It started in 1948 when the first non-state actors were used to liberate Kashmir. The invasion eventually led to the breakup of Kashmir into two. One came under the influence of Pakistan, and the other was retained by India — the occupied Kashmir, as we call it. That first experiment to use non-state actors as proxies would, in time, become a part of our foreign policy built around the ideology of Jihad. It assisted us full throttle during the Soviet-Afghan war. We later used the methodology in various attempts to weaken India’s grip on the Kashmir issue until we lost the plot in the Kargil theatre.
Pakistan’s romance with non-state actors came full circle after 9/11. At the turn of the century, Pakistan was standing at the receiving end of its harvest — accused of manufacturing terrorists. By 2007 the elephant in the room was not the state but the non-state actors. The first attempt to push the elephant out was made in Lal Masjid which had become the epicentre of militancy. In the military operation launched against the Mosque, we lost 10 commandoes and more than 1,000 students of the Mosque’s madrassa.
It was a beginning of a new war in Pakistan. The militant now called the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and before that as the good Taliban, vowed to take militancy to every part of the country. It happened exactly that way. From Karachi to Khyber, Pakistan rocked with bomb blasts. In addition, TTP carried out some high-profile terrorists acts: a deadly assault on Pakistan Navy’s largest airbase in 2011; an attack on Karachi airport in 2014; ex-PM Benazir Bhutto’s murder in 2007 as claimed by them; and the Army Public School (APS) massacre in 2014. TTP’s onslaught also marred two consecutive elections of 2008 and 2013. Other than killing political leaders and workers, the militant group made campaigning difficult and almost undoable for the centre-left political parties.
However, it was the APS mayhem that left Pakistan with no option but to go after terrorists with full force. The incident would soon become a catalyst of change in Pakistan’s ideological and security policies, and the war that the TTP began was taken to its roots. The rot was shed incrementally across Pakistan which started becoming peaceful.
As the sounds of bombs and gunshots fell silent, the enemy also shifted gear and moved from our backyards (ex-FATA) to Afghanistan. The TTP found new allies in al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, India-focused Punjabi militants, and even Daesh (ISIS). It also found a new supporter in the former Afghan government and India. They helped the battered TTP reorient and redefine its goals. Since then, the group has targeted only Pakistan’s security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies. As a result, thousands of officers and soldiers have been killed in K-P and Balochistan provinces of Pakistan that border Afghanistan.
Pakistan repeatedly asked the Karzai and Ghani governments to stop the tide of terrorism from flowing into Pakistan. But, it flowed even more ferociously. Then came the Taliban government in August 2021; and foreseeing the power of the TTP, eclipsed because of a friendly government in power, Pakistan extended proposal for a truce and asked the Taliban to mediate peace. It did not happen. The Taliban failed to convince TTP to stop attacks on Pakistan despite their ideological similarities with the outfit. One ceasefire attempt has already failed. Would a subsequent ceasefire survive, as Afghanistan’s Ambassador in Pakistan Sardar Ahmed Khan Shakib has shown willingness to work for it? The answer to this question is becoming as muddy as Pakistan’s expectation of a peaceful, modern and progressive Afghanistan under the Taliban.
How does Pakistan hope to get a lease of peaceful truce with the TTP when its ideological partner, the Afghan Taliban, has reneged from its commitment to honour human rights and international agreements? Also, the probability of nudging TTP to resolve differences with Pakistan has dimmed after the Afghan Taliban attack on the fence at the border.