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Dealing with TTP

Dr. Syed Rifaat Hussain

12th Jan, 2022. 06:25 pm

After engaging with “reconcilable” elements of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for a negotiated settlement of their grievances against the Pakistani state, Islamabad recognised the futility of its approach on January 6th when DG ISPR, in a media briefing, clearly stated that “talks” with the militant groups based in Afghanistan had broken down. DG ISPR’s statement only confirmed the declaration made earlier by TTP that it had called off negotiations with the Pakistani state due to Islamabad’s failure to release TTP prisoners.

In a scathing attack on the Pakistani state, TTP in a statement accused Islamabad of being an “un-islamic entity” which was not interested in talks and was using the name of Islam to hoodwink its people. TTP declared its intention to resume its “violent campaign” against the Pakistani state till its demands, including the implementation of Sharia, are met.

Since this declaration, there been a marked increase in cross-border attacks from Afghanistan against Pakistan including attempts by the Taliban forces to demolish sections of the fence put up by Pakistan over the years to secure its 26,000 metres long border with Afghanistan. DG ISPR has made it very clear that violations of this fence would not be tolerated and Pakistan’s National Security Advisor (NSA), Dr Moeed Yousuf is going to take up this matter with the Taliban authorities during his forthcoming visit to Kabul.

Since their return to power last August, the Taliban regime has sent signals to Islamabad that Afghan territory would not be allowed to be used by groups like TTP to carry out attacks against the Pakistani state. Unfortunately, this has not happened. TTP has not only stepped up its violent campaign against Pakistan but is using its sleeper cells to wage a military campaign to destabilise the Pak-Afghan border. TTP’ s strategic aims are clear.

TTP wants to give the impression to its supporters that it does not recognise the legitimacy of Pak-Afghan border, as according to its propaganda, this border is an “unjust” one that artificially divides the Pushtun community living on both sides of this border.

Many hard-line Pushtun elements of the Taliban also subscribe to this view and that partly explains why TTP as a militant group is being tolerated by the Taliban regime.

More importantly, TTP feels safe under the Taliban rule as it has the ideological support from the powerful Haqqani network, which is well entrenched in the current power structure.

Many of the TTPs supporters are former Afghan commanders who maintain their organic links with the Taliban regime in power.

TTP feels that the room for their illicit activities – smuggling of fuel, flour, cement, and edible oil – has been severely constrained by the border fence erected by Pakistan. Therefore, as a criminal enterprise, its leadership thinks it must exert coercive pressure on the Pakistani state to soften its stance towards their presence along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

It is very interesting that in his latest press briefing DG ISPR had referred to TTP as a “non-state actor” which presumably was operating from Afghanistan without the consent of the Taliban regime. Nothing could be farther from the truth. TTP’s links with the Taliban are well known and Islamabad would be deluding itself to think otherwise.

In dealing with the TTP, Islamabad has two options: non-kinetic and kinetic. We have already tried non-kinetic options and it has not worked. Besides, Islamabad has paid a heavy diplomatic price for opening the door to “dialogue” with enemies of the state that carried out the most heinous act of APS attack as well as murdering Pakistani soldiers and thousands of civilians. Pakistan tried to “negotiate” with the TTP terrorists by asking them to lay down their arms and submit to the writ of the Pakistani state. There were even hints of Islamabad granting them “amnesty” if TTP would cease its military operations and yield to the authority of the Pakistani state. None of this has worked. That leaves Islamabad only with the kinetic option including the hot pursuit.

Before carrying out this option Islamabad should insist that the Taliban abide by the April 2018 Accord on Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS). Despite change of regime in Kabul, some of the principles remain relevant today.

The APAPPS principles had called for a) the two countries to undertake effective actions against fugitives and the irreconcilable elements posing security threats to either of the two countries; b) both countries to commit to deny use of their respective territory by any country, network, group or individuals for anti-state activities against either country; c) to put in place a joint supervision, coordination and confirmation mechanism through Liaison Officers (L0s) for realisation of the agreed actions; d) the two countries commit to avoid territorial and aerial violations of each other’s territory; d) the two countries to avoid public blame game and instead use APAPPS cooperation mechanisms to respond to mutual  issues of contention and concerns; e) and establish Working Groups and necessary cooperation mechanism as per APAPSS for full implementation of the APAPSS  and the above mutually reinforcing principles.”

Principles (a) and (b) provide the foundation for ending the blame game and strengthening the trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistani interests are also protected by “using inclusive terms like denying the use of territory against other state by “country network, group or individuals for anti-state activities against either country.”

The use of kinetic option should only be considered if the principles outlined in APAPPS fail to materialise. Islamabad should team up with Washington to coordinate intelligence base operations against TTP hideouts along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. No state worthy of its name can allow groups like TTP to operate against its interests with impunity.

During his forthcoming trip to Kabul, NSA should deliver this message to the Taliban regime in Kabul clearly. As DG ISPR stated that Pakistan has invested the “blood” of its soldiers to set up this fence and TTP and its backers will not be allowed to bring it down.




The writer is a political scientist and defence analyst.

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