Tensions are high between Pakistan and Afghanistan on cross border attackswith Islamabad accusing Kabul of doing little to stop attacks that have increased since the Taliban came to power last August.
Pakistan says its security forces are under attack from across the border in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban, known by the acronym TTP (Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan), and ISIL (ISIS)-affiliated fighters, operating along the porous border between the two countries, have carried out numerous attacks within Pakistan since 2007.
In 2014, the group attacked a school in Peshawar, killing 150 people, mostly children, in one of his deadliest attacks in the country.
The Taliban warned Islamabad of “consequences” saying they would not tolerate “invasions” from their neighbors after nearly 50 people were killed on April 16 in suspected Pakistani airstrikes in the border provinces of Kunar and Khost. Pakistan has not confirmed whether it was behind the airstrikes.
The Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan was celebrated by officials in Islamabad and the armed group had been expected to rein in TTP and ISIL fighters, but instead have increased attacks. More attacks have been recorded this year than in the same period last year.
ISIL affiliates have also carried out attacks inside Afghanistan, posing a major security threat to the Taliban regime.
The suspected Pakistani airstrikes sparked protests, with residents of Afghanistan’s Khost and Kandahar provinces taking to the streets saying those killed in the strikes were civilians.
Imtiaz Gul, an Islamabad-based political analyst, said Pakistan has long complained against “terrorist groups operating in eastern Afghanistan.”
He said Pakistan has carried out attacks on “terrorist hideouts” even during the time of former President Ashraf Ghani. “They [rebels] they were also targeted by US-led drone strikes,” he told Al Jazeera.
‘Terrorists using Afghan soil’
Pakistani officials allege that TTP fighters harbored on Afghan soil are taking advantage of the Taliban’s governance problems and are carrying out attacks in Pakistan.
“Terrorists are using Afghan soil with impunity to carry out activities inside Pakistan,” Pakistan’s foreign office said in a statement last Sunday.
But Taliban authorities have denied providing a safe haven for the rebels, saying they have reined in cross-border attacks since they came to power last August.
“There was a lot of expectation when the Taliban came to power amid the hope that the group would provide a lot of support to Pakistan in the fight against terrorism,” said Amir Rana, director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), noting three threats. : TTP first, Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP or ISIS-K) second, and Baloch fighters using hideouts in Afghanistan third.
According to PIPS, the Pakistani Taliban were responsible for 87 attacks across Pakistan in 2021, with the majority of attacks targeting military personnel within its western borders.
From January to March this year, 97 Pakistani soldiers and officers have been killed in “terrorist attacks,” according to the Pakistani military.
Last week, a Pakistani military convoy was ambushed near the border in North Waziristan, killing seven soldiers and four attackers in a shootout. It was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban. On Saturday, four Pakistani soldiers were killed by shooting from across the border.
The TTP and the Taliban are believed to share ideological roots and have also previously participated together in attacks against the US-led Afghan government. But they maintain separate operational and command structures.
Last November, the Taliban brokered a ceasefire agreement between the Pakistani government and the Pakistani Taliban, but that did not last. Pakistan’s Taliban unilaterally ended the truce, accusing Islamabad of reneging on its promises. Their main demands are the imposition of Islamic law in Pakistan and the release of its fighters.
Faiz Zaland, a professor at Kabul University, says the Taliban is unlikely to move against Pakistan’s Taliban considering they have fought together for the past 20 years against US-led NATO forces.
“The fighters have sacrificed their lives together as brothers against the US-led occupation in Kabul,” he told Al Jazeera.
The security establishment
However, the Taliban have maintained that they will not allow Afghan soil to be used against Pakistan. However, group officials did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.
But Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban government spokesman, issued a statement condemning the airstrikes saying it “is paving the way for enmity between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
The recent airstrikes also added to the Taliban’s growing anger at Pakistan for building a 2,700 km (1,677 mile) fence along the countries’ border, known as the Durand Line.
Tensions arise despite Pakistan’s repeated calls for recognition of the Taliban administration, which faces diplomatic isolation.
Obaidullah Baheer, a professor at the American University of Afghanistan, said: “The Pakistani administration expects the Taliban to have the same level of submission that the Taliban showed in the 1990s, and as the group is trying to shed the stamp of being the representative of Pakistan, leads the Taliban to take a tough stance at times.”
The recent dispute, PIPS’s Rana said, is likely to affect the “already strained relationship” even on the bilateral front between the two neighbors. Pakistan is Afghanistan’s largest trading partner.
However, analysts say the group does not have enough resources to retaliate against its nuclear-armed neighbor.
“It is hard to imagine that the Taliban will crack down on Pakistan. Even if they wanted to, they lack the capacity and the resources,” said Said Sabir Ibrahimi, a nonresident fellow at the New York University Center for International Cooperation.
The airstrikes come days after Shehbaz Sharif was sworn in as prime minister after Imran Khan was ousted following a motion of no confidence.
But analysts say Pakistan’s powerful armed forces, accused of providing a safe haven for Taliban leaders in the past, dictate the country’s Afghan policies. It has increased border operations in recent months.
“It is not an issue related to the new government or the old government, it is an issue related to the security establishment and the newly elected government will only provide support in accordance with the security establishment in Pakistan,” Rana said.
Baheer, of the American University of Afghanistan, said the reason the Pakistani government has yet to claim the attack in Afghanistan might be “so as not to risk a complete severing of ties with the Taliban and leave them some security by not reclaim. which would require justifying it as well”.