A quiet warning is being issued in Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan: The Taliban are coming back.
The Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan has given Pakistan its own Taliban movement an opportunity to rise up, having in the past waged a violent war against the Islamabad government.
They appear to be planning to retake control over the tribal areas they have lost almost seven years ago to Pakistan’s military. Already, the influence of Pakistani Taliban is growing. Local contractors have reported that Taliban-imposed surcharges were imposed on all contracts and that they are committing the murder of anyone who defies them.
A contractor called Noor Islam Dawar constructed a small canal near Mir Ali, Afghanistan, in September. It was worth less than $5,000. The Taliban still called, demanding $1,100. According to local activists and relatives, Dawar didn’t have anything to offer and begged for their understanding. He was shot and killed by unknown gunmen a week later. His family blames Taliban.
The Taliban in Pakistan, also known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban (or TTP), is an independent organization. However, they share a lot of the same ideology and are allied. TTP was founded in 2000 and began a campaign to bomb Pakistani cities and take control of many tribal areas. It was repressed by the military crackdown in 2010.
However, the TTP was already reorganizing itself in Afghanistan’s safe havens even before the Afghan Taliban seized Kabul on August 15.
“The Afghan Taliban’s astonishing success in defeating America’s superpower has encouraged the Pakistani Taliban… They now seem to believe that they too can wage successful jihad against the Pakistani state ‘infidel’ and have returned back to insurgency mode,” stated Brian Glyn Williams (University of Massachusetts Islamic History Professor) who has written extensively about jihad movements.
In recent months, the TTP has increased its attacks. According to the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, more than 300 Pakistanis have been murdered in terrorist attacks since January. This includes 144 military personnel.
Amir Rana, the executive director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, stated that the events in Afghanistan have also inspired a number of radical religious parties in Pakistan.
These parties openly denigrate minority Shiite Muslims and sometimes bring thousands of people to the streets to defend their hardline Islam interpretation. The Tehreek-eLabbaik Pakistan has one agenda: to defend a controversial law on blasphemy. This law has been used against minorities as well as opponents, and can be used to incite mobs of murder simply for the accusation that someone insults Islam.
Rana warned that Pakistani society, already afflicted by growing religiosity is in danger of becoming a Taliban-run Afghanistan.
Gallup Pakistan poll found that 55% of Pakistanis support an “Islamic government”, similar to the one promoted by Afghanistan’s Taliban. Gallup conducted a survey of 2,170 Pakistanis shortly after the Taliban tookover in Kabul.
While Pakistan has not offered unilateral recognition to the all Taliban government in Afghanistan, it has been pushing for international engagement with them. It has called on the United States of America to provide funds for the Afghan government and urged the Taliban to open up their ranks to non-Taliban minorities.
America is constantly angry at Pakistan’s relations with the Afghan Taliban. Republican senators introduced a law to sanction Islamabad for allegedly conspiring against the U.S. in order to bring down the Taliban. Pakistani leaders claim that they were asked about the charge and brought the Taliban to the table to negotiate with the U.S. which ultimately led to an agreement for America’s final withdrawal.
Many of the Afghan Taliban’s ties to Pakistan date back to 1980s, when Pakistan was the venue for an American-backed war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. The Haqani group, Afghanistan’s most powerful Taliban, has had a long-standing relationship with Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI.
Asfandyar Mir, a top expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace, stated that Pakistan has reached out to Sirajuddin Haiqani, the new Afghan Taliban interior minister, in order to help them start talks with the Pakistani Taliban.
TTP leaders in North Waziristan, a region once controlled by the group, are open to negotiations. The most violent factions, headed by Noor Wali Mesud, aren’t interested in negotiations. Mir said that Mehsud’s Taliban want South Waziristan under their control.
It is not known if Haqqani can get Mehsud on the table, or if Afghanistan’s new rulers will be ready to end their close ties to Pakistan’s Taliban.
According to two Pakistani sources, the TTP demands control over certain tribal areas and strict Islamic Shariah interpretation in these areas. They also want the right to keep their guns. The TTP spoke with The Associated Press under oath because they aren’t authorized to talk to the media and fear retaliation.
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies is a U.S-based think tank. Bill Roggio said that Pakistan is open to talks with the Taliban in order to end the increasing attacks on its military. However, he warned that the government was opening Pandora’s Box.
Roggio stated that the TTP would not accept to rule a small part of Pakistan. It will demand more than it has been given. The TTP wants Pakistan to be ruled, just as the Afghan Taliban wanted Afghanistan to be ruled by them.