The Connection Between Afghan Settlement, TTP, And Middle East

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Context
As the new government in Pakistan settles in, Afghan reconciliation appears to be picking pace. The opening of the Taliban political office in Doha marks a new phase. On the other hand, in the aftermath of the death of TTP deputy Wali ur Rehman, a fresh wave of terror is also unfolding in earnest as the politicians talk of peace with TTP.

If the promised TTP revenge attacks were not enough, the recent events of Balochistan reflect on the multidimensional nature of the threat faced by Pakistan. As pointed out in previous articles, irrespective of its grandeur vision, PML-N government will not be able to achieve much without stabilizing the security situation. Economics and trade simply does not work when people are being blown to oblivion.

With two PTI members of KPK parliament already dead, its future prospects do not look bright unless something dramatically different is adopted. It’s not that previous governments did not attempt peace with TTP. However, each one of these peace deals failed. The real question is what would be different about any fresh initiative.

Previous attempts were made while the NATO forces were still persisting with a kinetic approach in Afghanistan and political solution was nowhere in sight. Now, they have admitted that the final solution to the conflict would have to be a negotiated one. More than that, the ties between different militant and jihadist groups need to be understood in the context of what is transpiring in the Levant.

Analysis

TTP-Afghan Taliban Relations

One of the most puzzling elements of the Afghan quagmire has to do with the nature of ties between Afghan Taliban and TTP. While the Afghan Taliban had primarily been focused on targeting the coalition forces in Afghanistan, there is no doubt they have benefited from the support it gets from TTP.

However, now that Afghan Taliban have a seat at the negotiation table, how will this impact TTP? In a previous assessment, the debilitating impact of this change on TTP was noted: they are likely to feel cornered. Over time, as the settlement talks progress further in Afghanistan, the nature and direction of the ties between Afghan Taliban and TTP, would be revealed further.

Like Afghan Taliban, TTP also accepts Mullah Omar as their Amir ul Mominin. Will TTP obey a potential call from Mullah Omar to lay down their arms, as the justification for jihad evaporates with the planned American/NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan? Furthermore, under pressure from Pakistan, will Afghan Taliban reciprocate a possible TTP call for assistance and safe havens in Afghanistan? And, what happens if Afghan Taliban responds in negative to TTP’s call.

TTP, Jihadi And Sectarian Groups

Another dimension of the fresh peace talks with TTP will involve the response from other Jihadi and sectarian organizations. Will they continue to lend support to TTP or break with it, as the clause of foreign occupation of Afghanistan dissipates? These groups involve India oriented outfits and other sectarian groups that are the cause of havoc in Balochistan, Karachi, and parts of KPK. While the above amalgamation of militant groups may have helped out Afghan Taliban, their sources of inspiration are believed to be broader and may not be tamed with the calming of Afghan conflict.

The sentiments of these groups would be critical to watch in the aftermath of the calls for Jihad against Shiites in Syria, which are emanating from eminent Sunni scholars of the Arab world.
Increasing attacks against Shiites in Pakistan would be a dangerous trend in this direction. Secondly, it would be important to see if militants belonging to such groups are making their way to Syria. There are reports that such migration has also already started from places like Egypt, Jordan and North Africa, and at an unprecedented pace.

Dealing with Extremist Groups

In the past, certain countries often facilitated or hampered such migration of militants. After all, this push and pull resulted in the formation of AQ. In the past, one of the motives to get rid of such extreme elements was to make them a problem for someone else. But, the challenge reverberated when the fighters that survived the Afghan jihad, returned home. They came to be known as the Arab Afghans and were the source of cross-pollinating the lessons they had learned locally. In essence, the Afghan Jihad unleashed the genie out of the bottle.

While Hosni Mubarak kept a tight lid on such ideologues, under pressure from his constituency, Mohammed Mursi also joined in the call for Jihad in Syria against Assad regime. He declared last week, “Sunni blood isn’t cheap.”

Thus the question becomes, what reaction can be expected to these Sunni Arab calls for jihad from the AfPak region, and how will this impact the negotiations with TTP and Afghan settlement.

Will the South Asian Islamic militants cause havoc locally or migrate to locations where the action is taking place. Will they focus on triggering a jihad with Hind, or will the Afghan conflict morph in to another front of a larger Shiite-Sunni battle, especially if the settlement proves to be elusive. There are unconfirmed reports that some of the websites belonging to these militant groups are already relaying coverage of events in the Levant.

Longer the Afghan settlement drags out and the Syrian conflicts worsens, the distinction between groups with local agenda and ones with regional and global aims, will become increasingly meaningless.

The question may arise, however, regarding the benefit of driving the focus of these militant groups towards Middle East, so as to calm the neighborhood for the time being. But, that is how we arrived at the present predicament. It appears that the genie that left the bottle will never be encapsulated again, and that is indeed a risky proposition.