TTP’s survival in Afghanistan after US-Taliban agreement
Umar Karim
In February, the United States of America and Taliban movement of Afghanistan finally reached a peace agreement which would pave the way for the ending of the Afghan conflict.
The agreement lays out a blue print which if honoured by both the Taliban and US will eventually result in the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country and the Afghan Taliban becoming part of the state structure and Afghan government. For this to happen, a comprehensive inter-Afghan dialogue needs to be initiated.
It won’t be wrong to suggest that it seems most of the international and regional actors involved in Afghanistan with the exception of Iran have acknowledged this accord as a big step towards peace in the war torn state and have welcomed it. It is also safe to assume that peace and stability within Afghanistan will be productive also for its neighbours who have borne the spill-over effects of this conflict. The only local or regional actors that have expressed their concerns over the breakthrough are those whose interests are catered by the continuity of this conflict.
On the regional level, Iran has openly framed this deal between Taliban and the US as 'another imperialist ploy' to subvert Afghan sovereignty and an attempt by US to legitimize its foreign occupation of the country. The Iranians have rather stressed upon the need for political negotiations between Afghans of all political leanings reaching a final settlement. The political crisis within the Afghan government ranks isn’t helping the start of an Inter-Afghan dialogue process either.
Since the results of the Afghan presidential election 2019 remain contested and both Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah have not only claimed themselves to be the real winners but have also now declared themselves as Presidents in separate swearing in ceremonies, the political field couldn’t be murkier.
It is quite apparent that Ghani has successfully used the card of Taliban prisoners to get the approval of the US and Pakistan, legitimising himself as the president of the country. On the other hand, Abdullah Abdullah has touted himself as the man who will go into talks with Taliban without any pre-conditions. Unless Ghani co-opts some of Abdullah’s political supporters or US exerts pressure on him to fall in line, intra-Afghan dialogue remains a complicated affair.
Pakistan being one of the most important regional stakeholders within Afghanistan has welcomed this settlement between the US and Taliban and hasn’t been shy to suggest it used its influence to bring Taliban to the negotiating table. Yet, premier Imran Khan immediately warned the two sides to keep spoilers at bay-- those who try to sabotage the agreement. For Pakistan, a bigger concern has been the presence of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) elements on Afghan soil, particularly in the provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar bordering Pakistan.
Since, the removal of TTP militants from North Waziristan in 2014 most of the remnants of the group have managed to relocate themselves into Afghanistan and have launched cross border attacks on Pakistani forces. These sanctuaries and the allegations of help from Afghan intelligence, as reported in at least one report by Asia Times, have enabled them to regroup and establish themselves as important actors. Pakistan’s perspective of TTP’s presence within the Af-Pak border region was vindicated when its former head, Mullah Fazalullah was killed in a drone strike in Kunar province.
Against this backdrop, Pakistan has remained wary of the government in Kabul and its role in allowing and supporting TTP elements to operate from its soil. Here it shouldn’t be ignored that these TTP elements constitute the main core of the Islamic State Khurasan Province (ISKP) and have been regularly involved in fighting turf wars with the local Taliban cadres.
The presence of these groups on the opposite side of the border has compelled Pakistan to initiate the fencing of the Af-Pak border-- a move heavily resented by the Afghan government.
The peace agreement between Taliban and the US does mention that Afghan soil will not be used against its neighbours. The Taliban’s spokesperson has also hinted that Taliban are an Afghan-centric force and regarding use of Afghan soil against Pakistan, the responsibility rests upon the government in Kabul.
These developments do herald a positive opening for Pakistan from a strategic perspective and policy planners within Islamabad may hope that once Taliban enter the government fray within Afghanistan, the sanctuaries of TTP will be cleansed.
Yet, inter-Afghan dialogue hasn’t commenced till now and any new power-sharing or transitional setup will mean a loss of power for President Ghani, which he will fervently resist. Therefore, TTP will hover around the Af-Pak borderlands for some time more.