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TTP making new nexus with Balch separatists, local militant groups

Islamabad— Experts at a discussion warned that banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was making new nexus with Baloch separatists and local militant groups based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan — a development which will likely exacerbate the already precarious security situation in the country.

Unlike the past, this is for the first time that TTP has started carrying out terrorist attacks in Pashtoon areas of Balochistan, which is very disturbing, they also said.

There is no clarity about Pakistan’s policy for Afghanistan and the ruling coalition in the center is also unclear how to deal with the TTP since talks with the proscribed group failed last year, they added.

These views were expressed by participants here at a consultation on “Afghan peace and reconciliation: Pakistan’s interests and policy options”, organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS).

The representatives of political parties and civil society, academics, and journalists, among others participated in the discussion. The main themes of the consultation, which was the 8th one in a series of discussions organized by PIPS on the Afghan peace process, included “Pak-Afghan bilateral relations: challenges and way forward” and “Emerging Afghan situation and its implications for the region.”

The discussants underscored that TTP and other local militant groups were filling the space left by mainstream and nationalist political parties in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) as they were no longer only jihadi-religious groups. They further said that these militant groups now promoted political and nationalists thoughts to achieve their vested interests.

The Islamite militants, including TTP, and separatists have increased their attacks in Balochistan since Taliban took over Kabul in August 2021, said Adnan Aamir, a Quetta-based journalist who writes for international media. He said that the group for the first time has started carrying out attacks in the Pashtoon areas of the province.

“TTP has increased its footprints in the province as at least three local Baloch militant groups have recently joined it,” argued Aamir. He said that the banned group was promoting its political agenda in the province by showing its sympathies for the people of Balochistan, which demonstrated that it wanted to increase its presence in the province.

Aqeel Yousafzai, Peshawar-based expert on Afghan affairs, said that recent statements of TTP chief Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud were political in nature and there was no mention of jihad in these. He added that the group had been introducing itself as a Pashtoon nationalist group for the last four years. “The rhetoric of nationalist parties and militant groups like TTP is now the same,” he said, adding that this should be very alarming for the policymakers.

Yousafzai also endorsed that local militant and separatist groups had entered into some sort of understanding with TTP. He argued that the government should open its door for talks with all militant groups.

President International Research Council for Religious Affairs (IRCRA) Muhammad Israr Madani highlighted that they would have to enhance people-to people contacts and trade to decrease hostility of Afghans towards Pakistan. “There is a need for religious diplomacy and involvement of religious scholars in this regard,” he said.

Madani said that Pakistan should hold talks with Afghanistan continuously on different issues and these should not be limited to a single sitting. He also emphasized that Pakistan should make its border management policy people-friendly to facilitate the Afghan people.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) leader Hafiz Munir Ahmed opined that Pakistan’s Afghan policy should be led by civilian set up and parliament. “Political parties should be given an opportunity to make such a policy.”

Director News and Current Affairs Pakistan Television (PTV) Aoun Sahi taking part in the consultation said there was confusion in Pakistan who would make a new Afghan policy as the previous one failed to produce results. “It is also unclear who is now leading any Afghan policy.”

Programme Advisor at Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Pakistan Hamayoun Khan said that there was an issue of mistrust between the two countries. He added that Central Asia had enormous potential, in economic terms, for Pakistan and Afghanistan and both countries could benefit from it if they improve their bilateral relations.

Joint Director PIPS Safdar Sial in his concluding remarks said that Pakistan’s engagement with Taliban-led interim government in Kabul was the ultimate solution of all problems. He suggested that the civilian government in Pakistan should take the ownership of Afghan policy, which should be led by parliament. He added that security agencies must have their input in it.