PESHAWAR: An official strategy document on counter-terrorism by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has warned that victory by the Afghan Taliban will further boost the morale of the Pakistani Taliban and it is erroneous to believe that militancy in Pakistan will end automatically with the withdrawal of foreign forces from neighbouring Afghanistan.
The assessment, contained in KP’s Home and Tribal Affairs Department’s 35-page ‘Checkmating Terrorism: A Counter-Terrorism Strategy’ document has gained currency in recent times. Participants in back-to-back meetings to mull formulation of a counter-terrorism policy last month pressed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to take civil-military control of the Afghan policy to pre-empt the fallout of post-US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“I think, there was an agreement,” Khalid Aziz, head of the Regional Institute of Policy Research and Training, who attended one such meeting, said. “Exit (of foreign forces) does not mean the cause of action will disappear (for our militants). There will be a new push for the enlargement of influence in Balochistan, KP and Fata.
“Our miseries begin with the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. The prognosis is bad but this is what it is. This is the writing on the wall.”
Prime Minister Sharif was also cautioned against embracing the militants’ talk-for-peace offer on face value. “Don’t let your fingers burn,” Mr Aziz quoted a participant of the meetings as saying. He noted that Prime Minister’s Adviser on National Security Sartaj Aziz’s statement in Kabul that Pakistan did not have favourites in Afghanistan was a reflection of the realisation dawning in Islamabad.
It is not known if the all-powerful military establishment that continued to direct Pakistan’s Afghan policy since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan also holds the same view. At a background meeting with media early this year, a senior security official tried to push home the point that the Afghan Taliban would look towards Kabul once they became part of the political dispensation, and the Pakistani Taliban would start looking towards Islamabad, implying that the nexus between the two ideological twins would sever once foreign troops left Afghanistan.
But some government officials warn that while Pakistan seems to be preparing itself for a possible civil war and chaos in Afghanistan in the absence of a political settlement in the post-US withdrawal scenario, there is still no understanding about the likely implications for Pakistan if the Afghan Taliban gain full or partial control in their country.
“A part of the common discourse on the issue to which a substantial portion of our intelligentsia, political leadership and ‘other stakeholders’ subscribe is that militancy would cease in Pakistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa once foreign troops leave Afghanistan and militants (in Pakistan) would then lay down arms to lead normal lives,” says the 35-page paper.
“This is a fallacy. It will not happen and it is not difficult to understand why,” says the document prepared by the Home & Tribal Affairs Department. It was approved by the ANP-led cabinet but ironically remains unimplemented.
The Afghan Taliban enjoy ‘strategic depth’ in Fata and the Pakistani militants because of the ideological, material and coordination linkages with the Afghan Taliban have acquired strategic depth in Afghanistan, the document says. Attacks from across the border by Pakistani militants enjoying shelter there are a case in point, it says.
The US-led foreign troop withdrawal will create a sense of euphoria among the Taliban in Afghanistan and the TTP-led militants in Pakistan for their perceived triumph in forcing foreign troops to leave.
“Why would the Afghan Taliban provide strategic depth to Pakistan-based militants is not difficult to understand? Ideologically, Taliban do not recognise state boundaries. For them it is Darul Hurb vs. Darul Islam and there are no boundaries within Darul Islam and “fighters in the way of Allah” are to be welcomed.
That the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan – an umbrella organisation of the Pakistani militant groups – takes its relationship with the Afghan Taliban seriously and it was evident recently when it sacked its chief spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan for making statements against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The document says that the Afghan Taliban would be bound to help Pakistani militants due to numerous ideological, ethnic, religious and financial linkages developed between them for decades and the support that was extended to them both in men and material terms in their struggle against foreign forces’ presence in Afghanistan.
“Wishing the militants away would not make them disappear,” Azam Khan, the principal architect of the strategy document and secretary of Home & Tribal Affairs, cautions. “With the departure of the US troops, the TTP and its multiple partners will pursue their ‘jihad’ with renewed vigour under the banner for setting up a true Islamic Caliphate in Pakistan.”
“There is no on-off switch button. You can’t unplug Pakistani militants from their ideological battle-hardened brethren from across the border,” Azam Khan maintains.
The already well-trained and organised with specialised wings for finance, training, operations and justice, Pakistani militants would surely replicate the successful tactics of the Afghan Taliban in their struggle against the Pakistani state and the democratic dispensation which they deem un-Islamic, it says.
The document warns that hostile agencies would also like to exploit the situation. “That the waters have become quite murky thereby enabling foreign intelligence agencies to fish in these troubled waters, compounding the matter further to the peril of the Pakistani state, is a logical manifestation of facts on ground in the areas.
“We find ourselves in a complex situation. Wisdom demands that we prepare ourselves for the worst,” Home Secretary Azam Khan said. “The strategy document was prepared after long and hard analysis of the aims, tactics and modus operandi of the militants minutely. We have put forward concrete steps to counter the same. What we need is a whole state machinery response of which law enforcement is just one element. And this cannot happen without KP and Islamabad joining forces.”
A former security official warns that Islamabad did not take into its calculus the possible fallout on Pakistan of the Afghan Taliban’s partial or total triumph in Afghanistan. “We tend to have short memories. We have forgotten that it were the Afghan Taliban that had allowed our sectarian outfits to run training camps in Kargha to the south of Kabul and in Khost and had given shelter to their top leaders,” he recalled.