By KATHY GANNON – Associated Press
ISLAMABAD (AP) — Amid rising violence, Pakistan is taking a tougher line to pressure Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders to crack down on militants hiding on their soil, but so far the Taliban remain reluctant to act – instead trying to broker a peace.
Last month, relations between the two neighbors deteriorated sharply when Pakistan carried out airstrikes in eastern Afghanistan. Witnesses said the strikes hit a refugee camp and another location, killing at least 40 civilians. UNICEF said 20 children were among the dead.
Pakistan never confirmed the April 15 strikes, but two days later its foreign ministry issued a stern warning to the Taliban not to harbor militants.
The pressure put the Taliban in a tight corner. The Taliban has long been close to several militant groups carrying out attacks in Pakistan, in particular the Pakistani Taliban, a separate organization known by the acronym TTP. The TTP and other groups have only become more active on Afghan soil since the Taliban took power in August.
People also read…
But the Taliban are reluctant to crack down on them, fearing they will create more enemies at a time when they are already facing an increasingly violent campaign from the Islamic State group’s Afghan affiliate, analysts say.
A series of bombings across Afghanistan in recent weeks, mainly targeting the Hazara minority, have left dozens dead. Most are blamed on the Islamic State affiliate, known by the acronym IS-K. The bloodshed has undermined the Taliban’s claims to be able to provide the security expected of a governing force.
This week, the Taliban held talks between the TTP and a Pakistani government delegation as well as a group of Pakistani tribal leaders, apparently hoping for a compromise that can ease the pressure. On Wednesday, the TTP announced it was extending until May 30 an earlier ceasefire it had called.
Deputy Taliban government spokesman Bilal Karimi said he “is doing his best for the continuation and success of the negotiations and in the meantime calls on both sides to show flexibility”.
But past ceasefires with the TTP have failed, and the current one was already rocked by violence last weekend.
Pakistan’s frustration seems to be growing as the violence on its soil increases.
The secessionist Balochistan Liberation Army killed three Chinese nationals in late April. The TTP and Afghanistan-based IS are targeting the Pakistani military with increasing regularity.
Militant attacks in Pakistan have risen nearly 50% since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, according to the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based independent think tank that tracks militant activity. The group documented 170 attacks between September and mid-May that killed 170 police, military and paramilitary personnel and more than 110 civilians.
The United Nations estimates that as many as 10,000 TTP militants are hiding in Afghanistan. So far, Afghan leaders have done little to dismantle militant redoubts in their territory.
Prominent Afghans from southern Afghanistan, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said Pakistani Taliban and Pakistani Baloch secessionists had established several safe havens in the area during the previous government backed by the United States and have remained since the Taliban takeover.
Pakistani airstrikes in April marked a considerably tougher stance. They came after a militant ambush killed seven soldiers near the border with Afghanistan. Pakistani and Afghan border forces often exchange rocket fire amid disputes over the border – but it is rare for Pakistan to use warplanes on targets inside its neighbor.
The change came after weeks of political unrest in Pakistan that toppled Imran Khan as prime minister. Khan had been a supporter of negotiations with the militants and campaigned for the world to engage with the Taliban after they took over Afghanistan.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the US-based Wilson Center, said Khan “has a soft spot for the Taliban as well as a principled opposition to the use of force in Afghanistan.”
With Khan now out of the picture and TTP attacks continuing, “we can expect greater Pakistani readiness to use military operations,” he said.
The Afghan Taliban warn Pakistan against further military action, threatening retaliation.
Airstrikes “are not acceptable”, Taliban-appointed Defense Minister Mohammad Yaqoob warned in Pakistan in late April. “The only reason we tolerated this attack is because of our national interest, but we may not be so tolerant in the future.”
The son of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, Yaqoob is a powerful figure in the Taliban leadership, struggling to hold together despite disagreements over how to govern their war-torn nation.
The board of directors seems firmly divided into two camps: the pragmatists and the hardliners. The Pragmatists pushed for global commitment and opening up schools to girls of all ages. Hardliners want to take Afghanistan back to the Taliban rule of the late 1990s, when women and girls were denied access to most public spaces and a rigid, unforgiving version of the Islam and tribal rule was imposed.
A flurry of recent repressive edicts suggest hardliners have the upper hand, including an order requiring women to wear veils that leave only their eyes visible and a ruling not to allow girls to attend the school after sixth grade.
Yaqoob is among the pragmatists, according to several prominent Afghans familiar with the Taliban leadership. However, it does not appear that the leaders on either side of the division have decided to oust the militants from their territory.
“I don’t see any quick fix to the Pakistani-Afghan situation. The Taliban will continue to provide sanctuary for the TTP and hope they can expand their own influence in Pakistan over time,” said Shuja Nawaz, expert and member of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center based in the United States. United States.
“So expect the situation to deteriorate, especially with the (Pakistani) army deciding Afghan policy,” Nawaz said.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.