Pakistan fighting terror at two fronts against banned outfit TTP and Taliban

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is believed to be sheltering in the Afghan province of Nangarhar, was the target of airstrikes last week, according to an Afghan media story that Pakistan strenuously denies. A 2015 movie clip has reappeared on social media and become popular. It depicts a captured Pakistan Army soldier being shot by the TTP and hanged from a tree. Both make references to the actual situation, which has gotten worse both inside Pakistan and along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. 

The US-backed government in Afghanistan failed and the US withdrew, leaving a geopolitical void, in the seven years that divide the two episodes. The terrorism it fought for 20 years is still active today. Afghan Taliban, the new rulers, whose return to power was facilitated by Pakistan in 2021 have turned against their long-time benefactors. The volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan region is again the global hub of terrorism.

The US is willing to assist Pakistan in fighting terror. But Pakistani analysts, going by past records, emphasise that it ought to be Pakistan’s own fight for which it must take hard decisions, with clear intent. Reports from Pakistan indicate the possibility of a military operation, which has got Kabul to raise the diplomatic ante and mock and threaten Islamabad. Taking full advantage, the TTP is defying the Islamabad authority, with or without help from Kabul’s new rulers.

It’s a double whammy for Pakistan because it now has a new “enemy” on its western border in addition to a brand-new nightmare. In Pakistan, there were as many as 15 cross-border attacks in 2022. Bilateral relations are hostile since Kabul’s regimes, including those of the Taliban, never acknowledge the international border. 

While it’s impossible to know the exact state of affairs in Taliban-run Afghanistan given the country’s seclusion, a survey by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), which was published on January 7, 2023, confirms what is already known: 419 Pakistanis were killed and 734 injured in 262 terror attacks carried out by the TTP and other islamist militant groups active on the Af-Pak border during the past year. It appears uncertain whether “the Taliban will fulfil their promises on foreign militant groups such as Al-Qaeda, Islamic State Movement of Uzbekistan, ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement) or TIP (Turkistan Islamic Party), and TTP,” the report says.

Pakistanis are sore that facing threats to its own rule, Kabul has only acted against ISKP and not against the TTP and elements like Hafiz Gul Bahadur group, all religiously inspired. Analysts are asking why and how religion and militancy go together in the entire region of which Pakistan is the prime example.

As the Afghan rulers stay defiant, more and more Pakistanis, including the political opposition are ridiculing the end of the long-sought “strategic depth” from a ‘friendly’ Afghanistan. At long last, the charade of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban that Pakistan successfully sold to the world, especially the United States, has got unravelled. The world has suffered it all these years and fears more of the same, and worse. 

For Raoof Hasan, a former special advisor to Prime Minister Imran Khan (The News, January 6, 2023) the new formulation of  TTP/TTA, clubs the Afghan Taliban with their Pakistani ideological brothers. Operations to tame the TTP were “only partly successful because the bulk of their operatives escaped across the border where they have been working since in filial bondage with the Afghan Taliban.”

Pakistan’s military ‘establishment’, also called the “deep state”, fully exposed now, is finding it difficult to learn that radicalization as a state policy or a proxy weapon is a double-edged sword bound to operate both ways.  Blaming the government for the manner of holding talks with the TTP, the PIPS report notes that the Afghan Taliban’s taking power in Kabul, and the Pakistani state’s persistent ambition to engage in peace talks with the TTP had “encouraged the group to regroup and escalate terrorist violence in the country.”

Rhetoric still dominates the discourse. As the government vowed to crack down on terrorism without discrimination, the reaction from the TTP has been a familiar one: a threat to attack two of the leading political parties of Pakistan for fighting ‘America’s war’.

The TTP is invincible, according to Pervez Hoodbhoy, who wrote in Dawn on January 7, 2023, since the rulers are conspiring with them. “Our soldiers need to understand why they are fighting and for what if Pakistan is to eventually defeat the TTP and those who support it in Kabul. An army with ideological disarray cannot be expected to fight and prevail. A strong motivation cannot exist without a well stated reason. If not, TTP will win and Pakistan would lose.  He uses a contrast to emphasise the necessity, clarity of aim, and resolve to act against the TTP. “According to official estimates, 70,000 people died as a result of terrorism between 2002 and 2014, compared to an estimated 18,000 Pakistanis perished in the four Pakistan-Indian conflicts.”

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