Pakistan’s Airstrikes in Afghanistan: Escalating Tensions with the TTP

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On Monday, Pakistan undertook airstrikes against several presumed hideouts of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in Afghanistan’s Khost and Paktika areas. The Afghan Taliban reacted by firing on Pakistani positions along the boundary, according to the Afghan Defence Ministry. Pakistan’s defence and foreign ministries named the strikes on Afghanistan “retaliatory,” likely directed at the suicide bombing against a Pakistani military post in North Waziristan on Saturday. This is the most delinquent chapter in long-standing strains between Pakistan and Afghanistan over the TTP. 

By attacking terror sanctuaries across the fence in Afghanistan, Pakistan has once again signalled its capability and willingness to react strongly to terror attacks carried out on its ground. Talking at the funeral of two army officers martyred in the terrorist attack on March 16, President Asif Ali Zardari stated: “Pakistan has determined that whoever will penetrate our borders, homes, or country to perpetrate terror, we will react to them strongly, regardless of their individuality or country of origin.” This was a clear sign of intent, and the foreign office’s argument that Pakistan has “repeatedly suggested the Afghan authorities to take substantial and effective action to assure that the Afghan soil is not utilised as a staging base for terrorism against Pakistan” indicates that Islamabad is running out of patience. 

While peace may be restored in the forthcoming days and weeks ahead, the recently elected government and the military administration in Pakistan seem to have run out of tolerance with the Afghan Taliban. As a result, connections with Afghanistan are unlikely to sustainably sweeten soon, and Pakistan is likely to pursue both kinetic and non-kinetic actions to force the Afghan Taliban to work against terror groups working from Afghan soil. In addition, it is a near inevitability that Pakistan will no longer be following the failed policy of negotiating peace with terrorists

These conflicts emphasise the fact that, despite anticipations, the Taliban has not been completely under Pakistan’s control. Moreover, they underscore the Taliban’s inability to influence TTP’s movements in Pakistan, as apparent from the failed ceasefire negotiations in 2021. Despite periodic friction, Pakistan maintains its importance for the Taliban government, especially regarding its strategic interests vis-a-vis India. Despite lapses and recent attacks intensifying Pakistan’s problems, the Afghan Taliban remains Pakistan’s favourite option for safeguarding its interests in the region.

Additionally, the retaliatory airstrikes guided by Pakistan within Afghanistan conform to a political assertion, showcasing Pakistan’s dedication to protecting its military and people. While losses may occur, the likelihood of full-blown competition remains downward. The Afghan Taliban, mindful of the risks, is hesitant to commit to a prolonged military confrontation with Pakistan, given its familial relations, financial interests, and asset base in Pakistan. Moreover, the Taliban’s internal separators further complicate a unified answer to Pakistan’s actions.

It should come as no shock that the TTP is finding refuge in Afghanistan. Given the current situation and the government in control of Afghanistan, the environment is helping most extremist companies, with the TTP being just one among several. Pakistan’s recent evictions of Afghan refugees further complicate this issue, as many families connected with the TTP were pushed into Afghanistan.

The Afghan Taliban’s ability and willingness to pledge in a full-fledged military conflict remain limited, thereby decreasing the likelihood of further escalation. However, this does not rule out the prospect of more TTP attacks in Pakistan, conducting a pattern of TTP strikes starting retaliatory bombings by Pakistan in Afghanistan. 

The Afghan Taliban’s reaction may involve condemnation and extended gestures, or potentially deliver additional support to the TTP to initiate further insurgencies—after all, this is the Taliban’s scope of expertise. Unfortunately, civilians on both flanks will suffer throughout this process, with Afghan refugees in Pakistan regarding the brunt of Pakistan’s crackdowns as a mechanism to showcase retaliation and exert pressure on both the Taliban and TTP. 

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