Taliban franchise becomes Pakistan’s bugbear

The volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan border is a testimony to Islamabads self-inflicted wounds and its misplaced trust in adopting terrorism as its principle foreign policy tool in the neighbourhood.

It has placed Pakistan in a bind from which it is finding it hard to rekindle its desire to have an ‘extended border’ on its west.

Pakistan’s town of Chaman on the border with Afghanistan is ironically called Friendship Gate when there is no sign of any camaraderie between the two Muslim neighbours. The disputed border, called the Durand Line drawn up during the British colonial rule, is giving Pakistan sleepless nights.

There are unending instances of fatal clashes between the armed sentries of the two countries, casualties affecting both civilians and security forces, kidnapping, hostage-taking and even seizure of the office of Pakistan’s Counter Terrorism Department in Bannu in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province which was enlarged with the absorption of the erstwhile autonomous territories known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Pakistan’s latest bugbear is a Taliban franchise called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which was born inside FATA area, and subscribes to a strict version of Islam. It vows to overthrow the government in Islamabad; it demands withdrawal of the armed forces from the erstwhile FATA areas and restoration of autonomous FATA regions.

None of these demands are acceptable to Pakistan, especially since the regressive militant organization wants to rule the country. FATA was abolished for acquiring a stronger grip over the region of rebellious tribals. The amalgamation of FATA territories cannot be undone as it would amount to admission of a major failure.

The government of Pakistan and TTP announced a ceasefire agreement which came into effect on November 9 to enable the two parties to work for peace. But less than a month later, the agreement was breached; the TTP has heightened the scale of its hostile acts.

It is not the first time that Pakistan has witnessed a benefactor turning the tables on his benefactor or bitten the hand that fed him. The maverick Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had chosen Gen Zia-ul-Haq as the army chief superseding six generals. Zia was described as Bhutto’s ‘monkey’ because of his presumed loyalty towards him.

The same Zia, a dictator who believed in turning Pakistan into a strict Islamic nation, had Bhutto hanged by manipulating the judicial process. Zia was a Punjabi but his family came from the Indian Punjab and, hence, was regarded as a ‘Mohajir’ in Pakistan. Bhutto disregarded all opinions against Zia, believing that a ‘Mohajir’ (a derogatory term) will not turn against him.

Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir, as Prime Minister ardently believed in using terrorism as a state policy to unsettle India. She backed the Taliban and other terrorists trained by her army to operate in India. She also raised frenzied cries of ‘Azadi’ (freedom) for Kashmiris.

Fearing arrest after being out of power, she went on a voluntary exile during the rule of another army dictator, Gen Pervez Musharraf. After working out a ‘secret’ deal with Musharraf she returned to Pakistan. Not very long afterwards, she was gunned down by militants belonging to the TTP which by then had not grown to be that much of a threat to Pakistan.

More than 11 years ago, the then US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton delivered a warning to Pakistani leadership. From the UN Security Council, Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar reminded Pakistan of Clinton warning that the snakes Pakistan has kept in its backyard, hoping that they would bite the neighbour, would eventually turn on whoever has kept them in their backyard.

Clinton delivered her warning in October 2011 at a joint press conference with Hina Rabbani Khar, the then Pakistani Foreign Minister, in Islamabad. Today Khar is back in the Foreign Ministry as junior to the rookie dynast Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.

Clinton’s blunt words were spoken to express the American exasperation over Pakistan’s failure to demolish the safe havens of the Haqqani network of terrorists on its soil even long after becoming the frontline state in the US-led ‘war on terror’. It is another story that Pakistan had cheated the US while fighting the ‘war on terror’. The consequences of the duplicity have been devastating for Pakistan though.

To the dismay of Pakistan, some of the terrorists it had nurtured now find safe havens in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan while targeting Pakistan.

Seventeen months ago, Pakistan under the premiership of Imran Khan responded overzealously to the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul. A Pakistani general had rushed to Kabul to partake of the Taliban festivities. It was as if Afghanistan had fallen to Pakistani forces. Well, maybe it was partly correct because the Taliban received great patronage from the Pakistani military establishment.

Not surprisingly, Pakistan had rushed to recognize the Kabul regime when the rest of the world was unsure of Taliban’s democratic credentials because of its antediluvian ideas and beliefs. Turn of events show Pakistani leadership has no sense of history. Nor does it realise that Islamabad – Kabul ties are always guided by mistrust. No regime in Kabul, including the present Taliban 2.0 has accepted the Durand Line.

In recent months, Pakistan turned to diplomacy, made oblique threats and even tried to arm-twist the Afghan neighbour, and have its way in bilateral relations. All these efforts have failed. Now, Pakistan is taking help of clerics to pacify the enraged Afghan Taliban; it is also turning to tribal elders to work out a peace deal through community action or what is known in tribal politics as jirga route. Chances of an immediate success look remote, given the deep-rooted distrust of Pakistan across the Durand Line.

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