Taliban: How a secret relationship with the Taliban backfired on Pakistan

About two weeks after the Taliban retook Afghanistan in 2021, the then-Pakistani spy agency chief arrived at one of Kabul’s most luxurious hotels, smiling, sipping tea and seeming comfortable with the militants’ return to power.
Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed of Inter-Services Intelligence had reason to believe that Pakistan was about to reap the rewards of its covert support for the Taliban in their fight against US-led forces. In return, Pakistan expected the group to help subdue an offshoot back home.
Almost two years later, relations between the Taliban and Pakistan deteriorated, the terrorist attacks of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have surged and some Taliban leaders are even seeking to forge ties with Pakistan’s great rival, India.
Heightened instability adds to unrest in a Pakistan rocked by simultaneous economic and political crises, as the country nears default, inflation rages and the military launches a sweeping crackdown on the political party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Pakistan considered the Taliban to be deeply linked to the PTT and able to persuade him to stop his attacks, people familiar with the matter said. The TTP has long said it wants to overthrow the Islamabad government.
But some Taliban factions are staunchly opposed to helping Pakistan’s efforts to fight the TTP, and many are unhappy that the government in Islamabad has not recognized their regime, according to people familiar with the situation. Hundreds of Taliban fighters have also joined the TTP to pursue another holy war, they said.
Pakistan made a “remarkable miscalculation”, said Farid Mamundzay, Afghanistan’s ambassador to India, a remnant of the country’s former regime who does not represent the Taliban.
The TTP carried out the most militant attacks on Pakistani soil last year since 2018. Last January, the group killed at least 100 people in a suicide bombing in the northwestern city of Peshawar, one of the deadliest attacks in its history. Four people were killed in a suicide car bomb attack on May 24, which was not claimed by the TTP or other activists.
Some key members of the Taliban want the group to distance itself from Pakistan and show its independence, people familiar with the matter said. Among them are Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Afghan Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, who spent years in a Pakistani prison after being captured in 2010 during the war with the United States, and Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, Minister of Defense and son of the founder of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar. , people said.
Yaqoob has publicly led efforts to build relations with India, including urging the Indian government to train Taliban forces.
Others within the Taliban take different positions. Supreme Leader Haibatullah Akhundzada has said Pakistan’s establishment is “un-Islamic” and based on the legacy of its British colonial rulers, according to a January report by the US Institute for Peace.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, interior minister and leader of a powerful faction, brokered a ceasefire between Pakistan and the TTP last year in a bid to secure lasting peace, sources close to the government said. case. It lasted about six months.
Some of the Taliban fighters aiding the TTP brought weapons the United States left behind, including M-16s and sniper rifles with thermal night-vision goggles, the people said. Hundreds of TTP fighters released from a Kabul prison by the Taliban after the group regained power have also returned to fight in Pakistan, they added.
Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, declined to comment. Interservice Public Relations, the Army’s media wing, did not respond to calls or text messages seeking comment.
Taliban spokespersons Zabihullah Mujahed and Bilal Karimi did not respond to calls or WhatsApp messages seeking comment. In a statement in February, the TTP said it was waging a “sacred war” against the Pakistani military and called on politicians and others not to become an obstacle in this war.
During meetings in Islamabad in May involving Pakistan, China and the Taliban, Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said the TTP and Pakistan should hold talks, but he did not suggest a role. for the Taliban. Meanwhile, the Taliban have agreed with China and Pakistan to extend the Belt and Road Initiative to Afghanistan.
The US withdrawal “has given an impetus to the activities of the TTP”, Ahmed Sharif Chaudhry, Pakistani army spokesman, said at a press conference on April 25. year, he said.
For their part, the Taliban are unhappy that Pakistan has not recognized their regime, said sources familiar with the matter. But that would be difficult for Pakistan given sanctions against the Taliban and Islamabad’s need for the International Monetary Fund to approve a stalled bailout.
Pakistan is designated as a major non-NATO ally by the United States. While this confers certain military and financial advantages, it does not include any mutual defense treaty that would require US forces to respond in the event of a military attack. Over the years, some U.S. lawmakers have sought to remove the statute due in part to Pakistani support for the Taliban.
During the War on Terror, Pakistan secretly aided the militant group in its attempts to overthrow a US-backed Afghan government that was friendlier to India, and provided shelter and medical assistance to leaders and Taliban fighters, said Michael Kugelman, director of South Asia. Institute at the Washington-based Wilson Center, a think tank.
The TTP is the largest and deadliest of a dozen insurgent groups in Pakistan, with thousands of fighters hailing from the tribal belt.
The group announced its existence in 2007 after Pakistani security forces launched an operation against a major mosque in Islamabad, suspected of harboring and training Islamic radicals. More than 100 people died in the violence.
TTP attacks are on the rise as Pakistan faces several other major problems. Political tensions are at breaking point. More than 10,000 people linked to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party have been arrested in police raids following protests following Khan’s arrest in May. Khan and his wife have been placed on a no-fly list. Inflation is accelerating at the fastest rate in Asia, making it difficult for most of the country’s more than 220 million people to afford fuel and food. And negotiations with the IMF are at a critical stage because the international lender has not yet released the funds.
All in all, the confidence of the ISI chief, now retired, in the Serena Hotel in Kabul seems misguided.
“Pakistan has long bet on the Taliban as its best strategic bet in Afghanistan – a group willing to help Pakistan pursue its interests, including counterterrorism,” Kugelman said. “What Pakistan apparently did not realize was that the Taliban, once they no longer needed a wartime sanctuary in Pakistan, would assert their independence from their former boss and would refuse to make their offer.”


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