Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari this week told a German broadcaster that “mixed signals” from Pakistan were to blame for the Afghan Taliban’s inaction against the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Referring to public statements by former prime minister Imran Khan, he noted: “The previous government was asking the interim Afghan government to facilitate reconciliation with TTP and had plans to resettle the militants in Pakistan.” He added that every Pakistani was “demanding that terrorists who were involved in heinous attacks such as the Army Public School massacre could never be our friends,” and sought to put the burden of reconciliation with terrorism on the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) as a “policy of appeasement”.
Blaming his rival political party for the resurgence of terrorism is understandable, but the situation is far more nuanced. There have been indications of the TTP aligning with militants in Afghanistan since 2017, with a U.S. general claiming the banned group was “merging” with the Islamic State-Khorasan Province. He specifically mentioned the Orakzai Agency, claiming TTP terrorists from there had joined the ISKP and then moved into Afghanistan’s Nangrahar province.
This migration was facilitated by Operation Zarb-e-Azb, meant to eradicate terrorists, which has in the long-term proved less successful than previously claimed. While it was ongoing, lawyers were targeted in Quetta and there was a string of attacks on the country’s minority Shia community. Unfortunately, this rise in sectarian conflict was largely ignored by Pakistan, which continues to avoid highlighting the reasons why some political forces—including the PTI—appear to praise “jihad” across the Durand Line without recognizing its impact in Pakistan.
The foreign minister would do well to review the mountain of files in the Foreign Office that analyze the effect that the “jihad” in Afghanistan had on Pakistan’s erstwhile tribal areas. The Afghan Taliban’s return to power in Kabul after years spent sheltering in Pakistan had a significant impact on the TTP, emboldening them with a clear “example” of victory through warfare. The only clear solution is “mainstreaming” of the tribal areas, which—despite being merged with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa—still lack the state’s writ. Unfortunately, while Islamabad has decided to “fix” the situation, its policymaking has yet to be reflected on the ground.