Pakistan: Combating the TTP Through Reconciliation in Afghanistan

14 Jan, 2013    ·   3790

Sander Ruben Aarten analyses the strategy behind its support of the process

Sander Ruben Aarten
Sander Ruben Aarten
Research Intern

Reconciliation with the Taliban in Afghanistan has become a viable option ever since the Obama administration dramatically narrowed down the primary strategic objectives of the war to defeating the al Qaeda and breaking its ties with the Taliban. Critical success factors for a political reconciliation include, among others, a power sharing agreement between Kabul and the Taliban, a general ceasefire, and a severing of ties between the Taliban and the al Qaeda. These factors are not as far-fetched as they may appear. According to a recently published report by the Royal United Services Institute, the Taliban’s leadership is keeping the option to cut ties with the al Qaeda open.

The effort to bring the Taliban into the Afghan political mainstream is supported by most stakeholders in the Afghan conflict, including Pakistan. Pakistan’s interest in the reconciliation process is often explained in the context of Islamabad’s concerns about the potential of having a highly unstable Afghanistan at its borders. A continuation or deepening of the standoff between the Afghan government and the Taliban in the post-2014 scenario would pose a direct security threat to Pakistan. Not only would a civil war lead to a high influx of Afghan refugees and trigger a resurgence of Pashtun irredentism, but the likelihood of the Taliban strengthening its positions in the south and southeast of the country would also provide the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, TTP) sanctuary in Afghanistan, where it is out of reach of the Pakistani army.

The TTP’s Origins and Support Base
Since 2007, the TTP has emerged as a major threat to Pakistan’s internal security. The army has been able to roll back this process of Talibanisation after a series of large-scale attacks on the TTP, albeit at a very high cost. The operations claimed thousands of civilian and military lives, left millions of Pakistanis internally displaced, and destroyed infrastructure and other civilian targets. Despite the army’s success in retaining control over reclaimed areas, the TTP continues to be a serious security threat. A sign of its takfiri ideology, the TTP primarily chooses “impure” and un-Islamic targets for its attacks. Not only does this mean that the group has a sectarian nature, but it also explains why Pakistani security forces and government officials, as well as “agents of the west” such as NGOs often fall prey to TTP attacks. The TTP’s raison d’être revolves around three goals: introducing Islamic law in Pakistan, assisting the Afghan Taliban in their struggle against foreign forces, and breaking the US-Pakistani alliance.

The TTP is able to continue its operations quite simply because it manages to garner a relatively broad support base amongst the local population. The local population does not necessarily support the TTP because they subscribe to its extremist Islamic teaching; but as Qandeel Siddique of the Danish Institute for International Studies postulates in a 2010 report, support for the TTP is rather an expression of popular discontent with Pakistani authorities. Islamabad’s decade-long neglect of the tribal areas was aggravated by military operations along with its tacit support for (or the army’s inability to protect against) the US drone strikes inside the tribal areas has added a sense of injustice to the prevailing disillusionment of the locals with the government and has further fueled anti-Americanism.

Consequences of Afghan Reconciliation for the TTP
If a reconciliation agreement is achieved in Afghanistan (that is, at least the two above-mentioned criteria are included), it will provide Pakistan with a powerful weapon against the TTP. If the Taliban is brought into the political mainstream, Afghanistan’s largest belligerent faction is neutralised thus allowing the ANSF and any foreign residual forces to focus all counterinsurgency actions inside Afghanistan against any transnational insurgent groups, such as the TTP and the al Qaeda. Further, the necessary cut of al Qaeda-Taliban ties would damage the al Qaeda’s leverage in the region. Moreover, in a recent video message published by Reuters, Hakimullah Mehsud the leader of the TTP, said that he will follow the lead of the Afghan Taliban in terms of policy-making after 2014. If he keeps his word, this would further isolate the al Qaeda. Another advantage would be that the number of drone strikes is likely to decrease after the Taliban is brought into the political mainstream. Not only will this reduce anti-American and anti-government sentiments, but it will also take away one of the most significant and popular support pillars of the TTP.

A successful political reconciliation in Afghanistan will neutralise the Taliban as a warring faction. Due to the interconnectivity between the insurgent groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the politicisation of the Taliban will undermine the strength and influence of the al Qaeda and the TTP. However, reconciliation is a very difficult exercise, the success of which depends on a plethora of variables. Moreover, the isolation of the TTP and the al Qaeda, and a likely reduction in the number of drone strike attacks inside Pakistan does not solve the socio-economic problems of the tribal regions. In addition to supporting the reconciliation process in Kabul, Islamabad must also take significant steps towards improving the socio-economic prospects for the local population.