PAKISTAN has long been privately and publicly complaining about lack of American and Afghan action against its militants who’ve found homes next door. So even though he no longer seems to have the importance he once did within the Pakistani Taliban, the symbolism of the reported capture of Maulvi Faqir, the former deputy head of the TTP, is important. Faqir of Bajaur was among those commanders who, along with Mullah Fazlullah of Swat and Abdul Wali of Mohmand, had fled to Afghanistan and were launching cross-border attacks into Pakistan. According to intelligence estimates, Pakistani militants run up to 20 camps in the eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan and over 220 such attacks have taken place since June 2010 in which about 150 security personnel have been killed. The Pakistani military argued that it had provided concrete evidence about these camps to Kabul but no action had been taken. So while it may have come late, Maulvi Faqir’s capture, if handled correctly, has the potential to kick off more effective cooperation.
For that to happen, though, Pakistan would have to reciprocate. Older than Islamabad’s complaints about these militants are American and Afghan complaints that Afghan militants are being sheltered, or ignored, on this side of the border. And for Pakistan to reciprocate, it would have to rethink its strategy of trying to cultivate allies for a foothold in post-2014 Afghanistan. There is some evidence that that rethink is taking place: expressions of support for an Afghan-led peace process, the release of some Afghan Taliban prisoners and assurances that the remainder will be released. But there are also reports that Pakistan is talking to multiple Afghan factions, indicating it still wants to be involved in the outcome in Afghanistan. Whether through a renewed commitment to going after each other’s militants, or a prisoner-swap agreement in which Maulvi Faqir is handed over in return for prisoner releases from Pakistan carried out in a way that is useful to Afghanistan, the commander’s capture offers an opportunity for both countries to work out a better way to collaborate.