Pakistan’s Chokehold On Taliban May Be Slipping
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Pakistan’s Chokehold On Taliban May Be Slipping

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The pot is boiling over and the first few shots of a civil war have already been fired in Afghanistan; Islamabad is in a dilemma, as its calculations go awry

by Col Satish Tyagi

The veritable arm of the ISI, the Taliban were nurtured in the cradle and nursery of terrorism in Pakistan, whose involvement with the Taliban and the pressure on them continue unabated even after the last US troops have left the soil of Afghanistan. Pakistan continues to apply its chokehold on Taliban lest they wiggle out, once they are firmly settled in the seat of governance in Afghanistan for the second term. The quick dash and jump landing in Kabul by the head of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, ISI, Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, immediately after the Taliban took control of the power and before the interim government was announced, is a grim reminder of the same. The frontrunner for the top post and almost the obvious choice of the Taliban—barring the opposition of Sirajuddin Haqqani and his cohorts—Abdul Ghani Baradar was relegated to the post of Deputy Prime Minister. A lot of calculations and negotiations went in from the luxuries and comforts of Serena Hotel in Kabul to place favourable cards at the right places. But Sirajuddin Haqqani, the man who bombed the Indian embassy, bagged for the Interior Ministry, a clear sign of what the ISI is looking at in the coming days.

On the one hand, Pakistan was gleefully successful in displaying its hold on its protégé Taliban to the rest of the world, but on the other hand, it also became amply clear to keen watchers that Taliban 2.0 are not the same as Taliban 1.0 when it comes to their venerations, deference, and obeisance to the dictates of Islamabad. Shots were fired in the compound where Abdul Ghani Baradar was made to forcefully stay in Kabul; he ultimately left for Kandahar, perhaps not only injured physically but in his soul too. Reportedly, the new crop of younger Taliban is averse to Pakistan meddling in the affairs of Afghanistan. The conduct of the ISI chief in the close confines of the Serena Hotel too did not go unnoticed by not only the watchful eyes of the people around but also the Pakistan Army hierarchy itself.

In a joint news conference with the British Foreign Secretary, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi termed the Afghan Taliban as a “new reality”, adding about the so-called helplessness of Pakistan, which is left with no other option but to work with the neighbouring country. Yes, the new realities in the sense he didn’t mention are a pointer to a perception that all is not well between the two of them. It is worth noting that the ISI chief was unable to meet the senior leadership of the Taliban on his recent visit to Kabul.

The Taliban are mostly Pashtuns who have historically been the ruling group in Afghanistan and have dynamically fought to keep their predominance throughout Afghan history. The desire to reunite with the Pashtuns across the Durand Line in Pakistan and all Pashtuns joining hands is stronger now than ever before, especially amongst the Kandahar faction of the Taliban. A large number of Pashtuns from Afghanistan also took refuge in various regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces in Pakistan during the time of war. Voices of independent Pashtuns have been reverberating in Pakistan after the Pakistan Army carried out excesses such as abduction, torture and collective punishment against entire villages and tribes in the Pashtun tribal areas. The main role in uniting the Pashtuns has been played by the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, which is a social movement based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan for protecting Pashtuns and their rights. The movement was founded in May 2014 by eight students of Dera Ismail Khan. It organized a protest march from Dera to Islamabad for a sit-in there sometime ago. It gathered huge support from the people who joined in on the way as it progressed, and Islamabad had to send in a minister to intervene.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces have been on the boil for quite some time, but now with the Taliban in power again in the Pashtun dominated Afghanistan, the hopes to reunite have been refuelled. As per one report, there have been many incidents of people protesting against the government in Pakistan. Media is blocked and most of the news from the region is not available. There have been numerous incidents of armed conflicts in both Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces ever since Taliban has come to power.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is yet another worrying factor for Pakistan as 36 TTP related incidents toom place in the last one month itself. These incidents have claimed more than 50 lives of Pakistani soldiers. Seeing the gravity of the situation, Pakistan has sought the Taliban’s support in resolving this issue.

Not only this, but there are also reports of the killing of ISIS (Khorasan) and counter killing of Taliban. ISIS(K) militants reportedly fired at a Taliban vehicle in Khwaja Sayaran district of Parwan province in Afghanistan, killing four members of Taliban on Tuesday. In addition, local sources reported a terrorist attack on a Taliban checkpoint in Kunar province’s Chawkai district on the same day, killing 2 Taliban and wounding another.

There are also reports of explosions and gunfire in the city of Jalalabad, with no confirmation of casualties. It was also learned that an intelligence officer was among the dead Taliban fighters in the city’s first district, in a September 25 bombing. Members of the agency are directly involved in killing civilians in the city, as part of a crackdown on the undesirable Salafists.

It is worth noting that at the moment ISIS(K) is making its presence felt in Nangarhar, Kunar, Kabul and Parwan provinces, and the list is likely to grow very soon as they are spreading their footprints to other provinces too.

All these reports indicate that the pot is boiling over and the first few shots of a civil war have already been fired in Afghanistan; Islamabad is in a dilemma, as its calculations go awry. In a media report, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley maintains that the relationship between Pakistan and Taliban is going to become “increasingly complex”. Similarly, General Frank McKenzie, commander of US Central Command recently said that Pakistan will find it not easy to deflect the pressure coming from Afghanistan because the pressure from the US and its allies no longer exists.

Pakistan’s strong clutches would, however, not want the Taliban slip away. Islamabad is now waiting to be done with providing a veneer of stability to Taliban and is looking for some sort of diplomatic recognition for Taliban. Islamabad is near bankrupt but would not change the colour of its coat and is likely to focus on its proxy assets on Indian soil and intensify terror activities and other actions of sabotage in Kashmir as well as other states of India.

Time is running out with the winters fast approaching and the passes in Kashmir closing down within the next one month or so, maximum infiltration attempts are expected during this season of festivities in India.

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