Presence of militants

Published September 10, 2023
The writer is a security analyst.
The writer is a security analyst.

THE recent cross-border infiltrations and operational strikes by terrorist networks operating from Afghanistan have raised concerns about the Afghan Taliban’s direct involvement in these attacks. A terrorist group cannot launch massive cross-border attacks involving a significant number of terrorists inside Pakistan without the support and approval of the Taliban regime. If these doubts have any substance, this is tantamount to declaring war against a state.

Social media and online media reports are also circulating about the Haqqanis’ direct involvement in these intrusions, citing security officials. This may surprise those who believed that close ties existed between the Haqqanis and the Pakistani security establishment, as the relationship between the two has now apparently become strained. The extent of this perceived bitterness in relations is not known, and neither the Haqqanis nor the Pakistani establishment have officially indicated the nature of any dispute between them. However, Pakistan has officially registered its protest concerning the involvement of Afghan fighters in the attack on the military cantonment in the Zhob district of Balochistan.

Only if there is official confirmation from one of the parties about the dispute, can we speculate about its nature based on several factors.

It is a fact that the TTP has a close relationship with the Haqqanis that has overseen the negotiation process between the government and the TTP. This process failed, causing some initial dents in the confidence of Pakistan’s security institutions. Religious, ideological, tribal, and political factors are also important from various perspectives. The organisational relationship between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani militant groups has evolved over time, especially after the resurgence of the former in their country. The Afghan Taliban developed a nexus with the Pakistani establishment and militant groups, which, while not mutually exclusive, involves complex relationships among the three actors.

Militant groups in Pakistan have provided human resource to the Afghan Taliban.

Pakistan has strategic interests in Afghanistan and has often been accused of paying no heed to the presence of the Taliban on its soil. The Taliban, in turn, have relied on safe havens, financial support, and fighters primarily from Pakistan and other neighbouring states like Iran. Militant groups in Pakistan have provided human resource to the Taliban; many of these fighters became disillusioned due to shifts in the state’s policies on jihad. While the ‘Quetta shura’ hesitated to recruit Pakistani fighters, the Haqqanis and ‘Peshawar shura’ actively incorporated them, creating both combat units and financial and logistical supply chains. Al Qaeda has also influenced these Pakistani militants, further radicalising them against the state.

Historical accounts may reveal more surprising details, but so far, the most comprehensive research on the Taliban movement has been conducted by Antonio Giustozzi. In his book The Taliban at War, Giustozzi notes that a unique aspect of the Haqqani Network is its direct recruitment of Pakistani fighters. As of 2015, around 10 per cent of the ‘Miranshah shura’s’ forces were Pakistani, primarily drawn from other jihadist groups such as TTP, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi.

According to reports, the significant presence of volunteers from Pakistan as well as other countries has contributed to the Haqqanis’ image as being more aligned with global jihadist movements like Al Qaeda, as opposed to the Quetta shura. The Peshawar shura is also believed to have been heavily reliant on Pakistani militants, expanding its reach to other cities in the country, where it’ssaid to have recruited hundreds of Pakistanis.

In summary, Pakistan has underestimated the potential problems posed by fighters who have been part of the Afghan Taliban, especially compared to the TTP and its affiliate groups with whom it initiated talks under the Haqqanis’ supervision. Reports are that thousands of these fighters may have returned to Pakistan, many of them apparently joining the TTP and its factions, and the rest remaining under the patronage of various Taliban commanders, including the Haqqanis. News has appeared about the TTP and its allied social media accounts about faction mergers or small militant groups joining the TTP, usually involving militants who were once directly engaged with the Taliban.

The Haqqanis have accommodated many in their government and security forces, including Adnan Rasheed, a former Pakistani Air Force employee, who joined Al Qaeda and specialised in jailbreaks. Adnan Rasheed was released from Bannu jail in April 2012 by militants. However, the Taliban cannot accommodate all these fighters, and with their return to Pakistan increasingly likely, they are supporting their cause for fighting within Pakistan.

Interestingly, just as the Haqqanis and the Peshawar shura had recruited thousands of Pakistanis, the TTP is said to be doing the same with Afghan Taliban fighters eager to continue their ‘jihad’ in Pakistan. The security department has sufficient evidence to support this claim. DIG CTD of KP, Sohail Khalid, recently revealed in a press conference that investigations into facilitators of the Ali Masjid suicide blast showed that the attacker came from Afghanistan. Afghan Sim cards, jihadist pamphlets, and other documents were also recovered.

Pakistan had concerns that these returning militants would continue their terrorist activities. During talks with the TTP, it became clear that the TTP and other terrorist groups had no intention of ceasing their activities. If these individuals were to be integrated into the general population, they would pose a greater risk, not just through terrorist activities but also by spreading the ideological influence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

These terrorists, now led by the TTP, are exploiting Pakistan’s vulnerabilities with regard to territory, resources, and support base. The recent terrorist attacks in the Zhob and Sherani districts of Balochistan, along with the intrusion into Chitral, are all components of a broader strategy. Al Qaeda apparently had an eye on the region which borders Chitral since long for establishing a new base for supporting terrorist movements in the region, including China. This situation is precarious for Pakistan and the Taliban regime, and they must find a solution before it worsens.

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2023

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