On 5 February 2022, from inside Afghanistan, certain militants opened fire on Pakistani troops which were on petrol along the Pak-Afghan border in Kurram district. The attack consumed the lives of five soldiers. It was the second attack since the Afghan Taliban took control over Kabul on 15 August 2021. The Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack.
Immediately after its formation in 2007, the TTP made Kurram its known stranglehold. The former Kurram Agency also remained notorious for sectarian (Sunni-Shia) conflicts. From 2008 to 2011, however, the Pakistan army launched a military operation in the Agency and jettisoned the TTP activists, who sought refuge in the Paktia province of Afghanistan. On 16 December 2014, the TTP retaliated by attacking the Army Public School Peshawar. Whereas the Agency remained identified for the presence of a section of the Haqqani network, Afghanistan’s Paktia province remained known for being the throttlehold of the Afghan Taliban, who launched the Summer Offensive on 1 May 2021 to regain control over Kabul. The offensive coincided with the withdrawal of the United States’ (US) troops from Afghanistan. The extraction that finished in August 2021 emboldened the Afghan Taliban immensely. The Haqqani network also derived strength from the triumph, so was the case with the TTP.
Apparently, the Afghan Taliban and the TTP are two distinct groups with separate hierarchy, identity and goals. Nevertheless, both share the same ideology: the implementation of the Islamic Shariah on whether Afghanistan or Pakistan. Similarly, the Haqqanis are divided: some support the Afghan Taliban in consolidating their hold on Kabul and some support the TTP to dictate Pakistan its terms. The challenge before Pakistan is that where it should draw a line between the Afghan Taliban and the TTP, and between the pro-Pakistan Haqqani network and the anti-Pakistan Haqqani network. Generally speaking, the factious state of the militants, who are overwhelmingly Pashtuns, is owing to Pakistan’s joining the War on Terror in 2001. The war is over, the foreign forces have been withdrawn from Afghanistan, but Pakistan has been left to deal with the fall out.
One of the consequences for Pakistan has been earning the ire of both the TTP and the anti-Pakistan Haqqanis, who are antipathetic to fencing the Pak-Afghan border. In March 2017, Pakistan initiated the project of fencing off its 2,600 km long border (the Durand Line) with Afghanistan. The primary objective was to deter the to-and-fro fee movement of the TTP and the dissident Haqqanis to forefend any attack on civilians, akin to the one took place in Peshawar in December 2014. The situation along the border remained under control till August 2021 but it got spiraled out of control afterwards, thereby indicating that with the change of leadership in Kabul the change of strategy on the border is inevitable. Whereas Pakistan yearns to keep the Durand Line fenced to offer a major stumbling block to the incursion of peace spoilers from across the western border, the TTP and the dissident Haqqanis are hell bent upon targeting the fence to flout Pakistan’s resolve. In a way, the fence has become Pakistan’s Achilles’ heel, personifying Pakistan’s doggedness to stave off both the TTP and the dissident Haqqanis. The same point indicates that Pakistan would be challenged on this account time and again.
In November 2021, the Afghan Taliban brokered a peace deal between the TTP and Pakistan. The deal, however, could not sustain for a month, as Pakistan’s government came under pressure from social activists, who lambasted the government for its acquiescence to the TTP.
It is not sure if there is a direct relation between the TTP and the Baloch separatists who attacked the camps of the Frontier Constabulary in Nushki and Panjgur (in South West of Baluchistan) on 2 February 2022, it is clear however that the Baloch separatists (together under the banner of the Baloch Nationalist Army) would seek the advantage of Pakistan’s engagement with the TTP and the dissident Haqqanis and vice versa. That is, while Pakistan’s government was busy in Baluchistan to quell the rebel, security forces came under attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhawah. This aspect may be adding more troubles to Pakistan’s security standing. The reason is that Pakistan has deployed its main chunk of army along its eastern border to defend against India. The emerging situation in the west calls for the relocation of the army to be deployed along the western border. The mere movement of the army is quite expensive, especially given the economic crisis Pakistan has been plodding through. The worst case scenario could be that India also moves its army along Pakistan’s eastern border, especially along Pakistan’s north-eastern border. Though it may not be a call for a war, the response would cost Pakistan a great deal monetarily, detrimental to Pakistan’s wearying economy.
Hitherto, the Afghan Taliban have not jumped into the fray. Kabul yearns for refining ties with Islamabad. Moreover, Islamabad has been convincing the world to lift ban on the Kabul regime, provide food and money to the Afghans, and recognize the Kabul government quickly. The world is still reluctant to recognize the sway of the Afghan Taliban over Kabul. The world is in no mood to offering legitimacy to the Afghan Taliban, as they stop listening to the world once they achieve their target. Regional powers such as Russia and China dare not to offend the western countries which want to keep their pressure on the Afghan Taliban to comply with the Doha Agreement (the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan) signed between the US and the Afghan Taliban on 29 February 2021 in Qatar. Though the agreement concluded the war, the agreement is still unfulfilled by the Afghan Taliban.
In Kabul, the Afghan Taliban might be pleased with Pakistan for its all-out support to get the Kabul government recognized and viable financially, it is highly unlikely that the Kabul government remains shorn of the influence of the TTP and the dissident Haqqanis. There may be present a state of silence: the Afghan Taliban might express their antagonism by not supporting Pakistan against the TTP, the dissident Haqqanis and the Baloch separatists. The left over weapons and ammunition of the withdrawing foreign forces may add to the strength of anti-Pakistan militant groups. A show down is expected. Pakistan must ready itself for a conflict along its western border.