To preserve its own stability, Pakistan must first stabilize Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The euphoria felt by many Pakistanis following the Taliban’s victory in Kabul six months ago is fading. The gover...


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The euphoria felt by many Pakistanis following the Taliban’s victory in Kabul six months ago is fading. The government had hoped that a friendly – ​​some would say proxy – regime in Kabul would ease its concerns about the Pakistani Taliban.

But instead, there has been an upsurge in terror attacks in recent months, which Pakistani officials say were planned by militants hiding inside Afghan territories.

Yet senior Pakistani civilian and security officials remain optimistic about the future, or at the very least stress that a stable Afghanistan is essential for a stable Pakistan. It is a position that puts Pakistan in a difficult situation: the country must continue to help the new Taliban government, while facing the growing security and economic risks for Pakistan that have come with the new regime.

“Is there a chance that if the Taliban government is in a hurry, there could be a change for the better? No,” Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan said in an interview with CNN earlier this month. He stressed that the world will also eventually have to deal with the Taliban for lack of a second or better alternate.

“So the only alternative we have right now is to work with them and push them for what the world wants: inclusive government, human rights and women’s rights in particular,” he said. -he adds.

So far, however, government efforts for diplomatic recognition of the Afghan Taliban and calls for more comprehensive financial assistance have yielded little result. Pakistan itself not diplomatically recognizing the Afghan Taliban shows the dilemma facing the country.

Pakistan saw a 42% increase in terrorist attacks in 2021 compared to the previous year, according to the Islamabad-based Pak Institute for Peace Studies, with a significant increase after the fall of Kabul. The report notes that the fall of Kabul has begun to negatively influence the country’s militant and security landscape, saying the change in Afghanistan “does not in any way help Pakistan’s efforts to deal with militant groups threatening its security.”

The institute documented that the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, a banned militant group responsible for some of the country’s worst terror attacks, was alone responsible for 87 attacks that killed 158 people, an increase of 84% compared to 2020.

Until the end of 2020, the Pakistani Taliban appeared to be significantly weakened, with its top leaders killed or pushed into Afghanistan after a Pakistani military offensive in 2014. But alongside the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, the insurgency made its back and uses its resurgence to sow fear. among Pakistani traders, government officials and law enforcement.

Using phone numbers beginning with the international dialing code for Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban called and threatened wealthy Pakistani traders with extortion payments.

“Traders were forced to pay huge sums of extortion money out of fear,” Muhammad Azam, a Karachi-based trader, who says he paid around $2,850 last month to the terrorist organization .

“If a trader refuses to pay, activists detonate small bombs near their homes to scare them into giving in to their demands. If they keep refusing to pay, the militants are hurting them or their family members,” Azam said.

These threats have also extended to senior government officials, many of whom say they pay because they fear being attacked at political rallies or other public events – as has been the fate of senior political leaders in the past.

A senior federal government minister from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province said he recently paid a few million rupees to the Pakistani Taliban to avoid attack. Another official, who spoke to The Times on condition of anonymity due to security fears, said that when he refused to pay, an activist threatened him in person.

Police officers, particularly those protecting teams of polio vaccinators, have been a key target of these attacks. In 2021, militants, mostly from the Pakistani Taliban, killed 48 police officers and injured 44 others in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province alone, according to police statistics. Much of the violence occurred in the final months of the year.

Despite repeated attempts, Pakistan was unable to obtain firm guarantees from the Afghan Taliban that they would take action against the Pakistani Taliban operating in Afghanistan. The deteriorating security situation was one of the main items on the agenda of talks between the Taliban authorities and Moeed Yusuf, Pakistan’s national security adviser, during his visit to Kabul last month.

The Afghan Taliban are “determined to take the necessary steps to ensure that Afghan soil is not used for attacks against Pakistan,” Yusuf said in an interview with The New York Times, adding that Pakistan “will continue to bring humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, and engage with the Taliban on issues of mutual interest and concern within an internationally acceptable framework.

Analysts also note that Pakistan’s economy has been hit by the situation across the border, as millions of US dollars are believed to be smuggled across the border every day. To mitigate this, the State Bank of Pakistan in October limited the amount of US dollars travelers are allowed to take into Afghanistan.

One of the benefits to Pakistan of the collapse of the former Afghan government was the damage it caused to India’s second front against Pakistan, according to Asif Durrani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan and Iran.

Pakistani officials have long accused India of supporting terrorism in Pakistan through Indian consulates in Afghanistan, with backing from the intelligence agency of the former Afghan government. After the Taliban takeover, Pakistani officials say India’s footprint has been reduced, though they still accuse India of funding Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and Baloch separatist groups.

It has been particularly acute in southwestern Balochistan, a province rich in natural gas and minerals and the site of major Chinese projects.

On January 27, the Pakistani army declared 10 of his soldiers were killed during an exchange of fire in the district of Kech, in the province of Balochistan. Less than a week later, more than a dozen suicide bombers, heavily armed with rocket launchers and sophisticated weaponry, attacked two Pakistani paramilitary camps in the remote districts of Panjgur and Naushki, along the southern border of Pakistan with Iran and the western border with Afghanistan.

“The Baloch insurgents also draw their strength from the example of the Taliban in the defeat of the United States, and the TTP has been helping them for some time with training and tactics,” said Asfandyar Mir, senior expert at the American Institute for Peace, referring to the Pakistani Taliban. “With Afghanistan more permissive towards the TTP, Afghanistan-based Baloch insurgents – despite losing the patronage of the former Afghan government – ​​still have help in Afghanistan.”

Senior security officials in Islamabad also say they are aware of the capacity problems of the Afghan Taliban, which does not have full control over all of its members. Some low-level Afghan Taliban, they say, maintain ties with the Pakistani Taliban, a fact recognized by senior Afghan Taliban leaders who recognize their shortcomings and are committed to allaying Pakistan’s concerns.

Some analysts, however, warn that Pakistan is exaggerating in its optimism and its hopes placed in the Afghan Taliban.

“The ideological convergence between the Afghan Taliban and the TTP terror network is inescapable,” said Islamabad-based policy and security analyst Mosharraf Zaidi. “Combined with the allure of explicitly supporting Pashtun nationalism, this ideological convergence between Kabul and the TTP terror network means the Taliban is not aligned with Islamabad on two key security issues.”

Pakistan, Mosharraf said, now has much of the same Afghanistan on its border as before August 2021, when Kabul fell, but with a profound difference. “He no longer has a capable counterterrorism partner, in the style of the US government, to work with.”

Other commentators support this assessment.

Ironically, Pakistan, which has supported the Taliban against the United States and which has been fighting for international recognition of the movement since August 2021, is the first country to accuse, under the new Taliban government, of Afghan territory being used for international terrorism, said Mr. said Mir.

Pakistan made the accusation after TTP militants firing from inside Afghanistan killed five Pakistani soldiers at a border post in the northwestern district of Kurram on February 6.

Mr. Mir added: “The void in the Afghan Taliban’s counter-terrorism safeguards became evident in their treatment of the Pakistani Taliban.

Salman Masood reported from Islamabad and Zia ur-Rehman from Karachi. Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud contributed reporting from Peshawar.

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Newsrust - US Top News: To preserve its own stability, Pakistan must first stabilize Afghanistan
To preserve its own stability, Pakistan must first stabilize Afghanistan
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