This is an opinion piece and reflects the author’s personal views. It does not necessarily represent the views or policy positions of Midstone Centre.
The fall of Kabul was an eye-opener, imprinted for decades to come on the minds of the Afghan youth, as well as all of Afghanistan’s pro-democratic forces; a democratic state turned into a theocratic regime governed by a few Taliban heads over a matter of days.
To the Taliban, this is the ultimate triumph. Afghanistan is clean of ‘un-Islamic’ forces, and they have free reign to implement their form of Shari’a in the country. In the Doha Agreement, they agreed on the point that Afghan land would not be a safe haven for terrorist non-state actors and that their Shari’a will remain inside the borders of Afghanistan.
With the fall of Kabul, Pakistan celebrated the advent of the Afghan Taliban to power. It considered the new Afghan government to be friendly towards Pakistan and believed that it would not face aggression, but rather gain allies. Pakistan has taken several steps in this good faith for Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held a conference in Islamabad, and Pakistan hosted the Islamic states for discussing the humanitarian crisis and political turmoil going on in Afghanistan. It became a voice for Afghans in the world, attempting to let them be heard by the Great powers to help them in recognition as well as humanitarian aid.
Unfortunately, what Pakistan got in return were bomb attacks on mosques and even international investments. A similar surge in terrorism has been seen in Afghanistan; recently, a Chinese hotel was attacked, and before that, the Pakistan embassy in Kabul was the focal point of an attack. Islamic State- Khorasan Province (ISKP), as the sworn enemy of the Afghan Taliban, came forward as the perpetrator. The Afghan quagmire proved to be not only a threat to Afghan welfare, but also to the security of Pakistan.
With the fall of Kabul, Pakistani leader assessed that the country’s war with the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) would come to an end, and as for negotiations with the TTP, it needed someone to mediate between both parties- as Pakistan mediated between the U.S. and the Afghan Taliban.
Pakistan expected the same from the Afghan Taliban due to their influence and ideological alliance with the TTP. Within days of the Kabul takeover, Pakistan’s Director-General Intelligence Faiz Hameed was in Afghanistan, telling the Afghan media that everything would be fine. Pakistan and the ruling party put in place a policy of appeasement for the TTP, and the stage was set for negotiations to end the scourge of insurgency in the country.
However, soon after coming to power, the Afghan Taliban released hundreds of TTP prisoners held in Afghan jails, including many TTP leaders. Due to ideological unity as well as ethnic ties, the TTP looks up to the Afghan Taliban, while the latter has a soft corner towards them. TTP’s emir Noor Wali Mehsud had pledged allegiance to Afghan Taliban emir Haibatullah Akhundzada and is still very much loyal to him. Pakistan’s ex-PM Imran Khan also had a soft approach towards the TTP, having plans to not only negotiate with them but also pay the militants and resettle them in the erst-while FATA region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The Foreign Minister at the time, Shah Mahmoud Qureshi, was of the belief that the TTP were “intelligent people”, and that Pakistan could negotiate with them. President of Pakistan Arif Alvi wanted to give them a general amnesty to forgive them for the atrocities they have committed against the Pakistani people. To this end, Pakistan sent delegations including clerics and tribal elders to hold negotiations, and the TTP came up with conditions including reversal of the FATA-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa merger, and the state allowing the militant outfit to establish their rule of Shari’a in the Malakand division.
Even with the government’s pro-TTP sentiments, these conditions were not possible for Pakistan to accept or even take into consideration. As an act of goodwill, Pakistan freed over a few hundred TTP members who were in custody. With negotiations stuck, both parties agreed to a ceasefire.
In the mean time, the TTP leadership had ample time to regroup as well as recruit more fighters for its cause, and after the murder of TTP deputy leader Umar Khalid Khorasani, the TTP eventually unilaterally ended the ceasefire with Pakistan. The militants immediately restarted their activities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and within a very short span of time, they successfully expanded their operations nationwide. Even Islamabad, the capital, has been the focal point of a suicide bombing. The Counter Terrorism Department compound along with its personnel in Bannu was held hostage by the TTP for 3 days, in mid-December. Another major incident occurred at the Police Lines mosque in Peshawar, and the responsibility was claimed by Mukarram Khorasani, the brother of Khalid Khorasani. The attack claimed over 100 lives.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) released a new infographic on its attacks in Pakistan in the year 2022. A total of 367 attacks claiming 1015 killed and wounded.
Pakistan's policy of peace talks gave TTP the time and space to regroup and rearm. 2023 expected to be more violent. pic.twitter.com/V3RSuzhpxF
— FJ (@Natsecjeff) December 31, 2022
This rapid resurgence of terrorism in Pakistan leaves no doubt that the negotiations and ceasefire brought the TTP ample time to get back into militant formation. As a result of all this, the Olasi Pashwan (protest) was called in Peshawar after the attack on the Peshawar mosque on 5th February. A day earlier, the Pashtun youth were calling for peace and self-determination on their land. Thousands of young people have participated and agreed with the slogans that were originally put forward by the youth themselves. Olasi Pashwan was originally organized by the youth of Swat earlier in the summer of 2022 when they first observed that the TTP is regrouping and reorganizing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Without any political support, a few young students started organizing these gatherings all over Khyber Pakhtunkhwa every Friday by calling leaders from the parties across the political spectrum, mobilizing for freedom from the threat of terrorism, and peace, asking that they not be made to relocate once again due to rising insecurity.
My interactions with the Pashtun youth show that their belief in Parliamentary politics is fading away, which should be a serious concern for Pakistan. Facing economic instability, religious fanaticism, and a society riven with cracks, the youth is not ready to take another wave of terrorism and target killings lying down. They want to be educated, employed, and live honourably in Pakistan. They ask for a pen and shun weapons. The state should sense the dramatic change which is taking place in the youth of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Terrorism was responsible for damage and destruction to their physical belongings as well as mental health in the previous war against terror, and they refuse to relive that again. Pakistan should not be part of the games between major powers at the expense of its own youth. Pakistani leaders should sit with the youth, hear them out, and resolve their grievances, rather than negotiate with a few thousand terrorists, and try to resettle them. Pashtun youth deserves better.