The recent attacks by the Taliban militants in several parts of Afghanistan have shocked millions of Afghans who have been craving for peace since 1979. The attacks targeted a number of civilians who were fleeing from the violence. The Afghan National Army also used force to repulse attacks by the militants in several parts of the country. A large number of civilians lost their lives and the Taliban are also believed to have suffered casualties.
With these attacks, the specter of a civil war and renewed tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan loom large. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is once again asking Pakistan in a bitter tone to make a choice between the Afghan government and the extremist group. His statements clearly indicate that he considers Pakistan responsible for the mayhem that has been plaguing the war-torn country for years. In the aftermath of the Taliban ambushes, Pakistan also witnessed terrorist activities inside its borders with one attack in Balochistan killing four FC soldiers, wounding six others.
In another terrorist activity, three Pakistani soldiers lost their lives in an intelligence-based operation in the tribal areas of the country. Apparently there is no connection between the Afghan Taliban’s activities inside Afghanistan and the terrorist attacks in Pakistan. In the past, both countries have been accused of helping terrorist groups and many fear that a proxy war is likely to raise its monstrous head in the two war affected states.
Some experts believe that Pakistan suffered heavily because of its Afghan policy that was aimed at destabilizing the governments in Kabul during the 1970s. It was unfortunate that a democratic government in Pakistan trained the first militants against the neighboring state, bankrolling extremist groups, training hate-spewing holy warriors and pampering retrogressive elements that not only destroyed its target, but also led to the creation of the Pakistani Taliban who wreaked havoc with the lives of tens of thousands of Pakistanis besides destroying the infrastructure worth billions of dollars.
The Taliban should be persuaded to contest in elections and become part of a democratic system
We initially considered Pakistani Taliban as misguided individuals who were not against the state. Our agreements with extremist groups in the tribal districts and Swat made them more assertive. Even their extreme brutalities could not convince us that they were not reconcilable. A number of retired military men insisted that they could be brought back into the influence of their past masters. However, such former military officers were flabbergasted when the militants staged audacious attacks on airports, markets, schools, the police force and army institutions. It was too late by that time. The pernicious tentacles of militancy had already gripped several parts of the country. They were no more confined to the rugged terrain of North and South Waziristan or the hilly areas of other tribal agencies but their presence could be felt in the heart of urban areas. Despite all that we continued making reconciliatory efforts which were contemptuously turned down by militants that were holding sway over large swaths of land in the tribal region.
Their capacity to target forces police and ordinary citizens grew so strong that the chief of the army staff declared them the biggest internal security threat. But he hesitated on the question of a decisive military operation against them, fearing a massive blowback. Had the terrorist attacks at the Army Public School not taken place, we might still be following a reconciliatory policy towards the extremists. But the terrible attack that killed innocent students convinced everyone that hate-spewing militants did not deserve any negotiation. The state unleashed its full might wiping them out from several parts of the tribal areas. Pakistan witnessed a few years of peace because of these crackdowns against the extremist group.
But the renewed Afghan Taliban’s attacks have created a specter of chaos in the region. It was our policy of supporting the Taliban in the 1990s that created a number of groups in Pakistan who were sympathetic towards the retrogressive elements of the war-torn country. The cloistered group of the Afghan Taliban did not spread its tentacles in Pakistan only but they also started attracting foreign jihadists, turning Afghanistan into a global hub of terrorist activities which culminated in the 9/11 attacks, forcing the US and its Western allies to intervene.
Now, these troops are pulling out, leaving the country into a mess. Afghanistan has a number of sectarian and ethnic fault lines, as is the case in Pakistan which has witnessed ethnic and sectarian tensions in the past. Any effort on our part to destabilize Afghanistan will boomerang on us. If we try to make inroads in Afghanistan in a bid to carve out an area of influence inside the country then other regional powers and neighboring countries will also do the same. This will definitely create hardships for the Afghan people who have already been facing the brunt of foreign intervention and interference by regional countries. It is important to convince the Afghan Taliban to help stabilize the country that has only witnessed death and destruction in the last four decades.
Efforts should be made to strengthen democratic institutions of Afghanistan. The Taliban should be persuaded to contest in elections and be part of a democratic system instead of seeking hegemony. They should not be allowed to take over the country with the might of the gun. If they try to do so, it will plunge the country into a bloody civil war that will have serious repercussions for Pakistan. If the ideological godfathers of the Taliban can contest elections in Pakistan, then why can’t the Afghan Taliban do the same? Unfortunately, some elements do not want democracy in Pakistan or Afghanistan. It can safely be concluded that the strengthening of democratic forces in Pakistan could contribute to the restoration of peace in neighboring Afghanistan.