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The Curious Case of Pakistan, China, TTP and BRI

Cdr Sandeep Dhawan (Retd) Wed, 06 Oct 2021   |  Reading Time: 5 minutes

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:

  • Greater autonomy for the tribal areas
  • Restoration of a Sharia-based regime in those areas
  • Change in the leadership of ISI

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:

  • New Eurasian Land-Bridge Economic Corridor (NELBEC)
  • China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor (CCAWAEC)
  • China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

Image Courtesy: ips-journal.eu

Xinjiang

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.

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Author
A veteran of the Indian Navy, Cdr Dhawan served in the Navy from 1988 to 2009. He was a Maritime Reconnaissance Pilot and a Flying Instructor. He is a geopolitical analyst and writes for various online websites and organizations.

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POST COMMENTS (29)

Nitin

Oct 14, 2021
Excellent information, as always a well-researched post, (all Taliban are isi Taliban) Pakistan is a careless country, a burden on the whole world.

Ashish Popli

Oct 12, 2021
Sandeep, as always, well researched..and put across in easy to comprehend words. The complex dynamics of Pak, China, Xinjiang, TTP, Pak Army nexus etc has been explained well. Whether Xinjiang and Tibet can be used as cards by India and the western world ...time will tell. As of now, it's a smart step to get China to focus on securing the Belts itself..and handle the different warlords I stead of US doing it for them. Let China take a misstep and have a few body bags of its own thereby spiralling into more decisions which will eventually, probably unravel it's Belt story with huge consequences. Will some nation facilitate that....a pseudo strike to resemble TTP attack on a Chinese gathering in N Afghanistan..and then see the narrative change. Let's watch this Netflix Thriller....it's in many seasons...enjoy

Atul Dewan

Oct 11, 2021
China, Pakistan and Afghanistan relationship jigsaw puzzle with TTP and other players and its impact on BRI makes an interesting read. Well analyzed, will have to wait and watch as the entire picture unfolds.

ST

Oct 11, 2021
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is going to want to "go kinetic" on the ground where it holds all the cards. CCP knows its hand will get stronger if they can spill foreign soldiers blood without paying much if any consequence.

Levina

Oct 10, 2021
A well articulated and researched article by Sandeep Dhawan.

D'Nanda Dunham

Oct 09, 2021
As ever, Commander, thank you for untangling this web of tribal relationships, economic incentives, and those people caught between the two. Your ongoing efforts are most welcome and appreciated!

P K Misra

Oct 09, 2021
Excellent article. Hope it doesn't materialise. India need to be extra cautious.

Cdr Deepak Singh

Oct 09, 2021
Very well written Sandeep as usual. 1. December 2014 massacre in the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar was partly avenged because it was attack on Army School. Thereafter all quite. 2. Democracy or no Democracy, the Army rules. Don't we agree that what Imran Khan has talked to Turkish media is all what Army printed and gave him the script ? 3. Why has he not talked to (the corrupt) Western media ? 4. China is predictable, they will be in where ever Vacuum of Democracy/Politics exists. There own economy, as in Real Estate and Power sector is in bad shape. Countries where China invested are struggling to get out of the deals. Examples not required. Even Communist ruled Nepal has awoken and are back to India, though slow. 5. Confused Pakistan is in Crisis Management and this is not going to help there so called Democracy or Economy. They don't even want to be advised except from Chine or Turkey. India Pakistan trade revival itself can give them a great Reprieve. Pakistani Businessmen, and Farmers especially said so during an interview. Keep writing and posting to me. Best of luck Cdr Sandeep Dhawan. Much more to say, but I will save that for next comment.

Shaunak Muzumdar

Oct 09, 2021
But can these terrorists organisations be relied upon to honour their words. And if so they till when ? A short lived understanding does not help such a huge project which has a very long gestation period. Moreover, can importers direct the suppliers to send their products through a different route ? Because of the volatile situation.

Sreenivas

Oct 09, 2021
Well written as always and extensively researched. What I don't get is that if this was so important from an economical and commercial perspective why did President Biden just walk away. It looks like he gifted them Afghanistan on a platter for something else.

The Curious Case of Pakistan, China, TTP and BRI - Insightful Geopolitics

Oct 09, 2021
[…] The Curious Case of Pakistan, China, TTP and BRI […]

Narenkashib

Oct 09, 2021
Clearly, Afghanistan is emerging as the playing field for China & Pakistan with relative exclusivity...TTP or any other outfit are being propped up to have a consolidation of these dark, macabre and destructive forces...China is exploiting Pakistan's bankruptcy to have their way...however, this arrangement is as facile and tentative as it can possibly be...2 years down the line the entire amorphous forces will end up fighting with each other with disastrous consequences for Pakistan....the world will stay out of it entirely....India has to be on the guard in the interim period....POK too might subsequently become an easy picking for us

Rajiv Gaur

Oct 09, 2021
Nice informative analysis. Let's wait and watch. Ability of Taliban government to manage political and economic issues would decide the future. Natural resources may help them for some time. Drugs and terror business may be too dangerous for the region. My Assessment Pakistan would go in circles and might increase terror attacks on India as diversion tactics.

Ajay Sharma

Oct 09, 2021
Very well analyzed. Every Pakistan govt takes support of terrorist organizations to survive. This is another attempt. Fortunately, the current Indian govt is proactive in reading Pakistan govt misdeeds.

SHAMIT BISWAS

Oct 09, 2021
Realpolitik that can turn both ways for Pakistan. In any case India will have to prepare and be vigilant for both China and Pakistan misadventures. A good pragmatic analysis of the complexities of the on ground situation.

Jas Dhali

Oct 08, 2021
Par Excellento Very well analysed God Speed

Gopu Sundararajan

Oct 08, 2021
Excellent article. What an appropriate time to bring this out . There are always 2 sides to the coin and I see you have done an indepth research in bringing out all the probabilities. Nice analysis and well represented.

GP Singh

Oct 08, 2021
Nicely analysed. While the objectives of Taliban with respect to China may be achievable , it will not be same with respect to India. Resurgence of Indian nationalism under under a charismatic leadership , resilient economy , innovative fertile Indian brains - all point towards a more secure, confident and decisive nation. One thing alone that tends to bleed the nation from within is the constant manipulation of social order by various groups with vested interests and with active role of hostile foreign powers. But gradually we will learn to defeat those tendencies and rise as a great nation. It may not take more than 10 years for that. Jai Hind !

Sanjay

Oct 08, 2021
How about the Pakistani army officers who lost their kids to TTP ?. Under big politics there are personal emotions of key players. But then again it’s Pakistan we are talking about. They have a long history of making opportunistic deals. Little matters of principles were never a obstruction for them. In fact the only truth and single pointed goal they live by is destruction of India . China is a willing and encouraging sugar daddy for that ambition. Apart from that they have no goals and ambitions for their own country. India. Defines their existence A country with close to zero forex reserves and debt that exceeds their GDP, zero industry, no exports except footballs and donkeys to the Chinese food industry. The only thing they do is buy arms and build atom bombs . It’s a country that behaves like a OCD kids with a obsessive bad habit. Best of luck to them. In your various calculations , they will do what China wants. They have no option. It’s the only thing they can do. Their next meal depends on the next Chinese hand out . They don’t have friends even in the Islamic world except perhaps Turkey, the other wannabe trying for the throne of the Islamic realms

NKD

Oct 08, 2021
TTP is comprised of various groups with different sectarian backgrounds, individual TTP commanders may differ in their prioritization of the organization’s aforementioned goals. Certain TTP leaders, such as Baitullah Mehsud, have also referenced global jihad as a means to rescue fellow Muslims from occupation, spread Shariah law.

Raman Gupta

Oct 08, 2021
A very logical analysis. Hope the dire outcome is prevented from coming to pass

Col Deovrat Pagay

Oct 08, 2021
It is the Pakistan Army bearing the brunt! Pashtuns have suffered because of their atrocities, which in-fact has hardened them!! Fragmentation of Pakistan is the likely possibility. Wait and watch.

Dhirender Gaur

Oct 08, 2021
India is revamping its defence strategy in three broad ways - processes, procurement and partnerships. It is integrating its armed forces, upgrading weapons and strengthening its military alliances. And your article is very enriching. Regards,

Birdy

Oct 08, 2021
Logical and insightful write up!

Sukhjit singh

Oct 08, 2021
Very well researched article.Time is of essence, indian policy makers have to wake up to this new reality and get to work. Till date we have generally been reactive, time to raise the ante.

Sameer

Oct 08, 2021
Very nice, well researched article once again Capt Sandeep 👍

Rakesh P

Oct 07, 2021
The China-Pakistan nexus would doom this world one day. I am sure better sense would prevail & TTP would not fall for their antics.

Wendell Bruges

Oct 07, 2021
We already see one of the demands of TTP being met, change in the leadership of ISI. I feel TTP would not join hands with the Pakistani government or army. Pakistan may try as much as they like. Thank you for giving us insight into this all-important topic, Commander.

ASHOK IYER

Oct 06, 2021
I don’t think that Pakistan will encourage its terrorists to launch any major terror attack inside India. India’s furious response after the Pulwama attack and the very fact that it was ready to go for war with Pakistan over the capture of Wing Commander Abhinadan made the Pakistani Establishment realize that this was a different India that they were dealing with. Unlike the various pacifist governments of the past, this is an extremely strong and focused government which has revived Indian nationalism amongst the populace to unprecedented levels post 1947. This was clearly evident after the Galwan incident. The Pakistani Establishment has already accepted the fact that they can never get hold of Indian Jammu and Kashmir. After having lost four wars, the Pakistani military knows that they have no chance against India in any conventional battle so they’ll not like to see any major terror incident inside India because India’s retaliation would be too costly for them. I agree with the author that a strong anti-India stance is the raison d’être for the Pakistani military. It is the main mantra that guarantees it the support of the Pakistani populace. Any change in that position will leave them with no justifications for claiming a large chunk of the Pakistani budget for defense expenditure. However, after seeing India’s military might and its extremely potent nationalistic spirit, it will definitely not endeavour to launch any major terror attack against India. China too would not like any major aggression by India against Pakistan as that would destabilize the entire AF-PAK region thus seriously affecting their BRI plans. So, they’ll keep enough pressure on the Pakistani Establishment to make sure that they don’t try anything big against India. The Pakistani Establishment knows that, given its current reputation, even if they shift all terror training camps to Afghanistan, nobody in the international will believe that Pakistan has nothing to do with terrorism emanating from there and there will be full international support for any Indian retaliation. Terror groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba etc. need to maintain a strong anti-India stance in order to ensure the flow of funds from radical donors in the Middle East and elsewhere. However, the Pakistani Military will not allow them to do anything big against India. Nevertheless, in order to satisfy their radical donors, at the most, these groups are likely to only conduct minor attacks against India. In my opinion, China is walking into a major trap inside Afghanistan. There is no unity amongst the various factions of the Afghan Taliban. It’s the same case when it comes to the various factions of the Pakistani Taliban too. Similarly, there is no unity amongst other terror groups working in the region. Western funders of some of these terror groups are going to ensure a serious nightmare for China in Afghanistan. A highly volatile AF-PAK region with China having a leg stuck in there makes the upcoming scenario actually looks quite favourable for India.

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