Relations between Pakistan and the Taliban are deteriorating following the resurgence of terrorist attacks and border incidents

NEW DELHI: Are Taliban-Pakistan relations on a downward spiral?
Pakistan, still seen as the main patron of Islamic extremists over the years. Many senior Taliban leaders fled to Pakistan after US forces landed in Afghanistan in 2001. Since the Taliban seized power in 2021, Islamabad has led the way in lobbying for recognition of the new regime in Kabul.
But an upsurge in militant attacks in Pakistan and on the Afghan border is causing friction in the relationship. Border skirmishes, cross-border airstrikes and allegations of sheltering hostile elements have further complicated the relationship.
Terrorist attacks on the rise in Pakistan
Militant attacks in Pakistan have accelerated since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan last August. So far, 155 people have been killed in such attacks.
Similarly, compared to 2020, 2021 has seen an increase of more than 57% in militant attacks and nearly 49% more deaths, according to the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), a Islamabad-based independent think tank.

Interestingly, the trend of militant attacks in Pakistan in 2021 closely followed the trend of violence in Afghanistan – with the Taliban stepping up their offensive in May 2021, a further surge in July, and the capture of provincial capitals and seizure of power in August. , according to PICSS.
Most of the attacks were claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) who want to establish an Islamic caliphate in Islamabad. Pakistani forces on the Afghan border were also targeted.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said the attacks were carried out “with impunity” and that Islamabad had repeatedly called on the Afghan authorities to act against anti-Pakistani forces operating from inside Afghanistan, but in vain.
He said seven Pakistani soldiers were killed in the North Waziristan border area last week.

Pakistani airstrikes claim many casualties in Afghanistan
Afghan media reported that Pakistani planes carried out bombardments in eastern Afghanistan’s Khost and Kunar provinces last Friday, killing scores of civilians. Some reports mentioned 41 victims, including women and children.
On Saturday, the Taliban’s foreign ministry called Pakistan’s ambassador and filed complaints about civilians killed in the airstrikes. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid warned Pakistan “not to test the patience of Afghans on such matters and not to repeat the same mistake, otherwise it will have bad consequences”.
Pakistan has so far declined to comment on the Afghan allegations.
The Pak-Afghan border dispute and the Durand line
The boundary between the two countries, known as the Durand Line, stretches the length of 2,670 km. The line, established in the late 19th century during British rule in India, cuts through the region’s ethnic Pashtun population, often dividing tribes and families.
Successive Afghan leaders have refused to recognize it as an official border, claiming instead Pakistani territory known as Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province, where Pashtuns dominate.

Since taking power in Kabul, Taliban fighters have repeatedly clashed with Pakistan over a border fence that Islamabad is building. Reports and photos have emerged of Taliban forces tearing down recently constructed fences along the border.
Are the “allies” cooling?
The support of the Pakistani army and its intelligence service, the ISI, for the Taliban is no secret to anyone. There are allegations that they secretly supported extremist Islamists, often sabotaging American interests, while accepting American funds to help the “war on terror”.
Pakistan was among the few countries to recognize the first Taliban regime which was overthrown in 2001. It is now seen actively pushing for international recognition of the current regime in Kabul.
In fact, former ISI chief Faiz Hameed had traveled to Kabul to “select” the current Taliban cabinet, it is widely believed.
Faiz helped sideline more moderate voices within the Taliban, such as Mullah Baradar and Sher Mohammad Stanikzai, while ensuring de facto control of people like Hasan Akhund and Sirajuddin Haqqani, a UN-designated terrorist. The ISI’s close ties to the Haqqani network are no secret.
It is unclear, however, whether Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will support the Afghan Taliban as his predecessor Imran Khan did.
Will the Taliban act against its offshoot, the TTP?
Current tensions between Pakistan and the Taliban relate to the latter having cold feet to rein in the TTP, which has been responsible for the majority of terrorist attacks in Pakistan over the years.
He has killed more than 70,000 people in recent decades and staged some of Pakistan’s worst terror attacks, including one on a military school that killed 150 people in Peshawar in 2014.
“The idea that the Taliban would curb the TTP strikes me as an illusion,” said Gautam Mukhopadhaya, a former Indian ambassador who is currently a senior visiting fellow at the New Delhi-based research group the Center for Policy Research. “Ties of blood and creed are thicker than marriages of convenience,” Mukhopadhaya said, as quoted by Bloomberg.

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