Whither Pakistan? Deepening Ethnic Fault lines

Dr J. Jaganaathan, Waseem Raja
What is happening in Pakistan? In the past two weeks there have been wave of terror attacks in Pakistan unleashed by the Tehreek -e- Taliban (TTP). The TTP has even declared a parallel government with the appointment of cabinet ministers for defence, economy, Media and Intelligence. The Pakistan government led by the coalition Prime Minister Shebhaz Sharif has convened two crucial meetings in a span of just two weeks to chart out strategy against the rising terror attacks by TTP. The TTP has pulled out of ceasefire agreement and declared war against Islamabad just a day before the new Chief of Pakistan Army Staff (COAS) Gen. Azim Munir was appointed. The TTP has divided its stronghold in Federally Administered Areas (FATA) into two zones. The Northern Zone comprises of Peshawar, Malakand, Mardan and Gilgit-Balstistan and the Southern Zone includes Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, and Kohat. It is a direct threat to the Sovereignty of Pakistan and social media is abuzz with comments saying Pakistan’s 1971 moment.
The TTP also enjoy ideological and tactical support from their brethren Afghan Taliban. Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts to persuade the Taliban leadership in Kabul not to allow TTP to have safe haven along the fragile Af-Pak border have not fructified. Nevertheless, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan does not recognise the Durand Line that separates the Pashtun land. The Pakistan government is mulling a military offensive to eliminate TTP with the support of the U.S. As the country is slipping into a severe economic crisis, the worsening security situation with the rise of terrorist attacks from TTP would embolden the other insurgence movement in Balochistan. Is Pakistan heading for vertical split or civil war?
Taliban’s approach to Durand Line and initiatives they have started
The Durand line, which was drawn on November 12th, 1893, separated the Pashtun-populated area, causing a rift between those who shared the same culture and ethnicity but could not identify with either of the two parties. The Pakistani provinces of Balochistan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and North-West Frontier Province are all traversed by the Durand Line. Afghanistan’s ten provinces are also included. Despite pressure from Islamabad, the Taliban refused to support the Durand Line, claiming that Muslims should not be divided by boundaries. Since the Durand Line separates the Pashtun tribes that dwell on both sides of the border in Afghanistan, certain parties do not accept it as a legal border between their country and Pakistan. They claim that building a physical barrier will create a permanent border and a rift in society.
The Durand Line has already been referred to by the Taliban caretaker government as a national matter, referring to the people living on both sides of the Durand Line and not the only responsibility of the Afghan government to undertake sole decision, demonstrating a common stance of the Islamic Emirate in light of the recent tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Even if the final 21 kms of the fence are built while the Taliban are in power, this is not guarantee that they will later sign the document establishing de jure recognition of the Durand Line. The Taliban are Pashtuns by ethnicity. The deep wound of the Durand line may be felt by every Pashtun tribe, regardless of whether they reside in Afghanistan or Pakistan. As a result, the Taliban and its deeply held ideologies have nationalist viewpoints.
Taliban and Tehreek-e-Taliban nexus
General Qamar Bajwa, a former commander of the Pakistani Army, asserted that the Taliban and TTP are two sides of the same coin. There is probably a widespread perception in Islamabad that the Taliban is pressuring TTP to launch additional strikes as punishment for the Durand line fencing. How much influence the Taliban actually has on TTP’s conduct is unknown. After the Taliban took over in August, the depth of the TTP’s cooperation with the Afghan Taliban became clear. The senior TTP commanders and a sizable number of militants who had been detained by the former Afghan government were swiftly released by the Taliban leadership. Additionally, it appears that the Taliban rule granted de facto political refuge and freedom of travel within Afghanistan to the TTP’s top leadership.
The TTP has highlighted that the Afghan Taliban is not just a model insurgency but also the guardianship of their movement ever since the Taliban took control. Noor Wali Mehsud, the head of the TTP, has publicly reaffirmed his oath of allegiance to Maulvi Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Afghan Taliban’s commander, and asserted that the TTP is an offshoot of the Taliban in Pakistan. The Taliban, on the other hand, are evasive on the TTP’s present and future in Afghanistan and remain uncommitted to an assault despite the group’s violence toward Pakistan.
Recent statements by Taliban and Pakistan
“We [Taliban] will not allow the fencing anytime, in any form. Whatever they [Pakistan] did before, they did, but we will not allow it anymore. There will be no fencing anymore,” Mawllawi Sanaullah Sangin, Commander of the Taliban, told Afghanistan’s Tolo News on January 5,2022.
Sangin’s sharp reaction comes following Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s comments earlier this week, when he said, “Certain miscreants are raising the issue unnecessarily, but we are looking into it. We are in contact with the Afghan government. Hopefully, we would be able to resolve the issue diplomatically,”
Oct 1,2022 -Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif shared the concern of the international community regarding threats posed by terrorist groups operating from the neighbouring country, during an address to the UN General Assembly. In response Stanikzai claiming on September 27 that Islamabad was “receiving millions of dollars” from Washington to allow American drones to conduct flights over Afghanistan. “How long can we tolerate this?” he asked a gathering in Kabul. “If we rise against this, no one will be able to stop us.”
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah in a recent interview with a Pakistani news channel said that Islamabad may target Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) hideouts on Afghanistani soil. Reacting to the statement the Taliban government said it would not let anyone attack Islamic Emirate. Talking to a news channel Rana said “When these problems arise, we first ask Afghanistan, our Islamic brother nation, to eliminate these hideouts and hand over these individuals to us, but if that doesn’t happen, what you mentioned is possible.” Responding to Rana, as per Geo TV, Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said that they would not allow anyone to attack Afghanistan, adding that the nation wants good relations with Pakistan and Islamabad’s officials should use caution while speaking.
Afghanistan’s defence minister, Mullah Yaqoob, is said to have refused a proposal from Pakistan’s deputy foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, to meet in Kabul on November 29, 2022. Khar later met with Afghanistan’s interim Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi. “Several bilateral issues of common interest including education, health, trade and investment, regional connectivity, people-to-people contact and cooperation in socioeconomic projects were discussed,” Pakistan’s Foreign Office said in a statement. According to an Afghan foreign ministry statement, Muttaki also discussed the topic of accelerating commerce, transit, and travel facilities between the two nations, as well as the release of Afghan detainees in Pakistan. According to official sources, the talks centred on security and economic cooperation, as Pakistan urged the Taliban to take serious action against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commanders who, according to Islamabad, were headquartered in Afghanistan and carrying out cross-border assaults.
Clashes at Durand line
Since the takeover of Afghanistan by Taliban in August 2021 the clashes have repeatedly occurred between Pakistan military and Afghanistan Taliban at Durand Line due to disagreement regarding the same. As reported by ANI News, till May 1, 2022 in the year 2022 there had been 40 clashes in which 40 people have been killed and there has been skirmish in Kunar, Khost, Paktika and other bordering provinces on April 16, 2022. As per TOLO News, an Afghan based news agency, there were clashes at Dand-e-Patan district in Afghanistan Paktia province along Durand line in which one Islamic Emirates Forces and one civilian were killed and 14 others were injured. Pajhwok, another news agency reported clashes at Shero Oba, on southern side of Spin Boldak District on December 12, 2022 in which 10 Afghan Security guards were injured and 1 was killed and 3 civilians were also injured on Afghan side. While on Pakistan side 7 civilians were killed and several others injured. Another clashes erupted on December 15, 2022, 9 civilians were killed and 24 others were injured at Chaman town due to Pakistani airstrike.
Security Implications for J&K
It appears that TTP with the tacit support from Afghan Taliban is preparing for a full-fledged war against Pakistan state. The direct threat to kill the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister of Pakistan shows TTPs audacity to threaten the state. Pakistan is facing a serious existential threat from within by its own Frankenstein’s monster. Pakistan government is at Catch-22 situation of neither launching a military offensive against TTP nor to completely eliminate from its soil because of the safe haven that TTP enjoy along the Afghan border nor to bring them to negotiation table due to their impractical demands. What are the likely implications of this ongoing a ‘Civil-War situation on India in general and Jammu & Kashmir in particular? One plausible scenario would be that the Pakistan’s deep state would accelerate their terror modules along LoC to divert the domestic attention towards Kashmir. Pakistan security establishment knows that it is futile to fight a war with TTP and Afghan Taliban and they never would win that war.
(The authors are Head of the Department of National Security Studies, Central University of Jammu and Ph.D. Scholar of the Department of National Security Studies, Central University of Jammu)