EDITORIAL: Incidents of terrorists using the Pak-Iran border area to attack security forces on either side are not new. Both countries have suffered from it since the war on terror sent al-Qaeda hordes in Afghanistan to new frontiers and new sanctuaries. Indeed, the Iranian interior ministry once threatened to take action inside Pakistani territory if terrorists that attacked and beheaded their border guards were not brought to justice.
Islamabad’s reaction has been more contained after militants from the Iranian side attacked Pakistani security forces in Balochistan the other day, but it did lodge a formal protest with the Iranian ambassador, and the two governments are finally ready to hammer out a joint mechanism to deal with this menace on a constant basis.
Pakistan clearly has more at stake. It is facing a resurgent TTP just when there is unprecedented political polarisation and the economy is going off the rails. The porous Afghan border is the biggest problem because it is not possible to check all movement across it and the Afghan government is not helping by tearing down parts of the border fence every other day. For the Iranian border to also go active at this sensitive time is simply unacceptable. It will not only give the terrorists more leverage, but also result in more deaths in the country and drive away what little investment is still coming into the country.
Islamabad’s frustration with Kabul’s uncooperative behaviour is understandable. The Taliban promised to bring the TTP to heel after Pakistan facilitated the US withdrawal, but it turned out to be a hollow promise. Instead, it was the Taliban regime that pushed Pakistan into pointless talks with TTP.
But there shouldn’t be such problems in negotiations with Tehran. Pakistan and Iran share the same concerns and have more or less the same position on terrorism, after all, and both have suffered at their hands — though Pakistan has lost far more blood and coin to them — so it is surprising as well as disappointing that a combined front hasn’t yet taken shape.
The Pakistani government and security establishment must understand that they have already been slow off the mark in meeting the new wave of TTP attacks. The way TTP tricked them, using the talks to grow strong and build cells inside Pakistan, has already brought much embarrassment to the state. And it beggars belief that the head of the most popular political party in the country favours settling TTP fighters in the former tribal area; where residents have taken out numerous rallies to prompt the state to flush out the militants, not house them there.
It’s also very unfortunate that all parties, government as well as opposition, are using TTP’s attacks to score political points. It is this political division that is preventing cooperation that is necessary to prevent complete economic collapse as well. Yet there’s no sign at all of anything improving anytime soon.
With so much confusion inside the country it is no surprise that Islamabad struggles to get other countries to cooperate with it. All stakeholders need to set aside all their differences at once and work together to protect the country. It is collapsing both economically and politically, with terrorism on the rise once again. Nobody has forgotten the days when TTP’s bombs and bullets, and tens of hundreds of Pakistanis dying every week, dominated the headlines. And since nobody wants those days to come back, the political elite needs to come together not just for the sake of the country and its people, but also in the interest of self-preservation. Identifying and eliminating all terror sanctuaries, and working together with friendly countries, should commence immediately.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023