The Afghan war of the 1980s against the former Soviet Union and the post-9/11 US invasion of Afghanistan was the root cause for the emergence of the Pakistani Taliban or Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
In late 2001, when the US invaded Afghanistan, the commanders of the Pakistani Taliban provided safe havens to the Afghan Taliban in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. The former Fata (Federally Administered Tribal Area) became a hub for Afghan, Chechen, Uzbek, Arab and Chinese Uighur militants. Consequently, the tribal areas became the origin for militancy in Pakistan as well. When Pakistan launched military operations against these militants, who had spread to areas adjoining Fata, the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban (former jihadists) operated in coordination with each other.
In September 2006, a year before the formal establishment of the TTP, the Pakistani government and the Afghan Taliban brought the Pakistani Taliban to an agreement called the Waziristan Pact. The peace agreement was made possible by Afghan Taliban leaders – Mullah Dadullah (1966-2007) and Jalaluddin Haqqani (1939-2018) – with the blessings of Mullah Muhammad Omar. Following the agreement, the Pakistani government released a number of Taliban militants.
Pakistan blames the Afghan Taliban for providing safe havens to TTP militants
President Bush’s administration criticised the agreement and called it a brazen surrender before militants.
Following the US withdrawal and the fall of Bagram Airbase to the Taliban in 2021, more than 2,300 Taliban militants were released from Pul-Charkhi and Bagram prisons in 2021.
The release of TTP commanders has given a new impetus to the rest of the militants operating in the tribe areas on either side of the Durand Line. Communication and cooperation between the Afghan Taliban and the TTP remains active. Pakistan blames the Afghan Taliban for providing safe havens to TTP militants.
After the recent suicide attack in Bajaur, which left more than 50 people dead, former Foreign Minister of Pakistan Bilawal Bhutto Zardari warned that if the Afghan government fails to control the cross-border movement of the TTP and other militants, Pakistan, following international law, will target the militant safe havens located on Afghan territory. The spokesperson of the Afghan government, Zabiullah Mujahid, denied the presence of the TTP and Islamic States of Khurasan Province (IS-KP) militants in Afghanistan. Mujahid added that we would not allow terrorist groups to operate in Afghanistan and attack any neighbouring country.
Additionally, in his recent statement, Qari Fasihuddin, Chief of Afghanistan’s Armed Forces, rejected Pakistan’s accusations that the Pakistani Taliban are using Afghan territory for attacks against Pakistan.
Undoubtedly, the TTP has long-established alliances and collaboration with the Afghan Taliban, especially the Haqqani Network, which operates in the border region
For stability and combating the militants, the Afghan Taliban should work with Pakistani authorities to tackle the menace of the TTP and ensure security both across the borders.
First, the Afghan-Pakistan border, the Durand Line, is a long and rugged terrain that is difficult to monitor effectively. The lack of proper infrastructure, including border fencing, checkpoints, and surveillance equipment, makes it easier for the TTP militants to cross the border undetected. The porous border is the biggest factor behind cross-border attacks, human trafficking, smuggling and frequent flow of drugs.
Undoubtedly, the TTP has long-established alliances and collaboration with the Afghan Taliban, especially the Haqqani Network, which operates in the border region. This allows the TTP to receive support, training, and logistical assistance from these groups, further facilitating their cross-border attacks.
For friendly ties and mutual cooperation, the Afghan Taliban should increase the presence of security forces along the border to conduct regular patrols and surveillance. This will deter militants from attempting to cross the border and provide a quick response to any security threats.
Additionally, the Afghan government should also invest in the construction of physical infrastructure such as border fencing, checkpoints, and surveillance systems to enhance border control and monitoring. This will help in preventing unauthorised crossings and detecting suspicious activities.
The Afghan Taliban have enough territorial control over Afghanistan with an extra edge to subvert the militant networks for stability and security
Second, the Afghan Taliban should establish effective intelligence-sharing mechanisms with the Pakistani authorities to exchange information on TTP activities. This can help identify the TTP members seeking refuge in Afghanistan and enable joint operations to apprehend them.
The Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Military should create a dedicated committee consisting of intelligence officials from both countries to facilitate regular and structured intelligence sharing. This committee should meet regularly to exchange information, assess threats posed by the TTP, and coordinate joint counter-terrorism operations. They should improve communication channels between intelligence agencies by establishing secure and direct lines of communication, including hotlines. This will enable real-time sharing of intelligence and quick response to militants.
Importantly, both the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Military should plan and execute joint intelligence operations, joint surveillance, intelligence gathering, and coordinated raids based on shared information to target and dismantle the TTP’s networks that operate across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Third, without disrupting the TTP network inside Afghan territory, peace and security shall remain a dream. The Afghan Taliban have enough territorial control over Afghanistan with an extra edge to subvert the militant networks for stability and security. This can involve conducting targeted operations on the TTP hideouts, training camps, and financial networks to weaken their infrastructure and prevent them from establishing a safe haven.
Finally, the Afghan Taliban should publicly denounce the TTP and distance themselves from their cross-border militant activities, which is causing tensions between the two immediate neighbours. This can help undermine the TTP’s legitimacy and reduce its appeal among potential recruits.
Along with denouncing the violent activities of the TTP, the Afghan Taliban should also encourage the TTP to engage in peace talks with the Pakistani government. The Haqqani Network has enough influence to bring the TTP commanders to the negotiating table.
By playing a constructive role in facilitating negotiations, the Afghan Taliban can help to strengthen friendly ties and resolve the underlying grievances of Pakistan fuelled by cross-border attacks of the TTP.