All the time Imran Khan has been lobbing attacks on state institutions for his dishonourable discharge from the prime minister’s position, the most important headlines have been pushed out of the front pages. And nobody’s been able to keep up with the latest news in the terrorism business even as TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) terrorists have now killed almost 120 Pakistani soldiers and officers since the Afghan Taliban returned triumphant to Kabul last August.
The latest attack came just last Friday, when a Pakistani military convoy was targeted in North Waziristan, killing seven servicemen. And going by reports doing the rounds in international media, it seems that just as General Bajwa gently advised certain senior politicians that are trying to make the army controversial to behave themselves, he might also have greenlighted a very rare operation inside Afghanistan; taking out TTP fighters that were still in their forward positions just across the border in Kunar and Khost.
Kabul has clearly not taken the right message from all this; which was to honour the promise of not letting TTP or any other group use the Afghan sanctuary to plan and stage attacks on other countries. Instead, it’s whipped up a frenzy about an “unprovoked” attack from Pakistan killing dozens of people, including “a lot of women and children”. There are even reports that the Pakistani ambassador was summoned to the foreign ministry in Kabul and issued a stiff warning. If this is true, it means that another confrontation that Pakistan neither wants nor is prepared for lurks just round the corner.
It was a controversial, perhaps even dangerous, thing to say just as recently as August 2021 that going out on a limb for the Taliban might not be the smartest thing to do. That the military had always had a soft corner for them was the clumsiest open secret of the war. But the way the government of the time seemed to go out of its way to take positions on the extreme right of the political spectrum, particularly those that infuriated a lot of people inside and outside the country, created a situation that was apparently very easy for the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban to exploit.
Sure, it made sense to help wrap up a long war in a neighbouring country, especially one that had spilled over so violently into Pakistan. Yet it was clearly very unwise to take the Taliban for their word about TTP and other such terrorist groups, especially extend them favours because of it. There was never any chance of the new Taliban government cracking down on groups that are, at the end of the day, just an extension of themselves and only meant to take over a different country. And even if they did have issues, like they do with ISIS, this would hardly be the best time to expect them to open yet another front at a very sensitive time, when they are no longer fighting from the hills but make an easy target in the capital.
So TTP has obviously regrouped since last August, when occupying forces left Afghanistan and the Taliban won the war. In fact, they’ve gone a step further and carved out alliances with at least two very violent Baloch separatist groups as well. The army has also noticed a change of strategy and tactics compared to their last offensive. So far, they’re not as big on suicide attacks as on coordinated hits on security targets, but that does not mean that bomb blasts and IED (Improvised Explosive Device) attacks can’t return in a hurry. They’re also using snipers to neutralise security parameters before advancing their foot soldiers, and staging night attacks by using gadgets, like night vision goggles, left behind by US soldiers.
Nothing can be said with certainty till the army and the government make their positions clear, of course. The problem is that the political situation is just about the worst it’s ever been. That the government and opposition - regardless of which party is in either position - are at each other’s throats is normal enough, but here we have a novelty where one party, stung by a humiliating yet completely legal defeat, is behaving like an elephant who’s tearing through the jungle just because he got bit on the nose by a bee; to borrow an old example. And it’s more or less staking its future on stripping the establishment of its legitimacy just when the army is digging in its boots for yet another ugly fight with the real enemies of the country.
And all the confusion and chaos is leaving the field wide open for not just economic problems but now also a security threat to creep in. If TTP’s bombs start going off again, on top of the country’s financial paralysis, then the fleeing foreign interest and investment and deepening security nightmare of a decade-and-a-half ago will play itself all over again. And the country’s politicians, more than anybody else, will be to blame for creating a situation ripe for the enemy to just waltz back in.
Having been in politics for so long and also held the premiership for four good years, the kaptaan ought to have understood by now that in a country like Pakistan, you need to keep your eye not just on the ball, but also on the bombs.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022