Pakistan-Afghanistan conundrum


The relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, despite having a common religion, several ethnic groups, and thousands of miles of border, has been very complex. In August 2021, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan left a vacuum and further aggravated the situation between the two countries. When the Taliban took over Kabul in 2021, Islamabad hoped this would help Pakistan to secure its western border. But unfortunately, over the past years, the resurfacing of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), based in Afghanistan, has raised security concerns for Islamabad.
After the collapse of its ceasefire in 2022, TTP has become more audacious in its terror activities. Despite several efforts and warnings, the Taliban did not support rooting out TTP. Cross-border terrorism significantly increased and targeted Pakistan’s security forces. One of the deadliest attacks was on a mosque in Peshawar’s police lines in January 2023. The causalities rate of security personnel hit aneight-year high.
In July, the Chief of Army Staff warned of “an effective response” by the country’s security forces if attacks continued from Afghanistan. Several rounds of talks and multiple interactions with Taliban officials last year remained futile. Rather Taliban suggested Pakistan revive negotiations with TTP. Pakistan rejected this suggestion altogether and tried to mount pressure on the Taliban amidst non-cooperation. The decision to deport tens of thousands of undocumented Afghans from the country and the substantial change in regulations governing transit trade by the imposition of a ban on many imports are significant attempts in this regard. However, the recent visit of the Afghan delegation to Pakistan marked an effort to reengage on issues of priority for both sides. But, the core issue at the heart of tensions between the two countries is still unresolved.
The concern for Pakistan is what if the Taliban showed unwillingness to act against the TTP as it could further rupture the relationship between the two. Already, the defense ministerhas alluded to attacking terrorist hideouts on Afghan soil as a pretext for the country’s operation of ‘Azm-e-Istehkam’ against TTP. As a response to the defense minister’s statement, the Afghan administration warned of severe consequences. This is such a dangerous gamble that it would further escalate the already deteriorating diplomatic and security relations among countries.
Meanwhile, TTP has also launched its retaliatory response to Pakistan’s ‘Azm-e-Istehkam’, naming Azm-e-Shariat. In all these, it is the state of Pakistan and its people that are on the receiving end. It has already been disclosed by several experts that TTP holds complete control in various regions of Pakistan, specifically in the province of KPK. Therefore, whatever, the state aims to do, must be done with sheer vigilance. The country cannot afford to turn unstable concerning security, because it has already been suffering from economic, social, and political instability. On the flip side, security experts and the journalist community are expressing akin emotions regarding the government’s paradoxical move to eliminate terrorism that solely focuses on the province of KPK.
The operation is being termed as a discriminatory act of further subjugating the already oppressed KPK province. If this assertion is anything to go by, it lies hidden in plain sight what experts are trying to portray and it can be considered sheer injustice to the people of KPK. The fact must not be shunned that prior to TTP’s offensive from 2008 to around 2016, and its reestablishment in 2018, the outfit has emboldened greatly ever since the Taliban established their government in Afghanistan.
Once again, it is obvious that TTP is operating with the backing of the Taliban government in Afghanistan because nothing substantial has been done by the Afghan Taliban government. Back when Pakistan considered Afghanistan to be its strategic depth, can be seen the same for TTP if an offensive is to be launched against them because now, they have a place where they can revert and reorganize to initiate a guerrilla warfare tactic of attacking and running. Pakistan should consider all these factors before going on any mission that sabotages its already dwindling state of affairs.