Pakistan’s Afghan dilemma

Terrorist attacks have been on the rise since the Afghan Taliban’s takeover while Pakistan drove out terrorist outfits from former FATA, the runaway groups found refuge on the other side of the border. For years Pakistan kept pushing the US-backed dispensation in Kabul to eliminate such elements. Islamabad’s demand was not met since authorities here blamed that anti-Pakistan groups operated out of Afghanistan with the support of hostile secret agencies including the Afghan’s NDS.

But when the Afghan Taliban returned to power in August 2021, there were jubilations in power circles here. The jubilation was attributed to the fact that the Afghan Taliban, unlike the Ghani or Karzai governments, would take care of the country’s security and strategic concerns. The main issue was the TTP and its affiliates. Pakistan had more than the hope that if the Afghan Taliban regime does not eliminate the TTP terrorists by force, it would at least neutralise them.

But contrary to these high hopes, the number of terrorist attacks have been on the rise since the Afghan Taliban’s takeover. Between August 2011 and August 2022, there was 51 per cent increase in terrorist attacks. This despite the fact that the TTP announced a ceasefire, called off only recently.

There were reports that a number of TTP members returned to Pakistan raising the spectre of another bloody phase.

The Afghan Taliban regime has not only failed to address Pakistan’s concerns on TTP but its border forces are now targeting civilians in Pakistan.

Last week, Afghan border security forces twice fired at civilians across the Chaman-Spin Boldak border using heaving weapons. At least 19 civilians were killed in those incidents. The border clashes were triggered after Pakistani authorities tried to repair the fence along the border. Like previous governments, the Afghan Taliban too are opposed to Pakistan fencing the 2600km long border. This shows once again that Pakistan clearly misunderstood the Afghan Taliban or had unrealistic expectations from them.

Pakistan has so far showed restraint and opted to downplay the recent incidents though after criticism it has summoned the Afghan diplomat to convey a strong protest. But the response from Pakistan is still very guarded. The reason Pakistan is acting cautiously is that it doesn’t want any rupture in the ties with the Afghan Taliban.

Despite setbacks Pakistani decision-makers feel the country has to stay engaged with the Afghan Taliban. For them the Afghan Taliban are still the best bet. But it is feared that the situation will only get worse.

December 19, 2022

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