Conflict and instability in Pakistan have once again impacted the politico-economic stability of the country. Pakistan’s internal security has once again been plagued by the resurgence of militancy as the country faced at least 376 terror attacks in 2022, in which 533 people were killed and 832 were injured. 2022 has seen the highest number of militant attacks in Pakistan during the last five years as the terror incidents increased by 28 percent compared with 2021. Owing to the trend, January 2023 has been the deadliest month since July 2018 as the militants carried out 44 terrorist attacks killing 134 people while at least 254 people were injured. Attack on Police lines in Peshawar alone killed more than 100 people; leading our political and military establishment to explore options for dealing with this current wave of militancy.
The Fall of the Ghani regime and the Afghan Taliban’s control over Kabul was rejoiced by many in August 2021; however, tides have turned as relations between the two neighboring states have experienced an all-time low since then. Afghan Taliban seemed to be certain of the fact that Pakistan will recognize their government; however, contrary to their confidence, successive political governments of Pakistan refrained to recognize the Taliban administration.
Hence, controversy on the issue of border management, the erection of fencing on different places alongside the borderline, disagreements over foreign and economic policy, the rise in terrorism in Pakistan, and Afghanistan’s unhindered support for TTP are a few key issues that have strained the nature of the relationship.
Though Afghan Taliban had agreed in their February 2020 agreement with the United States; that they will not allow their soil to be used against any other state, nevertheless, two decades of conflict in the country has its spill effects and unfortunately, Pakistan is once again bearing the burden of losing precious lives to terrorism in addition to the absence of peace leading to political and socioeconomic uncertainty in the country.
Currently, the internal security of Pakistan and different factions of TTP attacking the security forces of Pakistan as well as the general public has evolved as a major issue of concern for political and security establishment. The prospect of handling TTP through dialogue and negotiations was tried by the Imran Khan government, yet it miserably failed. Extortion has always been TTP’s major source of funding and during the last year, there have been several reported cases of influential people of KP receiving threats for money.
Afghan Taliban are believed to be supporting TTP by providing them with safe havens as well as material and moral support to create instability in Pakistan. The recent visit to Kabul by Pakistan’s high-level delegation, which included Defense Minister Khawaja Asif and DG ISI Lt. General Nadeem Anjum, centered on counterterrorism with Afghanistan’s Acting Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Minister of Defense Mullah Yaqoob speaks volumes about Pakistan’s concerns regarding Afghan soil being used against Pakistan. Though these discussions between the leadership of the two sides are expected to pacify issues of the conflict; yet, Pakistan cannot expect the Afghan government would immediately stop supporting the TTP, particularly when there is an ideological affinity between the two groups as well. It has also been unofficially reported that Afghan Taliban have agreed to disarm and relocate TTP cadres from the bordering areas to other cities; however, the cost of this rehabilitation will have to be borne by Pakistan. Though supporting the Afghan Taliban at this time appears problematic in light of our economic obligations and international perception of backing the Taliban regime, dealing with the problem of TTP is essential, and Pakistan may need to keep its viable choices open.
After losing over 80,000 lives in the war on terror, Pakistan had hardly regained its long-overdue peace in the country. Economic activity was gradually uplifting and the country was slowly paving the path of progress and economic development. TTP’s resurgence and its widescale attacks in the country have once again brought the lead into thinking to launch another grand military operation to fight militancy. However, political instability over the last nine months has brought the country to the verge of economic default. Inflation is on the rise and international financial institutions are hardly willing to help the PML (N) leadership in a time of crisis. Hence, financing another major military option currently may not be an option, especially when IMF has asked the government to reduce its spending.
TTP’s resurgence and its widescale attacks in the country have once again brought the lead into thinking to launch another grand military operation to fight militancy.
Since military operation against TTP seems to be out of the question immediately, Pakistan must redeem its terms of engagement with the Afghan Taliban and convince them to halt their support for TTP. Increasing economic interdependence between the two states and facilitating Afghan citizens in Pakistan seems to be the only forward for regaining the trust of Afghan leadership. Though terrorism necessitates enhanced security; coping with the existing challenges is only possible through intelligence sharing and collaborating with the Afghan authorities on defense and security.
However, if the Afghan Taliban continue supporting TTP and terrorism continues to rise; Pakistan will have no choice left, but to manage its economic obligations and initiate a wide-scale operation against TTP in particular and other militant groups in general. Afghanistan has to be given a deep sense of realization that neighbors cannot be changed.
The writer is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in International Relations at the National University of Modern Languages (NUML), Islamabad.