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A Way Forward – Neutralizing the Surge in Insurgency With Diplomatic Empathy in 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

Nationalismis slowly losing its emancipatory value as the progressive inclusion of minority groups in public policy decision making has become a myth in itself. I have always maintained that the politics and carnage of minorities, especially Muslim identity in India, goes beyond the constructed rationalization of religiously prescriptive and deconstructed narrative of legislative Islamic discourse. It is, by its normative birth, focus on the knotty issue of electoral manifestation, and the violence on both, the psyche and body of the minorities has become an active semiotic territory of political narrative, which, when aggravated, creates a ‘psycho-political ripple effect.’ This article will elucidate the ripple effect created by the deeply ingrained inter-regional and inter-generational sense of injustice and trauma transmuted within and among Kashmiris, because of the ‘Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)’; a policy that provides complete impunity to the armed forces in Kashmir, and how diplomatic empathy can work as a successful catalyst in neutralizing the surge in insurgency and civil unrest in Kashmir.

Armed Forces Special Powers Act 

The history of breeding insurgency in Kashmir goes back to the 1980’s, and since then, Jammu and Kashmir have been a propagating ground of separatist ambitions, demanding either complete independence or seeking ascension and amalgamation with Pakistan. Often called ‘Kashmir Intifada’, this insurgent group is a manifestation of the failure of Indian governance and inter-state diplomacy at the root of the initial disaffection and the coercive policies imposed on Kashmiris. Today, with more than 6 lakh security personnel (Army, Border Security Force (BSF) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) deployed in J&K hinterlands, Kashmir has become the most militarized zone in the world, surpassing the combined presence of Israeli Defence Forces in Gaza strip and West Bank alone. The Indian security personnel have been implicated in multiple reports for torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances of thousands of Kashmiris, and rape and sexual abuse of women in the valley with absolute impunity under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA); a policy that provides impunity to any member of the armed forces without the permission of the central government. This act legitimizes and normalizes routine violence on Kashmiris, while parturiating victims with dissipating subjective agency and no legal mechanism to seek justice. 

Countless incidents of extrajudicial killings have been reported, and multiple unmarked graves have been witnessed; all with absolute impunity given to military personals involved. For example, a State Human Rights Commission inquiry in 2011 had confirmed that there were thousands of bullet-ridden corpses buried in unmarked graves in Kashmir. Of the 2,730 bodies uncovered, 574 bodies were identified as missing locals, in contrast to the Indian government’s confirmation that all the graves belonged to foreign militants. In the most haunting military violence imposed on Kashmiris, personnel of the 4 Rajputana Rifles of the Indian Army were involved in gang rape of at least 40 women in Kunan and Poshpora villages in north Kashmir(February 1991), as they conducted an anti-insurgency operation in the region. Although the Press Council of India committee led by BG Verghese and K Vikram Raovisited the villages post the violence, but gave a clean chit to the soldiers, and the countless consecutive mass rapes by Indian soldiers followed – Chak Saidpora (1992), Wurwun (1995), Bihota (2000), Gujjardara-Manzgam (2011) etc. Post the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019; the situation has worsened.  

The Psycho-political Ripple Effect – Violence with absolute impunity begets violence with stern liability

“You lock us up during the day. You lock us up at night,” a middle-aged man shouts angrily, wagging his finger. As the policeman ordered the man to go inside his house as Kashmir was under the longest lockdown of a union territory in the history of the Indian constitution, the diminutive old man stands his ground and challenges him again. “This is my only son. He’s too small now, but I will prepare him to pick up a gun too,” he said. This man belonged from Khanyar, a local town in the heart of Srinagar, which is famous for protests against military violence and Indian hegemonic rule in Kashmir. In the same report, Mr. Malik, a Kashmiri native, predicts that every Kashmiri will join them. “It was said that in every family one brother is with the separatists and the other is with the [Indian] mainstream. The Indian government has united the two.” To understand the unwavering commitment of locals – who are teachers, vegetable vendors, workers in local manufacturing outlets, fruit sellers, etc., and their determination to prepare their future generations to become insurgents, is mandatory. This is a direct result of the internalized trauma and feeling of injustice that has transmuted in and within Kashmiris– both inter-regional and inter-generational. But, what has caused this transmutation? To know this, it becomes imperative to explore the phenomenon of ‘psycho-political ripple effect’.

A ripple effect, in a simple term, refers to the indirect effect that expands out from the organic source and reaches areas or populations far positioned from its intended purpose. To understand this phenomenon in a political-social environment, one needs to deconstruct the psychological effects of the ‘initial political disturbance’ created within the system of a targeted group of civilians and how it propagated outward to disturb an increasingly larger portion of the population within the system. This ‘initial political disturbance’ is a manifestation of normalized violence by placing the Indian military under an impunity umbrella, which has methodized and regularized routine violent acts against Kashmiris, including detention of small children, curfews, extrajudicial killings, torture, gang rapes, kidnapping of civilians, etc. The trauma is no longer confined to the victims of Konan and Poshpora mass rape or restricted to the pain of the community of human rights activists like Jalil Andrabi, Zafar Mehraj, Burhan Wani and Farooq Sheikh, who were brutally killed by the military forces, or limited to the medical community who are attacked for providing medical care to the insurgents, or to the families of Kashmiris who has been a victim of extrajudicial execution or reprisal killing, alone. 

The effects of this violence and the internalization of trauma has impregnated the psyche of most Kashmiris and has given birth to what I call is a ‘psycho-political ripple effect’ for future formations of popular resistance against Indian rule in Kashmir. With the institutional denial of justice, loss of subjective agency due to trauma, and erosion of indigenous Muslim culture, the mass-suffering has reshaped the response of Kashmiris towards military and political power. Here, military violence with absolute impunity is begetting violence with stern liability from the local Kashmiris, and the surge in insurgency activities is a testament of it. Apart from mass carnage and destruction like Pulwama attack (2019), Srinagar attack (2013), Amarnath Yatra attack (2017), Uri attack (2016), carried out by Islamist terrorist groups against the Indian militancy presence in Kashmir, many quasi-violence incidents has become a methodized way to confront Indian security forces. The effect of the political ripples is so deeply ingrained in the psyche of the locals that indulgence in the act of reciprocation against military force has become more imperative than the strategy to execute the ‘act’ itself. These incidents often involve collective participation of local Kashmiris demonstrating acts of resistance, which orthogonally represents assertiveness and visible symbolism rather than clandestine nature. The most common forms of this quasi-violence involve stone pelting at security forces, causing hindrance and interdiction of military operations to help the insurgents, attending insurgent funerals, etc. Although the participants are usually unarmed, the employed tactics are methodologically designed to incite, provoke, and coerce Indian security forces to dismantle the central government’s legitimacy and control over Kashmir. These quasi-violent ripple effect can be seen in Palestine as well, where Palestinians deploy the rock-throwing method as a mechanism to display resistance against IDF presence in their land. Psycho-political ripple effect can be witnessed in both of these conflict-infested geographies, where internalized trauma and feeling of injustice have transmuted among and within the native population – both inter-regional and inter-generational. 

Incorporating Diplomatic Empathy to neutralize the surge in insurgency 

It has been a year post the abrogation of Article 370. The surge in military brutality, human rights violations, increased unemployment, and a Rs 40,000 crore hole in the economy, has aggravated the spread of the psycho-political ripple effect. With Kashmir precariously poised between the two extremes, and an efflux of quasi-violent and strategic insurgent attacks on Indian security forces, it orthogonally points towards one thing – inter-state diplomatic failure. What diplomats and central lawmakers must consider is that the principle of “no negotiation with insurgents”, although seems logical, but fails to understand the primordial foundation of fortification of – what is terrorism? If insurgents and quasi-violent Kashmiri locals are willing to go against a robust military force and governance of BJP in power and risk the lives of self and other civilians, it only reflects that the cause of their insurgent activities is not being effectively addressed and is being alienated from mainstream political policies. The deeply ingrained inter-regional and inter-generational sense of injusticecaused due to impunity given to the Indian security forces in Kashmir has created psycho-political ripples that is manifesting into insurgent activities.

On the other hand, this internalization of trauma and conflict has also created a negotiating space of diplomatic activity through transmittal of empathy and the development of trust. For this reason, the traditional consultative decision-making process of negotiation from ‘top-to-bottom’ should be replaced by a ‘bottom-to-top’ diplomatic strategy where the principle of inclusion should be propagated, lessening the distance between the self and the other. Validating this, Marcus Holmes and Keren Milo (2016) writes, “Fisher and Ury’s (1983) classic work in negotiation theory notes the importance of what is now termed cognitive empathy in order to derive the interests that motivate one’s positions. Since negotiators do not have perfect information about their counterparts’ interests, those who do not try to take the other side’s perspective may fail to find rational conflict-resolution. Put another way, in order to rationally find a zone of possible agreement, both sides must understand the interests and positions of the other, including their best alternative to a negotiated agreement”. 

Diplomats and lawmakers must derive a solution that not only neutralizes the surge in the insurgency, restore human rights, but also stagnate the spread of psycho-political ripple effect within the Kashmiri community to restore civil rest and prosperity. To achieve the optimum conflict-resolution that modern diplomacy seeks to attain, empathy with the interlocutor is opulent. Re-structuring the Armed Forces Special Powers Act by ensuring that security forces – the army, the Border Security Force (BSF), and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), are trained in using lawful use of force in accordance and alignment with international standards, and those who breach these parameters would legally held accountable. To gain credibility and trust among the civilians, it is crucial that a sense of justice is restored within the system, which would neutralize their inter-regional and inter-generational sense of injustice and trauma. This can be effectively achieved  by the central BJP government, if they publicly commit to bring justice to all victims involved in human rights violations, which should involve legally prosecuting Indian armed forces, whether involved actively or participated in permitting the violations to be covered up.I remember reading an article about an elderly woman , who was one of the victim of Kunan Poshpora mass rape, and had died as she awaited justice to be served to her. Ghulam Mohidin, her son-in-law said, alleged that , “She died in 2010 as she was waiting for justice till her last breath, but nothing happened. The culprits are still roaming freely. Our family is still suffering ” he said. This psychologically intimate narrative reveals what I have been discussing throughout the article – the psycho-political ripple effect caused due to inter-generational and inter-regional transmutation of deeply ingrained sense of injustice and trauma, can itself become a synthesis to the initial theistic problem , which is the surge in insurgency in Kashmir ; if diplomatic empathy is tactfully and humanely deployed to neutralize these ripple effects by fortifying and preserving their human and constitutional rights. And, if diplomats and law makers fail to do so, these psycho-political ripples will multiple and increase exponentially, only to proliferate the psyche of the many generations to come by.

Parul Verma is a political analyst and a human rights activist. Her work analyses transnational conflict, peace-building and peace-keeping in relation to Israel-Palestine, Northern Ireland and Kashmir. She has also written extensively on minority lynching and violence against women in India. Her work has been published in more than 20+ academic journals and international media establishments. Her part-time job involves talking gibberish to her two naughty rabbits – Whiskey and Beer! For any query or feedback, contact her at parul_edu[at]icloud.com.

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Bangladesh violence exposes veneer of Indo-Bangladesh bonhomie

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image source: Focus Bangla /dhakatribune.com

Protests in Chittagong, Comilla and elsewhere left 10 dead, besides loss of property. The protests were sparked over an allegation of desecration of the Holy Quran in a temple. The Holy  Quran was found resting on the thigh of a Hanuman statue in a Durga Puja pandal near a pond in Comilla called Nanua Dighi. A raft of issues from water disputes to religious tension mask mistrust in the relationship. Let us look at some of them. Broken promises indicate that India looks to its own interest.

CAA/NRC

India’s Citizenship Act and the national Register of Citizenship  does not confer citizenship on the Bengali immigrants at par with non-muslim refugees. In one of his speeches, India’s minister Amit Shah even called Bangladesh immigrants “termites”. The BJP leaders quote from Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s book to say that Mujib, as an East Pakistani national, wanted to annex Assam into East Pakistan (Bangladesh). Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Telangana T. Raja Singh Lodh demanded `Illegal Bangladeshi settlers and Rohingya should be shot if they do not return to their countries like gentlemen’. He made the statement in the context of the Supreme Court-monitored exercise to identify genuine Indian nationals living in Assam. A legislator from Goshamahal in Hyderabad, in similar vein, roared in a video message on a social networking site: “If these people, illegal Bangladeshis and Rohingya, don’t go back with ‘sharafat’ (like gentlemen) then there is a need to talk to them in their own language. They should be shot. Only then India will be safe. Such illegal settlers were “shot and driven out” from some other countries.

YS Chowdary of the Telugu Desam Party Said illegal immigrants from Bangladesh had settled in Assam as part of a “conspiracy to destroy India”. It is the responsibility of the government to send them back to Bangladesh, he added.

 “Shoot on sight”

Indian Border Security force has orders to “shoot on sight” if any Bangladeshi citizen living near the  4,096 kilometer (2,545 mile)alluvial/shifting border,   happens to cross over. Regarding border killings, Brad Adams, Executive Director of the Asia Department of Human Right Watch state that, “Routinely shooting poor, unarmed villagers is not how the world’s largest democracy should behave” (Adams, Brad  “India’s shoot-to-kill policy on the Bangladesh border” The Guardian. London). According to a report published by Human rights organisations, around 1,000 Bangladeshi civilians have been killed by Indian Border Security Force (BSF) in a period of 10 years (from 2001 to 2010). The report also states that Indian paramilitary forces routinely threaten, abuse arbitrarily detain and torture local Bangladeshi civilians living along the border and Bangladeshi border guards usually don’t help the Bangladeshi civilians. Odhikar, a Bangladesh-based human right organization, allege that acts of rape and looting have also been perpetrated by BSF at the border areas.

Bangladesh Border Guards hate the BSF so much that a soldier, accompanying his commander for a flag meeting with DG was shot dead.

Onion export banned

India suddenly stopped exporting onions to Bangladesh. While addressing India-Bangladesh Business Forum, in Delhi, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina expressed grief on the onion crisis in her country. She taunted that she asked her cook not to use onions in her food. Hasina said, ‘We are facing crisis on the onion issue. I don’t know why you have banned onion export. Maine cook ko bol diya ab se khana mein pyaaz bandh kardo.” Indian Government had banned export of Onions on September 29 (Times of India ).

India is the biggest supplier of onions to Bangladesh, which buys a yearly average of more than 350,000 tons. India abruptly slapped a ban on onion exports to Bangladesh. Following the export ban, onion prices in Bangladesh jumped by more than 50 per cent, prompting the government to procure supplies from elsewhere.

Vaccine export contract cancelled

India backed out of its agreement (December) with Bangladesh to supply 30 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, developed by Oxford University in cooperation with the Pune-based Serum Institute of India. The Institute announced that India had barred Serum from selling doses on the private market until everyone in India had received the vaccine.

Later, Salman F. Rahman, a Cabinet minister and co-founder of the Beximco Group, a Bangladeshi conglomerate, took over the responsibility to distribute three million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Bangladesh.

Concluding remarks

The ruling Awami League itself is mired in charges of corruption and nepotism. Its army chief also is being besmeared. It cracked down hard on its opponents  with the army chief’s help. The persecution of Muslims in India and laws like the citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizenship turned Bangladesh into a simmering cauldron of resentment.Demand for expelling all Bangladeshis from various Indian states is gaining momentum. The onslaught against Bangladeshi Muslims in India is part of Hindutva (perverted Hindu nationalism) frenzy to harass Muslim community.

Bangladesh is tight-rope balancing China and India. Many cabinet ministers think that Bangladesh’s future lies with stronger rapport with China. During her visit to China, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister discussed a broad spectrum of issues and signed several memorandum of understanding. They cover the power sector, riverine matters including Brahmaputra River, commercial loans and formation of various working groups. Bangladesh has also accepted the Belt and Road Initiative.

Bangladesh has contracted Chinese in a proposed $300 million project downstream of Teesta River.  Turkey also is improving relations with BD.

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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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