Taliban’s Rise is Changing the Security Landscape in Pakistan

Author Name: Maham S. Gillani      15 Nov 2021    

After two long decades of war, indecision and frustration exacting a heavy toll on American taxpayers’ pockets and upending the lives of millions of Afghan women and men, the United States forces left Afghanistan just as hastily as when they had first arrived. The Taliban were able to take over Kabul without firing a bullet, the Ghani regime fell like a house of cards, and Western forces evacuated their people and ‘pets’ on large military aircraft. While the US and its NATO allies had the luxury of wrapping up their military operations, suspending financial assistance, and imposing terms and conditions for granting further aid, Afghanistan’s neighbours were not as lucky.

Pakistan, by virtue of sharing a long border with Afghanistan, is once again in the eye of the storm. As the global jostling for power accelerates in Kabul, Islamabad is caught in the Afghan quagmire because of the tyranny of geography. It simply cannot wish away its western neighbour. Hence, Pakistan is left with little choice but to engage with the new dispensation in Kabul to preclude a spill over of terrorism, extremism, drugs, and refugees. Notwithstanding, Islamabad’s ardent efforts to contain the fallout of the US withdrawal, some of its worst nightmares are already manifesting.

Pakistan’s security situation, especially in the bordering areas of North and South Waziristan, has visibly deteriorated since the Taliban took over in Kabul on 15 August 2021. There have been 15 targeted killings in South Waziristan and 8 targeted attacks in North Waziristan in the same period. Several civilians and military personnel lost their lives because of these attacks. Additionally, there are reports that militants have resumed the practice of extortion in these areas, killing those who do not or cannot meet their demands. There has also been an uptick in suicide attacks in Pakistan.

Apart from these, four paramilitary soldiers were killed and 21 others wounded in a suicide attack in Quetta, Balochistan only recently. The attack was claimed by the notorious Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)—an outlawed militant organization that has carried out 1800 attacks on Pakistani state and civilian targets in the last decade. The Taliban’s rise in Afghanistan has once again galvanized the TTP and given them ideological strength and confidence.

TTP has hailed the Taliban’s ‘blessed victory’ in Afghanistan. The TTP Deputy Chief, Faqir Muhammad, in his first speech after being released from a prison in Afghanistan reaffirmed his commitment to jihad in Pakistan. He also said that it would be possible to enforce Shariah in Pakistan now that it is being implemented in Afghanistan. The TTP propagates that it played a vital role in ousting Western forces from Afghanistan, and now, after victory against great powers, Pakistan is a relatively softer target.

TTP and the Taliban are ideological bedfellows. One has never disavowed, renounced, or confronted the other. ‘Despite growing distrust, TTP and the Taliban carry on with relations mainly as before,’ a UN Security Council report in June confirmed that the two maintain close ties. The Taliban released hundreds of militants, inter alia, senior TTP leadership from jails in Afghanistan as it swept across the country. These developments have exacerbated Pakistan’s security concerns. In this context, Mushahid Hussain Syed, Chairman of Pakistan’s Senate Defense Committee said, ‘Pakistan had laid down ‘red lines’ to the Taliban to warn it against harbouring the TTP. There is caution because of the Taliban track record and their affinity with the sworn foes of Pakistan like the TTP.’

According to some media reports, Pakistan has asked the Taliban to compel the TTP to lay down their arms in exchange for amnesty. The President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi, has also insinuated that ‘the government could consider making a declaration of amnesty [for the people] who forgo their TTP ideology and want to come with the intention of adhering to the Pakistani Constitution.’ However, the Taliban responded that they only exercise limited leverage over the TTP and would not hand over TTP-affiliated militants. However, they could compel them to hold peace talks with Pakistan. The Taliban are reluctant to pressurize TTP fearing that some of the latter’s commanders could join IS-K (Islamic State-Khorasan)—a terrorist group responsible for a spate of recent suicide attacks stoking instability in Afghanistan. Pakistan is sitting in a terrible storm that can erupt any time if it does not tread with caution. It cannot depend on the new Afghan dispensation for clamping down on militant outfits hostile to her such as the TTP or preclude the permeation of militants and terrorists from its western border.

Pakistan must act prudently to harness the opportunities arising out of peace and stability in Afghanistan and prevent the country from descending into chaos again.

Maham S Gillani is a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS), Islamabad. This article was first published in Pak Observer. She can be reached at cass.thinkers@gmail.com.

Image Source: Who are the Taliban? (18 August) BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-11451718

 

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