Police stand guard during the Ashoura procession in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, July 21, 2023. - Sputnik India

Should Pakistan Rethink Afghan Policy in Wake of Terror Rise?

Syed Fakhar KaKaKhel, an editor at The Khorasan Diary Urdu
The incidents of terrorism in Pakistan have affected Pak-Afghan relations to a great extent in recent times.
While Pakistan is making efforts for lasting peace in Afghanistan along with all the neighboring countries, including China, Iran and Central Asian states, Pakistani militants and their leadership in Afghanistan are constantly targeting the country for terrorist attacks.
Due to this, there is a lot of tension in the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Afghan Taliban* had promised the world through the Doha Accord that their land would not be used for terrorist violence against any country. However, they have been unable to stop the threat of terrorism on both sides of their border with Pakistan. Despite the Afghan Taliban denying it, the head of global terror outfit al-Qaeda**, Al Zawahiri, was reportedly killed in a drone strike when the Afghan Taliban took over.

A recent corps commanders’ conference reiterated that the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)**, as well as some other terrorist groups were a threat to national security.
According to the Inter-Services Public Relations, the 258th Corps Commanders’ Conference was held under the chairmanship of Gen Syed Asim Munir.

“There was a detailed briefing on the internal security situation. Operational preparations and training aspects of the army were also discussed at the conference. The sanctuaries and liberty of action available to the terrorists of the proscribed TTP and other groups of that ilk in a neighboring country and availability of the latest weapons to the terrorists were noted as major reasons impacting [the] security of Pakistan,” a statement issued by the ISPR said.

The statement came after several deadly attacks in Pakistan, especially in Balochistan. Gen. Syed Asim Munir, on the occasion of his visit to Quetta after the attacks, expressed serious concern about the TTP safe havens and terrorist activities in Afghanistan. He said that the involvement of Afghan citizens in terrorist activities in Pakistan was another major concern that needed to be addressed at the earliest.
“Such terrorist attacks are intolerable. The security forces will effectively retaliate against such attacks.”
Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif had earlier said that Afghanistan was not fulfilling its obligations as a brotherly neighbor; nor was it abiding by the Doha Agreement. He also said that Afghan land was being used against Pakistan. He said the situation could not be tolerated any longer.
US State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller, too, commented on the issue. Asked about it at a briefing, he said: “We have made very clear that we believe the Taliban have the responsibility to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a haven for launching terrorist attacks.“

Afghan Taliban spokesperson Zabihaullah Mujahid referred to the Doha Agreement in an interview: “We have signed the Doha Agreement with America, but Pakistan is our brother and a neighbouring country, and we do care about this aspect. The Afghan Taliban would never want Afghanistan’s soil to be used against a neighbouring brother country.”

At the same time, he also said that it was Pakistan’s job to stop terrorist activities in Pakistan.
What Hampers Taliban's Fight Against Terrorism?
Afghanistan's neighboring countries are not overcoming the challenges facing the interim government in Afghanistan.
The first challenge is the Afghan Taliban fighters themselves. With the jihadist mindset over the past twenty years and the guerilla warfare fighters have become accustomed to, it is difficult, if not impossible, to make them professional policemen or state soldiers.
The second challenge is their beliefs. The beliefs under which they fought against America and its allies in the name of Islam are embedded in these fighters and it is very difficult to soften them. There is a difference of opinion on this within the Taliban leadership itself. The same problem is faced by the Taliban leadership concerning the education of girls, in which some are calling the education of girls apart from religion as Western civilization, while others are calling it the need of the hour.

As long as the Afghan Taliban were fighting against the US coalition forces and the government established by them, organizations such as al-Qaeda, Jundullah**, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, and Central Asian militant movements such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement**, Jamaat Ansarullah**, and Katiba Imam Bukhari** were fighting alongside them.

But now the American coalition forces have left Afghanistan, while the Afghan Taliban have come into power. In such a situation, they have maintained good diplomatic relations with China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Pakistan, but as these organizations supported the Afghan Taliban and thousands of their fighters died in this war, how they forget their sacrifices immediately after coming to power. It may not be possible for the majority of the Afghan Taliban fighters who fought alongside them on the same front against a common enemy.
Above all, there is a fear that if the Afghan Taliban do so at the behest of a neighboring country, the veteran fighters of these organizations may join Daesh (ISIS)** or the Northern Resistance. Front (NRF). The presence of the Afghan Taliban in recent attacks inside Pakistan is proof of this.
Pakistani authorities have said they have much evidence suggesting that Afghan soil as well as Afghan citizens are being used in attacks against Pakistan.
In a recent attack on Pakistani security installations in the Zhob district of Balochistan, three of the attackers came from the Afghan provinces of Paktia, Paktika and Maidan Wardak. According to sources, Hujjatullah Rehan alias Rehan Janan, one of the suicide attackers killed in Zhob district was from Maidan Wardak province of Afghanistan. A public condolence gathering was held in his native area, for which invitation cards were printed and hundreds of Taliban participated in the event. This is one of many incidents where Afghan citizens were used in planning and carrying out attacks against Pakistan.
After the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, there were concerns about the resurgence of the TTP. One of the biggest concerns was that some of their fighters would turn to Islamic State in the Khorasan Province (ISKP)** if not engaged and disarmed. After the withdrawal of the US-led coalition forces, the main goal of such groups had been attained. However, a large IS platform still existed. The Afghan Taliban were aware of this threat and have tried to eliminate it. This has led to ISKP fighters taking refuge with regional organizations such as the TTP. This has been a matter of grave concern for both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Gen. Syed Asim Munir has also visited Iran. The security situation in the region was discussed during the visit. Like Pakistan, Iran also has some reservations about the Afghan Taliban. If the Afghan Taliban fail to remove the concerns of their neighboring countries, they may face difficulties in the use of land routes.
As far as Pakistan is concerned, the presence of Pakistani fighters in several Afghan provinces, especially Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Nangarhar, Kunar, Helmand and Kandahar has been reported.
Many Pakistani businessmen have received extortion calls from Afghan numbers. A founding leader of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Abdul Wali alias Omar Khalid Khorasani, has been killed in Afghanistan. Under the supervision of the Afghan Taliban, negotiations were held between the TTP leadership and Pakistani authorities. The core leadership of TTP, including its chief Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, is based in Afghanistan. These people live in Afghanistan with their families.

It seems difficult for the Afghan Taliban to pressure the Pakistani Taliban. TTP men used to shelter some of the Afghan Taliban commanders and fighters when they faced military operations and drone attacks. In protecting the Afghan Taliban and fighting alongside them against the US coalition forces and the Afghan government, they lost hundreds of their fighters during security operations carried out in Pakistan. It is difficult for the Taliban leaders therefore to take immediate action against the TTP or force them to leave Afghanistan.

Another important thing is the influence of the Haqqani network. Many of the Haqqani network fighters come from North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Kurram, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Tank and Dera Ismail Khan, and the Afghan provinces like Paktika, Khost, Paktia, Nangarhar, Laghman and Kabul. If they take action against TTP fighters, their support would weaken. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the interior minister, is therefore in a very difficult position. That is why Kabul wishes Islamabad to resolve this issue through dialogue.
This is the reason why the Afghan Taliban government's relations with Pakistan are strained. But all neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, including Pakistan, must also understand the constraints of the Afghan Taliban.
It has been suggested that Pakistan should hit TTP bases in its bordering areas. However, this risks increasing the hardship for the local populations as well as mounting pressure on the Afghan Taliban leadership to retaliate.

Meanwhile, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, China and Central Asian states all face the menace of Daesh. Threats for Afghanistan and its neighbours are on the rise due to a new form of terrorism with a global agenda.

Although the recent statements have increased the bitterness between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban, the Afghan Taliban are well aware of the importance of Pakistan. Even now, millions of Afghan refugees are living in Pakistan. Afghanistan is largely dependent on Pakistan for medicine and healthcare. The Afghan Taliban is a predominantly Pashtun movement and more Pashtuns live in Pakistan than in Afghanistan.
Compared to Pakistan, the border crossing between Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan is very difficult for Afghans. In contrast, the Afghans on the Pakistani borders and in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province do not face so many difficulties. Most of the Afghan Taliban themselves have received religious education in Pakistan and their families have settled here. That is why the Afghan Taliban will not go to the extent of cutting ties with Pakistan. Efforts have been made to remove this recent bitterness and both countries are moving forward understanding the ground realities.
* under UN sanctions for terrorism
** terror groups banned in Russia
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