Whether anyone likes it or not, Pakistan’s security interests are intrinsically tied up with the Afghan Taliban at several levels. That Pakistani security officials boast about it privately doesn’t mean the Pakistani security apparatus played any role in orchestrating Taliban victory in Kabul. Americans left an open field for Taliban in Afghanistan as their confidence and trust in Afghan security forces fizzled out like a house of cards. Taliban were presented to the Pakistani security apparatus as fait accompli.
And the fact that Pakistani security apparatus was euphoric about Taliban victory is the height of naivety in the face of dreadful security threats that are emerging on the horizon since August 2021 or maybe the threat scenario predates Taliban takeover. But nevertheless, this has been vastly complicated by the development. The Taliban movement, which only five months ago was the epicenter of Sunni militancy in the region has now become one of the most unstable and unreliable states of the region.
Taliban’s linkages with Al-Qaida, on the one hand and Pakistani Taliban on the other are well known and well documented facts. Its rivalry with the local chapter of ISIS is common knowledge. Less known is the fact that Afghan Taliban have been trying to wean the Pakistani Taliban away from the dependence on ISIS—which has increasingly been in the process of establishing its footsteps in the region.
The Pakistani Taliban have re-grouped and revived their strength in the Pak-Afghan border areas and their leadership is based in Afghan cities and towns close to the border. The TTP has ended its month-long ceasefire—which it announced on the cajoling of Afghan Taliban—and has revived attacks on the Pakistani security personnel and installations. Pakistani officials link all the terror strikes in Northern parts of the country to various groups of the Pakistani Taliban. The attacks in Balochistan are linked to Baloch separatist groups, whose training camps on the Afghan territory close to the border have been recently shut down by Afghan Taliban and who have now shifted their operations and camps to the Pak-Iran border region.
There are reports suggesting that the Lahore Anarkali bomb explosion was carried out by Baloch separatist group.
The Pakistani security apparatus is increasingly relying on the Afghan Taliban to help them deal with the threats emanating from the Afghan territory. In the initial weeks following the Kabul takeover, Afghan Taliban returned the favour bestowed on them by the Pakistani security forces during American presence in Afghanistan, by simply shutting down the terror camps run by Baloch separatists on the Afghan territory.
According to reports, these camps have now been shifted to the Iranian territory and Baloch rebels are now operating from Pak-Iran border areas. The result is an increasing rate of attacks in Balochistan.
There are signs that Pakistan is back to the situation where it has to face two insurgencies: one in the North West led by the Pakistani Taliban and the other in South led by Baloch rebels.
Afghan Taliban figure in both the cases of insurgency and waves of terror attacks in the north as well as in the south. There are reports suggesting that the Iranian security apparatus is assisting Pakistani authorities in dealing with the threat posed by Baloch rebels. One expert in Islamabad said that there has been some coordination between Iranian and Pakistani intelligence on how to deal with Baloch rebels who are now hiding in Pak-Iran border areas.
The fact that Taliban have now become a state doesn’t necessarily mean that they have completely transitioned out of their former status as a terror and militant organisation.
But for a long time in the foreseeable future, Baloch rebels would continue to operate in the security vacuum of Afghanistan—where Taliban not only lack capacity to control all the territory under their command but in the absence of well trained security apparatus, would not be in position to deal with all the requests from Pakistan.
The fact that Taliban have now become a state doesn’t necessarily mean that they have completely transitioned out of their former status as a terror and militant organisation. A recent UN report mentioned Taliban’s links with Al-Qaida. Pakistani Taliban on the other hand have links with all the three mother-terror organisations—namely Al-Qaida, local chapter of ISIS and Afghan Taliban. There are clear signs that ISIS, which consolidated itself in Afghanistan and border areas of Pakistan in the period between 2014 and 2016, is now again mobilising a pool of militants and terrorists in our cities and towns. The killing of a priest in Peshawar is a dreadful indicator of this process. Only a week before the priest was killed, the provincial police chief described ISIS as a bigger threat to the province than the TTP. Experts have long been pointing out that there exists a pool of trained and well motivated militants and terrorists in the region that all the terror group recruit from.
In such a situation, the Afghan Taliban are the key to Pakistan’s security strategy. If the Taliban regime collapses or proves itself unable to complete the transition from a terror group to a state (one doesn’t know whether they have the intention to go for such a transition in the first place), then Pakistan’s security strategy and planning is doomed. This region is and will remain an epicenter of Sunni militancy and terror and the Pakistani society would be the first to take the hit.
What endears the Afghan Taliban to regional players is its rivalry with the local chapter of ISIS— Russia, Iran and China hobnobbed with the Afghan Taliban just because they thought it as a bulwark against more radical Sunni groups like the ISIS. But this is not enough to establish anti-terror credentials of the Afghan Taliban.
The fact that they are supporting the Pakistani Taliban and acting as their mentors is enough to muddy their status as a stable and reliable state in the region. Moreover, that the Pakistani Taliban are in connivance with local chapter of ISIS in carrying out several sectarian attacks in Pakistan proves that both Afghan Taliban and ISIS are part of a larger terror eco-system in the region. The Pakistani state and its leaders think that Afghan Taliban are valuable partners in stabilising the region.