US diplomat terms TTP ‘greatest threat’ to regional stability

Published September 15, 2023
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West. — State Dept website
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West. — State Dept website

WASHINGTON: A senior US diplomat has identified the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as the greatest threat to regional stability.

Addressing a seminar at the Stimson Center on Tuesday, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West, however, admitted that the Taliban rulers had “significantly degraded” the capabilities of the militant Islamic State (IS) group.

Mr West said the Doha agreement that enabled the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan was no longer as relevant as it once was.

Pakistan’s role in today’s Afghanistan also came up for discussion when Dave Smith, a former US diplomat in Islamabad, recalled that for many years, Washington looked at Pakistan through the lens of Afghanistan, and now, for the last two years, through a different lens.

Tom West says Pakistan ‘helping’ US achieve its goals in Afghanistan

He also recalled that Pakistan took a quick victory lap when the Taliban captured Kabul but now the shoe seemed to be on the other foot as Afghanistan became a TTP sanctuary.

“Is Pakistan a help or hindrance in achieving US goals in Afghanistan?” he asked.

“I would say on balance they are a help. They are. They are certainly a partner when it comes to security issues,” Mr West said. “They are a helpful trouble-shooter when it comes to relocation related issues. They have been helpful to us when it comes to refugee processing. So, on balance, I would say help.”

Describing the link between the Afghan Taliban and the banned TTP, the US official said: “As they were pushed across the border, the TTP became allies of the Taliban. They were financial supporters, logistical supporters, operational allies as well. So, I think the ties between them are quite tight.”

Asked whether the Taliban were supporting TTP attacks against Pakistan, Mr West said he could not discuss this publicly but “it’s no secret that this is the issue that dominates Pakistan’s engagement with the Taliban at the moment”.

In his opening remarks, the US diplomat pointed out that “the group that’s posing the greatest threat to the stability of the region” was TTP. “We have seen a very significant increase in attacks directed at Pakistan,” he added.

Mr West also noted that Al Qaeda was at its “historical nadir” in the region and their ability to threaten the US from their bases was at its lowest point since the group relocated to Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996.

He acknowledged that Taliban’s “successful” offensive against the IS had “significantly degr­aded” the group’s capability. He noted that since early 2023, Taliban raids in Afghanistan had removed at least eight key IS leaders, some responsible for external plotting.

“There were horrific attacks largely against the Hazara population, but we have not seen a return to those sorts of attacks since then,” he added.

Elizabeth Threlkeld, who heads the South Asia programme, Stimson Center and moderated the talk, asked Mr West to define the role of the Doha agreement in today’s Afghanistan.

“It does not come up. I don’t sit with the Doha agreement open and note all the ways in which the Taliban have violated it. They, likewise, do not hold it up,” he replied.

“We are guided by our interests in Afghanistan now. Certainly, the commitments they made, particularly with regard to security, we consider binding. But the Doha agreement as a practical matter doesn’t come up.”

Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2023

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