The rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan last month with the fall of Kabul to the Taliban has surprised everyone around the globe. Even though it was already anticipated that Ghani government will not be able to manage Afghanistan on its own beyond some months, nobody anticipated that the Taliban will be able to advance towards Kabul with no resistance by the Afghan security forces in such a short time period.
The abrupt departure of President Ashraf Ghani from Kabul opened a pandora’s box of issues not only for the United States (US), but for all the local, regional and extra-regional stakeholders involved in Afghanistan. When it comes to Afghanistan, Pakistani officials have repeatedly raised concerns about the presence of anti-Pakistan terror outfits including Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The issue of TTP’s presence in Afghanistan was raised multiple times with the Ghani administration, but no significant breakthrough was achieved in this regard.
The first clause of the peace deal signed between the US and the Taliban in Qatar’s capital Doha last year states that the Afghan soil will not be allowed to be used against the US and its allies. Consequently, Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid in his first public press conference reiterated the fact that the Afghan soil will not be allowed to use against any country.
It is important to understand the fact that Mujahid’s assertion regarding the Afghan soil was not restricted to merely statements. Local sources reveal that statements by the Taliban leaders of not allowing the usage of the Afghan soil against any country have caused a lot of panic within the ranks of TTP. Moreover, TTP militants are now trying to get registered themselves as part of Afghan Taliban sub groups in order to avoid any repercussions. There is a code of conduct released to all the groups present in Afghanistan without discrimination to abide by, which clearly states that nobody is allowed to use the Afghan soil to launch attacks against any country.
That TTP might continue to attack targets in Pakistan from across the border by maintaining plausible deniability of not using the Afghan soil. Instead, the militant group might claim that it is launching the attacks from its safe havens based in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, TTP’s activities in the past few months have witnessed a noticeable surge. According to statistics released by an Islamabad based organisation, Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), “45 militant attacks were recorded in August 2021 in which 64 people were killed including 34 civilians and 22 security forces personnel, whereas 136 others were injured including 96 civilians and 36 security forces personnel. In July 2021, 25 militant attacks were recorded, in which 33 people were killed and 54 others were injured”. TTP has also recently issued a warning to media to not address the Pakistani Taliban with pejorative titles like “terrorists and extremists”.
On the other hand, the President of Pakistan Dr Arif Alvi, in his recent interview to the media, hinted towards the possibility of negotiating with the TTP if they surrender to the constitution of Pakistan and lay down their weapons. There are also some indications that some sections of the military are already engaged in talks with some groups of TTP and expected to have some breakthrough in the near future.
However, it is important to understand the fact that the TTP’s problem is not restricted to Afghanistan only. TTP has many sleeper cells in the urban centres of Pakistan. These cells have been nurturing from time to time for more than a decade and have survived many intelligence-based operations in Pakistan. Considering a scenario in which some TTP groups are willing to surrender, it is important to understand the fact that it will still be very hard to neutralise its sleeper cells in Pakistan.
Moreover, there is a probability that TTP might continue to attack targets in Pakistan from across the border by maintaining plausible deniability of not using the Afghan soil. Instead, the militant group might claim that it is launching the attacks from its safe havens based in Pakistan.
There is also a possibility of factionalism within the TTP. In such a scenario, we could witness the emergence of new groups separating themselves from the TTP central and continuing to attack Pakistan. The possibility of such a scenario is rooted in the fact that the TTP is a militant organisation with autonomous subgroups. Ever since Noor Wali Mehsud became TTP’s chief, the militant outfit has transformed from a highly centralised organisation to one that has provided more autonomy to its cadre and local commanders.
Taliban spokespersons Zabiullah Mujahid and Sohail Shaheen have reiterated several times that the Afghan soil will not be used against any country, but it is important to realise that there is no guarantee for this reassurance. Afghanistan remains home to multiple militant outfits which have been involved in conducting terror attacks in Afghanistan’s neighbourhood. It will be interesting to observe what will be the reaction of the Taliban if a high-profile terror attack occurs in Afghanistan’s neighbourhood and the planning of that attack is traced back to Afghanistan.