By Ahsan Syed
From the intricacies of culture and social fabrics to the material terms of economy, Pak and Afghanistan have remained inextricably linked in chequered history of bumpy terrain.
Both sides of border share Pashtun tribes and same language while Pakistan is Afghanistan’s biggest trading partner. According to report published by Institute of Peace Studies, there is 51 percent uptick in terror attacks in Pakistan since the takeover of Afghanistan by Taliban.
Noor Wali Mehsud, TTP’s ring leader, while giving interview to CNN in July 2021 praised Afghan Taliban on their victory with the intent to get more support from Afghan Taliban in Pakistan in order to liberate Tribal areas of Pakistan. However, clashes on Pak Afghan border have been recurring since Taliban’s takeover in August 2021. Of late, we have seen rise in militancy in Swat and erstwhile FATA region, moreover, TTP has revoked the peace agreement with the state of Pakistan.
After the revocation of peace agreement, there are more clarion calls of operation against the TTP. My article is schooled in the notion that there is a need of more holistic approach in tackling the scourge of terrorism that is resurging after takeover of Taliban in Afghanistan.
When we talk about operation against TTP, there is no denying the fact that Armed Forces of Pakistan fought bravely in WOT and liberated areas that were held captive by militants- many militants got killed but few escaped to Afghanistan and later, as the residue settled, they reared their head again.
It is widely understood phenomena that counter insurgency operations are never meant to concentrate on military operations solely, it also includes incorporating variables of politics, economy and psychology. In the past , operation against militants was never isolated event, its spillover impacts were seen in politics too where some political forces got the stage set for their politics, hence raising voices for the damages of the Pashtuns, ethnicity increased, in the end, integrity of the state was challenged. Thirdly, counting in economic losses; According to Economic Survey of Pakistan 2017-18, country incurred losses of $123.1 bn only due to infrastructure damages, 60,000 Pakistanis lost their lives and its psychological and social impacts are still immeasurable. Do we want recurrence of that nightmare? Especially when TTP has its roots in Afghanistan unlike previous operations when Americans were at the helm of the affairs in Afghanistan.
In the hindsight, Pakistan needs smarter approach to tackle terrorism when challenges are much bigger. Recent visit of Pakistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar met controversy when news appeared that Mula Yaqoob, Afghan Taliban’s Defense Minister and son of Mula Omer, did not meet the visiting dignitary for alleged reason that drone strike in Kabul was presumably carried out through Pakistani airspace. Altercations between Afghan Taliban and Pakistani authorities have been perilously exploited by Indians in the past, even now celebratory mood is quite visible on Indian media which is hell bent to create further misunderstandings between the two sides. In case of large scale military operation, it would become battle ground for international and regional powers to play their role while militants who scavenges on War economy find another job to do. Especially when there is dire economic situation in Afghanistan and people are even willing to sell their kidneys and children to feed their families.
There is need of more holistic approach; a regional approach instead of any international power to intervene and spoil the peace. Pakistan’s former PM Imran Khan and incumbent Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto in their foreign media interviews have already highlighted that if Afghan Taliban are isolated, it would have dangerous consequences. Russia and China made inspiring trade agreements with Afghanistan while Pakistan’s bilateral trade with Afghanistan is on the rise as it was $741 million only during July to Oct, recorded 64 percent increase during same months in 2021. When we are so much interlinked, why to spoil the peace for some international power?
Secondly, there is emerging need of involving Afghan Taliban in symbiotic relationship with Pakistan where gains and losses are shared by both sides, keeping in view that Afghan Taliban are passing through dilemma of recognition- which is major challenge for them in order to infuse economic growth in their country.
Thirdly, in order to abstain from detrimental effects of large scale military operation, there is more need of fast tracking focused IBOs (intelligence based operations) with the help of local police and community; that is incorporating the concept of local policing instead of any imposed solutions. Researchers are strongly of the opinion that people resort to violence when they lose trust on state institutions. More inclusive approach that is subset of engaging the entire community and state into fight against militancy instead of putting the whole burdensome on military alone. Let the people take the ownership of the process as we have seen in Swat, people came out in large numbers to defang the ideology of terrorists.
Large scale military operation, though will be helpful in short term but would raise the economic and ethnic complications in long term and will be compounded by the fact that we have hostile neighbor on Eastern side which is eager to fish in the troubled water.
Defining the situation is an important part of foreign policy; media is public sphere which influences the foreign policy decisions, so there is need of saner debate than jumping to the conclusion. Sun Tzu in his book “Art of War” quoted “Every battle is won before it is ever fought”.
*Ahsan Syed is PhD Scholar at AIOU
His Email: Ahsansyed13@gmail.com