It has turned out to be a pyrrhic victory for Pakistan in Afghanistan. The United States is gone but the Taliban government has failed to curb the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Cadre of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in training.
The establishment of the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistan Taliban, in 2007 and the growth of relationships with the Afghan Taliban marked a turning point in Pakistan's domestic politics, especially in terms of its delicate relationship with the Taliban. Its strikes and apparent resurrection since the beginning of 2021 indicate that the organisation is strengthening its position in the unstable FATA and Balochistan, putting strain on the Taliban government's ties with Pakistan. With the Taliban in charge, Pakistan's strategic advantage is diminishing since it has failed to compel the Taliban to stop the TTP from operating in its territory and to resolve the Durand line conflict once and for all. The problems have remained unresolved and implacable since the Taliban reclaimed control in 2021. The likelihood of a worsening split shows Pakistan's lack of capacity to achieve strategic depth.
Pakistan's influence in Afghanistan
Pakistan has been an outspoken supporter of the Taliban's legitimacy and international recognition, including aid and humanitarian help. For many years, Pakistan fought to influence Afghan domestic politics, but the American presence limited its outreach to giving external assistance to the Taliban insurgency. The fall of the west-backed government strengthened Pakistan's grip over Afghan internal affairs, enabling it to choose which Taliban commanders hold administrative posts. However, there were certain geopolitical concerns at work as well, including as the desire to limit India's expanding influence, especially its alleged role in the disturbances in Balochistan, the resolution of the long-running Durand line issue, and the intermittent Pashtun separatism.
Porous borders and Pashtun Integration
The Pakistani security establishment had hoped that the Taliban would resolve knotty problems such as the Durand Dispute, enabling it to build fence that would limit insurgent movement and suppress nationalistic aspirations of Pashtun on both sides of the border. However, the fence effort from the Pakistani side was blocked by Afghan border guards, triggering a furious press statement from the Taliban administration emphasising the government's unyielding attitude and sensitivity to the border. The Durand line controversy predates Pakistan's formation as a state, having been drawn by the British Indian government in 1893 to create a buffer zone to deter Russian invasions as part of the commonly referred to great game. The bifurcation has never been accepted as de facto border by any Kabul administrations which have continuously called for reintegration of Pashtun villages and merger with Afghanistan.
Given Pakistan's failure to integrate Pashtuns, the Pashtun resistance has been the largest source of worry since independence. Pashtuns retain tribal identification and cherish their traditional practises, indicating that state ideology and identity have not transcended ethnic identity. The integration is a natural process which evolves through processes of economic development, social justice and due recognition including accommodation of cultural pluralism in democratic progress. The democratic deficient and imprudent leadership have failed in providing a sense of participation, prospects for headway and development to ethno-linguistic groups like Pashtuns. The absence of such binding forces has caused ethnic nationalism and linguistic polarisations including a sense of separatism making the region fertile ground for extremism.
Resurgence of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan
The resumption of TTP assaults in 2021 increased concerns about Pakistan's domestic security and its capacity to reach durable cease-fire agreements with armed organisations, including clearing its territory from cross-border conflict. Previously, Pakistani strategic circles assumed that eliminating TTP with Taliban collaboration would be simple, but Taliban has yet to conclusively roll-out its operation against Pakistan Taliban in Afghan territory. The Taliban has merely served as a go-between for TTP and Pakistani security, resulting in short-term ceasefires rather than total caseation of its terrorist activities. The removal of TTP is critical for Pakistan, considering the country's international reputation as an Unsafe country and addressing underlying causes of extremism. It has internationally received criticism for financing extremist networks like as the Haqqani network, which is infamous for worldwide radicalism. Not long ago, Pakistan achieved internal stability with a decrease in terrorist incidents 3923 in 2013 to 319 in 2020 the trend is once again showing an increase in the current year with 613 episodes resulting in innocent killings. Pakistan had been successful in the extension of administrative laws and the improvement of security circumstances in FATA, Khyber Pakhtunwa, and Baluchistan, allowing it to be removed off the FAFT grey list. Pakistan very well understands the resurgent TTP would be more lethal in its operations, exemplified by attacks on Chinese nationals. It can become major repulsive factor for foreign direct investment desperately required to keep the trade and economy floating.
Pak-Taliban since 2007 has clear objectives of freeing the areas of Khyber Pakhtunwa and federally administered tribal region and establishing Islamic government in Islamabad. In its operations TTP aligned with al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban in the struggle against coalition forces in Afghanistan. It is estimated that TTP along with Al-Qaeda is responsible for more than 80,000 deaths and inflicted more than $150 billion economic spending on counter terrorism measures.
Pakistani security and intelligence have continuously launched operations and effectively curtailed TTP capability by 2016, but the group's resilience is exacerbated by certain impediments such as access to Afghan territory via the porous Durand line, Taliban support, sympathy, and operationality in FATA and Pakhtunwa, and its ability to form links with terrorist outfits such as al-Qaeda affiliates and the Islamic State. It is commonly assumed that the Afghan Taliban's political ascendency in the aftermath of the American withdrawal has enhanced its willingness to redirect resources in Pakistan. There are reports that various splinter armed groups are submitting their allegiances to TTP resulting in groups reappearance in major districts of Khyber Pakhtunwa.
In its early attempts this year Pakistan adopted negotiations as an approach to resolve the differences to streamline radical elements and urged Taliban to act decisively against TTP functionaries in Afghanistan including disallowing them to use Afghanistan as base to launch new operations across border. the negotiations resulted in a short-term truce in June. However, the groups operation has not halted and security situation kept on deteriorating along with militaries operations in local and well as Afghan territory. Notwithstanding initial warrants Taliban has not played its part in addressing domestic emergency of Pakistan. the attack on Pakistan mission in Kabul on December 2, following termination of cease fire on 28th November has further aggravated Pakistan to put pressure on Taliban government to swing its operation against the perpetrators. However, the action so far has been slower from Taliban despite Pakistan’s frequent reiterations. Taliban and TTP adheres to a similar ideology and the group has supported Taliban in recruiting tribal and madrassa educated students. Therefore, the complacency is quite indicative of the fact that Taliban would not want to turn the group against its rule inviting instability and war in its territory. Taliban is also using the groups existence strategically to pressure on Pakistan while shifting focus away from Durand dispute. It is further believed that Taliban does not want to open second front besides Islamic state of Khurasan with has been responsible for suicide attacks in Kabul and is accelerating its activities to establish itself territorially the region.
The India factor
Interestingly, India's restart of infrastructure projects and full diplomatic efforts may be another source of friction in Taliban-Pakistan relations. According to a news announcement issued by the Taliban administration, India intends to restart construction on 20 halted projects. The Taliban is keen to escape its isolation, and the restoration of diplomatic ties with India would give much-needed recognition, economic support, and investment. In addition to praising India's humanitarian help and much-needed medications and vaccinations, the Taliban demands active participation in boosting internal security. Improving relations with India indicate the Taliban's intention to deviate from Pakistan's mandates, address internal problems, notably economic requirements, and move toward formalising bilateral relations and ending isolation.
(The author is research scholar and can be reached at email@example.com)