Changed situation: On Pakistan’s frustration with the Taliban

Pakistan’s frustration with the Taliban response to its security challenges is evident

Updated - April 21, 2022 01:05 am IST

Published - April 21, 2022 12:05 am IST

When the Taliban captured Kabul in August 2021, then Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said Afghans had “broken the shackles of slavery”. Even while the Taliban’s victory gave some geopolitical advantage to Pakistan, it also enhanced Islamabad’s security challenges. And Pakistan’s growing frustration with the response of the new Afghan rulers to these challenges burst into the open during the weekend when Pakistani missiles struck inside Afghanistan, targeting the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). During the American presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan had adopted a dual approach — fight the TTP, better known as the Pakistan Taliban, and support the Afghan Taliban. Its backing was crucial in the Afghan Taliban’s return to Kabul. But the fact that an insurgency founded by a group of Deobandi madrasa students forced the U.S., the world’s most powerful military, to withdraw from Afghanistan was a morale booster for the TTP. The Afghan Taliban and the TTP may be two organisations, but they are ideological brothers — both have their roots in Deobandi Islam, both share the same worldview, and have similar objectives for different geographies. If the Afghan Taliban wanted to re-establish their Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan, the TTP wants to bring down the Pakistani state and establish its Islamic rule.

Pakistan supported the Afghan Taliban for geopolitical reasons. The Generals saw the Taliban as insurance against growing Indian influence in a U.S.-backed Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. But the problem with the wheel of jihad, which the Pakistanis helped unleash inside Afghanistan, is that it could also roll back across the border. Both countries share a porous 2,500-km land border that divides the tribal areas of the region (also a fertile ground for the Taliban’s ideology). Earlier, Pakistan used to share intelligence with the U.S. forces in Afghanistan which carried out attacks against the TTP. Now, Pakistan has to depend on the Taliban to crack down on the TTP. Their relationship has also changed. If the Taliban were dependent on Pakistan for their survival during the insurgency, they are now the rulers of Afghanistan; what they need is support and recognition for their regime. This change in approach was visible in the Taliban’s warning that they would “retaliate” if Pakistan carries out more cross-border strikes. None of these developments suggests that there would be a complete breakdown in the relationship between Pakistan and the Taliban, which dates back to the Taliban’s founding in the early 1990s. But the TTP factor would remain a key fault-line. The Taliban are not ready to disown the TTP and they have also made it clear that they would not remain a Pakistani proxy forever. This poses fresh security and geopolitical challenges to the Pakistani establishment which welcomed the Taliban’s triumph in Afghanistan just eight months ago.

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