Pakistan’s state policy towards the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan has always been a bit bipolar. In the aftermath of 9/11 and the US invasion of Afghanistan, various jihadi and sectarian outfits decided to wage a joint armed insurgency against the state of Pakistan, claiming that Islamabad should have thrown its support behind the Afghan Taliban, instead of acting as an ally of the West. Militant groups in Pakistan accused the state of betraying the Islamic Emirate by providing logistical support to the US. They then announced the formation of the TTP against this state policy.
But the formation of this umbrella group did not convince our policymakers that there should be decisive action against an emerging threat. Some retired military officers appeared soft on them, declaring the Taliban as ‘misguided youth’.
Religious political parties were also sympathetic towards them, the former Jamaa-e-Islami chief Syed Munawar Hassan openly advocating their cause, often infuriating the establishment with his brazen views. The JUI-F was also accused of hobnobbing with the elements of the TTP.
Such appeasement emboldened the extremist group, triggering a reign of terror that claimed more than 30,000 Pakistani lives besides, causing damage worth billions of dollars to the infrastructure of the country. The MMA government turned a blind eye to the activities of this militant group that gradually increased its influence in other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They were openly propagating the jihadist ideology of Al-Qaeda that was also rabidly anti-Pakistani state. They openly declared their desire to establish a caliphate, flying in the face of the democratic constitution of Pakistan.
Such declarations did not prompt the state and political parties to spring into action. They appeared lenient towards them, striking various deals with militants, instead of taking any decisive action. The pernicious tentacles of militancy gripped almost all parts of the country because of this policy of appeasement. Militants targeted schools, hospitals, police headquarters, offices of intelligence agencies, government buildings and parliamentarians. Hundreds of educational institutions were bombed in parts of KP and former tribal areas, depriving tens of thousands of students of education.
Even the actions of militants in Swat and its capture by them could not convince politicians regarding the scale of the threat that these militants presented. The PPP, which came into power after 2008 elections, decided to continue the policy of appeasement even though it had also been targeted by the same extremist forces that it was trying to accommodate. After the occupation of Swat, it tried to strike a deal with the obscurantist forces, giving boost to their morale, encouraging them to unleash a reign of terror that continues to haunt the residents.
The state dithered on taking action until Fazlur Rehman raised alarm, fearing that they could capture Islamabad as well. The residents of Swat had to pay a heavy price for the botched state policy, which forced them to migrate to various parts of the country. This migration also triggered animosity between various ethnic groups, with the Punjab government declaring that it would not allow migrants to settle there.
Sindhi nationalists also vehemently opposed their arrival, adding to the plight of these hapless masses. It was not only tens of thousands of people of the scenic valley who were forced to leave their homes but millions in former tribal regions and parts of KP also had to undertake arduous journeys to find refuge here and there.
The residents of Swat had to pay a heavy price for the botched state policy, which forced them to migrate to various parts of the country
Swat was liberated at a heavy cost. Pakistani troops fought valiantly to flush out the terrorists from the valley. However, the state failed to stop them from filtering out towards other parts of the country. A number of terrorists sought refuge in tribal regions of the country, regrouping, planning and mounting attacks from there. The government delayed action against these militants based in North and South Waziristan for a long time. However, the terrible attack on the Army Public School prompted politicians and policymakers to finally spring into action. Again, common people faced the brunt of this move. They were displaced and faced economic hardships as well as the wrath of militants.
The military crackdowns in tribal areas forced extremists to flee the country, seeking refuge in Afghan areas dominated by the Afghan Taliban.
Despite our influence over the Afghan Taliban, we could not make them control these elements who were still trying to stage attacks inside Pakistani territories. Some of our policymakers kept blaming India and other hostile powers for throwing their support behind the TTP while independent analysts declared such allegations ludicrous, saying the TTP was under the protection of Afghan Taliban. Although impartial experts believed that the TTP and the Afghan Taliban were ideological siblings, our policymakers kept insisting that they were two different entities, with the Afghan Taliban having no history of attacking Pakistani troops.
Even today there are elements in the policymaking circles that believe that the TTP and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan are two different entities even though the Pakistani Taliban have announced their loyalty to Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Haibatullah. Noor Wali Mehsud, the TTP chief, also renewed his pledge of allegiance to the Emirate, besides declaring recently that the tribal area should be converted into an independent state and the TTP would fight for the same. Such a statement clearly indicates that TTP is still hostile towards Pakistan.
More than 6,000 militants belonging to the TTP are still said to be hiding in Afghanistan, enjoying the support of the Afghan Taliban. Even before the fall of Kabul, the extremists targeted security forces in Pakistan, indicating that they still harbor animosity towards the state of Pakistan.
With the capture of Kabul by the Afghan Taliban and the reported release of TTP militants, it is clear that the Afghan Taliban and their Pakistani counterparts enjoy cordial and brotherly ties.
Many say that Pakistan should use its leverage over the Afghan Taliban and asking them to either help reconcile with these estranged extremists, or take decisive action against them.
They argue that Pakistan should also seek a clear policy from the Afghan Taliban stating that they oppose any move by militant groups challenging the writ of state. Critics are of the opinion that the state should put an end to its confusion regarding the two militant groups. Only clarity of thought will help them come up with a coherent and pragmatic policy to deal with the TTP. If Islamabad wants to announce an amnesty for TTP, it should go ahead with it but confusion on the part of policymakers will add problems to Pakistan’s anti-terror strategy. Many believe that such an amnesty should not be confined to only religious extremists but Baloch insurgents, Sindh separatists and estranged Mohajir nationalists should also be included. If political solutions can work in Afghanistan, they can also show miracles in Pakistan.