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Has Pakistan’s Taliban gambit failed in Afghanistan?

Since the Afghan Taliban took power in Kabul and re-established their rule in Afghanistan in mid-August, cross-border violence has shot up in Pakistan and so has the major operation against militants in North Waziristan, the last stronghold of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

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Thousands, perhaps lakhs of men from the Pakistan Army and Pakistan’s military-supported terrorist groups have died fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan since the rise of the radical Islamic group in 1993-94. 

However, this gamble by Pakistan’s military establishment has not paid off as the Pashtun tribes of northern Pakistan have revolted against their former mentors, leading to a split in the Taliban.

Since the Afghan Taliban took power in Kabul and re-established their rule in Afghanistan in mid-August, cross-border violence has shot up in Pakistan and so has the major operation against militants in North Waziristan, the last stronghold of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

These operations forced militants to flee across the border into neighbouring Afghanistan. In an opinion piece for The Times of Israel, Italian political advisor Sergio Restelli underlined how the Pakistan government is back to causing global concerns by talking truce with two banned Islamist militant groups — Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP).

Restelli said that TTP and TLP’s activities have had ramifications beyond national borders. “Domestic Pakistani critics, among them political parties, civil society and sections of the media have called it surrender and capitulation.”

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“Of the two, the TTP has been operating from tribal borderlands in neighbouring Afghanistan, while the younger TLP has made fighting Islamophobia in the West on top of its agenda,” the political advisor said while lamenting how Islamabad is moving to revoke the ban on the two bodies.

Restelli further argued that talks with the TTP and the TLP fall in the same pattern as those of the past governments in Pakistan over the last two decades.

“Military ruler Pervez Musharraf had talked to Sunni extremists, but had managed to push them into Afghanistan whose U.S. backed government did not trust him. The Nawaz Sharif government had also preferred talks and reconciliation to any tough action against the TTP, till the group’s fighters stormed the Army Public School in Peshawar, killing 140, mostly children.”

Regardless of who is in power, the Italian geopolitical expert believes that Kabul has generally been ineffective in containing these groups that enjoy tribal and ethnic loyalties on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

“Analysts say the advent of the Taliban in Kabul is a new factor but unlikely to change this basic ground reality. The main difference, and challenge, for Pakistan is that it has to deal with a ‘friendly’ Taliban government in Afghanistan,” he added.

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Echoing the sentiment of several security experts of the region, Restelli said that the Imran Khan government’s absence of a clear policy and strategic confusion while dealing with the militants will have tragic consequences for Pakistan and the world.

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first published:Nov. 9, 2021, 8:54 a.m.

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