Safe havens

Published May 10, 2021

THE pull-out of foreign forces from Afghanistan has security ramifications for that country as well as neighbouring states, particularly Pakistan. While Afghanistan was hardly pacified during the decades-long presence of US-led forces, there are genuine concerns that with the withdrawal of the foreign troops, and the collapse of any semblance of order, terrorist groups will find an ideal launching pad for their violent activities. Already there have been recent incidents which have sent up red flags. A soldier was injured when terrorists opened fire in Bajaur district late on Friday from across the border, according to ISPR. The banned TTP is believed to be responsible for the attack. Moreover, a number of troops were martyred and wounded in several recent attacks in KP and Balochistan. While the TTP claimed responsibility for those attacks, the military said they were also carried out from Afghan soil.

While the TTP and Afghan Taliban may have somewhat different ideological views on certain subjects, they are bound together by tribal traditions, the militant code and a similar worldview. Moreover, it is clear that the TTP are taking advantage of safe havens in Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban, in areas beyond the writ of the Kabul government. It appears to be payback for the TTP’s ‘hospitality’ as after the American invasion the Afghan Taliban took refuge in erstwhile Fata, in areas then controlled by Pakistani militants. And while the former tribal belt has largely been cleared of militants, as lawmaker Mohsin Dawar recently pointed out in a letter to the president, fighters are once more regrouping in the merged tribal districts of KP.

The reign of terror that the TTP and those of their ilk unleashed on this country is still quite fresh in the mind. Hardly any part of Pakistan was spared bomb blasts and suicide attacks, and it took far too many precious lives among this country’s soldiers, police officers and civilians to neutralise the terrorist threat. Therefore, the resurgence of militants either in the country or across the border in Afghanistan is a matter of grave concern. Pakistan must exercise its influence with the Afghan Taliban and let them know that allowing the TTP or other anti-Pakistan groups to use space under their control will not be tolerated. This point cannot be emphasised enough, especially considering the fact that foreign forces have begun their exit from Afghanistan. In a recent statement, Pakistan, Russia, China and the US urged both the government in Kabul and the Afghan Taliban not to let their soil be used against any other country. While primarily the onus is on the Taliban to not provide safe havens to terrorist groups, the Kabul government must also do more to ensure the security of the country, and eliminate ungoverned spaces which militants can use to spread havoc in the region.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2021

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