TTP sanctuaries

Published September 20, 2015

THE militant attack on the PAF camp in Badaber, Peshawar, appears to be part of a trend that demands a serious rethink in both Islamabad/Rawalpindi and Kabul: when Pak-Afghan relations are strained, it is usually the militants on both sides of the border who benefit. If, as the military has alleged and the banned TTP has claimed, the Peshawar attack was conceived of and orchestrated from TTP sanctuaries in Afghanistan, it would be further evidence of the long-running problem of military operations in the border region causing militants to scatter and then eventually regroup in more hospitable locations. The problem is a multifaceted one. To begin with, most military operations inside Pakistan have not led to the capture or elimination of the senior-most militant commanders. Then, the porous Pak-Afghan border requires constant vigilance and a great deal of security and intelligence cooperation between Pakistani and Afghan security if militants are to be interdicted or the flow in both directions of militants is to be curbed. Finally, once militant groups do find new sanctuaries along the border region, it becomes a question of political will for Pakistan and Afghanistan to take the matter seriously.

Pak-Afghan cooperation on combating militancy is possible. After the Army Public School attack in Peshawar last December, Pakistan requested, and Kabul assisted in providing, intelligence cooperation against TTP elements in Afghanistan. Later, the Afghan security forces undertook some limited military operations in regions thought to be the hideouts of TTP militants now based in Afghanistan. Unhappily, the breakdown of ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan following the cancellation of talks between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban appears to have eroded both the tenuous trust and the newfound security cooperation between the two countries. It must be urgently repaired. The ISPR chief, Maj-Gen Asim Bajwa, set the right tone by not blaming the Afghan state for the Badaber attack. Afghan officials could take a cue from their Pakistani counterparts by similarly refraining from blaming attacks in Afghanistan on collusion with militants by the Pakistani state. The emphasis, instead, should be on rebuilding intelligence cooperation and better border management.

In addition, there is a need to work on a framework for the resumption of talks with the Afghan Taliban. Now that the succession issue has been seemingly settled and Akhtar Mansour is believed to be consolidating his position, the Afghan government needs to reassess its reluctance to talk after a series of devastating attacks by the Afghan Taliban. Partly the logic of talks with the Afghan Taliban was rooted in the emergence of a common potential threat — the self-styled Islamic State. The TTP in particular has shown its willingness to embrace IS and its message. The Afghan government should be wary of tolerating sanctuaries for anti-Pakistan militants who have a transnational agenda. Resumption of talks with the Afghan Taliban could help block space for IS in Afghanistan.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2015

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