Imran Khan has said that Pakistan should not consider military action against the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or seek help from the United States in this regard as such cooperation would lead to internal discord and may start a never-ending war against terrorism. He made these remarks while addressing a seminar organised by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government on the resurgence of terrorism in Pakistan.
Imran’s statement is problematic for many reasons as it gives the impression that the PTI chief is more sympathetic to the cause of the party waging war on Pakistan than his country’s national security interests.
For starters, Imran’s public announcement of his concerns undermines the recent decisions taken by the National Security Council (NSC) to deal with the TTP and its enablers, in and outside of Pakistan. The NSC recently reaffirmed its resolve to take on “any and all entities that resort to violence”, adding that “no country will be allowed to provide sanctuaries and facilitation to terrorists, and that Pakistan reserves all rights in that respect to safeguard her people.”
However, Imran remains resolute that Pakistan should not consider exerting pressure on the Afghan Taliban even though the group has demonstrated its willingness to attack Pakistan’s interests on numerous occasions.
Imran’s observations give ground to the suspicion that the PTI chief may still not be ready to get over the indignance of his ouster as premier and wants to continue with his high-stakes gamble in an effort to force early elections.
Imran claims that immediately after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, there was a “golden opportunity” to resolve the TTP issue. To this day, he has not explained why, as the Prime Minister of Pakistan at the time of the US withdrawal in Afghanistan, he failed to take advantage of this golden opportunity.
He argued that since the new Afghan government was “pro-Pakistan,” Islamabad could exert influence on the TTP. The PTI chief should understand that the Afghan Taliban have never been pro-Pakistan.
Unfortunately, one mistake Pakistan’s policy-makers have made in the past includes misunderstanding the Taliban insurgency, its aims and the group’s ambitions.
A report published by the Carnegie Endowment for Internal Peace, while explaining the international community’s difficulty in engaging with the group, notes: “The Taliban are a revolutionary movement, deeply opposed to the Afghan tribal system and focused on the rebuilding of the Islamic Emirate.”
If the timeline following the US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan is any lesson, the Afghan Taliban’s actions have only helped the TTP revive and rejuvenate its militant campaign in Pakistan.
Ostensibly, one might argue that the Afghan Taliban are now hedging their bets on the TTP to have strategic depth inside Pakistan in order to keep Islamabad under pressure over the issue of the border dispute and to expand its ideological influence beyond its borders.
For a long time, the TTP’s leadership and fighters have fought alongside Afghan Taliban and it would be folly for anyone to expect that the Afghan Taliban will abandon their ideological allies in order to appease Pakistan.
If anything, Imran’s statement appears to be an effort to appease the TTP and Afghan Taliban and weaken the NSC’s determination to develop a consensus to deal with the issue. Imran’s party is in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – the province most affected by the resurgence of TTP-led terror since the Afghan Taliban’s return to power.
Time is of the essence here as the country nears the next general elections.
It is important to note here that Imran’s statement comes days after the TTP said that the group was considering taking steps against the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
“If these two parties remain firm on their position and continue to be slaves of the army, then action will be taken against their leading people,” a statement issued by the TTP said.
So far, Imran’s party has failed to condemn TTP’s statement – implicitly or explicitly – against the two largest political parties, perhaps only because they are the reason PTI is sitting on opposition benches at the federal level. Moreover, one can also argue that Imran doesn’t want to be on the receiving end of the threat posed by TTP and Afghan Taliban and if that means bashing your country’s national security policy, so be it.
Understandably, Imran’s public criticism of the NSC’s evaluations and the federal government’s attempts to build pressure on the Afghan Taliban with the support of countries like the US is going to be well received by the TTP and the Afghan Taliban’s leadership. In the past, TTP and the Afghan Taliban have warned US of consequences if the country engaged in counterterrorism operations in the region.
Perhaps, Imran’s outburst lends support to TTP’s view when it comes to Washington’s security cooperation with Islamabad. It’s hardly surprising that the TTP has not named the PTI’s leadership on its threat list even though the party is in power in KP – the key battleground over the months.
What PTI has forgotten is that it was TTP that unilaterally cancelled the ceasefire with the government last year.
There is plenty of evidence to showcase that the ceasefire has only helped embolden the group and expanded its organisational structure. The militant outfit recently announced setting up a shadow cabinet and appointed governors, a defense minister, and military commissions in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
This organisational structure is similar to the structure that the Afghan Taliban followed when they were battling Afghan forces.
Moreover, Imran’s latest outburst against the US can undermine Pakistan’s foreign policy and security ties with Washington at a time when we need international support in order to exert diplomatic pressure on the Afghan Taliban. Even if Pakistan is to put political pressure on the Afghan Taliban to rein in the TTP, it cannot execute the strategy without the support of the US.
Pakistan and the US security cooperation will be a key to countering militant threats in the region, including the TTP. Ostensibly, modalities between Pakistan and the US are being discussed in this regard. Over the last few weeks, statements coming from the White House and the State Department indicate that support exists for Pakistan’s case against TTP.
It seems that Pakistan is also looking for help from Gulf states, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia in order to mount similar pressure on the Afghan Taliban. At this crucial stage, Imran cannot and shouldn’t continue with his anti-American delusions to merely keep the thrill of his voters alive.
Appeasing the TTP has not worked in the past and it will not work in the future.
It’s time Imran and his party lend support to decisions taken by the NSC and the federal government. Conversely, the federal government should ensure that concerns of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government over this issue are addressed adequately. As former US President Abraham Lincoln famously said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Pakistan cannot hope to counter TTP’s challenge successfully with an internal split at the highest levels.
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