover of Kabul by Force, Pakistani FM
More recently, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has clarified Pakistan’s standing on issues about Afghan Peace, the US bases as well as a viewpoint on the Afghan Taliban. In his latest interview to an Afghan media network, FM Qureshi stated:
“The government in Afghanistan and the Taliban have been fighting for decades now. They are both Afghans”. He further added, “You have to reconcile, and you have to find a way forward.”
The Minister particularly remarked that the TTP had pushed Pakistan into a wave of militancy that killed thousands. He stated that the TTP has been using Afghan soil to carry out terrorist attacks in Pakistan and they have spoken to the Afghan authorities and have asked them to monitor its activities.
On the other hand, Afghan political juntas have often blamed Pakistan for harbouring the leadership of the Afghan Taliban and providing support. Due to this, the Kabul Government could not stabilize the security situation on its soil.
In the same interview, FM Qureshi denied the presence of the Afghan Taliban’s Shura in Quetta and Peshawar. Recently, the Taliban’s official spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid in his statement also asserted that “We don’t have a special relationship with Pakistan that has been closely identified. Our leadership is in our own hands. Our leadership is in Afghanistan, not in Quetta.”
FM Qureshi also declared that Pakistan had no issues with the Indo-Afghan ties. However, it would be an issue if India uses Afghan soil against Pakistan.
The Taliban Across Frontier
The question of who is the Afghan Taliban and the TTP has intrigued security analysts. As both have the term ‘Taliban’ in their designations.
The TTP differs in structure from the Afghan Taliban in that it lacks a central command and is a much looser coalition of various militant groups, united by hostility towards the central government in Islamabad.
The TTP became a splinter of militant groups in wake of the Pakistani state’s operations against militants in the tribal regions. The genesis of both groups has been different. The Afghan Taliban emerged in the late 90s Afghanistan, under the Civil War. Whereas, the TTP originated in the years following the US invasion of Afghanistan; when pro-Taliban Pakistani Arab, Chechen, and Central Asian militants fled into Pakistan’s tribal areas
While both groups may declare their aims under religious interpretations, they differ significantly in their conduct, operations, and goals. While the TTP has majorly targeted Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban have been alleged to have closer ties with Pakistan and its military.
In the late 1990s, a Civil War took place in Afghanistan. During this, the Taliban Government came to power. They had the recognition of the Pakistani state along with Saudi Arabian and UAE. It is also said that Mullah Omar, Jalaluddin Haqqani and Siraj Haqqani, have spent time in Pakistan’s frontier areas that border with Afghanistan.
Afghan Taliban Condemning the TTP Narrative
Afghan Taliban on many occasion have condemned the attacks that the TTP has carried out in Pakistan. The TTP inclines more towards the ‘Global Jihadist narrative’ while the Afghan Taliban have come forth as a political group, which has engaged diplomatically with foreign actors as well as other ethnic and religious groups. The Haqqani network that has been claimed to be under the influence of Pakistan tried to mediate between Taliban factions and the Pakistani state. However, its attempts have been futile as peace commitments never substantiated beyond a few weeks.
While there may be a congruence in the pattern of attacks that both groups have carried out; such as attacking civilians and military installations, the Afghan Taliban have carried out attacks against state targets majorly.
According to certain accusations, Pakistan is influencing the Afghan Taliban. This is despite the fact that Pakistan thoroughly colluded with the US forces in drone strikes against TTP targets in South Waziristan and other areas of its Tribal Belt.
The Afghan Taliban is fighting to restore its Islamic Emirate to power in Afghanistan. The TTP has no prospect of overthrowing the Pakistani state. However, they fight an ideological war, intent on maintaining their status as holy warriors. Doing so by waging war against those it has designated enemies of faith; as per their own radical interpretations.
Renewed TTP Surge
In recent month, the TTP has witnessed a resurgence under its new Leader, Noor Wali Mehsud., who was blacklisted by United Nations under UNSC resolution 1267. Wali Mehsud belongs to the same clan as that of Baitullah and Hakeem Ullah Mehsud. The regrouping of disjointed factions which suffered a leadership crisis under Fazlullah, a non-tribal and non-Mehsud leader is an alarming situation in the region. The resurgent TTP has changed its modus operandi on strategic lines. It has come out in support of leftist groups like; the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) and the recently banned Barelvi outfit, Tehrik e Labbaik. It is appalling as the TTP carried out attacks based on sectarian and religious motivations. However, it is now forming congruence with ideologically discrete groups only due to similarity in anti-Pakistan motives.
TTP in Afghanistan
A UN report stated that nearly 6000 Pakistani Taliban were in Afghanistan, most belonging to the outlawed TTP responsible for attacking Pakistani military and civilian targets. The report added that the TTP’s members have even joined the IS affiliate, which has its headquarters in eastern Afghanistan. This is also the region where Pakistan alleges that Afghan Intelligence or the National Directorate of Security (NDS) is sponsoring these outfits against the state.
Insurgent or Terrorist
An insurgency is a struggle between a non-ruling group and the ruling authorities. The non-ruling group consciously uses political resources (e.g., organizational expertise, propaganda, and demonstrations). They also use violence to destroy, reformulate, or sustain the basis of legitimacy of one or more aspects of politics.
In 2012, the Obama’s Government declared the Afghan Taliban and its allies as insurgents. This was because the Obama administration looked forward to holding direct talks with the group. The preliminary contacts provided incentives to the Taliban to negotiate the release of their leaders from Guantanamo prison. It is interesting to see that the Taliban opened a political office in Doha, Qatar. This was a sort of de facto legitimizing of the insurgent faction. This marks a stark severance of the previous US stance; due to which it did not engage with the Afghan Taliban under its ‘ no negotiations with terrorist’ policy.
On the other hand, the TTP is a designated terrorist outfit banned by the US state department just as Daesh and its AL Qaeda allies.
The TTP in recent years has grown closer ties with other designated terror outfits; like the ISKP and other banned radical outfits such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Some analysts even argue that the Islamic State (IS) fighters who started the ISIS-K branch of ISIS were TTP militants who had long settled in Afghanistan.
There is a significant demarcation in both groups; where the Afghan Taliban has ensured to keep its end of the commitment signed in the Doha Accord. That is, it will not allow Al-Qaeda or other terror groups to use Afghan soil for foreign terror. Growing linkages of the TTP with banned terror outfits and the pattern of its subversive activities; seems nowhere closer to the Afghan Taliban’s diplomatic measures. The domestic and the international setting adopted this. The TTP ties with ISKP, which considers the Afghan Taliban as a foe, supports the thesis of ‘one name-separate entities’.
Lastly, the notion of good Taliban and bad Taliban that is often used to lambast Pakistan’s ties with the Afghan Taliban; is more of a smokescreen that downplays empiricism. The US during the Obama era harpooned the policy of engagement with the Afghan Taliban. Following suit, both Trump and the current Biden Government have continued this. This engagement provided the rationale of legitimacy to the Afghan Taliban; as an insurgent, with political relevancy, not a terrorist group. Furthermore, Doha accords solidified the Afghan Taliban’s position as a stakeholder of the Afghan question, not just a militant faction.