Pakistani military, Afghan Taliban exchange fire along the border

Pakistani military, Afghan Taliban exchange fire along the border

The Afghan Taliban launched attacks across the border into Pakistan on Monday in response to Pakistani military airstrikes in eastern Afghanistan. The Pakistani military, which helped the Afghan Taliban seize control of the country, targeted members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which is sheltered and supported by the Afghan Taliban and is a a close ally of Al Qaeda.

Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the military “carried out intelligence-based anti-terrorist operations in the border regions inside Afghanistan” against members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) and the allied Pakistan-based Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the two Taliban groups are “responsible for multiple terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, resulting in deaths of hundreds of civilians and law enforcement officials.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesman for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the official name of the Taliban, said the Pakistani airstrikes took place in the eastern provinces of Paktika and Khost, and that five women and three children were killed. Paktika and Khost are strongholds of the Haqqani Network, the Powerful Taliban subgroup that is led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, one of two Taliban deputy emirs as well as the country’s interior minster.

“The person named Abdullah Shah, who the Pakistani side claims was targeted in the incident, is in Pakistan,” Mujahid said, while condemning the airstrikes. A video of Shah purporting to show him to be alive and in Pakistan later emerged.

“Pakistan should not blame Afghanistan for the lack of control, incompetence, and problems in its own territory,” Mujahid continued. “Such incidents have very bad consequences which will be out of Pakistan’s control.”

The Afghan Taliban responded to Pakistani airstrikes by firing mortars and artillery targeting military facilities in Pakistan.

“In response to this aggression, the border forces of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan targeted Pakistan’s military centers along the fictitious line [the Durand line, the disputed border between Pakistan and Afghanistan] with heavy weapons,” according to a statement published on X by the Taliban’s Ministry of Defense.

At the end of Mujahid’s statement, he claimed that “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan does not allow anyone to harm anyone’s security by using the territory of Afghanistan.” This is a common Taliban refrain whenever it is accused of sheltering foreign terrorists.

Mujahid’s claim is patently false and easily disproved. For instance, for the TTP alone, some of its top leaders, including former emir Mullah Fazlullah and influential TTP leader Omar Khalid Khurasani have been killed in airstrikes in Afghanistan. The United Nations Security Council’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team reported in June 2023 that between 4,000 and 6,000 TTP fighters operate in Afghanistan, while Al Qaeda is actively training TTP suicide bombers at training camps in the Afghan province of Kunar. TTP emir Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud is believed to be based in Paktika province, while his deputy, Qari Amjad Ali, shelters in Kunar.

Top Al Qaeda leaders, including Ayman al Zawahiri and Abu Khalil al Sudani, have been killed or captured in Afghanistan, as have scores of senior and mid-level commanders and operatives and thousands of fighters. More than 250 Al Qaeda commanders and fighters were killed or captured during 2016 alone. According to the United Nations Security Council’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team’s latest report, Al Qaeda is now operating training camps in 10 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, as well as madrasa or religious schools in five provinces, safe houses in multiple provinces, and a weapons storage depot and a media operations center. Other Al Qaeda affiliated and linked groups, such as the Turkistan Islamic Party, the Movement of the Taliban in Tajikistan, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and LAshkar -e-Taiba, are known to operate in Afghanistan with the approval and support of the Taliban.

Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was clear that there is a “presence of terror outfits including TTP inside Afghanistan” and these groups “have consistently used Afghan territory to launch terror attacks inside Pakistani territory. “

“We have repeatedly urged the Afghan authorities to take concrete and effective action to ensure that the Afghan soil is not used as a staging ground for terrorism against Pakistan. We have also called on them to deny safe havens to TTP and to hand over its leadership to Pakistan,” Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated.

Despite Pakistan’s objections to the Afghan Taliban’s sheltering of the TTP, it is unlikely that the recent border clashes between the two will spiral out of control, as Mujahid suggested may happen. As Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted, recent TTP attacks have resulted in the “deaths of hundreds of civilians and law enforcement officials.”

In contrast, during the height of the TTP insurgency in Pakistan from 2007 to 2015, an estimated 100,000 Pakistani civilians, soldiers, security personnel and politicians were killed in fighting throughout Pakistan, including in terror attacks in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, and other major cities. Despite this wanton violence, the Pakistan military and intelligence services continued to back the Afghan Taliban as it sought to overthrow the now-defunct Afghan government and eject U.S. forces from Afghanistan. The Pakistani establishment backed the Afghan Taliban with full knowledge that it sheltered and supported the TTP.

The Pakistani establishment tolerated the slaughter of its civilians and security personnel in order to bring the Taliban to power and achieve and maintain “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. To compensate for its inability to achieve victory on conventional battlefields against India, Pakistan implemented its policy of gaining strategic depth in Afghanistan. Pakistan has supported groups in Afghanistan in order to deny India influence in its backyard, as well as to allow the nation to serve as a fallback in case of an Indian invasion.

With the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in Aug. 2021, the Pakistani state achieved its goal, a goal that cynically cost the lives of tens of thousands of Pakistanis. Whatever disputes the Pakistani state has with the Taliban, it is unlikely that its strategic depth with respect to India and strategic relations with the Taliban will now suddenly be discarded for the lives of hundreds of Pakistani citizens.

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