On 1st October Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan broke all hell loose when on the Turkish government-run TV channel, TRT World, he disclosed that the Pakistani government is in secret talks with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), facilitated by the Afghan Taliban.
The Pakistanis were upset for many reasons. They were upset that they were kept in the dark while the government was holding talks with TTP. Another reason which upset them was that the Pakistani Prime Minister broke the news on a Turkish and not on a Pakistani TV channel. But the biggest setback was to the parents of over 150 children who lost their lives in the December 2014 massacre in the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar, supposedly undertaken by the TTP.
While breaking the news of talks with the TTP, Imran Khan looked unsure, as if he was not kept in the loop and was unaware of all the details. Therefore, the question arises, in addition to the Pakistani Army who else is involved in the talks?
There are reports that China has operationalized the Bagram Airbase situated between Kabul and Panjshir. Movements of a large number of Chinese military planes have also been observed in the airbase. That indicates that some high-level Chinese negotiators are already in Afghanistan.
Being a Chinese proxy is fine with the Pakistani citizens, but the betrayal by their own Prime Minister is what they are not able to digest. Why would Imran Khan take such a step when his approval ratings are at the nadir. Is he not interested in reelection or he has been assured of reelection by the vested parties?
How TTP Weilds Power
TTP is the largest and most active armed opposition group in Pakistan. It came into existence in 2007 under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud. It was formed in response to Pakistan’s military operation against Al-Qaeda militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) in 2004. However, the roots of the organization can be traced back to 2002.
The decline of the group and infighting started in August 2009 when a missile strike from a U.S. UAV killed Baitullah Mehsud. By 2018 it was a defunct organization. However, by 2020 TTP was resurrected by charismatic leader Noor Wali Mehsud. They undertook over 120 attacks against the Pakistani Army and security forces in 2020. The actor had turned against the director.
In just last two months alone TTP has carried out over 75 attacks, killing scores of Pakistani security forces. It would be interesting to note that who is giving safe haven to TTP in southeast Afghanistan: the ‘Haqqani Network. An organization that supposedly has good relations with the Pakistani army. They must be under immense pressure to give up TTP. However, Haqqani Network is looking after its interests while keeping the army notionally happy.
Bolstered by the present happenings, during the ongoing negotiations TTP would bargain for:
Such demands resonate with tribal leaders, the Afghan Taliban, Al-Qa’ida, Islamic State (Khorasan), and Haqqani Network. It would be foolhardy to assume that after pushing these demands through, TTP will put a stop to its ambition. Rather achievement of these demands would bolster TTP’s fortunes. They would emerge as a force to reckon with. Their ultimate aim is Sharia law for all of Pakistan and that would be the death knell for Pakistan as a state and the Pakistani army as proprietor of that state.
Everybody is Aware of the Reality
The Pakistani army knows that they can’t win against TTP. After all, they taught the Taliban how to ambush Soviet forces. Unfortunately, even China knows about it. China has a lot riding on Belt and Road Initiative. With that, Chinese President Xi Jinping also has a lot riding on it. The 20th National Party Congress is just one year away. The Congress would decide if Xi Jinping would stay for an unprecedented third term, or gets neutered. Failure of BRI would add to his misery and accelerate his exit. The present precarious financial situation and unprecedented power shortages have already dented his reputation badly. He doesn’t need another surprise. So, Xi would pull every trick in the book to bring some semblance to BRI. TTP and the Afghan Taliban are very important parts of that plan.
The whole BRI hinges on the South and Central Asian part of the project. Out of a total US$940 billion investment, this region has a share of only US$152 billion. However, the region is of utmost importance when it comes to connectivity with Europe and the Middle East. The following BRI corridors adumbrate it evidently:
Image Courtesy: ips-journal.eu
All these economic corridors pass through Xinjiang. That also explains China’s repression in this all-important province, where all the Islamic entities including the Taliban hold sway. Investment in Western Europe (US$30 billion), Eastern Europe (US$60 billion), and the Middle East (US$94 billion) would become a dead investment if South and Central Asia remain disturbed.
The Taliban leaders may look medieval but they understand this part of the economics very well. If the Afghan Taliban regime’s statements of the past few days are dissected, one would understand the whole game plan very well. They have wholeheartedly given their unconditional support to all BRI-related activities in Afghanistan. While the Afghan Taliban is playing the good cop, TTP is playing the bad cop. In the recent past, TTP has intensified attacks on the Pakistani establishment, consequently psychologically terrorizing the Chinese. This has renewed China’s worst nightmare, what if these entities turn their attention towards Xinjiang?
Voices in Chinese Media
Chinese Fudan University professor Zhang Jiadong says, “Encouraged by the Afghan Taliban’s victory, the TTP wants to realize Pashtuns’ rule in Pakistan”. Zhu Yongbiao, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at Lanzhou University feels that TTP is trying to communicate with the Chinese government through these attacks, “if you can receive the Afghan Taliban, why not accept its brother”. On the contrary, Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, said that the TTP is playing tricks to confuse Chinese and Pakistani governments.
The overall scenario emerges that China is shaken by a large number of attacks on the Chinese projects. In April 2021, TTP sent a final warning to China by a bomb attack on a hotel in Quetta, hours before the Chinese ambassador was to arrive. The message was loud and clear, come to terms with us or lose BRI-related projects.
India and TTP: Two Birds with One Stone
The Pakistani establishment is desperate to hurt India. When they ousted the legally elected Afghan government with the help of the Taliban, they thought they had won a war over India. But that dream was short-lived. Rather, they came under fierce attacks from various organizations from within the country. TTP was one of them.
The Pakistani army can go against its citizens but not against the Chinese government. The Chinese government has been putting immense pressure on the Pakistani army to reign in TTP. Shaking hands with TTP is in the army’s best interest. If TTP is onboard, it would allay Chinese fears and mobilize anti-India forces. The Pakistani army’s main justification for their existence is Jammu and Kashmir. If the Pakistani army hands over tribal areas to TTP, they would be free to shift focus to Jammu and Kashmir.
The whole plan may or may not work out, but it is the best shot the Pakistani army has. The meetings are being held under the keen eyes of Chinese representatives and with the blessings of the Afghan regime. If the Pakistani army’s nefarious designs succeeded, the Afghan Taliban and TTP would divide the spoils of this psychological game. Xi Jinping would secure the initiative and restore his reputation. The Pakistani generals would get favourable returns on the investments. In the end, there would be two losers, the ordinary Pakistani citizens who would buy fake narrative from the army and innocent victims of Jammu and Kashmir, bracing themselves for another wave of terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Chanakya Forum. All information provided in this article including timeliness, completeness, accuracy, suitability or validity of information referenced therein, is the sole responsibility of the author. www.chanakyaforum.com does not assume any responsibility for the same.
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