Once again, Pakistan is attempting to resume ‘peace talks’ with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This is despite the fact that Islamabad blamed the shadowy group for a decade and half of the violence that killed more than 70,000 civilians and soldiers. Local elders of the Wazir, Mehsud and Dawar tribes from North and South Waziristan are being used as jirgas to engage the TTP and other Taliban groups for talks in Afghanistan – that are being said to have been facilitated by the Haqqani Network.
These jirgas are meant to convey the state’s willingness to talk to the TTP and to engage them in dialogue. The state has yet to take the locals of these areas or the country’s citizens at large in confidence about these negotiations. Our people are being used by the state for its own objectives.
The Pakistani government’s latest attempt to negotiate peace with the group ended in futility last year. After a brief ceasefire, the TTP escalated its attacks on the security forces and practically demanded a surrender of the state.
Ominous warnings overshadow the new effort to negotiate peace with the TTP. Pakistani civil society, peace activists, and some opposition politicians point to Islamabad’s failure in winning over Islamic extremists by appeasing them. Yet the government and the powerful military establishment are not listening.
We don’t have to look far in history to establish that supporting extremists has achieved little for Islamabad.
Last August, some in Pakistan celebrated the Taliban takeover of Kabul and the collapse of Ashraf Ghani’s government as a ‘historic victory’. Elements in the Pakistani establishment were delighted to see the fall of the Afghan government, which they viewed as pro-India. Some boasted openly that the Taliban would do Pakistan’s bidding and help the country dominate the region. Those who warned that the fire of extremism and terrorism lit in the region would not spare Pakistan were declared ‘alarmist’ and ‘bitter stooges’ of the West.
Yet the Afghan Taliban have only disappointed those who pinned their hopes on their enduring loyalty. So far, the group has offered a half-hearted attempt to broker peace between Islamabad and the TTP instead of reining them in. With the alarming increase in attacks claimed by the TTP, there is no indication that the group’s fugitive leaders are ready to surrender as Pakistani security czars had hoped.
Mullah Mohammad Yaqub, the Taliban’s defense minister, has even rejected the presence of TTP. “These allegations are inappropriate. I dismiss them. We will not allow anyone to use our soil against anyone,” he said in a recent interview.
Last August, some in Pakistan celebrated the Taliban takeover of Kabul and the collapse of Ashraf Ghani’s government as a ‘historic victory’. Elements in the Pakistani establishment were delighted to see the fall of the Afghan government, which they viewed as pro-India.
Such public repudiation of Islamabad’s claims begs the question of whether the country’s establishment had factored in the composition of the Afghan Taliban in its calculations. And whether Islamabad is aware of the complexities of the internal power struggle among the various Taliban factions.
Two major groups are jostling for power within the Taliban in Afghanistan today. These are the Haqqani Network and the leaders from the greater Kandahar region. The Haqqani Network is currently trying to bolster its credibility as legitimate stakeholders in Afghanistan because they are widely perceived as Pakistan’s proxies. This poor public image has disadvantaged the Haqqani Network in the growing power struggle.
To bolster its public image in the country, the Haqqani Network is now trying to brandish its anti-Pakistan credentials. Its leaders want to demonstrate that they are not foreign agents and have a legitimate stake in their country’s future.
This internal squabbling within the Taliban is linked to the fate of the TTP. Historically, the group has functioned as a frontline defense force of the Haqqani Network, which orchestrated its creation to protect interests and safe havens in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Even when Pakistan was leading operations to wipe out the TTP, the group survived thanks to the support and protection extended by the Haqqani Network.
In the current environment, the Haqqani Network appears unwilling to disarm the TTP, which is its main frontline defense force and primary supplier of suicide bombers and fighters. Losing the TTP will cause the Haqqani Network to give up its entire support base. Hence its interests in Afghanistan will limit how far the Haqqani Network will go against the TTP.
The resource crunch and the lack of international recognition might be contributing to the Taliban’s reluctance to go after jihadist allies such as the TTP.
It is difficult to imagine that the Taliban in Afghanistan will bring the TTP under control because they have nothing to offer and are asking for too much.
There is little hope domestically as politicians have already ceded too much space to the establishment. This has stifled any debate over the grievous threats the country faces.
This is worrying because the security situation in Pakistan continues to deteriorate rapidly. The near-daily attacks by the TTP and its growing propaganda campaigns about brandishing its advanced tactics and weapons are ominous. The sudden uptick in violence by the separatist groups in Balochistan adds to the anxieties of many Pakistanis.
The unfolding situation on the ground is inviting dire warnings from everywhere. General Kenneth Mckenzie, the head of US Central Command, recently warned about the rise of Islamist State Khorasan Province (ISPK). “I believe that the threat to Pakistan has risen since our departure from Afghanistan,” he said. In the northwestern province of Khyber Pakthunkhwa, the police chief had a similar warning. He told journalists that the threat posed by the ISKP is more significant than the one presented by the TTP.
The worsening security situation appears much more threatening because of Pakistan’s struggling economy and the diminishing international interests in its stability. There is little hope domestically as politicians have already ceded too much space to the establishment. This has stifled any debate over the grievous threats the country faces.
Yet, even more dangerous than the growing threat of extremism is Pakistan’s lack of planning and the absence of its will to fight back. If the international community no longer wants to fight the Taliban, there is neither any incentive nor an imperative for Pakistan to do otherwise.
The main forum for debate on such important matters is the Parliament, yet besides the two internal security briefings which were kept confidential, there has been no discussion or debate. The way forward is not known but it is clear that with the economy collapsing, it is not possible to fight such a big fight and come out victorious. This is why we fear that soon this entire region could be consumed by deadly extremist forces.
The more invested Pakistan remains with the Taliban in Afghanistan, the more difficult it will be for it to pull itself out of the quagmire of extremism and the chaos that is unleashed with the ever increasing attacks by the TTP within the country and the growing instability in the region caused by the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. The only choice that Pakistan has is to fundamentally change its security and foreign policies, discarding the use of Taliban as a means to achieve flawed policy objectives, and to dismantle the existing infrastructure within the country that supports militant outfits of all hues and dispensations.