EUROPE ASIA FOUNDATION - INSIGHT
Emerging Pak-Afghan Ties Amidst TTP Terror
As the country faces an acute economic crisis, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has increased its terror attacks against the country with a vow to take control of its tribal areas and give them autonomy.
In July 2021, TTP Chief Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud said in reply to an interviewer from American TV Channel, CNN, that his organisation’s war was only against Pakistan’s Security institutions and to gain control over its tribal areas to give them autonomy. Claiming this was the only target of the TTP, he denied it was also fighting in Afghanistan along with the Afghan Taliban or was cooperating with Al-Qaeda.
It is true that there are no signs of Afghan Taliban reining in the TTP from its terrorist attacks in Pakistan. The Taliban angrily deny Pakistani allegations that the TTP was using Afghanistan as a spring board. The Afghan Taliban says that the safe havens of the TTP were within Pakistan. They continue to warn Pakistan not to drag Afghanistan into its domestic problems.
But Pakistan seems to believe its narrative will have teeth only by involving an external entity. Thus, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto persists in blaming Afghanistan globally for terrorism in Pakistan. Pakistan had even alleged that the conspiracy, that killed more than a hundred worshippers in a Peshawar mosque on January 30, was hatched in Afghanistan. Most of the dead were policemen.
It is usually said after the Taliban returned in Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, the TTP has emboldened its offensive against Pakistan. This may not be very correct. The TTP came into being in 2007 with a vow to hit Pakistan’s security forces. At that time the Afghan Taliban were Pakistan’s honoured guests. The TTP was the cumulative result of hatred of the Pakistani Army.
Nek Mohammad raised the banner of revolt against the Pakistani Army. His speeches and interviews as reported by Urdu BBC show the extent of contempt against the Pakistani Army. TTP Chief Mullah Fazlullah, who was killed in a drone attack by Americans in Afghanistan in 2018, was a ferocious and unforgiving hater of the Pakistani Army. He had escaped to caves in the Afghan mountains on the border with Pakistan in 2014 when Pakistan’s Zarb-e-Azb tried to clear parts of the tribal areas of terrorists. The TTP reacted by killing 145 people in The Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. Most of the victims were children of soldiers. It is noteworthy that the TTP chose December 16, when 43 years ago Pakistani Army surrendered to the Indian Army and Mukti Bahini.
Mufti Nur Wali Mehsud, who succeeded Fazlullah, had told CNN, about a month before the Taliban captured Kabul, that the TTP had two objectives: (1) war against the Pak Army and (2) snatch Pakistani tribal areas. It is well- known that the TTP is against the Pakistani security forces. But Mehsud’s reference to tribal areas is very important. The implication being that the TTP is against the Durand Line that cut off these tribal areas from Afghanistan. This means the TTP is one with the Afghan Taliban on the emotive opposition to the Durand Line. The Afghan Taliban, equipped with sophisticated American weapons, they left behind, have repeatedly warned Pakistan - over the last less than two years - not to take Afghanistan for granted.
While so far there is no evidence of the Taliban encouraging the TTP to conduct terrorist activities in Pakistan, it is very likely they want to keep the TTP close to them and that is why they do not frown upon TTP’s terrorist activities.
As Pakistan’s guests for 20 years, the Taliban have learnt not to trust Pakistan. That is why the Taliban will like to treat the TTP as assets in Pakistan in the hour of need. Like Pakistan, the Taliban government may also want to have an external enemy to face its domestic problems. Pakistan, which is hated countrywide, fills the bill here. By its attack on Karachi Police Office on February 17, the TTP has adequately demonstrated that it can attack anywhere in Pakistan.
For those governments which provide significant amounts of development aid funding to Pakistan, the increase in such terrorist attacks should be a concern. There is an onus on these countries to ensure that such funds are properly spent, do not get into the wrong hands and are fully accounted for.