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Afghanistan turmoil

Taliban likely to put squeeze on Pakistani militants: experts

Regime change in Afghanistan could mean less terrorism for Islamabad

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan may give Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, foreground, a boost, at least in terms of domestic security. (Nikkei montage/AP)

KARACHI -- The fall of Kabul to the Taliban is raising concerns globally that Afghanistan could become a breeding ground for violent extremists but some experts say that the new regime is likely to clamp down on Pakistani militants.

Analysts who know the region well say that the Pakistani Taliban, known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and Baloch separatists could be reined in by the new Afghan regime.

Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban's spokesman, said at his first news conference on Tuesday that the Taliban would not seek retribution against former soldiers and members of the Western-backed government, and insisted that "everyone is forgiven." He also claimed that Afghanistan would not harbor anyone targeting other nations.

In response to the rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan's cabinet held an emergency meeting of the National Security Committee on Monday. The Taliban were urged at the meeting "to respect the rule of law, protect the fundamental human rights of all Afghans and ensure that Afghan soil is not used by any terrorist organization against any country," according to a statement issued by the government.

Over the last two months, there have been reports about Taliban fighters raiding homes, killing women and executing those who had worked for the West. As such, there is still much skepticism over their claims of benevolence toward women and those who had worked against them.

A source with close links to the Afghan Taliban, however, told Nikkei Asia on condition of anonymity that the Taliban will honor their commitment not to allow Afghanistan to become a launchpad for global terrorism. "The [Afghan] Taliban will ensure that the TTP and [Baloch separatist groups] do not operate from Afghanistan anymore," said the source. He added that this might take some time, as the Taliban still needs to establish its writ in border areas.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center in Washington, told Nikkei that the emerging Taliban government in Afghanistan represents Pakistan's ideal endgame: a pro-Pakistan government established without the use of force. He was referring to the virtually unopposed fall of Kabul and most provincial capitals, where Afghan National Defense Forces surrendered to the Taliban instead of putting up a fight.

Pakistan and Taliban flags flutter in the breeze as people walk through a border checkpoint between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Chaman, Pakistan, on Aug. 18.   © AP

Other experts also believe the Afghan Taliban will not allow the TTP to be a problem for Pakistan anymore. The TTP was founded in 2007 to enforce Shariah in Pakistan by carrying out acts of terrorism. Lately the TTP has changed its goals, declaring Pakistan's tribal belt on the Afghan border an independent Islamic state.

Fakhar Kakakhel, an independent analyst specializing in militancy in Pakistan, believes most TTP fighters will simply join the Afghan Taliban and switch allegiance. "The recent release of TTP militants from different prisons in Afghanistan, and how they are welcomed, is a sign of such future strategy," Kakakhel said.

Przemyslaw Lesinski, an Afghanistan expert at the War Studies University in Warsaw, said the Afghan Taliban government will not actively promote jihadist ideology in Pakistan. "If the new Kabul rulers want to maintain good relations with their neighbors, at some point they will have to curb at least part of the activities of the foreign fighters in Afghanistan, with the Pakistani Taliban among them," he said.

Experts also believe Pakistan's other militancy problem -- violent Baloch separatism -- will be discouraged by the Taliban regime. Baloch separatists have a waged a low-level insurgency in Pakistan since 2004 and have openly threatened China to halt Belt and Road projects in southwestern Balochistan Province.

Militia loyal to a mujahideen commander talk after a skirmish between Taliban and Afghan security forces in Herat Province on Aug 6. Many Afghans blame Pakistan for the insurgents' victory.   © AP

"Given that Baloch separatists go after Chinese targets in Pakistan, both Islamabad and Beijing will press the Taliban to move on these groups, said Kugelman. He added there is little reason to believe the Taliban has an interest in sheltering Baloch separatists, especially given that the Taliban is no friend of the separatists, who have sympathizers in India and are enemies of Pakistan.

Kakakhel said both the TTP and Baloch insurgents were actively supported by India through Afghanistan. "[Now the] Indians have zero space in Afghanistan. If such support is not available to the TTP and Baloch insurgents, [it will be] next to impossible for such elements to survive, until and unless they get support from some other country outside Afghanistan."

But while the change of regime in Kabul is a win for Pakistan in terms of its geostrategic interests, forcing the Taliban to act against the TTP and Baloch separatists will not be easy. Lesinski is of the view that, unfortunately for Islamabad, most of the leverage that it had over the Taliban is gone and that Pakistan will have to figure out how to apply pressure on the new Kabul government.

Kugelman argues Pakistan will face tough negotiations with the Taliban if wants them to deny space to the TTP. "The two Taliban groups may be different organizations with different goals and attack targets, but they're cut from the same ideological cloth," he said.

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