From Dr Hamid Hussain. As usual, he has some interesting tidbits about who did what, even if you disagree with his analysis. I am also attaching a later exchange between Dr Hussain and a British analyst.
Questions from a senior Pakistani army officer and my response to them. First segment carries his views and the second segment mine.
Dear Hamid, AOA.
Thank you for sharing your usual rational and pragmatic analysis.
The reasons put forward by former intelligence officer about rapprochement with TTP are both concocted and devoid of logic. In the past also there have been many abortive deals with TTP, which have never worked.
TTA (Afghan Taliban) & TTP (Pakistani Taliban) have always collaborated with each other, at least, in sharing intelligence . Both are Deobandis and have elements in each, which have come from the other. The public opinion in Pakistan resents this deal because of the loss of thousands of lives and APS (Public School), Peshawar tragedy. There is definite proof of RAW & Afghan intelligence masterminding most incidents in Pakistan (for sure Kamra & Mehran bases). Pakistan has even presented these evidence dossiers to UN Secy Gen. What moral justification or credibility we have then to strike a deal with a terrorist organisation both from international and domestic perspectives?
Even if there is a deal, what stops TTP or even Taliban to launch a terrorist attack inside Pakistan and blame it on a splinter group of TTP? The critical question is of funding . TTP were foreign funded for the acts at the behest of sponsors. If they are unable to undertake these terrorist acts, how would they be sustained, recruited and pay to the members?
If you link the TTP deal with TLP (Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan), for a temporary truce we have lost the war.
Best Regards, Army Officer
24 December 2021
Thanks, Sir, for your insight. Sorry for the delayed response as I am busy with many chores and some hectic travels.
TTA & TTP: You have highlighted the ideological, infrastructure, recruitment and financial relationships between two entities. The problem for the Pakistan army was perception management for both domestic & foreign audiences. It was supporting TTA but fighting TTP, therefore, it tried to convince the Pakistani public that the two entities were different although privately there were concerns about symbiotic relationship between the two. Hope was that with TTA having a major say in running Afghanistan (no one expected that Taliban will walk over after making a deal with US) will be able to rein in TTP. My view was that it was a wrong assumption and lack of grasp of recent Afghan history despite deep involvement.
It created a difficult situation in dealing with Americans. Pakistan was telling Americans to bring TTA inside the tent while asking them to help Pakistan take out TTP not only in Afghanistan sanctuaries but even inside FATA.
The U.S. kept telling army brass at highest levels about the risks long before TTP emerged on the scene, and I tended to agree with U.S. concerns as I saw support of TTA as a high-risk gambit for Pakistan. Once TTP came on the stage with a big bang, it shocked the Pakistan army. For a variety of reasons, initial mishandling complicated the situation. Later, heavy lifting and sacrifices by the Pakistan army helped to severely degrade TTP and rout them from entrenched areas. However, in early stages, U.S. drone strikes to take out TTP leadership saved many Pakistani lives. I supported this action as I saw benefits in the short term outweighing risks as re-orientation of the army in doctrine, training etc. needed some time.
TTP, NDS (Afghan intelligence) & India: Outsiders cannot create monsters. They simply take advantage of an internal problem as they see it suitable for their own interests. Internal and external factors are then intertwined in the web of deceits. Each side then peddles its own narrative. Looking from an Indian perspective, Pakistani support to Kashmiri and Sikh militants fell into the same category. This has a long history and there is no way out except engagement and reaching minimum consensus about a détente on this issue. Each side has to look at this as not a favor to the other but as a sane policy option. Unfortunately, entrenchment of hardliners on both sides of the border will make this a daunting task.
Non-Talib Afghans saw the Taliban simply as tools of Pakistan and blamed Pakistan for all the violence. There was already a trust deficit involving almost all segments of Afghan society and rising violence inside Afghanistan upped anti-Pakistan sentiment that resulted in policy change. TTP, NDS & India is a late phenomenon. NDS decided to pay back Pakistan in the same coin and only India could help in this venture (this later expanded to supporting Baloch militants). Afghans wanted to use this as a bargaining chip to negotiate with Pakistan. “You stop supporting my terrorist, and I will stop supporting your terrorist.” Washington was caught in the middle. In the early part of the game when violence was not high paced on both sides, Washington kept Afghans on a tight leash as everything was being routed through General Musharraf. I’m aware of the fact that when Akbar Bugti got into a fight with General Musharraf, before moving to the hills where he was finally killed by the Pakistan army, he asked the Kabul government for safe passage. Karzai ran this request by the Americans who vetoed the idea. Same was true for Pakistani militants.
Later, when Americans got angry with Pakistan, they made no objection to NDS supporting Baloch militants with the help of Indians. TTP was a different animal and Americans actively supported Pakistan by taking out TTP leadership both in FATA and inside Afghanistan. First and second tier TTP leadership was eliminated by Americans. They hoped that Pakistan may return this favor by at least curtailing support of TTA as they were realistic enough to know that Pakistan could not and will not take any strong action against TTA. Pakistan only tightened screws on those elements of TTA who were trying to directly make a deal with the Afghan government or Washington behind Pakistan’s back. Here came the complicated issue where some American military and intelligence issues came in conflict with NDS projects who decided to actively use the TTP card.
One such case was of Latifullah Mahsud (a close confidant of Baitullah & Hakimullah Mahsud and close liaison with different militant outfits). In 2013, U.S. Special Forces snatched Latifullah from Afghan intelligence custody in Logar. Details are a bit murky, but my own assessment is that he went to Afghanistan on invitation of Afghan intelligence for negotiations and was traveling in a security/intelligence convoy on his way to Kabul. Part of this version came from Logar governor Arsala Jamal (later killed in a suicide bombing) and confirmation that he was snatched by Americans from Muhammad Agha district of Logar bordering Kabul. In 2014, Americans handed Laftifullah to Pakistan and after a death sentence by a military court, he was executed in 2016). Karzai wanted to use it as a bargaining chip in his negotiations with Pakistan but there is another angle that not too many people are aware of. Karzai wanted to use TTP leaders to help jump start direct negotiations with Haqqanis. The closest relationship of TTP with any Afghan group is that with Haqqanis. Both parties had different outlook on the operational side, but they shared facilities and used the same networks and economic channels. There was direct relationship & contact between leadership (I’m aware of cases where the Pakistan army used Haqqanis to lift sieges of Pakistani troops by TTP and negotiate release of abducted security personnel). This was the reason that Karzai wanted to use the TTP channel. After Pakistan army operations, a number of militants crossed over into Afghanistan creating equilibrium in ‘nuisance’. Now, when Pakistan asked Afghans and Americans to stop TTP from using Afghan sanctuary, prompt came the reply that Pakistanis should do the same in case of TTA. Mutual mistrust, anger and outright hatred provided adequate material for all sides to engage in Byzantine intrigues. There were no innocent bystanders in this game but active players.
TTP & Funding: Prior to military operations on the Pakistan side, TTP was the de facto authority holding a large swath of territory covering several thousand square miles. A territory that is a major trade route of legal and illegal trades running in hundreds of millions of dollars. In addition, they generated income from levying taxes on all business activities, high ticket bank robberies and ransom payments from high profile kidnappings (payments from only three high profile kidnappings of son of a business tycoon also son-in-law of a former four star general, sons of a former prime minister and a former governor run into over $100 million.) Of course, funding from hostile agencies contributed but in my view that is only a fraction of homegrown resources. Currently, with Pakistan taking back control of the territory has changed the dynamics and drying up of most of the local resources. However, the problem has also evolved. Now, TTP is not running a de facto emirate and its operations are low cost hit and run of remote security posts, planting an IED on the road or target killing of local opponents or security personnel. These are low-cost operations and do not need huge funding. TTP can carry out these operations from local resources even in the absence of foreign funding. In my view, Pakistan is in a much better position now and proactive and robust posture not allowing entrenchment of TTP cadres in former FATA or small cells in urban centers can be achieved. Tackling TTP presence in Afghanistan needs a multifaceted approach.
Continued engagement with Taliban emirate and nudging them to prevent expansion of TTP sanctuaries. In view of the historical relationship of TTP with TTA and especially Haqqanis, it is not likely that they will take direct military action against TTP. Using local Afghan assets outside of Taliban circles for intelligence gathering and selective elimination discreetly and without fingerprints needs more skills and less bravado. Public berating of Taliban emirate or botched attempts inside Afghanistan (see exhibit A: throwing a dud from a drone on Maulvi Faqir house) carry the risk of adding friction.
TTP & Negotiations: For starters, Pakistan cannot afford to permanently deploy more than half of its army in forward posture with no end in sight. Negotiations is not a stand alone question but closely linked with thorny issues of forced disappearances, internment centers and extra-judicial killings (this has markedly decreased after completion of large scale kinetic operations but still an issue that needs to be addressed). This is a tricky question and, in my view, needs a little more public debate. Any policy no matter how good will not bear any fruit if the Pakistan army cannot sell it to its own public. The major flaw in this exercise was going alone and only in a clandestine way resulting in scathing criticism from a large segment of the population and in the end a hasty retreat. In the early stage, discreet and secret negotiations are essential but after groundwork, windows need to be opened. Optics play an important role therefore the army needs to take a long view and not get carried away with the rhetoric. One day, a Corp Commander is garlanding the militant leader calling him brother in faith, next day he is a misguided fellow, then agent of India, Afghanistan, United States & Israel, then a disgrace to Islam and almost an apostate and then turn around declaring that the chap has repented and again our brother. It looks more like a comic opera. This is not only the fault of the army as confusion in the society about religiously motivated militancy is at play and the army must work in the same society.
At a fundamental level, it is important to understand the difference between a foreign force operating in an alien territory and a national army operating in its own internationally recognized boundaries. In the latter case, one can not simply fire or bomb itself to victory. Kinetic operations have an important role in the initial phase to take back the territory, but then other instruments are needed for disarmament, re-integration etc. In this phase, civilian partners no matter how imperfect are essential. In the case of Pakistan, the majority of the population fully supported the army in its war against TTP. This included all major political forces, ethnic groups, minorities & even large segments of religious groups. In my view, two missteps by the army brass; the political engineering project with unintended consequence of putting diverse groups of population against the army and mishandling of Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement – PTM (despite warning from some well-informed Pushtun army officers with firsthand experience about the issues) had negative impact on the whole exercise. A certain amount of buy in especially from local communities is essential for two reasons. First, reconciliation and then re-integration. In the absence of first, locals will be bystanders in a vital process as well as revenge killings and in case of later deep mistrust of local population about the whole project and state will need to spend huge intelligence resources to monitor those who come back to their communities.
In my view, use of local traditional instruments of reconciliation where aggrieved parties are satisfied and especially foot soldiers get pardon from their own communities is the first step. Reintegration where local and tribal elders take responsibility for supervision of those who have laid arms. Even these measures will be effective only in case of foot soldiers. Luckily, most high profile TTP leaders whose faces and names were associated with terrible atrocities have left this world to meet their Lord and second and third tier leaders are not well known. If they renounce militancy, they can be re-integrated in their own communities. These are not easy tasks and need patient and sustained work. Trust deficit is the major handicap. There is no quick fix or a perfect solution. It is trying to learn from errors, shed some hubris and aim for an end state that can be managed by available resources. Violence will always be present in various forms but the goal is to keep it below a certain threshold where it does not impede daily life of the majority of the citizens.
Note: My views are based on my own work about the region and interactions with a large number of folks from different backgrounds including Pakistanis, Americans, Afghans, Indians. This helps me to understand their perspectives and as always, the case, agreement as well as disagreement with certain aspects.
“Neither to laugh; nor cry
Just to understand”. Spinoza