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EDITORIAL: Reports that businessmen in KP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) have started receiving threatening calls for extortion from Afghanistan are cause for very serious concern; but they aren’t entirely surprising. Nor is this the first time that something like this is happening.

The last such wave of phone calls from Afghanistan demanding money from recipients “or else” came in 2018, which our law enforcement network traced to cash-strapped TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban) guerillas holed up on the Afghan side of the border.

But since the jurisdiction of local agencies extends only as far as the Durand Line, the best that the KP police force could do back then was request the federal government to get Kabul to at least block the numbers used to make those calls. Not much was told at the time about what such a step could possibly accomplish since it’s not a very difficult matter to get new numbers to make the same calls. There were, after all, already about 400 or so suspect Afghan cell phone numbers used for this purpose at that time.

Now the same thing is happening but in a very different setting; which, too, is not very hard to understand. Whether or not TTP’s lease of life ended with the arrival of the Taliban remains to be seen, but it is clear that it no longer enjoys the kind of patronage that Indian intelligence agencies were able to provide it as long as the Karzai and Ghani administrations lasted.

The Afghan Taliban tried to provide a middle-way out of the confrontation, and the Pakistani establishment unwisely opted to give peace talks a try, but since they fizzled out TTP was very much expected to go back to its old ways. And one very prominent tactic was raising money through extortion; whether by threatening people to pay or face the consequences or kidnapping their relatives, taking ransom, and then threatening and extorting even more.

The government obviously needs to take very urgent note of this development. It must inform Kabul that this action also amounts to using Afghan soil to interfere in internal security and commercial matters of another state, something it assured Islamabad would not be allowed any longer.

And since TTP has also taken responsibility for a number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan since the breakdown of talks in Afghanistan, it’s time for the Afghan Taliban to honour their word and sort these militants out once and for all. Since Pakistan has not forgotten the pain of losing more than 80,000 people to TTP’s bombs and bullets, its security agencies understand only too well the importance of nipping this evil in the bud before it is able to gather any sort of momentum once again.

Plus, threats of violence, kidnapping and extortion never fail to spread fear and uncertainty, especially in places like KP and former FATA regions that are no strangers to TTP-style violence, and nothing spooks local and foreign investors alike like such environments. Therefore, inaction in the face of such threats would also make the state somewhat complicit in undermining the economic growth of the region as well as its people.

That Pakistan stands at a very important crossroads is very obvious. It was finally able to put a lid on TTP’s terrorism, though after paying a very high cost for it. But for the past few years it’s been bending over backwards to avoid an economic meltdown. For the state to have to worry about violence once again, with people fearful of bomb blasts and always looking over their shoulders for kidnappers, is unacceptable.

The government is now expected to make this problem its utmost priority and instead of finding ways to appease enemies of the state and its people, it must work out a way to finally extinguish all flames threatening to burn this country.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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