By Hamid Pakteen
Less than a year after Pakistan helped the Taliban to take over Afghanistan and destroy the destiny of millions of people, both the allies are at loggerheads with the threat of a bloody skirmish along the Durand Line on the anvil.
Although several thorny issues have taken forefront in the past year, the most compelling for the moment is the truce talks with militant group, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which enjoys clear patronage of the Afghan Taliban, a close ally of Pakistan. Dealing with TTP was one of the first few conditions set by the Pakistan Army for helping the Taliban to negotiate the pitfalls of governance. But the Afghan Taliban had not shown any inclination to keep its promise.
General Javed Bajwa seems to have realised his mistake in pressing ahead with talks despite the continuous recalcitrant attitude of TTP leaders quite late. The killing of al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahari, who advised the TTP, and senior TTP leader Omar Khalid Khorasani recently, made it quite clear even to Bajwa that the talks had no future. He quickly transferred Lt. General Faiz Hameed from Peshawar to Bahawalpur, a move which clearly underlined failure on the part of the army to bring around TTP for a ceasefire.
Although the army had projected the talks with militants as `national interest`, people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and scores of others, civilians and security personnel, were deeply sceptical of the militant group. In fact, people in the tribal province had been protesting publicly against any truce with TTP responsible for killings of several thousand citizens in the past.
According to various Pakistan data sources, the TTP, since its inception in 2007, had carried out over 3000 terrorist attacks in Pakistan, killing about 7500 persons, including over 2500 security personnel, of which 815 were from the army. The most horrendous was the attack on an Army school in Peshawar in which TTP militants killed over 132 students and 17 others in December 2014. The most strong opponents to the present round of talks with the TTP were the family members of the slain children.
But it was the local Pashtuns in KP and other tribal areas who have been persistently raising their voice against any move to reconcile with TTP. There was both furore and anger when former Prime Minister Imran Khan decided to open talks with the militant group. He was supported by Bajwa. Bajwa should have known better—past agreements had all failed and there was no evidence of the Afghan Taliban raising their finger to push TTP towards a negotiated settlement. But for strange reasons, the army decided to go along on talking to a militant group which had been targeting the army personnel for years.
It was another of Bajwa’s failures in keeping the ear to the ground. He should have heard the clear rumbling of fear and anger among the Pashtuns of the tribal areas who were increasingly raising their voice against the free movement of TTP militants in their homeland. It, however, took several months for the government in Islamabad to recognise the growing anti-Taliban sentiments in KP and other areas abutting the border with Afghanistan. Now the Federal Defence Minister, Khawaja Asif, early this month admitted that the law and order situation in KP was worsening and people were holding protest demonstrations in various parts of the province against the Taliban presence in their area. He pointed out protests were taking place in Dir, Swat and other places. His response came after a provincial legislative member, Mohsin Dawar told the National Assembly that people of North Waziristan had been protesting for the past 26 days. He warned that terrorism had spread across KP and warned it would soon grip the whole country.
These fears are strengthened by targeted attacks on local leaders and police in the province. The most recent attacks were oon Malik Liaqat Ali, a member of KP Assembly and on police in Matta and other parts of Swat. Such attacks have been witnessed in southern districts and some towns in central districts in the past many months. Attacks on police in Swat and abduction of an army officer and police officer underlined the growing influence of the Taliban militants. According to local residents, as many as 186 incidents were reported in North Waziristan from 2019 till June 2022. If compared with any other merged district, the number of such incidents was 56 in South Waziristan, nine each in Orakzai and Kurram, 16 in Mohmand, 12 in Khyber and 61 in Bajaur since 2019.
Attacks on policemen and other law enforcement agencies have continued in southern districts as well as in Peshawar in the past year. Over 63 policemen have died in targeted killings and other attacks this year. Besides, armed attackers have attacked several police stations, posts and vans with grenades in recent months.
In all these figures lie the stark truth that the ally and its subordinates are taking on their patrons with cunningness and ruthlessness. The question before General Bajwa is by moving out Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed to Bahawalpur, will he get enough time to take on the TTP and their guardians, the Afghan Taliban, before he hangs his boots.
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