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Even a casual glance at the instances of attacks on the security forces in the country would indicate that a significant uptick in such incidents has occurred of late. Take for example the five soldiers killed and four wounded in a terrorist attack from across the Afghan border on the Angoor Tangi checkpost in Kurram tribal district on the night of February 6-7, 2022. From 8:00 pm onwards, there was a three-hour battle. That indicates the attackers came in strength, although even this did not allow them to succeed in repeated attempts to damage or uproot the border fence.

The Pakistani authorities have once again called on the Afghan Taliban government in Kabul to ensure Afghan soil is not used for such attacks. But the Afghan Taliban government bald facedly continues to deny the firing came from their side.

What this indicates is that the Afghan Taliban’s assurances regarding the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that has enjoyed safe havens on Afghan soil with the help of their Afghan Taliban brothers mean nothing. When Pakistan earlier pressed the Afghan Taliban government to take action against the TTP, they facilitated instead a ceasefire and negotiations.

These came to naught since the core demand of the TTP for a sharia-based system (according to their interpretation) meant undoing the Constitution and the democratic (however flawed) political system that emanates from it. Since this extreme demand was completely unacceptable, the talks broke down and TTP attacks resurfaced.

One cannot ignore the fact that there has been a sharp increase in attacks by the TTP, both cross-border and in-country, since the Afghan Taliban takeover last year. The Afghan Taliban, despite having enjoyed Pakistani ‘hospitality’ and support during the 10-year war against the occupying US forces, have refused to unequivocally recognize the Durand Line as the international border.

Instances of attempts by the Afghan Taliban to demolish the border fence were downplayed by the Pakistani authorities until recently as localised incidents. Now, after the latest TTP attacks, the Pakistani authorities are reportedly becoming impatient with their erstwhile Afghan Taliban proxies regarding their inability to halt such attacks and their denials of their origin from Afghan soil.

Down south, the Balochistan nationalist insurgency front has also heated up. Since 9/11, all over the world and in Pakistan, all non-state movements of insurgency have been lumped into the terrorist basket (including, ironically, the Kashmir struggle). While this may be a convenient one-size-fits-all description, it runs the risk of losing the thread of nuance and difference in disparate situations, which then inevitably gravitates towards the same approach: repression.

The distinction between religious fanatical terrorist movements and politically motivated nationalist and similar insurgencies is lost in the process. And with it a differentiated, more nuanced approach.

Interestingly, despite the recent TTP attacks after the ceasefire and talks broke down, Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid insists that the door to negotiations with the TTP cannot be closed. With due respect, would it be out of place then to ask the worthy minister whether the door to negotiations with the Baloch nationalist insurgency cannot be opened? Between the extremes of separation and the state’s heavy-handed repression (including the epidemic of enforced disappearances) lies considerable middle ground on which talks could conceivably be based.

The fifth Baloch nationalist insurgency since Independence has veered more and more towards separation because successive governments since its outbreak in 2002 have opted for the knout rather than the negotiating table. Unlike the TTP and others of their ilk, the Baloch nationalist insurgents are not religious fanatics who cannot be reasoned with.

The policy of repression alone has stoked the fires of the nationalist insurgency that began in embryonic form in 2002 after a new generation finally tired of the demonstrated futility of pursuing their long standing grievances and demand for rights within the system during the 25 years between the end of the fourth nationalist insurgency in 1977 and the start of the fifth in 2002.

Along the way, the brutal killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006 further widened the insurgency to include, for the first time, a section of the Bugti tribe. The growth of the middle class in Balochistan yielded nationalists such as Allah Nazar, a doctor tortured in custody, who became a guerrilla leader after release.

The almost clichéd, knee-jerk response of the security establishment to pin the (entire?) blame on the ubiquitous ‘foreign hand’, does little else except further muddy the waters and thinking. Even if such involvement exists, dousing the fire in one’s own home seems the wisest course to deny any such ‘mischief makers’ the troubled waters to fish in.

But such a turn, dealing with terrorism as irreconcilable and therefore not open to a negotiated political solution, and with the Baloch nationalist insurgency as a long standing political problem requiring negotiations, possible give-and-take and a political solution, would require a rethink in the security establishment of which there are so far few if any signs.

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Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

Rashed Rahman

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