The recent attacks on Panjgur and Noshki posts in Baluchistan damaged Pakistan’s claims of having the Baloch insurgency under control and displaying to China that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is secure. Pak army claims that 20 militants and nine soldiers were killed while the Baluchistan National Army, which claimed responsibility for the attacks, states that over 100 Pak soldiers and 16 of their fighters were killed. This incident took place a week after the attack on the Kech outpost when 10 soldiers lost their lives. These attacks occurred just prior to Imran departing for China seeking greater investment in the CPEC, which the Baloch reject.
The Pakistan army, as is the custom, sought to blame others for the incident. Its spokesperson stated that radio intercepts indicated the militants were in communication with their handlers in India and Afghanistan. The fact that the group is employing bases in Afghanistan would be hurting Pakistan as Kabul is under control of their proxy, the Taliban,while Indian presence is zilch. Hence, it is another ploy of the Pak army diverting its failure of intelligence, sealing borders and anti-militancy strategy.
Attacks by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are also on the rise. The TTP is known to be based in Afghanistan. Kabul has neither condoned these attacks nor condemned them, while denying that these are launched from its soil. The Taliban defence minister stated, ‘I reject Pakistan’s claim regarding TTP bases in Afghanistan. These are baseless allegations.’ Even the Pak army admits that the Taliban and TTP are two sides of the same coin and knows that curbing them by Kabul is unlikely.
A news report last week stated Pakistan has commenced backchannel talks with the TTP involving tribal leaders on both sides of the Durand Line. Pakistan hopes that tribal leaders would be more effective in convincing the TTP to adhere to a ceasefire than the Taliban. Any ceasefire with the group would result in political backlash as the TTP has been accused of the Peshawar school attack.
Interestingly, in a debate in the UNSC in last week, Pakistan’s representative raised the issue of cross-border attacks from Afghanistan on its soil. The Dawn stated, ‘Pakistan urged the UNSC to hold accountable masterminds who continue to support, finance, and sponsor terrorist attacks (from Afghanistan) into its territory.’ As per Pakistan’s interior minister, Sheikh Rashid, attacks by terrorist groups have increased by 35 percent since the Taliban came to power.
Pakistan continues accusing Indian RAW for backing anti-Pakistan terrorist groups on Afghan soil, despite it having no presence in the country. Indian embassy and consulates in Afghanistan are shut. India has no contact with the current Kabul dispensation. Possibly Pakistan is accusing the Haqqani network of switching allegiance to Delhi from Rawalpindi. Further, the Kabul government is neither recognized nor has any presence in the UN to be advised to stop supporting terrorist groups.
There have also been regular clashes between Afghan and Pak forces along the Durand Line. Afghan forces refuse to allow Pakistan to construct their planned fencing. The Kabul government does not recognize the Durand Line as the border between the two countries. It also objects to Pakistan placing restrictions on move of Pashtuns across the line. This, despite claims that children of many Taliban and Haqqani network leaders continue studying in Pak schools and their families remain in Pakistan.
The message being sent to Pakistan is that the Kabul government, which Pakistan’s DG ISI, Faiz Hameed, installed, is no longer willing to play second fiddle. The Oslo talks where multiple nations engaged with it, without any role of Pakistan, added to their confidence. The unilateral decision by the US to release part of their funds implies that Kabul must fight its own battle, Pakistan has neither a voice nor the ability to support it.
Another factor for increased confidence of anti-Pak militant groups in Afghanistan is the absence of US forces in the region. Many TTP leaders were eliminated by US drone strikes. They thus kept a low profile. With US pull out, they are now in the open, interacting with media and regularly releasing videos of visits to training camps. Pakistan wanted the US out for a selfish reason of keeping India away. It is now paying the price by increased casualties and a volatile security situation.
Indian provision of food aid was a message that if Kabul desires further Indian support, it should stop dancing to Pakistan’s tunes. When India announced 50,000 tons of food aid, Imran repeated the same offer. While Indian delivery has begun, Pakistan has quietly forgotten its promise as it was made only to impress Kabul and would never be fulfilled. India’s current budgetary allocation of USD 200 million for Afghanistan would be implemented in projects benefitting the country, provided it refuses to back Pakistan in supporting terrorism.
It is also possible that if the Kabul Government engages with Delhi positively, larger quantum of aid could flow. This could also lead to India opening its Kabul embassy, which could push all Pakistan’s dreams of an India free Afghanistan under the carpet. While India is not directly engaging with Kabul, it could be in talks through their office in Doha.
Pakistan neither has a strategy for controlling terrorist groups along its western provinces nor one for engaging with the Taliban. It believed that the Taliban would curb the TTP and Baloch and would remain eternally grateful to Pakistan for support, looking towards it for guidance and backing it in Kashmir. This belief has been proved wrong. The next step Pak adopted was talks with the TTP through the Taliban while crushing the Baloch freedom movement. This also failed. Now it seeks to engage the Taliban through talks with village elders, ignoring Kabul, while enforcing its writ on Baluchistan. Will this succeed is a mute question.
Its inability to quell Baluchistan is impacting investments by China in the CPEC. Kabul is almost beyond its control. One more conference on the lines of Oslo and Pak would be dumped.The TTP remains a threat. Instead of developing strategies to deal with them, Pak accuses India, which is missing from the region. It is time the nation looks inwards and overcomes its shortcomings rather than blame others.
The author is Major General (Retd)