Afghanistan: A new security flashpoint | By Dr Mehmood-ul-Hassan Khan

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Afghanistan: A new security flashpoint

AFGHANISTAN has once again become security “flashpoint” in the region. Consequential circumstantial evidence clearly indicates increasing “trust deficit” among the main stakeholders i.e.

Taliban interim government, Islamabad and Beijing. The “reemergence” of “holy alliance” among the fugitive Taliban Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Al-Qaeda has rattled important regional capitals.

Even the US has shown serious concerns about this “axis of evil” in the region. According to reliable military sources it seems that various factions of Taliban and scattered warlords in different cities and provinces are the silent supporters of TTP and Al-Qaeda.

Unfortunately, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is once again getting momentum on the soil of Afghanistan because of ongoing military operations in Iraq, Syria and other African countries due to which friends have become foes and foes turned fatal forces against their own supporters.

In this regard, the government of Pakistan’s failure of peace negotiations with TTP has sparked new terrorist activities in the country in which KP and Balochistan have become prime targets.

Ultimately, the sleeper cells have been again reactivated to sabotage peace and stability in the country.

Cross-border firing from Afghanistan has become a routine matter, killing many innocent people living in the border areas.

Furthermore, the Foreign Ministry of China issued new travel advisory warning to their citizens to leave Kabul and Afghanistan after a deadly attack on a Chinese hotel.

Deadly attack on Pakistan diplomatic mission in Kabul has further worsened diplomatic ties between Pakistan and interim government of Taliban.

The canvas of regional conflict has been further expanded and a series of border fights between Indian and Chinese soldiers along the Tawang sector of eastern Arunachal Pradesh State proved new battle ground in the region.

Moreover, constant and continued financial and physical assistance of Indian RAW to fugitive terrorists and even some factions of Taliban have started a new blame game in the region for which the political advocates, religious preachers and military strategists should revisit their past tall claims of so-called strategic depth in case of Afghanistan.

Ironically, the leader of an outlawed militant alliance waging terrorism in Pakistan praised his fighters for taking several security officials hostage inside a provincial police counterterrorism interrogation centre and urged them not to surrender.

Noor Wali Mehsud, the chief of the Pakistani Taliban or TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan), issued the statement from his shelter in Afghanistan, raising renewed doubts about the sincerity of counterterrorism pledges by the neighbouring country’s Taliban leadership.

Thanks, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif confirmed that “all the terrorists” of the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) who had taken hostage at a Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) centre in Bannu were killed in an operation conducted by the Pakistan Army.

It is bitter reality that in the past year alone, terrorists belonging to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Gul Bahadur group, the Islamic State-Khurasan (IS-K), and others with similar objectives have perpetrated at least 165 terrorist attacks in the KP province, which is an increase of 48 per cent from the preceding year.

The TTP, along with its local Taliban affiliates alone, perpetrated 115 of these which should be a wake call for the government, establishment and secret agencies in the country.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif strongly condemned terrorism insurgency in the country and assured writ of the state against this menace.

The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on the Taliban administration in Kabul to ensure an end to “all forms of terrorism activities” that posed a threat to Pakistan and other neighbouring countries from Afghan soil.

Foreign Minister Bilwal Bhutto said that it has been communicated to Afghanistan that banned outfit Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is Pakistan’s red line.

“The Afghan Taliban has been told that our [Pakistan and Afghanistan] ties will not remain fine if the TTP is not stopped,” Bilawal said.

An increase in the number of terror incidents has put the security apparatus in the country on high alert with the most recent Bannu hostage crisis sending shockwaves across the country.

Over 120 policemen were martyred and more than 125 others were wounded in different kinds of attacks on the force in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa during the current year.

TTP is not an “undefeatable” terrorist franchise. Previously it was defeated, forcing it to shift its base of secret operations across border into Afghanistan, ruled then by Ashraf Ghani, under the US-NATO forces.

Critical analysis reveals that the TTP conglomerate consist of a grouping of some 13 smaller factions having different models of cognitive dissonance and motives ranging from pure criminality to aspirations for Sharia rule, in a distorted understanding of Islam and Pakistan.

They have been following their own strategy and borrowed sponsorship from India and other regional players to pressurize the government of Pakistan to bargain for re-entry into native areas on favourable terms.

Sharia and Islamism strategies have been propagating to win hearts and souls of innocent people in these areas.

TTP’s demands for reversal of FATA merger, carrying arms, prisoners release, payment of reparations, etc are non-negotiable and should not be accepted.

Unfortunately, TTP’s degraded tactics include target killing for maximum effect, opportunity ambushes and IEDs.

Suicide bombings have re-commenced in parts of the country which is not a good omen. Apparently it aims at eroding public confidence in government and law enforcement agencies following its Swat model.

According to creditable secret agencies assessment, the TTP potential for large-scale attacks stands degraded.

Its culminating point is at the lowest ebb and there are splits within its Swat, Bajaur and Waziristan regional chapters.

Unfortunately, Afghanistan’s soil has been the safe haven for the TTP and resurgence of the same in Afghanistan is the serious violation of the Doha Agreement.

It concludes that dialogue with TTP should be restarted from a position of strength, and it should be on TTP’s request, and conducted through low-ranking functionaries.

Ideally, the senior’s brasses of ISI & MI should not be indulged in this process.

It is suggested that the Taliban should not be included in this peace process because of their hidden sympathies with them.

The interim government of Taliban is seemingly not ready to evict TTP from the Afghan soil because it wants to use the TTP militia against Pakistan.

It seems that the grand Jirga strategy has serious weaknesses, as it upholds indecisiveness on the part of the State’s writ.

The government should deal through its officials under complete political ownership, without outsourcing the process to the military and/or the Intelligence agencies.

Ideally, the reconcilables and irreconcilables or good or bad TTP should be carefully pursued and differentiated during the rapprochement phase.

In this regard, the state and its secret agencies should continue with selective military and intelligence-based operations relentlessly, ceding no quarters.

Moreover, the NACTA recommendations should be implemented and greater security coordination ensured among stakeholders and secret agencies.

—The writer is Executive Director, Centre for South Asia & International Studies, Islamabad, regional expert China, BRI & CPEC & senior analyst, world affairs, Pakistan Observer.