Pakistan’s counterterrorism (CT) challenge may not diminish completely once the Taliban establish their control in Afghanistan. Three possible scripts may unroll in the coming months. A single defence scenario may be a logical outcome involving all anti-Taliban forces, present within and outside the country, which may get united and form a single unified force against them. However, it remains to be seen how the unified force can find ground support to launch a counter offensive after the fall of Kabul. The Taliban discipline and attitude may define the nature and mode of any outside response. Already we are witnessing a media onslaught against the Taliban and their mode of security management to discredit them and prepare ground for an anti-Taliban public opinion. The current situation suggests that the anti-Taliban front may first discredit them, then urge the world community for action and finally come up with some sort of a hybrid counter action against them. The mode of such counter offensive cannot be predicted at this point in time. The Taliban need to establish an effective media representative to engage with foreign media proactively. They need to act swiftly and secure their borders as well.
There is a possible militant dispersion effect as Taliban start controlling one district after another. This may push these groups outside their jurisdictions and force them either to relocate or take refuge across the border. These groups can stage attacks against the LEAs of their new localisations. The Chinese authorities have already conveyed their concern to the Taliban about the possible scattering of East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). With more territorial victories, the groups which were loosely aligned with Taliban may offer their support within Afghanistan for security management. However, such groups have sufficient footprint in neighboring countries and they can stage attacks against their original nemesis with renewed vigour and energy.
Recently, there has been a spate of attacks by TTP and Baloch sub-nationalists against police, army and foreigners in the country for varying strategic aims and objectives. The Taliban may not be in a position to hand over these TTP elements to Pakistan. A series of negotiations may be conducted with the Taliban to settle these issues. There might be a politico-tribal rapprochement between TTP and Pakistani authorities through Taliban mediation. Nonetheless, all elements within the TTP may not reconcile with the idea and look for alternative places of refuge inside or outside Afghanistan. If an all-inclusive government is formed, these elements may shift to the locations under governance of non-Taliban political forces. Foot soldiers of ETIM, IS and Baloch sub-nationalist parties may dilute and hide among population till they feel that the time is ripe for re-action.
Pakistan’s CT challenge should focus on three areas — local operations, regional policy discourse, and international CT narrative. The groups, which may disperse as a result of Afghan conflict, should be identified along with their associates in the country. The sleeper cells of these groups pose a serious CT challenge for the country. At the local level, the provincial CTDs, police, and other paramilitary forces may be used for conducting IBOs against these elements across the country. These actions should have three important ingredients. First, these operations are the result of synergy of intelligence at regional, provincial and national levels. Second, an operational coordination among various CTDs or police forces or LEAs should translate into ground action in case such elements have trans-provincial presence. Third, the result of such operation be shared among all ground forces so as to further initiate pre-emptive operations in new districts or regions.
The regional CT policy should be evolved to counter regional militant outfits targeting the country. Here, clear, logical and concise terror links should be established during investigations in various cases to share them with regional countries and highlighted at different regional forums. Lastly, we need to strengthen our international CT narrative beyond terror-related fatalities, causalities and economic losses. It should now be built on improving social integration, enhancing national unity and expanding economic connectivity.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2021.