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Kulbhushan Jadhav Affair and India-Pakistan Conflict

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On April 10, 2017, a former Indian Navy officer national Kulbhushan Yadav was given the death sentence by a by an its Field General Court Martial under provisions of the Pakistan Army Act and the Official Secrets Act. Jhadav can appeal the death sentence to Pakistan’s Supreme Court within 60 days.

H was convicted for espionage, anti-state activities, role in terror incidents and sabotage in the country. Yadav was taken into custody by Pakistani agencies in March 2016 in Balochistan. Diplomatic ties between India and Pakistan plunged following Jadav’s conviction, with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj warning Islamabad of “consequences” if Jadav’s death sentence was carried out.

Jadhav had admitted before the court that he worked for the Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). He was involved in several clandestine activities to create instability in Karachi and Balochistan areas. During the trial, he was provided the services of a defending officer, as per law. India responded to this verdict by calling Pakistan’s High Commissioner Abdul Basit to the Ministry of External Affairs and gave him a demarche saying that the court proceedings that led to the death sentence of Jhadav were “farcical” and it would consider it as “premeditated murder’. It also said that the ministry had “repeatedly sought” consular access to Jhadav but was not permitted by the Pakistani authorities. A day after India called conviction of Yadav in Pakistan a ‘farcical trial’, the United Nations declined to take a position on the death sentence handed to the self-confessed Indian spy. India denied Yadav was working for RAW but admits that he is a retired naval officer.

India was expected to be take up the matter when the US National Security Advisor McMaster visits India to meet PM Narendra Modi, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval. Doval was said to be preparing to raise the matter with his counterpart. The United Nations have already made it clear that it will not intervene in the matter, The Indian government has been arguing it was difficult for India to verify Pakistan’s claims that Jhadav, a serving Indian Naval officer on an alleged spying mission entered Pakistan with original Indian passport.

Pakistan too was in no hurry to execute him and was likely to put him as a bargain to seek advantage in bigger negotiations.

As expected, Indian reaction was immediate and intense. There was fierce criticism of the verdict in the Indian media. Defense Minister Khawaja Asif quickly announced that the death sentence against Jhadav will not and cannot be carried out quickly. Meanwhile, it was reported that a retired Pakistani military officer in Nepal had disappeared which suggested that the spy wars between India and Pakistan had intensified. Certainly, the issue had to be handled calmly for the sake of normal relations between India and Pakistan. Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif played it cool, addressing an Air Force passing-out parade, said: “Cooperation rather than conflict and shared prosperity instead of suspicion are the hallmarks of our policy.” National Security Adviser and former Army general Nasser Khan Janjua, too, said India and Pakistan “cannot be enemies forever and must engage in dialogue to resolve disputes.” But Modi is heavily into populism based on hatred of Muslims and will not budge, especially as global politics is veering toward a new cold war between the U.S. and China in South and Southeast Asia. Helplessly, the Pakistan-India spy war will go on, hurting the future of the people living in the region.

An editorial “Reducing Pak-India tensions” published in Dawn, April 13th, 2017 argued that for four years now, Nawaz Sharif had expounded the same message of regional integration, trade and prosperity, but he had been incapable of convincing either India or the security establishment here. The National Security Adviser too has been “ineffective, notwithstanding the occasional willingness to speak candidly”. Meanwhile, Pakistan still did not have a foreign minister and the defense minister was “effectively irrelevant” because he had to foremost responsibility to tackle the electricity crisis as he was he minister of the power sector and that was his main portfolio. The teams advising the Premier in the domains of both national security and foreign policy are ad hoc. From that “self-created position of weakness, it is unlikely Mr. Sharif will have much success in implementing the vision he so often articulates”.

To complicate matters, Lt Col (retd) Muhammad Habib Zahir went missing from Nepal on April 6. The Foreign Office on Thursday hinted at the involvement of Indian intelligence agencies behind the abduction of a retired Pakistani colonel in Nepal. The media was abuzz with speculation that India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) has abducted the retired lieutenant colonel as a retaliatory act to the conviction of Kulbhushan Jhadav. Observers believe India could use the abducted Pakistani retired army officer as a bargaining chip for the RAW agent.

Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj said India would go to any extent to ensure safety for Jhadav, calling Pakistan’s verdict ‘premeditated murder’. India would not leave any stone unturned to ensure safe release of Jhadav Pakistan Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif on April 13, 2017 informed the Senate that due process was followed in the trial of the serving Indian naval officer, who has 60 days to appeal the verdict.

On April 13, 2017, the Pakistan Army’s corps commanders agreed during a meeting at the army GHQ that there would be no concessions made in Jhadav’s death penalty because the man was convicted of serious offences against the state of Pakistan. The Foreign Office has also made it clear that there was irrefutable evidence against Jhadav and his role in terrorist activities as well as financing those activities on the soil of Pakistan. For a man who was initially disowned by his own countrymen, Jhadav had suddenly become somewhat of a cause celebre. Why else would 13 requests for consular access be made by the Indian diplomatic mission here if there was no connection between Jhadav and his handlers? Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria had explained that though New Delhi and Islamabad have a bilateral agreement on consular access it is Pakistan’s prerogative to refuse the same in the name of Article VI of the accord.

Meanwhile, media reported that there were 27 Pakistanis arrested for espionage

Most of the spies caught by the intelligence agencies have been apprehended from either military sensitive locations or in border towns. On April 14, 2017 India decided to put on hold all bilateral exchanges with Pakistan in reaction to the Jhadav affair. The Indian government called off talks between the two neighboring countries on maritime security which was scheduled to be held on April 17. India officially told Pakistan that it was not ready to host a delegation from Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA). Both Pakistan and India had earlier approved dialogue between PMSA and the Indian Coast Guard in a bid to break the deadlock caused by a militant attack on an Indian military base in Uri in September last year. According to the Indian Defense Ministry, it was not the time to discuss security with Pakistan when it had awarded the death sentence to Jhadav. The only engagement that Pakistan and India have had until now this year has been the 113th meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission talks for which an Indian delegation visited Islamabad in March this year.

An editorial “No concessions on terror” published in The Express Tribune, April 15, 2017 argued that:

As Pakistan stiffened its stance on the death sentence handed out to Indian spy Kulbhushan Jhadav in the wake of threats by officials in New Delhi that the move would carry severe repercussions for Islamabad, there are mounting suspicions that hostile agencies are behind the recent abduction of a retired Pakistani serviceman in Nepal. …. Aggravating already fraught relations between India and Pakistan is the appearance of wild speculation in the Indian media about the alleged link between Jhadav’s case and the disappearance of Pakistani ex-serviceman Habib Zahir. Indian media outlets have claimed that Zahir had been part of the team that captured Jhadav. The truth, however, is that Zahir retired from military service several years before Jhadav’s arrest. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the Research and Analysis Wing or some such hostile agency may have entrapped him and kept him in its custody for leverage in the Jhadav case. Instead of relying on legal and diplomatic measures, New Delhi appears to be working on some hidden fronts as usual.

On April 14, 2017, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz shared with media the state’s charge sheet against Indian spy Kulbhushan Jhadav and a timeline of his trial. Aziz told a press conference that Jhadav had been held responsible for the following terrorist activities in Pakistan:

Sponsored and directed IED and grenade attacks in Gwadar and Turbat; directed attacks on a radar station and civilian boats in the sea opposite to Jiwani Port; funded subversive secessionist and terrorist elements through hawala/hundi for subverting Pakistani youth against the country, especially in Balochistan; sponsored explosions of gas pipelines and electric pylons in Sibi and Sui areas in Balochistan; sponsored IED explosions in Quetta in 2015, causing massive damage to life and property; sponsored attack on Hazaras in Quetta and Shias en route to and back from Iran; and abetted attacks through anti-state elements against LEAs, FC and FWO in areas of Turbat, Punjgur, Gawadar, Pasni and Jiwani during 2014-15, killing and injuring many civilians and soldiers.

On the occasion, Aziz also asked why Jhadav had been carrying official documents under an alias at the time of his arrest. “I would like to ask India why he [Jhadav] was using a fake identity and masquerading as a Muslim,” Aziz asked. “Why would an innocent man possess two passports — one with a Hindu name and other with a Muslim name,” he asked.

Reassuring critics that steps had been taken to ensure transparency during the trial of the Indian spy under Pakistan’s laws and the Pakistan Army Act, Aziz also provided a timeline of the trial and proceedings against Jhadav.

Indian external affairs minister V. K. Singh had reiterated that the Indian government was considering all steps to get access to Jhadav. The case of Kulbhushan Jhadav continues to remain at a boiling point. While India has postponed talks between the coast guards, Pakistan is apparently compiling a new dossier for the international community on the Indian national accused of being a RAW spy. While Pakistan has not yet given a copy of the judgement, it will apparently be part of a new dossier on Jhadav, which will be handed over to the United Nations and ambassadors in Islamabad, Pakistani newspaper The Nation reported. The new dossier was to be based on the early testimonial as well as statements given in front of the court by Jhadav. Pakistan had collected “fresh evidences on Indian involvement inside Pakistan to spread anarchy and militancy, sources stated,” according to the report. Meanwhile, external affairs minister V. K. Singh reiterated that the Indian government was considering all steps to get access to Jhadav. “Pakistan government has denied consular access to Jhadav despite India trying for 13 times. We are trying everything to get access to Jhadav,” he told reporters. Meanwhile, there has not been any statements from India or Pakistan on April 15, 2017 about the retired Pakistan army soldier, who reportedly went missing near the India-Nepal border two days before Jhadav’s death sentence was publicly revealed. Pakistan officials had pointed fingers at India saying that he had been “lured” by foreign intelligence agencies, but Indian diplomats – in Delhi and in Islamabad – have told the media that they don’t have any information.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Pravin Togadia said on April 14, 2017 that “India should bomb Pakistan to secure the release of ex-navy officer Kulbhushan Jhadav and carpet bomb Kashmiri “jihadis” to stop the spread of militancy…Our government should show similar resolve of India First by bombing Pakistan, which is barely 800 km from New Delhi and securing the Indian soldier’s release,”.

Meanwhile, the law-enforcement authorities of Azad Kashmir, Pakistan claimed to have arrested three Indian intelligence agents for alleged anti-state activities on April 13, 2017. The charges leveled against the three “Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) recruits” included bombing a police station in the region. The three have been booked under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) and Explosives Act.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s defense minister has tried to assure that the death sentence of Jhadav was not carried out without due process. He has made an appeal for amnesty to the president. The Indian media had most predictably hit the roof. Mohammad Waseem, in his article. “Political temperature on the rise, The News, April 16, aptly stated that:

Diplomacy in a political environment characterized by vitriol of the worst kind emanating from the two sides of the spectrum is bound to suffer. On a larger scale, the world opinion has yet to give its final verdict… One can only hope for a deft handling of the issues at hand whereby peace and harmony, instead of tension and confusion, emerge as milestones of political strategy at home and foreign policy abroad.

On April 16, 2017 Pakistan stated that a dossier on Kulbhushan Jhadav’s involvement in espionage will be handed over to foreign envoys in Pakistan. The dossier will also be sent to the UN and other institutions. Sources said details about Indian interference in Pakistan, Jhadav’s involvement in sabotage and subversive activities in Pakistan were added in the dossier. Talking to state-run media, Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria said India was involved in spreading terrorism in Pakistan. He said India was also involved in terror financing activities in the country. To a question, he said barbaric activities against innocent Kashmiris in the Indian-held Kashmir had been exposed. To another question regarding Col (r) Habib Zahir, he said the Nepalese government was cooperating with Pakistan in this matter.

India was looking to mount yet another diplomatic offensive to save Jadhav and the government was awaiting a response from Pakistan over its demand for a copy of the charge sheet against Jadhav as it mulled options to secure his release. The government was contemplating a move like the one it launched last year after the Uri attack to “isolate” Pakistan. As a first step, India blocked maritime security dialogue between the two countries. This was the first move by the Indian government to raise the stakes for Pakistan after the Jhadav sentencing as it suggested that the two countries could be returning to the situation which prevailed in the immediate aftermath of the Uri attack last year in which 19 Indian soldiers were killed. Pakistan had consistently maintained that the two governments need to start the comprehensive bilateral dialogue, as announced in December 2015, to resolve outstanding issues. The maritime talks, coupled with meetings mandated by Indus Waters Treaty, were a small beginning by both the countries to move on after the bitter exchanges over Uri. The Indian government was also likely to review its attempts in the past few months to encourage people to people contacts with Pakistan.

Are India and Pakistan heading towards possibly the nastiest crisis in South Asia since the Mumbai terrorist incident of 2008? By Barkha Dutt, in her article “Pakistan’s move to execute alleged Indian ‘spy’ may be a ploy to sabotage the prime minister”, The Washington Post, April 16, 2017 maintained that:

In any case, whether Jadhav is a spy is moot. What is beyond dispute is that the Pakistan Army’s declaration of a death sentence for him via a clandestine court-martial breaks with all standard practice; it is almost an open invitation to escalation from India…. … “The timing and manner of announcement of the Jadhav decision indicates that it is either a bargaining chip to exchange someone in India’s custody or is meant to deter the country’s civilian prime minister from any new initiatives to mend fences with India,” …. Like all seasoned practitioners of statecraft, he knows that Pakistan is unlikely to take things to a dangerous precipice with India over the arrest of a spy; the motive lies elsewhere. Another explanation: Pakistan wants to use Jadhav as leverage to counter the aggressive global push by Delhi to isolate Islamabad as the perpetrator of state-sponsored terrorism. But the Narendra Modi government has never gone by the conventional playbook on Pakistan. From dropping in to visit Nawaz Sharif on his birthday to surgical strikes across the line of control, the Indian prime minister has followed his own script of shock and awe on Pakistan, in both friendship and hostility. Pakistan’s move on the tactical chessboard may prove to be a gambit gone wrong if India decides to play back in kind.

Indian-Pakistani relations weren’t going well even before the Jhadav affair. India’s dialogue process with Pakistan has been stalled since the attack on the Pathankot air force base in January 2016. Last month, India sent its officials to the meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission in Islamabad. During the meeting, World Bank officials had mooted that water resources secretaries could meet in Washington from April 10 -13 to find a resolution over the dispute mechanism. India, however, had conveyed its reluctance to accept those dates in March.

Indian interference in the affairs of Karachi wasn’t just baseless Pakistani propaganda, it was a fact. Uzair Jan Baloch, the notorious dacoit of Karachi’s Lyari, was arrested in January 2016 in Pakistan after a period of hiding outside the country. He will face a military court for “espionage activities, providing secret information regarding Army installations and officials to foreign agents (Iranian intelligence officers) which is a violation of the Official Secret Act 1923.”

A symbol of the criminalization of Karachi politics, Baloch belongs to the family of Rehman Dakait, the underworld boss of Karachi who was politically embedded in the Muhajir-Sindhi conflict that played out between the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Uzair has confessed to an Iranian “connection” in the Baloch nationalist movement in restive Balochistan; hence implying an Indian “connection” as well. Lest one forgets, Iran has accused Pakistan of aiding Iranian Baloch who often target Tehran’s soldiers. Abdolmalik Rigi, who was hanged in an Iranian jail in 2010, was educated on the sly in Saudi-funded Madrassa Banuria in Karachi before he joined the killer Jundallah with Al Qaeda in Pakistan and began attacking inside Iran.

The “Indian connection” finally reduced MQM to a shell of its former glory in Karachi. The PPP too has been weakened by the ongoing military operation in the metropolis against its extortionists. Pakistan sees an “Indian hand” in the uprising in its Balochistan province.

There was apprehension that the matter had to be calmly tackled otherwise it would blow up in to a new crisis between the two estranged seigneurs

Clearly, Pakistan was unable to move towards any dialogue with India on any issue, including spy wars. Meanwhile, Pakistan had decided in principle not to accept any pressure on the issue. Most probably the Jhadav affair would be settled with a deal of some sorts between India and Pakistan. Some concessions will be given by India in exchange of the spy being handing over to them in due time. It was just a matter of time when the trade took place. Pakistan did not want to escalate the already tense situation further. Despite the bravado, a deal would be made and Jhadav would be freed soon.

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Changing complexion of “militancy” in the occupied Kashmir

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Women walking past Indian security forces in Srinagar, summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Nimisha Jaiswal/IRIN

Two teachers, Supinder Kaur and Deepak Chand, were shot dead in Srinagar on October7, 2021.The Resistance front owned the killing. The name implies that this organisation like the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation front does not have religious moorings. The front explained that “they were killed because they harassed and warned the parents with dire consequences if the students did not attend the school function on August 15 (India’s Independence Day).

In a tweet, the Inspector general of Kashmir police disclosed that 28 civilians had been killed din the valley during 2021”. Five persons belonged to local Hindu and Sikh communities. . Two persons were non-Hindu labourers (pic.twitter.com/j5R2MVWrT3).

Each killing follows massive crackdowns, cordons and searches, and rounding up of innocent people as suspects mostly members of Jammat-e-Islami now banned, and Hurriyat members.

Who the Resistance Front is?

Very little is known about the Front. The Resistance Front publicly emerged in the aftermath of August 5, 2019, when the Central government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of autonomy under Article 370 and split the state into two Union Territories.  The Article 15-A also was abrogated. This article guaranteed special protections to Kashmiri people defined as “permanent residents” of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Front came into limelight when it owned a grenade attack in October 2019. Eight civilians on Srinagar’s busy Hari Singh High Street were injured in the attack. The Front is shy of social posts. But, it did announce its debut on the chat platform, Telegram.

India attributes the April intense gunfight between with security forces in the Keran sector (Kupwara district) to this Front.  It left five personnel of the army’s elite Special Forces dead.

Another encounter has continued for five days until October 19 in Mendhar sector.  India admits having lost several soldiers, including a junior commissioned officer, in the fight The Indian forces dared not enter into the forest. They were content to use heavy guns from the outside. The Indian forces’ initial impression was that the front uses only pistols and improvised explosives. That has been proved wrong.

 To disguise their ignorance about the Front, the forces say, ‘These acts are committed by newly recruited terrorists or those who are about to join terrorist ranks’.  

IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar says, ‘A total of 28 civilians have been killed by terrorists in 2021. Out of 28, five persons belong to local Hindu and Sikh communities and two persons are non-local Hindu labourers.’

India shaken

The non local Kashmiri migrants have no faith in police protection. They are returning to their home towns. The remaining persons are being shifted to army camps.

India’s home minister has planned a visit to Srinagar to familiarize himself with the situation. Indian prime minister Modi is being blamed at home and abroad for emergence of the Resistance Front. The critics point out that Kashmiriat had been the crucible of several civilizations. But India’s reign of terror compelled the native Kashmiri to become xenophobic.  

Modi ventilated his ire at rights criticism in his speech before the National Human rights Commission.

He stressed that welfare measures like providing electric connection, alleviating poverty were more important than human rights.

The NHRC is a statutory body that was constituted on October 12, 1993, under the Protection of Human Rights Act. It takes cognisance of human rights violations, conducts enquiries and recommends compensation to victims from public authorities besides other remedial and legal measures against the erring public servants. However its present chairman is believed to be BJP stooge.

Kashmir, a Guantanamo Bay

Even Mehbooba Mufti, a former BJP ally, has been compelled to call Kashmir a Guantanamo Bay prison. She called for lifting ban on Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Jama’at-e-Islami, withdrawal of `sedition’ or `terrorism’ cases against Kashmiri leaders or ordinary folk. Her voice proved to be a voice in the wilderness.  What else could Mehbooba call Kashmir _ `Kashmiris feel that they are literally imprisoned in a cage from which almost all exit routes are barred save one, to India, which is also not without peril. Kashmiris are distrusted and treated poorly in many parts of India, whether as students or as traders’ (A.G. Noorani, Kashmir, a prison, Dawn January 12, 2019). Trade across the Line of Control has been stopped and `terrorism’ charges slapped on some traders. Even the tyrannical Dogras and their British overlords facilitated Kashmir trade with Central Asian and other states. Kashmiri markets used to be flooded with foreign traders and their merchandise _books, shawls, gold tillas, Russian textiles, Kokandi silk, Bukharan rumals (handkerchiefs) and coral.  Trade from British India would flow through Kulu via the Chang Chenmo route to Yarkand, bypassing the maharaja’s customs officials in Leh. In 1870, Maharaja Ranbir Singh signed a special treaty in Sialkot with Viceroy Lord Mayo to accept this route as a ‘free highway’, later known as Treaty Route.  Central Asians intending to perform hajj used to travel through this route to Karachi or Bombay sea-ports to board ships.  To facilitate pilgrims, highway provided rest houses, and supply depots jointly supervised by British and Kashmir officials. Now, even the Kashmir Highway stands closed to civilian traffic during military-convoy movement.. A minor, violating road closure, was brutally crushed by an Indian army vehicle.”

Mehbooba revealed her government was dismissed for expressing ennui at central-government atrocities, not returning dead bodies of `encounter’ victims and burning them, not allowing funeral prayers, demanding talks with Pakistan, registering an FIR against an army officer, resisting change in Kashmir’s special status, and so on (Indian Express dated April 18. 2019). A cursory look at Kashmir press is horrifying _ Sedition cases were slapped on three Aligarh- university Kashmiri students for trying to hold prayers for Hizb militant Wani, Kashmiri students and traders at Wagah border are forced to chant anti-Pakistan slogans and post them to face book. Kashmir students and traders were attacked or looted throughout India. About 700 students, including girls, fled to Valley. Even holders of PM Modi’s merit-based competitive scholarships had to rush back to Valley for safety. Kashmiri journalists in Indian states were roughed up, mercilessly beaten, and told to go back Meghalaya governor officially directed to boycott everything Kashmiri. Some Kashmiris petitioned Supreme Court to intervene. In its order, the Supreme Court directed 10 states and various institutions to take remedial steps, but in vain.

Fake encounters

People have lost trust In India’s claims of success in “encounters”, mostly fake. In July last year, security forces in Kashmir claimed to have killed three “unidentified hardcore terrorists” in a gunfight in Amshipora village of Kashmir’s Shopian district. They had last made phone calls to their families on July 17, 2020, a day before the purported gunfight had taken place.

An army inquiry and a police probe into the encounter established that the three suspected militants killed in Amshipora were shot dead in a fake encounter.

Indian army stages such encounters to earn reward of Rs. 20 lac per encounter. A year has gone by but the captain accused of masterminding and executing the fake Amshipora encounter is still unpunished.  He abducted three labourers from their homes and shot them dead as “terrorists”. Those killed in Shopian in July 2020 were Mohammed Ibrar of Tarkasi village, Imtiyaz Ahmad of Dharsakri village, and Ibrar Ahmad.

Concluding remark

It is obvious that it is not all hunky dory in Kashmir as India claims. The changed dimension of “militancy” is an incurable headache for the Modi’s government.

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A Peep into Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Tricky Relations with Afghan Taliban

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To understand the interesting relationship between the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as Pakistani Taliban, and the Afghan Taliban, one must look into the history to know how the linkages were developed between the two entities and why the Afghan Taliban are not responding in equal measures to take the decisive action against the TTP.

The TTP has waxed and waned over the years. Under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud (1972-2009), 13 militant outfits, some estimations guess 50, assembled in December 2007 to exact the revenge of the Lal Mosque operation. The Mehsud tribe of South Waziristan is the largest group in the TTP. There were many precursors group of the TTP, such as Sufi Muhammad (1933-2019) who established the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi and led thousands of militants against the occupational forces in Afghanistan. Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Mullah Nazir also joined the Baitullah-led TTP faction in 2008, both having links with Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan has launched several operations against them, namely Operation Rahe-e-Rast (2009), Rah-e-Najat (2009), Zarb-e-Azab (2014) and Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad (2017). In the past, Pakistan claimed a complete victory against the TTP.

The TTP orchestrated a campaign of suicide bombings against Pakistan from 2006 to 2009. On 16 December 2014, TTP gunmen stormed the Army Public School in the northern city of Peshawar and killed more than 150 people, while 132 of them were children. After the capture of Kabul by the Afghan Taliban, the TTP is active again and claiming it carried out 32 attacks in August 2021 against Pakistan. Islamabad and Beijing held the TTP responsible for the July 14 suicide attack that killed nine Chinese engineers working on a hydroelectric project in Kohistan district. Pakistan accuses the Indian secret agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) of funding and supporting the TTP. Reports confirm that the TTP has sanctuaries in Kunar and Nanghar provinces of Afghanistan.

It is very difficult to measure the relationship between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban. Michael Kugelman, Asian deputy director at Washington Wilson Centre says, “The two groups have been separated from the same ideological cloth.” For the Afghan Taliban, the TTP has boosted their membership. For the TTP, the Afghan Taliban enhanced their resources and legitimacy. The factor of having links with the TTP reduces the Afghan Taliban’s chances to rely on Pakistan.

The TTP is eager to show its relations with the Afghan Taliban. TTP’s media showed the pictures of Hakim Mullah Mehsud and Maulvi Nazir with Mullah Sangeen Zardan, a key commander of the Haqqani network. Like the Afghan Taliban, the TTP has established its links with Al Qaeda; however, its main branch still adheres to the Afghan Taliban.

The TTP members were trained and educated at the same religious seminaries that produced the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan’s long ties with the Taliban might have generated hopes that the Islamist group would help rein in the TTP’s cross-border violent activities from their Afghan hideouts. But they say those expectations could be shattered, citing the ideological affinity between the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban.

The Afghan Taliban also released 800 TTP militants, including its deputy chief Maulvi Faqir Muhammad. According to a recent report prepared for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan Taliban have carried on “relations mainly as before”. The TTP supported the Afghan Taliban militarily against the Afghan government forces in the recent takeover. TTP’s new rhetoric is consistent with the Afghan Taliban’s position of not recognizing the Durand Line as a legal border and opposing its fencing by Pakistan because it has divided the Pashtun tribes.

Amir Rana, Director at Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), says, “The Afghan Taliban triumph has emboldened Islamic militants, including those in the TTP and boosted their morale. The wooing back of the disgruntled group and release of prisoners have increased TTP’s capability and military strength, hindering Pakistan’s efforts to eradicate terrorism within its borders.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, Spokesperson for the Afghan Taliban, said in an interview, “The relationship between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban will continue to be dictated by religious-ideological convergence, ethnic-fraternal linkages and close camaraderie.” But he denied there was any collaboration between them. The Afghan Taliban and the TTP known to share the ideal of governing by ‘sharia’ or Islamic law. However, the Afghan Taliban have not spoken openly against the TTP.

Michael Kugelman commented, “For Pakistan, getting the Taliban to curb the TTP amounts to a daunting task. The TTP has long been allied with the Afghan Taliban, and it has partnered operationally with them. The Taliban are not known for denying space to its militant allies, and I do not see the TTP being an exception to the rule.”

The TTP has rejected Islamabad’s amnesty overtures. In an exclusive interview with Japan’s oldest newspaper Mainchi Shimbun, TTP leader Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud welcomed the Taliban return to power in Afghanistan after 20 years of absence. “We are hopeful for a strong relationship between two of us. The TTP views the Doha Accord 2020 as a major win for all the Jihadists and their ideology.”

The TTP also differs from the Afghan Taliban in its goals and attitude toward the Pakistan government. In 2009, the Afghan Taliban denied having ties with the TTP attack on civilians. Some Afghan Taliban have sympathies with the TTP. But it is clear that the Afghan Taliban do not want to develop their official ties with the TTP, and nor do they want to be involved in the tussle between the TTP and Pakistan government. Its permissive treatment of the TTP could be a matter of internal politics. Cracking down on foreign fighters might create rifts in the rank and file of the Afghan Taliban who view these fighters as brothers in arms.

Columnist Kamran Yousuf writes in Express Tribune, “Pakistan has handed over to the Taliban ‘a list of most wanted’ terrorists affiliated with the banned TTP. Islamabad seeks a decisive action against them. Hibatullah Akhundzada, supreme commander of the Afghan Taliban, has established a three-member commission to investigate the Pakistan claims. Afghan Taliban leaders Mullah Umar and Sirajuddin Haqqani had repeatedly attempted to convince the TTP to focus on the Afghan Jihad. But these efforts had always been fruitless because waging of the Jihad against Pakistan forms the basis for TTP’s separate identity.

Noor Wali Mehsud said, “We will free our land region from the occupation of Pakistan forces and will never surrender to their atrocious rule. We want to live on our land according to the Islamic law and tribal traditions. We are the Muslims and the Pashtuns. The independence of Pakhtunkhwa and Pashtun tribal areas is national and religious duty of all Pashtuns.” (DAWN, 23 March)

Another possible and perhaps more likely outcome is that the Afghan Taliban avoid interference in the TTP-Pakistan conflict, preferring to stay neutral and maintain their historical ties with the TTP as well as Pakistan.

Zabihullah Mujahid noted, “The issue of the TTP is one that Pakistan will have to deal with, not Afghanistan. It is up to Pakistan, and Pakistani ulema and religious figures, not the Taliban, to decide on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of their war and to formulate a strategy in response.” (Geo TV, Aug 28)

Noor Wali Mehsud said, in a recent interview with CNN, that his group will continue its war against Pakistan security forces and its goal is to take control and free the border region. Mehsud also admitted that his group has a good relation with the Afghan Taliban, hoping to benefit from their victories across the border.

Despite an ideological convergence, there appears many differences between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban condemned the killing of children in APS Peshawar. Condemning the attack, Zabihullah Mujahid said, “The killing of innocent people, children and women are against the basic teachings of Islam and this criterion should be considered by every Islamic party and government.”

The Afghan Taliban emerged in 1990, while the TTP in 2007. The TTP has a separate chain of command. Although the two groups’ aims overlap, they do not match. The TTP, unlike the Afghan Taliban, has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the US. The two has different sponsors. The TTP is closer to the global jihadist agenda of targeting the far enemy. The Time Square bombing in 2010 and killing of Chinese nationals are the examples in this regard.

Both work with Al Qaeda. In the case of the TTP, this relation is stronger. Al Qaeda has played an instrumental role in the foundation, rise and expansion of the TTP. Although both are the Pashtuns, but the Taliban belong to Afghan tribes and the TTP is from the Mehsud tribe. The Afghan Taliban are more unified than the TTP.

Asfandyar Mir, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University for International Security and Cooperation, said, “Both Jalal and Siraj Haqqani mediated ‘jirgas’ to resolve the organizational issues and factionalism in the TTP.”

The TTP has also tried to diversify its recruitment and banned groups like the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) as well as Balochistan insurgency. The TTP makes it clear that ‘it does not entirely agree with the ideology of those movements but has sympathies with those being targeted by Pakistan establishment’. (Faran Jeffery)

The Diplomat reported that the Haqqani-sponsored talks between Pakistan and TTP had failed in 2020. The Taliban have generally been hesitant to push the TTP too hard. Rahimullah Yousufzai, a security analyst, said, “The Afghan Taliban, or for that matter, the Haqqani’s, could have done more to restraint the TTP from attacking Pakistan but that has not happened.” Asfandyar Mir said, “The Afghan Taliban have never meaningfully condemned or restrained the TTP from carrying out violence in Pakistan.” (TRT)

After the withdrawal of US-led coalition forces from Afghanistan, the evolving security situation of the region requires that Pakistan should play a more proactive role in manipulating this delicate balance between TTP and the Afghan Taliban. Otherwise, the chances of peace for the region are not sure.

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South Asia

The Taliban-Afghanistan Dilemmas

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The Blitzkrieg winning back of Afghanistan by the Taliban with the concomitant US pullout established Taliban 2.0 in Kabul. But this has created a number of dilemmas for the stakeholding states. The latter include Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours, viz. Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, China in the northeast and Pakistan to the east. Russia is also affected since it considers former Central Asian Soviet republics like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as its backyard and since Moscow has its own share of extremist-secessionist problems in Chechnya. It is also worried about Islamic fundamentalism spreading to its Muslim population concentrated around its major cities and the Caucasus.

The dilemmas are as follows:

I. If the US-led withholding of economic aid and international recognition continues in essence, then conditions– as it is they are bad enough in Afghanistan—will further deteriorate. This will lead to greater hunger, unemployment and all-round economic deprivation of the masses. Such dystopia will generate more refugees in droves as well as terrorists who will spill out to seek greener pastures beyond the country’s borders.

Such condition will in turn mean a life-threatening headache for not only Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours like Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and Pakistan but also for more distant lands. The liberal democracies of Europe. Germany, France, Italy, the UK and others have already had their share of refugees—and terrorists—when waves from an unsettled Syria hit them way back in 2015. Chancellor Angela Merkel even decided to act magnanimously and opened Germany’s doors to a million fleeing the civil war in Syria. Such acceptance of refugees from Asia and Africa in Europe, however, boosted right-wing parties like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and other movements throughout that continent. As a result the easy cross-border movements within the European Union came to be partly restricted in order to keep unwanted refugees out. Calls went out for hardening the external borders of the EU against more refugee invasion. The EU also made arrangements with Turkey to absorb and manage the refugee onrush in exchange for fat amounts of the Euro.

The prospects of a second such wave of refugees desperate not only to escape the clutches of the medieval Taliban but to find a promising future and remarkably better living conditions in the advanced lands of Europe are giving nightmares to the governments of the latter countries.

There seems to be a growing consensus among many in the international community that not only purely humanitarian but also larger economic aid to the Taliban-run Afghanistan should be extended—and without delay, if only to keep a lid on refugees—and terrorists—spilling across the borders. Islamabad apparently scored a remarkable ‘victory’ over New Delhi when its protégé Taliban replaced the pro-Indian Ghani government. Nevertheless, it is worried about the spillover into its territory across the Durand Line to its west. Pakistan, hence, leads this school of thought most vociferously[i]. It fenced its border with Afghanistan to a significant extent in anticipation of more refugees pouring in.  It has been joined in the chorus by Russia, the EU, China, and others. China, for instance, has emphasized the need for releasing funds to Afghanistan at its talks with the G-20 on 23 September.[ii] However, no such stipulation is seen in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) declaration released at the Tajik capital Dushanbe on 17 September, though the document mentions explicitly the need for an “inclusive” government that includes the left-out minorities. India’s presence at the meet may have prevented the inclusion of a funds-release clause.

II. But even if the US unfreezes the $9.25 billion Afghan assets under its control, and allows the IMF and the World Bank to make available other funds and assets to the funds-starved Taliban’s Kabul, a major problem will still linger. This is the question of ‘inclusive’ government, which the Taliban had promised among other things in its February 2020 agreement with the USA at Doha. The composition of the current Taliban government shows the mighty influence of the hardliners within the Taliban, elements like the Haqqani network and the secretive hardcore Kandahar Shura—as opposed to the seemingly more moderate Pakistan-based Quetta Shura. The Prime Minister of Taliban 2.0, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, is on a UN-designated blacklist; its Interior Minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is on the top of the FBI’s most-wanted list with a multi-million dollars reward hanging over his head.  

Although the Taliban did not officially take a formal position, a member of the new government in Kabul has also defied calls from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and from other quarters for forming a more ‘inclusive’ government. That would mean more Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and women holding important positions in the government, a phenomenon markedly absent in the current governmental setup dominated by male Pashtuns. The Taliban member shot back that the current government was as much ‘inclusive’ as it was possible to make and that the Taliban did not care for others to dictate to it what kind of government would suit Afghanistan.

If Taliban 2.0 remains essentially as it is today, with the minorities ignored, this would still create unrest and insurgency in the country. A civil war in the not too distant a future cannot be ruled out. This is the reason that even Pakistan, which certainly would not like to see its protégé Taliban’s power diluted, keeps harping on the ‘inclusive’ clause along with Russia and others.

A civil war will not be confined within the boundaries of Afghanistan but will attract intervention by neighbouring states and other more distant stakeholders like the USA.  Tajikistan will continue to back the Tajiks living astride its southern border with Afghanistan. Uzbekistan will do the same with the Afghan Uzbeks. Shia Iran will  stand up for the Shia Hazaras while the Western world will, in general, wish to see ‘human rights’ and especially ‘women’s rights’ given full leeway. The Chinese seemed to have cut a deal. They would extend economic aid to Kabul in exchange for assurances that no terrorism or separatism would go out of Afghan territory.

But Taliban 2.0, despite its smooth assurances at Doha and elsewhere, shows no signs of stretching significantly from its understanding of the Sharia law, which it said it wished to uphold as a framework within which all these rights would be respected. There are reports that the US is in talks with Russia seeking a base on Russian territory or again in Tajikistan for its future ‘over-the-horizon’ operations in Afghanistan, starting with monitoring purposes.

In sum, while option I, outlined above, promises an immediate disaster for South Asia and even beyond, option II holds out  only marginally better prospects. It still has the Damocles’ sword of the probability of a civil war hanging over the head. The ideal solution would be to widen the Taliban 2.0 government to include the deprived minorities with an eye on keeping an effective lid on social instability. But the prospects for such a solution seem far-fetched, given the apparent domination of the hardliners in Taliban 2.0 and the long-standing animosity between the northern non-Pashtun Afghans and the Pashtun Taliban.. Also, the attacks by other extremist groups like the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), al Qaeda, and the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) and so on will unlikely cease, even if option II is fully implemented. These extra-Taliban extremist groups will only encourage the radical elements within the Taliban to opt for more aggressive actions, both within and outside Afghanistan’s borders.

The future in and around Afghanistan looks grim indeed.


[i] Incidentally, the Pashtuns living on both sides of the British-drawn Durand Line of 1893  do not recognise it, and that includes the Taliban)

[ii] Reid Standish report, gandhara.org of rfe/rl.org, 27 September 2021, accessed 14 October 2021, 09.07 Indian Standard Time (IST)… All times henceforth are in IST.

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