Finally, the cat is out of the bag, a financially destitute Afghanistan has asked a financially desperate and bankrupt Pakistan, for money to help them relocate members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) inside Afghanistan. The Express Tribune reports that Afghan Taliban have expressed their willingness to disarm the TTP and relocate members of the organization from the Pak-Afghan border, on the pre-condition that Pakistan bears the cost of the proposed plan. This was recently revealed at the meeting (24 February 2023) of Pakistan’s Central Apex Committee, which was held to discuss the recent surge in terrorist attacks in the country and other security matters. One of the main issues on the agenda was the issue of the banned TTP and its sanctuaries across the border.
The proposal envisages disarming the TTP fighters and their relocation from the Pak-Afghan border areas. The Apex Committee was informed that the Afghan ‘interim’ government had proposed a plan to control the TTP. However, the Afghan Taliban government has asked Pakistan to fund the proposal and bear the entire cost of the TTPs rehabilitation. The Apex meeting was informed that the Afghan Taliban had made a similar proposal to China to address its concerns on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.
However, Pakistan has yet to respond to the Afghan Taliban’s idea as there is scepticism that it might not work. Nevertheless, it was for the first time that the Afghan Taliban came up with the idea to disarm the TTP. The meeting was presided over by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and attended by chief ministers of the four provinces and Gilgit-Baltistan, the AJK PM, senior cabinet ministers, the Army Chief, DG ISI, and other officials.
The immediate background to this meeting was that a delegation led by Defence Minister Khawaja Asif had visited (22 February 2023) Kabul to share “irrefutable evidence” with the Afghan Taliban about the presence of TTP in the neighbouring country. A Pakistan Foreign Ministry press release states that “Matters relating to the growing threat of terrorism in the region, particularly by TTP and ISKP came under discussion. The two sides agreed to collaborate to effectively address the threat of terrorism posed by various entities and organizations”. The Express Tribune reports that the purpose of the visit was to convey to the Afghan Taliban a clear message that Pakistan would no longer seek talks with the TTP since the group used earlier peace efforts to regroup and target Pakistan.
According to some estimates, there are between 8,000 to 12,000 TTP fighters in Afghanistan and the number rises to 30,000, if their family members are also included. The idea of resettlement of the TTP at Pakistani cost reportedly came from the Afghan Taliban during the recent visit of Defence Minister Khawaja Asif to Kabul. Lt. Gen. Nadeem Anjum, DG, ISI was also part of the Pakistani delegation.
Sensing a hardening of the Pakistani position, the Afghan Taliban proposed a new plan that envisaged disarming the TTP and relocating their members from the border areas inside Afghanistan. Meanwhile, a statement issued by the PM Office said the Apex Meeting agreed that “the elimination of terrorism, economic recovery and political stability are interlinked”. “Pakistan cannot afford internal instability. National unity, unity and collective struggle is the need of the hour. In order to achieve these goals, a national consensus should be created and obstacles should be removed,” the statement read.
In other words, Pakistan is ironically worried about the recent incidents of terrorism that occurred in Peshawar and Karachi as well as other attacks which mark an intensification of the TTPs campaign against the Pakistani state. Incidents of terrorism, especially the incidents of terrorism that took place at the Peshawar Police Lines Mosque on 30 January, 2023 and at the Karachi Police Office on 19 February, 2023 and the subsequent situation, were reviewed in detail at the Apex Committee meeting.
Representatives of various institutions briefed the participants on the overall security situation and operations against terrorists. In the past, Pakistan had used these very same actors, with different names likes JeM and LeT, to carry out attacks in J&K and the rest of India. These developments come at a time, when Prime Minister Sharif has also said the government had to “unwillingly” accept the strict conditions of a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to provide a lifeline for an economy in turmoil.
“We have to accept unwillingly the strict conditions of the IMF deal,” he said, adding that an accord was still a “week, 10 days” away. The dire economic condition that Pakistan finds itself in currently, has led to its persistent request to the IMF and other lenders to tide over low foreign exchange reserves and some sectors of the economy coming to a virtual standstill. Pakistan has been negotiating with the IMF since early February 2022 and hopes to sign a staff-level agreement that will pave the way for more inflows from other bilateral and multilateral lenders. Once the deal is signed, the IMF will disburse a tranche of more than US$1 billion from the US$6.5 billion bailout agreed to in 2019. The Pakistani PM also made it clear that the release of the next tranche would not end the country’s economic woes. He then referred to the provision of the much-needed loan from a friendly country, without naming China, without waiting for the IMF programme’s revival and provided US$700 million to cash-strapped Pakistan.
The Afghan Taliban asking Pakistan for money to re-locate the TTP inside Afghanistan is sweet revenge for Afghanistan. Not only will they bake the cake but they will also eat it too. If this should happen, the TTP cadres could join the Afghanistan Taliban, bolstering its forces. Having told Pakistan earlier that the TTP was making the same demands as they had done to previous governments in Kabul and that it would not help in disarming the TTP, it has now found a way to squeeze Pakistan. Islamabad is clearly caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Having burnt their fingers in negotiations with the TTP on several occasions in the past, Pakistan today stands at the crossroads of their very existence. Will China help Pakistan overcome this predicament also?
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