After the withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan and the ascendance of the Taliban to the corridors of power, a sense of jubilation engulfed Pakistan as the security establishment felt it had achieved its much-desired objective of strategic depth. The then spy chief, General Faiz Hameed of the Pakistan Army was seen in Kabul assuring the Taliban of the coming good times. The army also sent a message to the world that it was the sole authority that could influence the Taliban. Within a year after the fall of Kabul, the TTP was back in the Pashtun areas and threatened to spread its influence into neighbouring Punjab. Despite public protests, the TTP became more active in Pashtun areas, and at the same time, incidents of violence and targeted killings increased sharply; the latest being the attack on a Counter Terror Department in Bannu. The TTP’s armed presence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is once again shaking locals’ faith in security and law enforcement agencies. With the announcement of counter-terror operations in Pashtun areas, the unease among locals is palpable due to the memories of large-scale displacements from the erstwhile Tribal Areas in the last decade.
Ominous signs of the rising extremist tendencies were conveyed in advance by human rights activists from the region. The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, ever since its inception in 2018, began documenting these developments, warning Pakistan against its policies of segregating the Good Taliban and the Bad Taliban. After two decades of the War on Terror, which primarily targeted the Pashtun Areas, it is now clear even to Pakistan that there is no segregation between the two groups since the latter pledged allegiance to the Afghan Taliban. The rise in attacks from the TTP has prompted Pakistan to reevaluate its strategic depth policy. The Pashtun people have been saying for a long time that the TTP and Afghan Taliban operate with a common objective.
The PTM has documented that an estimated 80,000 Pashtuns have been killed in the War on Terror, and about 8,000 Pashtun youths have gone missing. More than 200,000 Pashtun houses were demolished, hundreds of Pashtun-owned businesses and markets were demolished, and over a million Pashtuns were evicted from the Tribal Areas and kept in refugee camps. Despite these sweeping operations, terrorism is far from being eradicated. On the other hand, despite PTM’s demand, the state of Pakistan is not ready to form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the emotional injuries suffered by the Pashtuns.
Pakistan’s security institutions expected that the Taliban, besides stabilizing Afghanistan, would also help them in checking the rise of TTP. The Pashtun nation has now become aware of the existence of Pashtun Protection and as expected the Taliban deny giving any support to the TTP. The PTM, on the other hand, predicted such a scenario and mobilized its cadre to spread awareness across the tribal belt. Peaceful demonstrations have taken place in Malakand, Dir, Upper Dir, Khyber Agency, Thira, Bajaur and other areas. Preparations have been made regarding upcoming demonstrations in South Waziristan, Swabi and other areas. In these protests, the authorities tried to stop PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen from participating, but he has been defying such pressures. The Pashtun nation has nothing to do with terrorism and the Pashtuns will not tolerate extremists and militarization of their territories anymore. And the Pakistani security agencies must refrain from accepting any foreign aid in the name of counter-terrorism. They need to learn from the mistakes of the past.