Connections between Pakistani and Afghan militant groups

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Recent cross-border infiltration and operational attacks by terrorist networks operating from Afghanistan have raised concerns about the Afghan Taliban’s direct involvement in these incidents. Such attacks, involving a significant number of terrorists inside Pakistan, cannot occur without the support and approval of the Taliban regime. If these suspicions hold true, it would be tantamount to declaring war against a state.

Social media and online reports are circulating, suggesting the direct involvement of the Haqqani network in these intrusions, as cited by security officials. This revelation may surprise those who believed in a close relationship between the Haqqani network and the Pakistani security establishment, as their ties seem to have strained recently. The extent of this apparent discord in relations is unclear, as neither the Haqqani network nor the Pakistani establishment has officially disclosed the nature of any dispute between them. However, Pakistan has officially registered its protest regarding the involvement of Afghan fighters in the attack on a military cantonment in Balochistan’s Zhob district.

Without official confirmation from one of the parties involved, speculations about the dispute’s nature are premature. It is a known fact that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) maintains a close relationship with the Haqqani Network, which has overseen negotiations between the government and the TTP. The failure of these negotiations initially eroded the confidence of Pakistan’s security institutions. Various factors, including religious, ideological, tribal, and political considerations, play a role in this complex web of relationships.

Over time, the organizational ties between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani militant groups have evolved, especially with the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban developed connections with the Pakistani establishment and various militant groups, resulting in intricate relationships among the three parties.

Pakistan has strategic interests in Afghanistan and has often faced accusations of turning a blind eye to the presence of the Taliban on its soil.

In return, the Taliban have relied on safe havens, financial support, and fighters primarily from Pakistan and neighboring states like Iran. Pakistani militant groups have contributed human resources to the Taliban, with some fighters becoming disillusioned due to shifts in the state’s policies on jihad. While the “Quetta shura” hesitated to recruit Pakistani fighters, the Haqqani network and “Peshawar shura” actively incorporated them, creating combat units and financial and logistical supply chains. Al Qaeda has also influenced these Pakistani militants, further radicalizing them against the state.

Historical accounts suggest that the Haqqani network has directly recruited Pakistani fighters, distinguishing it from the Quetta shura. Reports indicate that as of 2015, approximately 10 percent of the “Miranshah shura’s” forces were Pakistani, drawn primarily from other jihadist groups such as the TTP, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LiJ). The significant presence of Pakistani volunteers, along with fighters from other countries, has contributed to the Haqqani network’s reputation for alignment with global jihadist movements like Al Qaeda, as opposed to the Quetta shura. The Peshawar shura is also believed to have heavily relied on Pakistani militants, expanding its reach to other cities in Pakistan, where it reportedly recruited hundreds of Pakistanis.

In summary, Pakistan may have underestimated the potential challenges posed by fighters affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, especially compared to the TTP and its associated groups. Reports suggest that thousands of these fighters may have returned to Pakistan, with some joining the TTP and its factions, while others remain under the patronage of various Taliban commanders, including the Haqqani network. News has emerged about faction mergers or small militant groups joining the TTP, typically involving militants who were previously directly associated with the Taliban.

The Haqqani network has accommodated many of these fighters in its government and security forces, including individuals like Adnan Rasheed, a former Pakistani Air Force employee who joined Al Qaeda and specialized in jailbreaks. Adnan Rasheed was released from Bannu jail in April 2012 by militants. However, the Taliban cannot absorb all these returning fighters, and the likelihood of their support for continued conflict within Pakistan is increasing.

Interestingly, just as the Haqqani network and the Peshawar shura recruited thousands of Pakistanis, the TTP is said to be doing the same with Afghan Taliban fighters eager to continue their jihad in Pakistan. Recent revelations by DIG CTD of KP, Sohail Khalid, during a press conference indicated that investigations into the facilitators of the Ali Masjid suicide blast revealed the attacker’s Afghan origin. Afghan SIM cards, jihadist pamphlets, and other documents were also recovered.

Pakistan has expressed concerns that these returning militants may continue their terrorist activities. During talks with the TTP, it became clear that the TTP and other terrorist groups had no intention of ceasing their operations. Integrating these individuals into the general population could pose a greater risk, not only through terrorist activities but also by spreading the ideological influence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

These terrorists, now led by the TTP, are exploiting Pakistan’s vulnerabilities related to territory, resources, and support bases. Recent terrorist attacks in Balochistan’s Zhob and Sherani districts, along with the intrusion into Chitral, are part of a broader strategy. It appears that Al Qaeda has been eyeing the region bordering Chitral for establishing a new base to support terrorist activities in the region, including those targeting China. This situation presents a precarious challenge for Pakistan and the Taliban regime, necessitating a solution before it worsens.

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