Decoupling With The Afghan Taliban On The Ideological Front – OpEd

Emboldened by the victory of its ideological counterparts in Afghanistan, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has resurged in a deadly fashion. In January, the banned group carried out its deadliest attack on a mosque in Peshawar since the Army Public School (APS) attack in 2014.

TTP, an ally of the Afghan Taliban, takes its inspiration of imposing Sharia Law in Pakistan’s tribal border region from the Afghan Taliban. Seeds of jihad, sown initially during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s support for the Taliban in Afghanistan during peace negotiations are now proving detrimental to the national security of Pakistan. Although such support for the Afghan Taliban stemmed from the hopes of them uprooting TTP hideouts and safe havens, it currently is a far cry as things stand.

While questioning Durand Line as an international border, the Afghan Taliban government has been anything but what Pakistani authorities hoped for: be it combating terrorist organizations using its soil for global jihadist activities or promises made in the peace deal with the U.S. The Afghan interim government has also backtracked on many issues, including girls’ education. Despite the highly polarized domestic political environment, stakeholders inside Pakistan seem to be joining hands against the sharp spike in terrorist attacks within the country. However, it is not the kinetic efforts that could alone defeat TTP and religious extremism, but the country also needs to decouple itself on the ideological front from the interim Afghan government. The policy needs to move from an ideological standpoint to a more pragmatic avenue.

The religious ideological moorings as a currency of bilateral relations between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban have had serious repercussions for Pakistan. While TTP enjoys safe havens in Afghanistan, the interim Afghan government has failed to uproot the organization, TTP attacks have increased manifold, especially after the fall of Kabul in 2021. The ideological obsession in foreign policy vis-à-vis Afghan Taliban is detrimental to national security. Although several kinetic and non-kinetic measures have been taken to uproot the menace of terrorism within the country, such as National Action Plan, the policies have borne little fruit. Along with the military operations, several post-conflict rehabilitation measures were also taken to rehabilitate Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and rebuild infrastructure. By 2018, TTP had lost its strongholds and normalcy was returning to the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Despite the dividends of an all-out against terrorism approach, the ideological support for Afghan Taliban and on-and-off peace agreements with TTP failed to bring lasting and sustainable peace. Terming the Taliban victory in Afghanistan as having “broken the shackles of slavery”, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister’s statement highlights the confused state of ideological approach towards religious extremism. Religious political parties, Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI-F) and Jamat-e-Islami (JI) heads also sent congratulatory letters to the Taliban leadership. The consequences of such actions are also translated deep within the society, where different segments celebrated Taliban victory, albeit for different reasons. This highlights the manifestation of the ideological obsession of the country’s different stakeholders with the Afghan Taliban, irrespective of national interest.

The Indian-centric security approach is another reason why Pakistan is not ready to give up on Afghan Taliban. Pakistani authorities consider the Taliban to be the only viable option to counter Indian influence in Afghanistan. As soon as the takeover in Kabul was complete, it was also celebrated that the Indian investments have failed in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, the peace talks with TTP since 2007 and their continued failure also did not put the record straight – negotiations with terrorists are not feasible. The reasoning for the peace talks by the state authorities is that it is the only possible solution to the menace of extremism and terrorism because wars can’t be fought infinitely. The adage, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me, fits perfectly over negotiations with the TTP.

In the six instances of peace talks with TTP starting in 2007, every peace negotiation has ended in a truce being called off by the TTP and the continuation of attacks against Pakistan. Despite the obvious outcomes of the previous peace talks and the absurd demands by the TTP in the recently called-off truce, brokered by the Afghan Taliban, the reliance on peace agreements with TTP provides nothing but more weightage to the TTP to spread further inside Pakistan.

Putting things into perspective, ever since the Taliban ran over Kabul and installed an interim government, their victory has given both, morale and psychological boost to TTP and other extremist outfits that are anti-Pakistan to challenge the state and its writ, especially in tribal areas. Unless Pakistan and its ruling elite give up on its religiously motivated ideological moorings as a basis of bilateral exchange currency with the Afghan Taliban, they can hardly counter extremist elements inside its territory.