Pakistan has formally notified the UN Security Council (UNSC) that it has “clear evidence” that the terror group Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is backed by “our main adversary” and has been given a free hand to attack the country.
This news surfaced when Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Munir Akram upheld Islamabad’s decision to deport Afghan refugees from the country. Although Akram did not name India, indications were clear that he was referring to India.
Miunir also said TTP’s attacks have become more lethal and sophisticated since they acquired advanced military supplies. He claimed these weapons were left behind by foreign forces that were based in Afghanistan.
Earlier, on September 6, the Economic Times reported that Pakistan closed a key border crossing with landlocked Afghanistan shortly after border guards from the two sides exchanged fire.
Afghan Taliban spokesman for the Interior Ministry confirmed the clashes, adding that officials from both sides were attempting to find out the cause of the firing.
A side development was that the Torkham border closure came just two days after the caretaker Pakistani Prime Minister Anwaarul-Haq Kakar said US military equipment left behind during the American withdrawal from Afghanistan had fallen into militant hands and made its way to the Pakistani Taliban, meaning Tahreek–i-Taliban-i-Pakistan.
So we have the Taliban of Afghanistan and the Taliban of Pakistan. The former was the creation of Pakistan in the days when Islamabad was aspiring for strategic depth westward, while the TTP had been aspiring for space southward.
The quest for strategic depth is also at the root of this conflicting scenario. In a statement and video clip released by TTP, it claimed that in recent months, they had acquired weapons such as guns with laser and thermal imaging systems.
Peace Effort Failed
The Afghan Taliban government asked the Pakistan government to initiate peace talks with TTP. Pakistani special envoy Assad Durrani met with Maulvi Abdul Kabir, acting Kabul minister for foreign affairs.
The Pakistani envoy said that Afghanistan’s Taliban-led interim government will have to take decisive action against the TPP blamed for several major attacks in the country.
Pakistan Feels Threatened
Reflecting on the tenuous situation on the Pak-Afghan border, informed sources revealed that the Afghan Taliban leadership was told that Pakistan’s patience was wearing thin vis-à-vis the TTP.
At her weekly briefing, Pakistan foreign spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said, “The issue of terrorism …. is an issue of serious concern to Pakistan. And Pakistan has raised this issue with the Afghan authorities on multiple occasions.”
Asked about the source of the threat, the spokesperson said, “We have discussed the threat of terrorism emanating from the Afghan soil.”
On the other hand, we learned that the Kabul regime has insisted on Islamabad to talk to the TTP and resolve the dispute through dialogue. From this, one can infer that the Kabul regime wants Islamabad to come to an agreement that recognizes the autonomous status of Pakhtuns and once and for all derecognizes the Durand Line, which is the natural bone of contention between the Pukhtuns and Punjabis.
The Afghan Taliban is not interested in taking any action against the TPP. How can they take the path that Pakistan would like them to take? The Pakhtuns are linked through race, language, culture, and blood to the Taliban of Afghanistan.
They have fought shoulder-to-shoulder with their Taliban brethren in their war against the US. They have made tremendous sacrifices for the victory of the Taliban.
Durand Line is the main issue between the Afghans and Pakistan. It is not an issue of recent origin but came up soon after the British colonial power drew the line to serve their purpose.
No government in Kabul, whether autocratic or populist, ever accepted the Durand Line. In particular, the Pakhtuns living along the dividing line never bought it because it divided thousands of their families.
But Pakistan, the inheritor of the colonial legacy, wants to play the role of the British. Islamabad knows that a united Pashtunistan will cut the dominating Punjabi supremacy to its size.
TTP’s Upper Hand
Pakistan army’s brutalities against the Pakhtuns through military operations like Zarb-e-Azab and taking the lives of more than 70,000 Pakhtuns of Waziristan could not count down the defiant Pakhtuns.
TTP has been getting more robust and more effective with each passing day. They have the manpower, sophisticated weapons, grit, and will, and above all, they receive logistic support.
The Economic Times report of December 12 said an attack by the TTP in Dera Ismail Khan killed at least 23 soldiers. The Pakistan army said a Pakistani Taliban group claimed responsibility.
Two days later, TTP attacked a police and army camp in the town of Tank, and two policemen were killed in the gunfight. The deadliest attack was last January when 101 people were killed, mainly policing officers, when a suicide bomber disguised as a policeman attacked a mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
There is hardly a week when the TTP does not strike at vulnerable sites to harass Pakistani Punjabi soldiers or policemen. The ethnic strife has reached its peak.
In utter desperation, Pakistan issued an order in October to deport the Afghan refugees, numbering nearly 600,000, who had fled their homes and hearth when the Taliban captured Kabul. There were tens of thousands of other Afghans who sought asylum in other countries.
According to available figures, about 345,000 Afghan refugees have been deported to date despite their unwillingness. They have no homes, no life, and no source for survival. Even the UN and some Islamic countries advised Islamabad to withdraw the deportation order because it violated the Charter of Human Rights.
The Pakistan army’s charge against these refugees is that they give shelter and support to the TTP militants and are also involved in a variety of crimes. No proof is provided. This action of Pakistan has added fuel to the explosive political and security situation in Pakistan, where massive opposition to the Pakistan army has been brewing for a long.
Even the rivalry and anger within the army ranks are now coming to the knowledge of ordinary people increasingly alienated from the ruling apparatus.
With deepening internal security and political crisis, coupled with an economic debacle, Islamabad is perhaps looking toward Beijing to bail her out physically. China has made vast investments in Pakistan. Pakistan is strategically crucial to China’s CPEC project, in which billions of dollars have been invested.
The protests in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan all have alerted Beijing that India making a military thrust into PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan would mean a ruinous defeat of the Sino-Pak strategy in the region.
Therefore, the two countries, in collusion, are making frantic efforts to save their strategic interests. China wants the vassal state of Pakistan, and Pakistan is hounded by the fear of an armed onslaught by the Afghan Taliban, whom Islamabad is giving provocation. Will they formulate a plan in which the two in tango would deal with Kabul in the language of military power?
The Pentagon has identified Pakistan as a possible location for a future Chinese military base, with Gwadar as the likely location. Any sign of this happening that would fuel India’s worries about the growing Chinese military alliance and assets in its backyard, reported The Times of India on May 23, 2023.
It said that Beijing had recently announced that it is looking to “expand into a new field of military cooperation with Islamabad.” For China, Pakistan and its access to the Arabian Sea is critical in the event of a maritime blockade in the Strait of Malacca. China imports 60 percent of oil from the Gulf countries, 80 percent of which flows through the Strait of Malacca.
Pakistani naval chief Amjad Khan Niazi recently visited Beijing where, in a meeting, the Chinese Defence Minister highlighted that the two militaries should expand into new areas of exchanges, create new high points of cooperation to continuously enhance their ability to deal with all sorts of risks and challenges.
In late April, Niazi’s visit came after Zhang Youxia, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, said that the Chinese military was willing to deepen and expand cooperation with Pakistan’s military.
The crucial point is how Beijing is going to deal with a situation in which the Taliban Afghanistan refuses to rein in the TTP, and the Pakistan army, torn by mutual rivalry among its ranks and divided on ethnic basis, fails to check the inevitable take over by the TTP.
China would be willing to support Pakistan to save its regional and global interests. But support in the form of the two countries planning to launch a joint military operation against Pakistan will be a disaster for both. China is not that naïve to send its troops to Afghanistan to fight for a third country, even if that is called “Iron Brother.”
The only way for Pakistan to save its territorial integrity is to concede full autonomy to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, declare nullification of the Durand Line, and open the border for free trade and transport. The US and India know that by allowing China free access to Gwadar and the Gulf region, Pakistan is playing with fire.