Pakistan had long supported the Taliban, believing that doing so would improve Islamabad’s security, but they had no idea that their security was in jeopardy. Pakistan has been less safe since the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan in August of last year. The Taliban’s triumph in Afghanistan has invigorated the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, popularly known as the Pakistani Taliban or the TTP. TTP has carried out over 124 terrorist strikes in Pakistan since the Taliban reclaimed power. Tensions have arisen between the two countries as a result of the TTP’s actions. On the one side, the Taliban were targeting Pakistan, while Islamabad deployed airstrikes, which sparked Taliban demonstrations. Pakistani efforts to fence the Pakistan-Afghanistan border have been thwarted by Taliban border security personnel.
This was a huge miscalculation. Influence moves both ways. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence holds sway over the Taliban through material support and personal ties with the leadership. But the Taliban have gained powerful constituencies within Pakistan, such as conservative clerics and Islamist political parties. After the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan, Pakistan expected the Afghan Taliban to broker a cease-fire between their Pakistani counterparts and the Pakistani government. But those talks failed, and Pakistan has conducted several drone raids and airstrikes against TTP targets in Afghanistan.
A senior Pakistani general, who until recently headed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), had to visit Kabul for talks with the TTP, facilitated by the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan’s support for the Taliban has always been rooted in ideology rather than in realpolitik. Since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has based its security policies on the notion that India, its neighbour to the east and frequent foe, seeks its dissolution. After the US withdrew its military from Afghanistan last summer, Pakistan officials remained optimistic about maintaining influence over the Taliban while retaining close ties with the United States.
Whatever the case, this violence has dashed Pakistani hopes that a Taliban government would lead to a secure western border. In April, after the ousting of former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, Shehbaz Sharif led government took the power. Although Sharif’s government is expected to improve ties with the United States by jettisoning Khan’s incendiary anti-Western rhetoric, the government is unlikely to change Pakistan’s policy toward Afghanistan, which remains the purview of the military.
Imran Khan has refused to accept his removal from office. He is hoping to tap sympathy for the Taliban to create a wave of anti-American sentiment that he can ride back into office. According to the publication, Pakistan must revise its approach to the Taliban. Successive Pakistani leaders who supported the Taliban in the hope of making Pakistan more secure clearly misunderstood the real challenges facing their country.
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