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Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan Reunifies with Uncertain Consequences

  • Umair Jamal
  • Sep, 2020
  • 85
  • Taliban vs Pakistan

Two major splinter groups recently reunited with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. What that means for regional security remains unclear

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has announced that the organization’s two major splinter groups, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and Hizbul Ahrar, have joined its ranks again. This is not a small achievement for a militant organization that has been on the run for years and trying to survive in a highly competitive militant landscape.

The timing of the merger is significant. In the past, all groups associated with the TTP have easily found sanctuaries in Afghanistan, recruited and imported fighters and made local and transnational alliances. However, going forward, that may not remain the case anymore.

Over the years, internal feuds have resulted in the death of hundreds of Taliban fighters. There have been active attempts from different rival factions to win over the leadership of the movement. For instance, the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISKP) was founded by many estranged TTP fighters who had little or no connection with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Consequently, ISKP’s fighters in Afghanistan mainly comprise of former TTP fighters.

The intra-Afghan talks are expected to begin soon in Afghanistan. Assuming they do, one of the major political stakeholders in Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban, is likely to come out with major gains from the talks. These likely gains may see the group back in power with more stakes in keeping stability and control over smaller militant organizations. Therefore, it’s in the interest of all intra-Afghan stakeholders, including the Afghan Taliban, that militant groups such as the ISKP and TTP do not actively pitch Afghan soil as a supplier of vast sanctuaries to target neighboring states.

A recent United Nations(UN) report warned that around 6,000 to 6,500 Pakistani terrorists are operating from their bases in Afghanistan. For instance, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and Hizbul Ahrar have a strong presence in the Kunar and Nangarhar provinces of Afghanistan. The reintegration of these groups into TTP offers the organization a strong sanctuary at a time when it is likely to face a tough situation in Afghanistan.

Thus, the fate of the intra-Afghan talks will have a significant impact on the fate of terrorists operating in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, including TTP and other smaller groups. It is possible that the conclusion of the peace talks will see a wider and cohesive action against militant groups that have previously found sanctuaries in Afghanistan with little effort.

A unified TTP with a strong foothold in Afghanistan and thousands of fighters is the last thing Pakistan is expected to accept when the intra-Afghan talks conclude. Islamabad should be expected to use its leverage with the Americans and the Afghan Taliban to push for the expulsion of the TTP from Afghanistan in the incoming intra-Afghan talks. A growing string of international sanctions on the current leadership of the TTP is possibly a reflection of Pakistan’s pressure via its participation in the Afghan peace process.

However, that is not to say that the Afghan Taliban will be accommodating of Pakistan’s requests. “I believe its [TTP] political consolidation and resurgence has implications for Pakistan’s relationship with the Afghan Taliban with which TTP is still allied,” said Asfandyar Mir. This essentially means that TTP’s consolidation does not only have the potential to complicate Pakistan’s Afghan policy and its relationship with the Afghan Taliban, but may also undermine the intra-Afghan phase of the peace process. At this point, any actor, including Pakistan, can play the role of a spoiler if they don’t see the end result of the intra-Afghan dialogue meeting their expectations.

Currently, there is no clarity on the Afghan Taliban’s links with the TTP. There is no evidence to suggest that the Afghan Taliban has been assisting the TTP in their operations against the Pakistani state. We do not know if the Afghan Taliban will defend or oppose TTP’s sanctuaries in Afghanistan after the conclusion of the Afghan peace process.

On the part of the TTP, the unification is a smart move to put pressure on the Afghan Taliban as well. “TTP has separated itself from ISKP, which will come under the pump for being a transnational group. In doing so, they have saved their residual organizational strength to continue operating from Afghanistan while focusing on Pakistan,” Abdul Basit, research fellow at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) told The Diplomat. In the past, some TTP leaders have remained associated with the ISKP which complicated the group’s relationship with the Afghan Taliban. By completely delinking with the ISKP, TTP has made it difficult for Afghan Taliban to take an opposing positio...

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