On Wednesday, February 22, 2023, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Chief Lt.General Nadeem Anjum, Foreign Affairs Secretary Asad Majid, and Special Envoy for Afghanistan Muhammad Sadiq paid a surprise visit to Kabul. During the visit, the Pakistani delegation met with Taliban Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Defense Minister Mawlawy Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid, Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, and Deputy Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.
Different statements were made by Pakistan and Afghanistan regarding the details of the visit. While a statement issued by Mullah Baradar's office emphasized that trade and economic cooperation was discussed, a statement issued by Pakistan's Foreign Ministry emphasized that security issues were discussed, particularly the threats posed by Tahrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP) and Islamic State Khorasan Province (IS-K). In addition, it was noteworthy that Taliban Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Baradar stated that "We should not allow our economic and trade relations to be affected by political and security issues".
The Express Tribune, a pro-government Pakistani daily, reported details of the meeting based on statements by an official with direct knowledge of the meeting who requested anonymity. According to this information, the Taliban side stated that they understood Pakistan's concerns about the TTP and shared details of the steps they planned to take on the issue. According to the information, the Pakistani side informed that the negotiations between Pakistan and the TTP, which were initiated with the mediation of the Haqqani Network, were closed, while the Taliban did not insist on this.
After the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, the activities of the TTP increased significantly. This has been pronounced by different Pakistani officials on various platforms. For instance, in his speech at the United Nations (UN) in September 2022, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif stated that Pakistan was concerned about terrorist groups operating from Afghanistan, particularly the TTP and IS-K.
On February 17, 2023, a bomb attack was carried out on a police station in Karachi, Pakistan. As a result of the attack, 4 people were killed and 14 people were injured. The attack was claimed responsibility by the TTP. Pakistani officials made statements after this incident and claimed that the TTP received support from within Afghanistan.
On February 18, 2023, speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari stated that Afghanistan posed a threat to regional and world security. Zardari emphasized that a whole “alphabet soup” of terrorist organizations are operating in Afghanistan and that the international community should take measures against the potential danger.
In response to Zardari's remarks, Taliban Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Abdul Qahhar Balkhi stated on his Twitter account, emphasizing that Zardari's statements do not reflect the facts and that Pakistan was unstable for nearly two decades before the Taliban. He also advised Pakistan to meet face-to-face to discuss bilateral issues instead of complaining on international platforms. Indeed, these statements were followed by a visit to Afghanistan by senior Pakistani officials.
Most of the Taliban's senior officials were educated in Pakistan's religious madrassas. Pakistan, therefore, has an inevitable influence on the Taliban. Indeed, after the Taliban captured Kabul, the province of Panchshir was still in the hands of the anti-Taliban Resistance Front. On September 4, after the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence chief arrived in Kabul, a heavy strike was launched and Panchshir was captured. But as strong as Pakistan's influence over the Taliban is, the Taliban's ties with the TTP are also powerful enough. This is because both the TTP and the Taliban are similar in terms of Pashtun nationalism (Pashtunwali) and ideology.
The border line separating Afghanistan and Pakistan (Durant Line) also divides the Pashtun ethnic group into two. Therefore, the majority of Pashtuns do not accept this line. Therefore, it is not realistic for the Taliban to provide support to Pakistan in the fight against the TTP. However, it seems likely and rational for the Taliban to mediate a possible negotiation process or a temporary ceasefire between the TTP and Pakistan. Thus, on the one hand, Pakistan would gain some distance from the recent increase in TTP attacks and gain time to develop a new strategy. On the other hand, Pakistan will use its connections within the Afghan Taliban to weaken the TTP's supporters within the Taliban.
Another important point here is that the senior officials in the Pakistani delegation are predominantly military. This is because Pakistan had previously made statements that TTP elements were being resupplied from within Afghanistan's borders. However, these statements were rejected by the Taliban. In the current situation, the fact that the intelligence chief and the defense minister personally came to Kabul and met with senior officials indicates that Pakistan is serious about this claim and wants assurances from the Taliban. Indeed, leading Pakistani newspapers have reported that concrete evidence was presented to Taliban officials during the meeting. Pakistani officials have also emphasized on different platforms that the Taliban must fulfill its commitment that "No countries would be threatened from Afghanistan" which was emphasized in Doha Agreement. Pakistan will therefore resort to other forms of pressure to rein in the Taliban if it deems it necessary.
*The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of Terrorism Analysis Platform.