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Chickens coming home to roost

The anticipated uptick in Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorist actions after the Taliban takeover of power in Afghanistan seems to have announced its arrival. Previously, we were just beginning to acknowledge an increase in cross-border firing and the assassination of maliks (tribal chiefs) and security forces personnel in the erstwhile FATA and Peshawar. Now the suicide bombing of a Frontier Corps (FC) convoy on the Quetta-Mastung road in Balochistan on September 5, 2021, in which four FC men were killed and 21 (including two civilians) were wounded, may well herald the start of a new terrorist campaign by the TTP.

It should be recalled that the Pakistani military’s offensive in the erstwhile tribal areas after the Army Public School, Peshawar, massacre of schoolchildren and teachers in 2014 forced the TTP to move across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. There they have safely waited for the tide to turn, helped in the meantime to survive on Afghan soil through the good offices of the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban. When retreating across the border, they had left sleeper cells behind to await the start of a fresh campaign. Now it appears they see the time has come for another chance to subvert Pakistan through terror.

Inside Afghanistan, the hopes of the world (especially the US-led west) for the Afghan Taliban to deliver on their promises of forming an inclusive government, ensuring acceptable governance (unlike in their previous stint in power), handling the economy, tackling the burgeoning humanitarian crisis and ensuring terrorist groups do not use Afghan soil to attack other countries seem to hang by a precarious fine thread. The Taliban so far have after at least two weeks of the capture of Kabul, only been able to announce a new head of state from within their ranks, with the formation of that elusive ‘inclusive’ government still pending. International recognition, critical to the Taliban being able to halt or reverse the increasing brain drain and manage an economy battered by decades of war, still seems far.

The maximum that has been squeezed out of the world at large is China and Russia remaining open to cooperation with the Taliban in return for ensuring Xinjiang and Central Asia are not revisited by terrorism emanating from movements based on Afghan soil, the US-led west attempting to overcome the fallout of its shameful ‘cut and run’ that left their own citizens and Afghan collaborators at risk by talking to the Taliban about evacuations, and major powers jockeying to put together new (or reviving old) groupings to deal with the aftermath of the US-led west’s debacle after 20 years of occupation and war.

Our own government, from Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan downwards, are reaching out to the world to fulfill their agenda of consolidating Taliban rule. The PM reached out to Saudi Arabia and the UAE on September 5, 2021, but both countries’ policy is in marked contrast to when they, along with Pakistan, were the only countries to recognize the first Taliban regime in 1996. Since 9/11, Saudi Arabia (with the UAE in tow) has adopted a meaningful and enigmatic silence on Afghanistan. First and foremost, Osama ben Laden and 9/11 persuaded Riyadh to distance itself from the Taliban. Today, they too, like Pakistan, are hiding behind the argument that they will only recognize the new Taliban regime in conformity with the world at large. How things have changed.

Qatar, on the other hand, also contacted by the PM, has raised its stature in the world through its role in facilitating the Taliban office in Doha and the negotiations with the US (and unproductively with the Afghan government). The Gulf rivalry between Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the one hand and Qatar on the other seems to have played out in the latter’s favour. Despite a flurry of such contacts, visits and meetings in recent days, there are still few if any buyers for the Pakistani narrative of being non-partisan and a facilitator of peace in Afghanistan when everybody and his aunt knows of our support to the Taliban.

Inside Afghanistan, the holdout resistance in the Panjsher Valley is under enormous military pressure from Taliban forces attacking from all four directions. Premature Taliban claims of ‘victory’ notwithstanding, the Panjsheris and their newfound former Afghan soldiery that refused to surrender will no doubt continue to pursue the guerrilla tactics that helped them hold off the Soviets for 10 years and the Taliban for five. Their main concern must be keeping their lines of supply from outside the country (likely candidate Tajikistan) intact. Afghanistan is of course awash with weapons after almost five decades of conflict, not counting the US weapons and equipment left behind for the Taliban. This could provide the wherewithal for other resistance groups, sooner or later, to take up arms against the Taliban.

The glimmerings of such an eventuality can already be seen. A women’s rights protest in Kabul has been brutally quashed. A policewoman has been assassinated in her home in front of her family. House-to-house searches are based on hit lists of former Afghan officials, members of the military and security forces, and collaborators of the occupation. This witch-hunt alone is enough to render the Taliban credibility on the announced general amnesty and no reprisals questionable, if not a downright lie.

A leopard does not change its spots. Neither can this be reasonably expected of a movement whose antediluvian views are shocking, reprehensible, and unacceptable in today’s world. The Taliban’s true character will soon be on display, plunging their regime and its foremost backer Pakistan into new crises.

Rashed Rahman, "Chickens coming home to roost," Business Recorder. 2021-09-07.
Keywords: Political science , Frontier corps , Pakistani military , Afghan soil , Central asia , Afghan government , Imran Khan , Afghanistan , Saudi Arabia , PM , US

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