Afghanistan-Pakistan border again emerging as world's #1 terrorist hub

Taliban Pakistan

The vast, rugged terrain on Afghanistan-Pakistan border that has defied modernity and governance, is again emerging as the world’s Number One terror hub. The tide of sectarian violence, since withdrawal from Afghanistan of the United States and that space being filled by an unstable Taliban regime, is rising.

Violence is already on the upswing targeting ethnic and religious minorities and could reach nightmarish proportions, without the domineering, yet ineffective, presence of American and the NATO forces.

The problem is worsened manifolds by a recalcitrant Pakistan that is vigorously supporting the Taliban, by pressuring the world community to accept it, as it is, citing a humanitarian crisis and misery of the Afghan people.

Western efforts are being made to by-pass the Taliban who have formed an interim government that is far from inclusive and totally excludes women’s role.

However, reaching relief funds runs the risk of being prevented/pilfered and in any case, have no panacea for violence that is spreading across international borders.

The problem is complicated by the hands-off attitude of China and Russia, ostensibly to score diplomatic points with the US/NATO.

They certainly fear violence emboldening militant groups on their territories, but have extended tacit support to the Kabul regime, hoping they can work out their own security arrangements with Kabul.

Over a hundred people died and many injured in a suicide attack last week at a Shia mosque in Kunduz in Afghanistan. Credit for it was taken by the ISIS-Khorasan that has a record of being violently anti-Shia.

The presence of Al Qaida and the ISIS, with their factions and affiliates is being increasingly felt, security experts say.

The continuing attacks on the Shia population that had marked the Taliban’s 1996-2001 regime and their campaign for the last one year and more is likely to bring in Iranian activism that would complicate the security situation further.

News about violence along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, especially in and around Spin Boldak and Kandahar is being suppressed, as desperate Afghans trying to escape the country.

Their movement through Iran, hoping to reach Europe somehow, has also been full of obstacles.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan are silent on the refugees’ movements and the resultant violence. They have been using it as a fear-factor in their campaign to earn global sympathy.

Islamabad seeks to impress the world on the need to go easy with the Taliban to enable them to deal with their population in a humane manner. There is that unmistakable pointing of the gun on own temple to generate sympathy.

Pakistan’s own record at dealing with the militants at home is becoming alarming and also, bizarre. Instead of fighting them and even seeking to curb them, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government is seeking to appease them.

Of the domestic groups, it has proscribed the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), and also reached a formal agreement with it. It is struggling to hold in captivity, the TLP’s young chief Hafeez Saad Rizvi, after the court released him. The detention and release are both worked out in such a way as to leave loopholes in investigations and prosecution.

Similar is the case of Jamia Hafza and its defiant priest, Maulana Abdul Aziz. The seminary gained prominence when it occupied Lal Masjid, a mosque in the heart of the national capital.

A hundred people, mostly girl students from the seminary who were used as the shield, were killed when army’s special contingent laid siege of the complex and attacked it.

Abdul Aziz has been in and out of detention, also in and out of the refurbished Jamia Hafza, being evicted after he has entered and occupied in guerrilla-style operations. The priest wants funds and permission to expand the complex.

The government’s approach has been one of using carrot and stick, but it is advantage Aziz and his group of priests and students indoctrinated with Sunni extremism.

The most alarming case is of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that was formed with expressed objective to fight the State after the Lal Masjid incident. Thousands have died due to its violence and the government’s efforts to curb it.

Among the worst actions by the TTP was the attack on the Army Public School, Peshawar in December 2014 in which 140, mainly school students, were slaughtered. The Army’s campaign to catch them led to their crossing over to the no-man’s tribal land from where it launched attacks in Pakistan.

Significantly, a part of the TTP worked for the Pakistan military and was actively involved (6,000 fighters, as per a UN report of July this year) in fighting alongside the Afghan Taliban and contributed majorly to the ultimate victory.

Both the Taliban groups – Afghans and the TTP – are ideologically close and are allies. The Afghans have thwarted Islamabad’s pressures to push them out and let the Pakistani forces dal with them.

Unable to get the TTP, the Khan Government is seriously contemplating peace with them. None less than President Alvi announced that an amnesty was being worked out.

Imran Khan has since said that this would mean that “they surrender, and we forgive them” if they give up violence. He calls it ‘reconciliation’. The role if any of the all-powerful army in this move is not clear.

This has sent alarm signals from the security committee that it perplexed at the appeasing approach of the government when situation in neighbouring Afghanistan is also worrying and Kabul is not cooperative on TTP.

“To be clear, the Afghan Taliban have never gone against the TTP. They had zero interest in cracking down on them during the war, thinking the TTP a needless enemy in addition to American troops, the Afghan army, ageless warlords and IS-Khorasan (many of whom were ex-TTP fighters), writes Asad Rahim Khan in Dawn, October 10, 2021.

The writer warns against reconciliation talks between the government and the TTP. “...talks imply a give-and-take. But there can be no give, no reconciliation, with the killers of children. That’s not an emotional appeal: it goes to the heart of the rule of law in this country. For those of us coming of age around that time — the waves upon waves of suicide bombings — Pakistan fought the war of its life.”

Pakistani security analyst Muhammad Amir Rana (Dawn, October 3, 2021) warns of grim security prospects ahead as he notes that upsurge in the TTP’s terrorist violence in Pakistan in recent months has coincided with the Afghan Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August.”

He further warns that “the Afghan situation will have multiple implications for Pakistan in terms of insecurity and militancy, cross-border terrorism, refugees’ influx, and economic instability.”

Rana hints at the Afghan Taliban working against Pakistan’s interests. “The Taliban victory has increased the confidence of religious groups and encouraged the madressah generations.

Any blasphemous act anywhere can trigger anger both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban want to consolidate their rule and they will exploit it to the maximum extent. The religious groups in Pakistan will be more aggressive and will follow what the Taliban do in Afghanistan.”

He concludes with convergence of interests and objectives of both the Taliban group, nurtured by the madrassas, the religious seminaries that abound on both sides of the border, and pose a serious danger to the AF-Pak region, saying: “A critical challenge is emerging ahead and the Afghan Taliban’s white flags, which were raised at Jamia Hafsa recently in the federal capital, were just one sign of the danger ahead”.

By Iraklis Voridis.

Guest Contributor

This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor