Pak and Afghanistan at one another’s throats

Pak and Afghanistan at one another's throats
Pak and Afghanistan at one another's throats

Harsha Kakar
On 15th August 2021, Pakistan PM, Imran Khan celebrated the withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan by stating the country has broken the ‘shackles of slavery.’ The same day, his party’s spokesperson, Neelam Irshad Sheikh, in a television news debate, gleefully mentioned, ‘Taliban have said that they are with us and they will help us in (liberating) Kashmir.’ The famous photograph of Pakistan’s then ISI chief, Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, having tea in a Kabul hotel, prior to the assumption of the new Taliban Government displayed its confidence in controlling the Kabul dispensation. Barely three years down the line, the two nations are at each other’s throats.
Pakistan accuses the Taliban of supporting the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) which has attacked Pak army positions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), as also the BRAS (Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar), a grouping of Baloch armed groups, all of which the Taliban deny.No other nation accuses Afghanistan similarly. The Taliban and Pak army have clashed on numerous occasions over the unrecognized Durand Line.
Pakistan’s losses to terrorist strikes have been rising. Its patience appeared to run out when it recently lost seven soldiers, including two officers, in a TTP attack. Pakistan responded with air strikes across the Durand Line, killing a few civilians, in what Pak claimed was an intelligence-based operation.
The individual it stated to have targeted, Gul Bahadur, placed a photograph of himself on social media disputing Pak’s claims. Matters have since escalated. The Taliban have attacked on Pak posts employing artillery, displaying images of surrendered Pak soldiers as also destruction of their outposts. Simultaneous has been an attack by BRAS on Gwadar.
However, there is much more in Pak-Afghan ties than just a case of the Taliban supporting anti-Pak terrorist groups.
Firstly, in Pakistan, the Islamabad dispensation, which has been cobbled by the generals, stays away from internal security issues, leaving it to Rawalpindi. The Pak army, on its part, has adopted a policy of suppressing populace of outlying regions through enforced disappearances and mass punishment, rather than winning them over, thereby providing fodder in terms of recruits to terrorist groups.
Its similar high handed approach led to a revolt and subsequent liberation of Bangladesh. It never learnt its lessons. Public anger against the army rises, but it does not care. With no political involvement and financial incentives to win over the population, little can change.
Secondly, for decades, Pakistan had projected the Taliban as its own extension and creation. It backed them as a counter to India’s increased presence in US controlled Afghanistan. Pakistan had regularly accused India of supporting the TTP and BRAS.
It had made its national public believe that all evil in Pakistan was due to India and with the arrival of the Taliban Government in Kabul everything would change. Indians were the Kafir’s who sought an end to Pakistan. It is now, in desperation, projecting that India still backs the TTP through the Taliban, a lie which even its Islamized populace finds difficult to swallow, as the devout Taliban cannot be puppets of Kafir India.
Thirdly, the Taliban have close linkages with Pak Madrassas in KP, from where many have emerged. They still have families and relatives residing in the region. Imran Khan’s PTI, which rules KP, has sympathy for the TTP and had even engaged in dialogue with them. Expecting the PTI Government in KP to change direction as Rawalpindi desires is unlikely.
Finally, the Pashtuns, residents of the region, divided by the Durand Line, hate the Pak army for its misdeeds. For them, the TTP and the Taliban are a better option than the marauding Pak army. Their protests for peaceful existence are responded to by brutal force of the Pak deep state.
Pakistan’s airstrikes in Afghanistan would never achieve desired results. It would only affirm the Taliban’s resolve. In Afghanistan, Pakistan is a hated state and considered responsible for their misery. An Afghan journalist even compared the Pak army to’Zionists.’ The Afghan Government and Taliban fighters regularly mock the Pak army.
In Jan this year, Taliban Deputy PM, Ahmad Yasir, projected a picture of the Pak army’s surrender in 1971 and tweeted, ‘This is Afghanistan, the graveyard of proud empires. Do not think of a military attack on us, otherwise there will be a shameful repetition of the military agreement with India.’ After the recent airstrike, the Taliban spokesperson issued a statement mentioning, ‘Pakistan should not blame Afghanistan for the lack of control, incompetence and problems within its own territories.’
Writing for The Sunday Guardian, Ehsanullah Ehsan, a former TTP spokesperson, who escaped from Pak custody, mentions, ‘After the current Government of Afghanistan refused to toe the lines of Pakistani generals, they initiated a proxy war against them.’ He claims Pakistan is employing the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), as a tool to pressurize the Kabul regime. He adds that Rawalpindi is coordinating with Tajikistan to launch the ISKP alongside the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, hoping to draw Afghan forces away from its borders. Pak has never stopped supporting terrorism.
Such is Pakistan’s frustration over Kabul that it approached the UNSC to investigate sources of funding of the TTP, presumably hinting at India. It is aware that Afghanistan is still not recognized by the UN and its request means nothing. Adding to tensions has been Pak’s decision to push back Afghan refugees, considered inhuman not only by Kabul, but also the UN.
The Pak Defence Minister, Khawaja Asif, threatened to shut the Karachi port in case Kabul continues to support the TTP. The Afghan Government, tired of Pak threats on Karachi, has now decided to invest USD 35 million alongside India in Iran’s Chabahar port. This would reduce its dependency on Islamabad as also open doors for greater attacks on Pak soil from the Taliban and BRAS.
What Pakistan fails to comprehend is that it has been targeted by militaries of three of its neighbours, India, Afghanistan and Iran. All has been because of it supporting terrorist groups against them, while historically, it continues to blame its neighbours for its own security failures. Unless Islamabad introspect and changes its policies, it will face attacks from all directions.
The author is Major General (Retd)