Since 15th August 2021, when Taliban took over Kabul, the security situation started changing rapidly in Afghanistan, with its after effects being faced in Pakistan. The ongoing fight between the Islamic State’s Khorasan chapter (IS-K) and the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan is having an impact on Pakistan’s security situation. IS-K announced a long-term war against Taliban after the signing of Doha deal by the latter with US in February 2020. It intensified attacks inside Afghanistan after this. The terrorist group has claimed over 90 attacks inside Afghanistan since September 2018. About 85 per cent of these attacks have been targeted against the Taliban. In retaliation, the Taliban have also launched a deadly crackdown on IS-K. However, it has emerged stronger after the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, with its terrorist attacks targeted towards the Shia community. According to Borhan Osman (senior analyst at International Crisis Group (ICG)), the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters who started the IS-K chapter were basically Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants settled in Afghanistan. They fled Pakistan to seek refuge in Afghanistan, when Pakistan security forces conducted military operationsagainst the TTP. They were then tasked by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) to fight against Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban. According to a United Nations report, after losing territory and power in Syria and Iraq, the ISIS started outsourcing its deadly attacks on the then U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan to local splinter groups, including the Pakistani Taliban, because it lacked manpower.
The Taliban are aware that IS-K is expanding its influence and strengthening its networks in Afghanistan’s urban areas by recruiting disgruntled, battle-hardened members of other groups and self radicalised educated youths. Some experts have claimed that IS-K’s Kabul network had absorbed “splinters” and “defectors” from the Taliban’s radical Haqqani Network.
IS-K has also waged an extensive propaganda war against the Taliban, declaring them allies and puppets of the US, who have deviated from their jihadist purpose. Ironically, this was the stance of Taliban against previous Afghan Governments. Consequently, an increase in terrorist incidents in Afghanistan, especially Kandahar, the ideological stronghold of TTA indicates that a new sectarian war is starting in Afghanistan, which has implications for Pakistan in many ways. Firstly, a protracted conflict and insecurity in Afghanistan will affect Pakistan’s border security and the militant landscape in its bordering areas in both KP and Balochistan. Secondly, the Taliban IS-K fighters have entered Pakistan and carried out multiple attacks on Afghan Taliban members and associated religious scholars in Balochistan and KP. This conflict between Taliban and IS-K is a threat to Pakistan’s security. Thirdly, the close alliance of IS-K and TTP will play pivotal role in synchronised terrorist attacks in both Pakistan and Afghanistan with provision of logistic support and safe havens to each other.
Increased economic sanctions on Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover have led to the collapse of the banking system in Afghanistan. All legitimate exports and imports from Afghanistan have come to a halt. Hence, an increase in poverty, coupled with the inexperienced Taliban government’s inability to pay salaries to government including the Police have resulted in a deteriorated law and order situation in Afghanistan. Consequently, IS-K is getting stronger in Afghanistan with defection from the Taliban to them.
Correspondingly, TTP’s Ameer Noor Wali Mahsud announced an end to the ceasefire agreement with Pakistan and asked his fighters to resume attacks from 10th December 2021. According to the negotiated agreement, both parties were to observe a month long ceasefire with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan playing the role of mediator. It was also agreed that both sides would form five-member committees and discuss the next course of action and the demands of each side under the supervision of the mediator. One of the demands was the release of 102 low-level militants detained at deradicalization centers in Pakistan and as per media reports, the government of Pakistan initially released 12 foot soldiers.
TTP later alleged that Government of Pakistan’s pace of releasing its foot soldiers was not acceptable. Moreover, security forces, contrary to the terms of the agreement, have carried out raids in parts of KP and killed and captured TTP militants. A delay in the government’s formation of its negotiating committee has been cited by the TTP as another reason for terminating the ceasefire. TTP-led militant attacks inside Pakistan had seen a dramatic spike in mid-August (immediate aftermath of Afghan Taliban’s takeover), followed by a steady decline after the announcement of one month ceasefire by TTP.
If talks between Government of Pakistan and TTP resume, the real impediment would be the ‘red lines’ on which there is no room for compromise on either side, which the government has already communicated to the TTP. These include the TTP agreeing to abide by the Constitution as the fundamental law of the land, and backing down from its insistence on the enforcement of its version of Sharia and the restoration of the tribal districts of Pakistan to their pre-merger status.
The timings of negotiations by the government of Pakistan is questionable, and being criticized by security analysts due to the fact that a concerted campaign lasting many years, Pakistan has been able to largely destroy the TTP’s command and control structure, dramatically reducing insurgent violence throughout Pakistan. Direct and indirect talks between the government and the TTP have been ongoing since 2007, with some resulting in short term peace agreements. These breathers gave the militant group time and space to consolidate and launch fresh attacks on Pakistan’s security forces- The TTP has used talks to gain time and space in the past and therefore, there are chances that TTP is agreeing to a truce to consolidate space after migrating from their safe havens in Afghanistan. It is likely that after establishing its foothold in Pakistan, the TTP will resume operations. Thus, if the Pakistani government spends more time in negotiations, the TTP may re-establish itself and Pakistan may witness another wave of terrorist attacks in the year 2022.
The impact of above mentioned factors and volatile security situation in Afghanistan is already visible in Pakistan, with an uptick in terrorist activities by TTP, in tribal regions, in the last few months. Thus, it is likely that IS-K and TTP in coordination with each other will try to launch concerted terrorist attacks in near future. Moreover, the disbandment of Afghan Army has given birth to a weapons black market which is easily accessible to all militant organizations. It is likely that they will use this advanced weaponry for terrorist activities in Pakistan.
ISIS has previously targeted the Shia community in Syria and Iraq and recently IS-K targeted the Shia community in Afghanistan. It is anticipated that its ally TTP will also follow the same strategy of targeting the Shia community in Pakistan. Sunni sectarian terrorist organizations, such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) enjoyclose ties with the TTP. It remained part of the Punjabi Taliban network with the principle objective to fight Shia influence in Pakistan. They are involved in various terrorist activities against Shias in Pakistan. Thus, TTP will also endeavor to increase terrorist attacks against Shias especially the Hazara community in Quetta while exploiting its close nexus with LeJ. The apparent strategy of IS-K and TTP seems to be to escalate sectarian war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It would of some concern that the , TTP’s Ameer Noor Wali Mehsud remained active in the TTP Karachi chapter, so he will use his influence and network in urban centers to expand the terrorist activities across the Pakistan. This would exacerbate regional tensions as Iran views itself as the protector of Shia all over the World and may activate militant cells in Pakistan to retaliate. The government of Pakistan may end up fighting both Sunni and Shia militants, while they attacked each other and singly attacked the state of Pakistan. An environment of unprecedented violence would come to pass.
Hence, it is fair to conclude that if military operations and IBOs are not intensified against sectarian organizations and sleeper cells of TTP in urban cities, the terrorist incidents may expand across Pakistan. Moreover, TTP and LeJ will try to increase terrorist attacks, with more focus on targeting the Shia community in different urban cities of Pakistan. This will exacerbate the security situation of Pakistan during year 2022. TTP’s announcement to end the cease fire with the government of Pakistan and its efforts to regain its bases in tribal regions are early signs of an attempted comeback, which warrant a serious response by Pakistan’s security establishment. Therefore, if stake holders fail to understand the gravity of the situation currently, then it is likely that Pakistan may enter into another full scale counter terrorism war in future.