Afghan Taliban, TTP And Pakistan: The Undeniable Nexus

Afghan Taliban, TTP And Pakistan: The Undeniable Nexus
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, have claimed responsibility for attacking a police truck of the Balochistan Constabulary in the morning hours of November 30.

According to initial reports, a suicide attacker rammed a motorbike or rickshaw packed with explosives into the police truck, causing at least one police fatality and killing two other civilians, a woman and a minor. At least 20 other police personnel are also reportedly injured. The police units were protecting a polio vaccination team according to DIG Police Azfar Mahesar, and were not undertaking any counterterrorism operation.

This comes barely two days after the TTP ended their tenuous ceasefire with the Pakistani state. An official announcement was made to that effect barely a day before Pakistan's State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar, visited Kabul for scheduled talks with the Afghan Taliban, who have ruled Kabul as the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ since August 2021.

It is now obvious that the Afghan Taliban were mediating this ceasefire between the TTP and Pakistan, even though the effectiveness of this ceasefire has been questioned throughout 2022.

The order to initiate nationwide attacks was issued in a handwritten letter signed by Mufti Muzahim, TTP's deputy leader (naib ameer) and ‘defense minister’.

The letter says attacks are to be undertaken across Pakistan in response to "constant" military operations and "proactive attacks" (what could be an apparent reference to targeted assassinations of TTP leaders in Afghanistan) by Pakistani security forces and intelligence agencies. The message also says that the Pakistani people were "warned time and again" and the TTP "remained patient so that the negotiation process is not sabotaged at least” from their side.

The final straw appears to be the Lakki Marwat joint security operation that started on November 26. The operation was in response to multiple attacks that the TTP claimed responsibility for carrying out in Lakki Marwat district on November 25.
Mainstream national security pundits in Pakistan believe that the TTP's recent declaration would “put pressure” on the Afghan Taliban to restrain the Pakistani Taliban. This view ignores the TTP's position that blames the Pakistani state for continuing to target the TTP affiliates in Pakistan, and also for assassinating the TTP leaders inside Afghanistan.

The resurgence of TTP was predicted even before the Afghan Taliban returned to power in Kabul. In April 2021, the TTP claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing attack on Serena Hotel in Quetta's heavily guarded red zone. In early May 2021, the TTP ratcheted up the tempo of its attacks against Pakistan, as the Afghan Taliban were waging their high-intensity 'summer offensive' against the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF).

As the Afghan Taliban emerged victorious, on August 15 no less, the mood in Pakistan appeared jubilant, since national security traditionalists strongly believed that the Afghan Taliban (now the 'Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan' once again) would force the TTP to negotiate with Pakistan, as the former would no longer have facilities like Indian consulates to operate from. Negotiations mediated by the Afghan Taliban, and a three-month-long ceasefire between the TTP and Pakistan, became public knowledge by October 2021.

Since August 2021, the TTP has conducted a number of attacks that have gone unreported; and especially since April 2022, when the entire Pakistani nation became fixated on vitriolic political narratives. But in August this year, reports emerged of armed Taliban militants being seen in the valleys adjoining Swat and Dir, causing locals to come out in droves and protest organically against the return of extremist militancy. The official response to these reports was to downplay the incidents, but many were not satisfied. Lack of clarity and transparency still persists when it comes to whatever negotiation process took place with the TTP. Even ministers were reported to be receiving threats from the TTP.

Mainstream national security pundits in Pakistan believe that the TTP's recent declaration would “put pressure” on the Afghan Taliban to restrain the Pakistani Taliban. This view ignores the TTP's position that blames the Pakistani state for continuing to target the TTP affiliates in Pakistan, and also for assassinating the TTP leaders inside Afghanistan. And even internally, intense political polarisation will lead Pakistanis to continue suspecting the justifications for even the most “reasonable” security operations. In fact, Taliban narratives on Pakistan appear more cohesive than Pakistani narratives on Afghanistan and on Pakistan's own slow-but-sure Talibanisation.

Pakistan has been stuck in a cycle of active kinetic engagement and 'passive aggressive' negotiations with armed Islamist militants over the past few decades. Co-opting, sponsoring, or attempting to control such groups has never worked in the state's favour. Mainstreaming some of these groups in the political domain, without ensuring that they forswear violent behaviour and intolerant ideologies, has only further radicalised the disenfranchised and disenchanted masses.

Pakistan must now acknowledge that repeated kinetic campaigns have only led to attrition of social fabric and associated detrimental outcomes. To truly defeat militancy in a sustainable manner, a "whole of nation" approach must be geared towards fighting extremism in the ideological domain. If security forces or law enforcement agencies start using drone aircraft in combat roles, then their rules of engagement must be unambiguous, in order to minimise if not avoid collateral damage.

The Pakistani state must clarify why it continues to believe that the Afghan Taliban are trustworthy interlocutors and not on the TTP's side. Hostile exchanges on the Kurram-Paktia border - first in February this year, then again recently during the month of November - are not an encouraging reflection of contemporary Pak-Afghan ties, at least for Pakistan. Also on November 13, a 'rogue' Afghan Taliban militant attacked Pakistani security personnel at the Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing. He was later reported as being a "self-motivated" Taliban soldier who "declared jihad against Pakistan" because "Pakistani soldiers disrespect Afghans".

Diplomatic protestations by Pakistan on the use of Afghan soil by violent non-state actors will no longer suffice. In the medium-to-long term, the Afghan Taliban must be convinced to allow TTP affiliates and sympathizers to relocate to Afghanistan, and not carry out or promote violent attacks on Pakistani territory. Even though many dislike hyphenating Afghanistan and Pakistan, the fact remains that stability and security in both countries remains deeply intertwined. In the long term, the Taliban's ideological resistance to a democratic, pluralistic form of governance will continue to challenge the Pakistani nation-state's willingness (and ability) to sustain itself.

Shemrez is a researcher and academic specialising in public policy, economic security, and the political economy of terrorism, extremism and identity.