Over the borderline: on Pakistan and its security situation with Afghanistan  

Pakistan should stop differentiating between terrorists as good and bad 

August 01, 2023 12:10 am | Updated 10:49 am IST

The terror attack in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region, which has claimed 54 lives and left over 200 injured, is a grave reminder of the worsening security situation in the country’s border region with Afghanistan. Ever since the Taliban seized Afghanistan in August 2021, Pakistan has witnessed rising terror. In January, at least 74 were killed in an attack on a mosque in Peshawar, the provincial capital of KP, by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (also known as the Pakistan Taliban which have close ideological links with the Afghan Taliban but are organisationally different). A month later, another attack there left over 100 dead. The Pakistan Taliban have distanced themselves from the attack, which targeted a political rally by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), a hardline party led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a key member of Pakistan’s ruling coalition. Provincial police say the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) was behind the attack. The IS-K, which has stepped up attacks in Afghanistan since 2021, has repeatedly targeted Taliban-affiliated groups besides Afghanistan’s minorities. The JUI-F, which has maintained ideological ties with the Afghan Taliban, has been targeted by the IS-K in the past.

In a sense, Pakistan is now paying a heavy price for its decades-long strategy of supporting Islamist extremists for its geopolitical goals. During Afghanistan’s anti-communist civil war, Pakistan supported the Mujahideen with weapons and training. In the early 1990s, during the intra-Mujahideen civil war, Pakistan backed the emerging Taliban. After the Taliban were toppled in the U.S. invasion in 2001, Pakistan played a double game — joining America’s war yet harbouring the Taliban. Without Pakistan’s active support, the Taliban would never have been able to return to power. But decades of civil war radicalised Muslim youth across the Af-Pak region, also posing security threats to the Pakistani establishment. In 2014-15, Pakistan carried out a combing operation in the border region to crush the Pakistan Taliban. But the Taliban’s return in Afghanistan seems to have emboldened their Pakistani brethren and allowed the IS-K to emerge as the most powerful armed opposition to the Taliban regime in Kabul. And the porous borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, which the latter once used to support militancy in the former, are now used by terrorists to spread terror across the frontier. Pakistan, which is grappling with a political gridlock and a deteriorating economy, now faces a two-front security challenge — the Pakistani Taliban and the IS-K. Cracking down on terror might produce temporary results in bringing calm in the border region. But for permanent peace, Pakistan should stop differentiating between Islamist militants as “good terrorists” and “bad terrorists” based on its geopolitical interests.

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