THE initial euphoria that the Afghan Taliban would rein in the banned TTP and prevent it from carrying out attacks inside Pakistan is fast dissipating. Rejecting amnesty offers from the president and foreign minister, the Pakistani Taliban have made it clear they will not lay down their arms or accept the Constitution in its present form. To the contrary, the TTP have stepped up their attacks inside Pakistan since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August. There are signs that the TTP is not limiting its attacks to the security forces; kidnappings, targeted shootings and bombing of girls’ schools have restarted. While the world waits for the Afghan Taliban to honour their commitment of not allowing Afghanistan’s soil to be used against any country, in Pakistan’s case at least there is no indication that they are delivering on their word.
Pakistan faces a predicament. Can the Afghan Taliban be trusted to restrain the TTP? And for how long can Pakistan wait for the new Afghan rulers to make good on their commitments? For too long, Pakistan’s security apparatus has been ambivalent about the nexus between the Afghan Taliban and their Pakistani variant. At top security briefings weeks before the Afghan Taliban takeover, senior official figures in Islamabad minced no words as they described the two outfits as ‘two faces of the same coin’. But the subsequent ‘amnesty’ offer and reports of some overtures towards the TTP, apparently on the prodding of the Afghan Taliban, betrays the continued prevalence of the same confusion that bedevilled Pakistan’s previous failed attempts at making peace with the TTP. Evidently, there is still confusion at the policymaking level in Islamabad on how to deal with the TTP conundrum. There is an argument now that Pakistan must strengthen its own internal security instead of overly relying on the new rulers in Kabul. But this will come about only if there is clarity regarding the threat perception and the way it should be dealt with. It will be advisable for Islamabad to pursue both options. Prime Minister Imran Khan has told TRT World that his government was in a “reconciliation process” with TTP groups. He rightly pointed out that the TTP was not a monolith. While there may not be any harm in considering peace with groups willing to negotiate, Islamabad must make it clear to the interlocutors — the Afghan Taliban — that there can be no blanket amnesty for those who have committed terrible crimes and that there will be no preconditions.
Meanwhile, the main focus of the policy framework should be on strengthening internal security, improving coordination between the intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, revisiting the National Action Plan and examining Pakistan’s relations with the Afghan Taliban in a pragmatic manner. Pakistan has paid a heavy price and it can no longer shift the blame on forces inimical to the country.
Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2021