Every year on January 17th, Shahana bakes a cake and invites people to her home in Peshawar, Pakistan. They sing her son happy birthday and even light a candle. But a birthday isn’t complete without the birthday boy.
In December 2014, her son, Asfand Khan, was 15 years old when gunmen opened fire on his military-run public school in Peshawar, killing 150 people, the majority of them were kids, some as young as five years old. At close range, Asfand was shot three times in the head.
The perpetrators were Pakistani Taliban, who have stepped up their assaults again seven years later, perhaps encouraged by the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul. They murdered eight Pakistani army troops in a half-dozen strikes and counter-attacks in the last week of December, all in the country’s northwest. Late Wednesday night, two more Pakistani troops were killed in a strike on Taliban strongholds.
According to a United Nations study from July, the Pakistani Taliban, also known as the TTP, are reforming and restructuring, with its leadership based in neighboring Afghanistan. This has Pakistanis like Shahana worried about a resurgence of the group’s already horrible atrocities.
Despite Pakistan’s efforts to persuade a wary world to work with Afghanistan’s new authorities and save the nation from economic collapse, the Afghan Taliban have showed no evidence of removing TTP commanders or preventing them from carrying out strikes in Pakistan.
All of Afghanistan’s neighbors, as well as significant countries like as China, Russia, and the United States, are grappling with how to deal with Kabul.
Several terrorist organizations have found safe haven in Afghanistan throughout the course of the conflict, and some of them, like the TTP, are former Afghan Taliban fighting comrades.
So far, the Taliban have shown an unwillingness or unable to eliminate them. The only exception is the Taliban’s Islamic State offshoot, which has fought a violent campaign against them and Afghanistan’s minority Shiite Muslims for years, murdering hundreds in scores of horrible attacks on schools, mosques, and even a maternity facility.
The Islamic State’s K branch, often known as IS-K, has been recognized as Washington’s main militant concern emerging from Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, the Taliban’s longtime partner, is not considered as a serious danger. Though there are hints it is expanding marginally, according to U.S. military leaders, it is virtually rudderless, with its current head, Ayman al-Zawahri, alive but ailing, according to a July U.N. report.
Other extremists are still based in Afghanistan, and they are causing anxiety among the country’s neighbors.
China is concerned about separatists from the Uighur ethnic minority, who want the Xinjiang province to be independent. Russia and Central Asian countries are concerned about the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which has been recruiting ethnic Uzbeks in Afghanistan in recent years.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is Pakistan’s terrorist organization. The gang was responsible for some of Pakistan’s greatest terrorist attacks, including the 2014 attack on a military public school.
According to the UN study, the TTP has anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 militants. According to Amir Rana, executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, an independent think tank in Islamabad, it has also succeeded in expanding its recruiting within Pakistan beyond the erstwhile tribal territories near the border, where it had historically sought fighters.
The Afghan Taliban’s unwillingness to crack down on the TTP, according to analysts, does not auger well for their willingness to crack down on the numerous other factions.
“With the exception of IS-K, most of the terrorist groups active in Afghanistan are Taliban sympathizers,” says Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Asia Program in Washington. “And, despite rising pressure from regional actors and the West, the Taliban aren’t going to turn their weapons on their allies.”
The terrorists’ presence hinders Pakistan’s efforts to encourage international cooperation with the Afghan Taliban in the hopes of restoring stability to a country that is on the verge of collapse.
According to analysts, Pakistan’s military has determined that the TTP’s losses are preferable than weakening Afghanistan’s Taliban leadership by pressuring them on the matter. A collapse would result in a torrent of refugees; while Pakistan may be their first port of call, Islamabad cautions that Europe and North America will be their preferred destinations.
Islamabad recently sought to engage with the TTP, but the endeavor failed. Pakistan’s stance of simultaneously engaging with and bombing the TTP, according to Rana of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, is “confusing” and risks emboldening like-minded rebels in both nations.
It also causes concern among its allies, he added.
Because of its strong ties to Uighur separatists, China, which spends billions in Pakistan, was not pleased with Islamabad’s attempts at discussions with the TTP, according to Rana. The TTP claimed responsibility for a blast that killed Chinese engineers in northwest Pakistan in July, as well as an April explosion against a hotel where the Chinese envoy was staying.
Pakistan is under increasing pressure from the Afghan Taliban to give over the TTP leadership.
Islamabad’s relationship with the Taliban, on the other hand, is difficult.
Pakistan’s powerful military, which oversees the country’s Afghan policy, has had links to the Taliban leadership for more than 40 years, dating back to a previous invasion. They then battled and destroyed the invading former Soviet Union with the United States.
Pakistan was accused of assisting the Taliban by Washington and its Afghan allies after the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Even while Taliban commanders and their families stayed in Pakistan while fighting insurgents in Kabul, Pakistan refuted the allegations.
However, the Taliban have interests that are not aligned with Pakistan’s, particularly when it comes to the 2,500-kilometer (1,600-mile) border between the two nations. The Durand Line, which was created by British colonial authorities in the 19th century, has never been acknowledged by Afghanistan.
Anger among the Afghan Taliban over Pakistan’s construction of a border barrier threatened to devolve into violence last week. On social media, videos showed the Taliban damaging rolls of barbed wire intended for the barrier and threatening to fire on Pakistani forces.
Pakistan has no authority to build a border barrier, according to the Taliban’s Defense Ministry. Pakistan’s military spokesperson, Gen. Babar Iftikar, said on Wednesday that the barrier was 94 percent constructed and will be finished soon.
“Security, border crossing, and trade are all regulated by the barrier on the Pak-Afghan border,” he stated. “The goal here is to protect the people, not to separate them.”
According to Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal, which follows worldwide militancy, Pakistan should not anticipate any results if it asks the Taliban to hand up TTP commanders.
“For the same reasons that the Afghan Taliban would not expel al-Qaida, the Afghan Taliban will not expel the TTP,” he stated. “Both factions were instrumental in the Taliban’s triumph in Afghanistan. Over the last 20 years, they have fought with the Afghan Taliban and made significant sacrifices.”