With the United States’ departure from Afghanistan, the country has once again succumbed to Taliban rule. While the incumbent regime continues to subjugate civil rights and curb freedom in Afghanistan, this side of the border isn’t shielded from militancy either. It is high time that we change the way we see Afghanistan and reshape our foreign policies.
Failed Diplomatic Relations with Afghan Taliban?
Taliban 2.0 is failing to keep peace between the two countries which has left them at loggerheads with eachother. After the fall of Kabul, there were many predictions that Tehreek-E-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) will raise its militancy in Pakistan, especially in the areas like Balochistan and ex-Fata.
In my Research paper titled “US War in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Post Withdrawal Foreign Policy for Afghanistan” that was published in the Pakistan Journal of International Affairs, I had already predicted the resurgence of TTP in Pakistan. What happened in Bannu’s Counter Terrorism Department shows the surging wave of terrorism in Pakistan. The rising militancy and terrorism in Pakistan are the result of failed diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Taliban officials, aside from the shadowy deals with the US.
Prof Dr. Ilyas Ansari, an authority in International Relations at the University of Central Punjab, opines that the rising terrorist attacks in Pakistan are the result of long dormant TTP cells. ‘This might be another proxy that Pakistan has to bear,’ he exclaimed.
The important thing now is our foreign policy towards Afghanistan that must only aim for peace on both sides.
Rise of suicide attacks:
The suicide attack in Peshawar Mosque has caused over 100 deaths and left many injured. TTP took the responsibility of the attack causing fear among many in Pakistan. Followed by the attack in Islamabad, this indicates that TTP is back with full might. It is being discussed among upper echelons of establishment that our policies have not proven effective with the militants and the ceasefire with them was just another trap we fell prey to.
Post US withdrawal and after the success of the Taliban government, TTP needed time to settle in both countries so they put up the ceasefire that led to non-action from the Pakistani side. This gave them enough space and time to re-strategize themselves and attack Pakistan.
Our policy makers have been busy playing the ‘good taliban’ and ‘bad taliban’ since the APS attack of 2014 and while TTP has regained its power that Pakistan has minimized in the past. Our government and security officials have been negotiating with TTP via Afghan Taliban within close doors which seems to have failed. All the attacks that Pakistan is bearing right now are the retaliation attacks from TTP. It looks like the Peshawar blast was the revenge for TTP commander Khalid Khorasani that was killed last year.
It won’t be right to say that TTP is one entity there are numerous factions within TTP harboring different agendas and allies
The political and economic turmoil in Pakistan is another big reason for the resurgence of TTP in Pakistan. While the military officials were busy cleaning the political dirt on their names somewhere TTP was getting stronger. This has pushed Pakistan back to the situation in 2014 that was followed by major operations like Zarb Azab.
Recently the Defense Minister Khawaja Asif has said that an operation like Zarb Azab requires consensus which gives us a hint that the establishment might already be onto it. At the same time the US agreed to fund the Pak-Afghan border to maximize its security and eliminate all threats. This decision has caused a big debate among many analysts in Pakistan.
“We need to treat TTP and Afghan Taliban differently”
Some believe that this will only increase the aggression between the two as the diplomatic ties failed and Pakistan falling back to the US for help will increase TTP aggression. Another perspective is that Pakistan is not in the economic situation to bear more attacks and lacks funds to secure the border. Although this was long predicted by many that this region holds discrete significance for the US and it will regain its presence in the region either militarily or economically.
The post-withdrawal position of Pakistan was very neutral, policies like strict border regulation, full fencing, and no more air or land access to US forces had put the country in a neutral position which was a good foreign policy gesture towards the Taliban 2.0.
A delicate foreign policy is required in this situation where Pakistan diplomatically and through public diplomacy engages Afghan people but at the same time national security cannot be compromised.
Shift in our Foreign Policy towards Afghanistan:
Strong relations with Afghan Taliban and the citizens will help Pakistan establish healthy bilateral relations with Afghanistan. This will also reduce animosity between people across both sides of the border. Pakistan can go for policies which reflect soft power to Afghan nationals like allowing them to study in our universities, giving them scholarships, sending aid to Afghanistan and helping the country develop again in sectors like health, education and infrastructure
These policies will allow more trust and peace between the two and Afghan Taliban will themselves focus on maintaining peace between the two countries by eliminating TTP threats to Pakistan. But at the same time TTP is Pakistan’s internal issue and a threat to Pakistan’s security which at any cost Pakistan has to minimize. Currently, Afghanistan is playing a safe house for TTP and is one way or another protecting them.
Pakistan cannot have a peaceful bilateral relationship with the Afghan Taliban until and unless TTP is eliminated. But since the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, we have seen many TTP members being released from Afghanistan jails which later entered Pakistan, this reflects the failed diplomatic relations with Afghanistan.
Pakistan has seen Afghanistan as a threat and a country that disturbs national security but it’s time for a change. As I’ve already mentioned, Pakistan has to shift its policies from geo-strategic to geo-economics and for that Pakistan has to engage its neighbors economically by starting trade with them.
If Pakistan shifts its policies to geo-economics with Afghanistan the ties between the two will be stronger and both of the countries can enjoy the trade benefit. On the other hand, if Pakistan engages Afghanistan and its citizens economically and culturally many issues in Balochistan can be resolved as they both share the same culture with each other.
These are times Pakistan has to think of Afghanistan in a much positive light and not engage in harsh foreign policies and restrain from comments that can further increase aggression on both sides.