FILE – Pakistan Army troops patrol along the fence on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border at Big Ben hill post in Khyber district of Pakistan, August 3, 2021.
Credit: AP Photo/Anjum Naveed, FileAdvertisement
The United States has offered to help Pakistan deal with the terror threat posed by the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Recent developments suggest that talks between Pakistan and the US on the matter may have started, creating scope for coordinated action against TTP and other militant groups.
At a news conference last week, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Pakistan remains a key security partner. Highlighting concerns about militant threats in the region, he said terrorist groups “have a presence in Afghanistan, in the Afghan-Pakistani border region, which pose a clear threat, as we see, not only to Pakistan but potentially to countries.” and people beyond”.
“We are in regular dialogue with our Pakistani partners. We stand ready to help them face the threats they face,” he added.
Ahead of State Department statements hinting at an eventual partnership between the two countries, US Central Command Chief Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla visited the Torkham-Afghanistan border crossing and hailed Pakistan’s achievements in the fight against terrorism. During his meeting with Pakistan’s top military leadership, Kurilla also discussed prospects for strengthening military ties and ways to deal with the TTP threat.
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A government source told The Diplomat that General Kurilla’s visit was aimed at conveying to Pakistan that the US understands, perhaps even sympathizes with, Pakistan’s security concerns emanating from Afghanistan and remains ready to assist. The source went on to say that both countries largely agree that Afghanistan should “remain peaceful” under the Afghan Taliban and that international militant groups, including the TTP, should not set up sanctuaries there.
It appears that the TTP fears that the US could work with Pakistan to take action against its leadership in Afghanistan.
“America should stop annoying us by unnecessarily interfering in our affairs at the instigation of Pakistan – this cruel decision shows the failure of American politics,” TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud said in an interview with CNN. The TTP’s recent suicide bombing in Islamabad and the US Embassy’s warning to citizens in Pakistan underscore that the militant group views forthcoming cooperation between Islamabad and Washington as a concern and may wish to obstruct it.
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who returned from a week-long visit to the US earlier this week, announced that Washington is ready to offer Pakistan financial assistance to improve border security and deter cross-border attacks from Afghanistan. However, the details of how border security will be funded have not yet been released.
In a surprising development, the US Senate recently approved $200 million for gender equality programs in Pakistan, also emphasizing the need to fight terrorism in the country. It’s unclear how these funds will be used, but the omnibus bill passed by the Senate for 2023 mentions that funds allocated to the country under the heading “Foreign Military Financing Programs” are “allocated only in support of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations in Pakistan.” can be .”
Additionally, reports suggest that Pakistan may also be interested in receiving more military equipment from the US to improve its border patrol capabilities and better detect movements of the TTP and other militant groups along the Afghan border. In addition, both countries may push to refocus their intelligence cooperation to deal with terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan. It is unclear whether cooperation against the TTP and other extremist groups will include combat within Afghanistan.
The US has reiterated many times that it will take action if terrorists regroup in Afghanistan. The killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a US drone strike in Kabul was an example of such an action.
If history is any lesson, however, Pakistan should know that entering into a broad counterterrorism partnership with the US carries its own risks. It is unclear how far the Pakistani leadership will be willing to go in terms of such cooperation with the US to counter the TTP and other groups.
In the past, Washington has pushed for a partnership with Islamabad that goes beyond fighting TTP and may include action against groups like al-Qaeda, Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) and other terrorist groups the US sees as a threat . Pakistan, on the other hand, may only be interested in enlisting US support to weaken the TTP in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Pakistan would arguably not be interested in becoming a base for US counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond, as such a scenario could push Pakistan’s already strained relationship with the Afghan Taliban to a point of no return. The situation has the potential to create further security complications for Pakistan, as Islamabad could end up with more enemies than just the TTP in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. This increases the potential of a game on a larger scale.
Overall, Pakistan and the US share common interests in countering militant threats on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The real issue, however, lies in the scope of cooperation, as Pakistani military policy must walk a fine line between countering TTP and avoiding a broader backlash.