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TTP after Pakistan-Iran confrontation

Nobody’s talked about it yet, but you can be sure that one party that watched the Iran-Pakistan missile and drone exchange very closely was the Taliban regime in Kabul. They’re smart enough to know that even as Pakistan came out of the tit-for-tat with the upper hand, it also diluted its own threat of “decisive action” against TTP sanctuaries in Afghanistan.

It’s the same story, after all – one country refusing to shut down terrorist safe havens despite persistent attacks into another. Islamabad has long exhausted all diplomatic options and most people – except the extreme right fringe that’s always blindly supported the Taliban and even favoured repatriating TTP into the former tribal area – were urging the government to use force long before it delivered the “decisive action” message to the Taliban.

But, then, Iran and Pakistan had been communicating the same concerns, warnings and threats about Balochistan-Sistan border activity to each other for years. Yet the Pakistani public backed the government in rejecting Iran’s action as a violation of international law and calling it a stab in the back. Iran didn’t have the same option, of course, when a superior military paid it back in kind. Yet it’s a cruel irony that exercising good sense on one border has limited Pakistan’s options on another.

Now it’s much harder for Pakistan to take unilateral “decisive action” across the Durand Line – not the least because the dust from the Iran confrontation has yet to settle completely. And there’s no chance of TTP suddenly stopping its second insurgency. It’ll also do no good to remind the Taliban of their promises all over again. So, what are Islamabad’s options?

One is just maintaining the status quo, which means responding to attacks as and when they happen. But that’s not only left too many security personnel and polio workers dead already, it’s also allowed the insurgency to gain momentum once again; hence the eventual, however reluctant, resort to the “decisive action” threat.

Another is ignoring conventions, laws and how it would make Pakistan look so soon after being victimised and lobbing some of the same missiles and drones used in Sistan over the Afghan border as well. That’s sure to send a message, perhaps even take out much of TTP’s infrastructure, but there will be considerable blowback as well. The Taliban don’t have fancy hardware, but they can, in the worst-case scenario, leverage the Pashtun belt’s insular clans and undermine Pakistan’s security. And that’ll quickly offset any advantages of a strike.

Perhaps the only suitable option will come out of Pakistan-Iran talks when their foreign minister visits on the 29th. It turns out that Beijing played a big role in the rapid de-escalation, relying on its close ties with both countries to avoid further hostility and protect its multi-billion-dollar investments in them. Pakistan is already neck deep in political and economic crises; and a growing security one as well. And Iran’s deep involvement in the fallout of the Gaza genocide has made it a potential target for limited hits from the US and Israel.

For Tehran to light the fuse when it shared the powder keg with Pakistan was shocking and ridiculous, but it did make everybody finally realise that even a limited skirmish in this area can quickly light a much bigger fire and potentially burn down the whole region. If there is more instability in Pakistan, especially more terrorism, it would face a market meltdown, an investment exodus, perhaps even the end of the IMF lifeline; leaving it vulnerable to nothing less than sovereign default and all that it will bring.

On the other hand, if Iran is any more isolated, it will very quickly find itself being blamed for Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and Hezbollah hits on Israeli forces just when the threat of combined American and Israeli military action has never ever been more real. And China’s billions in both countries, along with its dream of financing a modern, maritime Silk Route, would go up in smoke. Not to mention its reputation as a rising, US-rivalling arbiter in international conflicts and the fate of the new, US-defying China-Russia axis.

Securing the entire region, not just Islamabad and Tehran burying the hatchet, is sure to be the theme as Iran’s foreign minister comes to Pakistan on the 29th and Beijing toggles from behind the scenes. That, according to chatter that’s not yet reached the press, is when Islamabad will put its TTP issue on the table as well. Because if TTP won’t stop on its own, and the Taliban won’t stop it, then military action will have to stop it.

But since Pakistan going it alone breaks the law and all that, the whole region’s stakeholders will have to give the Taliban the or-else option. Otherwise TTP presence in Afghanistan will eventually threaten everything from Pakistan’s security to Iran’s future, especially China’s precious billions.

Shahab Jafry, "TTP after Pakistan-Iran confrontation," Business recorder. 2024-01-25.
Keywords: Social sciences , Security forces , International relations , International issues , Tehreek-i-Taliban , Pakistan , Iran , Balochistan , Seistan , Syria , TTP , BLA

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