When Pakistan first entered into talks with the TTP after Afghan Taliban returned to power, there were some positive movements initially. Brokered by the Haqqani Network, talks led to a ceasefire by the TTP. In return for the truce, Pakistan freed certain TTP members. It also allowed return of hundreds of TTP militants as part of the confidence building measures. The move, however, quickly backfired.
On 26 November, two civilians lost their lives while 10 others, including three security forces personnel, were injured in a suicide attack in Bannu’s Bakka Khel area. The attack was the latest in a series of terrorist incidents in recent months. Investigation into the latest attack concluded that the suicide bomber was an Afghan national. The Hafiz Gul Bahadur group took the responsibility. This was the 16th suicide attack carried out by the Afghan nationals, according to Pakistani security authorities. The number of attacks has only gone up since the Afghan Taliban returned to power in August 2021. The representative of the Afghan embassy in Islamabad was summoned to the foreign office after the November 26 attack. Pakistan not only lodged a strong protest over the use of Afghan soil but also made a list of fresh demands.
Sources revealed that the Afghan representative was conveyed the four key demands — full investigation into the Bannu attack and stern action against perpetrators and abettors; immediate “verifiable actions” against all terrorist groups and their sanctuaries; arrest of Hafiz Gul Bahadur and his subsequent handover to Pakistan; and assurance on preventing the use of Afghan soil for terrorism against Pakistan.
The Afghan Taliban have so far refused to use force against the banned TTP. There is no indication Kabul would change its course. The Afghan Taliban have publically maintained that the TTP is Pakistan’s internal problem. But they privately and through choreographed articles in the Afghan media have been telling the reasons as to why they can’t take the TTP head-on. One such article appeared in Tolo News that quoted some unnamed Taliban officials. They cited three main reasons for the lack of action against TTP. First, the TTP helped the Afghan Taliban fight the US-led NATO forces. Second, it is not the tradition of Afghans to act against their guests. Third, any action against the TTP may compel its members to join Daesh. Therefore, the Afghan Taliban feel the best way forward is to hold talks with the TTP. The interim government claims that 90 per cent of the issues between Pakistan and the TTP had been sorted out before the peace talks broke down a year ago. The Taliban officials blame Pakistan’s change of strategy for the failure. As Pakistan mounts pressure, the Afghan Taliban are adamant that Islamabad must suggest alternatives to the military options.
Pakistan, meanwhile, is not ready to budge. It is not willing to talk to the terrorist outfit. There is a sense that the TTP always used talks to regroup. When Pakistan first entered into talks with the TTP after Afghan Taliban returned to power, there were some positive movements initially. Brokered by the Haqqani Network, talks led to a ceasefire by the TTP. In return for the truce, Pakistan freed certain TTP members. It also allowed return of hundreds of TTP militants as part of the confidence building measures. The move, however, quickly backfired. The returning terrorists soon began targeting security forces. Government’s own figures suggest that there has been 60 per cent increase in terrorist attacks and 500 per cent rise in suicide attacks since the Taliban takeover in August 2021.
After the recent attacks, Pakistan has informed the Kabul regime through diplomatic channels that any future attacks would invoke a robust response. Officials would not divulge the details but the possibility of cross-border strikes is not ruled out. In April last year Pakistan did carry out cross-border air strikes. But those strikes were never publicly acknowledged. What those strikes did was that Afghan Taliban persuaded the TTP to come to the negotiating table and declare a ceasefire. But this time Pakistan has no interest in talks. The only thing it wants is the end to cross-border terrorist attacks. Will Pakistan’s warning work? Indications are that the Afghan Taliban may not offer anything tangible. Ultimately, Pakistan has to opt for options that carry many reunifications.