What will the future of Pakistan be?

Working papers

Pakistan - From a supporter of the Taliban to an enemy of the Taliban

It's been almost 15 years now. While western troops tried to eliminate the remaining Taliban positions in the course of the US intervention in Afghanistan, a new core unit - the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) - was formed from the Afghan Taliban fighters who had fled. This fundamental Islamist group was able to settle in the Pashtun tribal areas in the Afghan-Pakistani border region. She survived mainly through donations from Pakistani and Saudi Arabian private accounts of ultra-conservative Islamic foundations and associations. While in Pakistan a fundamental Islam had already spread in parts of society in the 1990s, it took on a completely new dimension with the establishment of the Pakistani Taliban in the autonomous tribal areas and in the province of Balochistan between 2002 and 2007.

Islamabad initially reacted with caution to these developments, since for years the Afghan Taliban had been equipped and trained by its own intelligence service, the ISI. In addition, the then President Pervez Musharraf developed a tolerance towards conservative Islam, which gradually expanded its influence on politics and the military with the formation of new Koran schools (madrassas). However, over the years from 2007 onwards, three tendencies became increasingly clear: Firstly, it was regularly observed how Pakistani equipment, which was originally intended for the Afghan Taliban, made its way back across the border to the Pakistani Taliban. This made it clear that the two Taliban organizations had different structures in terms of leadership and personnel, but the common goal of a separate Islamic-Pashtun state bridged the smaller differences and thus enabled partial cooperation between the two Taliban organizations.

Second, Islamabad first made allegations in 2007 that the Indian intelligence service was providing logistical support to the TTP in order to put pressure on the Pakistani government. And thirdly, there has been a lively network between the Pakistani Taliban and Al-Qaeda since the TTP was founded, with the latter attracting attention from 2001 with terrorist attacks against Pakistani institutions. The main reasons for the ongoing radicalization of the Pakistani Taliban were, on the one hand, the drone war of the US armed forces in the Afghan-Pakistani border region from 2002 and, on the other hand, the logistical supply corridor for the NATO armed forces in Afghanistan, which led from Karachi via Peshawar through the tribal areas to Afghanistan and especially in the conservative society of Pakistan and a large part of the clan leadership met with opposition.

When the TTP carried out the first attacks in Pakistan in 2007, the central government initially acted rather half-heartedly and only carried out occasional raids and military operations. After the new President Nawaz Sharif took office in 2013, Islamabad even tried to negotiate with the Taliban under pressure from its own conservative circles. In 2014, several devastating attacks and the execution of 23 captured Pakistani soldiers by the Taliban finally broke off negotiations and a change in Pakistan's attitude towards the Taliban. Against the background of a renewed attack by the Taliban on the country's largest airport in Karachi in June 2014 and increasing pressure from the US government under President Obama, an at least temporary change of heart in the Pakistani government can now be identified.

New forms in the Pakistani fight against terrorism

When the Pakistani military and other security forces first launched a major offensive against Taliban positions in the tribal areas in West Pakistan on June 15, 2014, the international community initially viewed the offensive with caution. Too often the Pakistani governments had announced action against the Taliban and then failed to take decisive action. However, after the operation was declared over after more than a year and a half in April 2016, the results were impressive. With the help of allied tribal fighters, the Pakistani armed forces had cleared large parts of the border areas with Afghanistan and above all the important border district of North Waziristan of influence from the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and also secured the transit routes over the important Khyber Pass to Afghanistan. With the follow-up operation, which lasted until February 2017, the remaining offshoots of the various terrorist groups should then be driven out. Even US analysts spoke of a successful operation and confirmed that the Taliban in Pakistan had largely split up and the remaining former TTP members fled to Afghanistan, where they mostly joined the IS offshoot that was established there from 2015.

But is this new enthusiasm in the Pakistani fight against terrorism sustainable? Much seems to speak for it at the moment. As early as 2010, the Pakistani government had large parts of the Taliban's international leadership council arrested and at the same time frozen the accounts of the TTP and other organizations, and from 2014 support for the Afghan Taliban was largely cut back. Furthermore, the Pakistani military now seems to have acted just as effectively against the network named after the Afghan Taliban fighter Jalaluddin Haqqani. The Haqqani network is the essential core grouping of the international Taliban network. It is behind a whole series of attacks in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan and had close contacts with the Pakistani intelligence service ISI and Al-Qaeda until 2014.

At the beginning of 2018 it actually appears that most of the former 10,000 fighters of the Haqqani network were either killed in action, fled to Afghanistan or went into hiding in the tribal areas. Due to the military weakening of the Haqqani network, it was also severely weakened politically, whereby the rival and mostly more moderate Taliban branches in particular now gradually gain more influence within the Taliban structures. This in turn offers new opportunities for a compromise, especially for the peace process in Afghanistan, since the Haqqanis in particular have so far been its most determined opponents. Another indication of the Pakistani change of heart seems to be Islamabad's new official willingness to talk with the aim of cooperation with neighboring Afghanistan. In the last few months there have been several rounds of negotiations between neighboring countries with the aim of adopting a uniform policy towards the Taliban and ending mutual terrorist financing. A meeting in November 2017 even led to the establishment of a Pakistani-Afghan anti-terrorist unit and the establishment of a joint data exchange system. Last but not least, the desire for stability seems to bring the two formerly hostile governments together, which could bring about new opportunities for cooperation.

Despite all this, there are still signs that contradict a Pakistani rethinking in dealing, especially with the Afghan Taliban. On the one hand, continuous border incidents on the Afghan-Pakistani border, in which soldiers on both sides are regularly killed, continue to affect relations between neighboring countries. In addition, the Indian and Afghan sides have accused Pakistan of supporting terrorist groups such as IS in Afghanistan and parts of the Taliban. Indeed, it is mainly donations from Pakistan that reach the Taliban. However, it can be stated here that the money is now coming less from the state coffers, but increasingly from private portfolios, which are not infrequently based in the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia. The fundamental Islamist madrassa system represents the greatest challenge for the Pakistani-Afghan relationship, as the Koran schools and their religious foundations not only have large financial resources, but are often also recruiting centers for new supporters of the Taliban or even IS.

Change of international protagonists on the Indus

Most of the actors in the region have already been named, but in recent years an influencing factor has established itself which also exerts considerable pressure on Pakistan and has recently been significantly influencing the fate of the country on the Indus: the People's Republic of China. In the course of the new Chinese Silk Road Initiative, de facto the largest development program since the Marshall Plan, and the associated branch projects such as the Sino-Pakistani Economic Corridor (CPEC), the main local actors are increasingly coming into the Chinese focus, which means Beijing in the decisive processes can hardly be ignored anymore. It was also the Chinese influence that ensured that negotiations between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Taliban came about for the first time, with the negotiations in November 2017 already mentioned being just one example.

For Islamabad, it was not only the American influence that led to a rethink in Pakistan with regard to the fight against terrorism, but most recently Beijing's influence on the government around Nawaz Sharif and his successor in office, Shahid Khaqan Abbasit . There is no question that China is primarily pursuing selfish goals, especially towards its rival neighbor India. Because the Middle Kingdom needs for the implementation of its ambitious large-scale projects, such as the economic corridor through Pakistan with a total volume of so far 46 billion. Dollar a safe environment as possible. As a result, Beijing is a thorn in the side of terrorist groups such as the Pakistani Taliban or the separatist movements in Balochistan. Last but not least, Pakistan also plays a role that should not be underestimated for China from a security point of view, because it is not only (was) a refuge for the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, but also for the Turkestan Islamic Party, an Islamist terrorist group that in turn, is particularly active in the autonomous Chinese western province of Xinjiang.

However, the USA is primarily affected by the new Chinese influence on the Indus. Islamabad, despite regular tensions, has been one of Washington's most important partners in the region for decades and has received more than $ 33 billion in security and development funds over the past thirty years. Pakistan is also of great importance for the war in Afghanistan, which has now lasted more than 15 years, as the supply corridor for the NATO troops in Afghanistan runs primarily through Pakistan. The new Chinese influence of Beijing therefore not only disrupts the economic cooperation of the USA, but also on the security policy level, the US interests are significantly impaired by China's involvement. This will show whether China's influence can even have positive effects on the USA, for example through additional pressure on the Taliban.

The most recent decision by the US President Trump in January 2018 to withhold planned subsidies of around 225 million US dollars to Islamabad should therefore only be understood to a limited extent as a criticism of the Pakistani fight against terrorism, but rather as a means of exerting pressure on the Pakistani government to prevent the not to let Chinese influence in the country grow any stronger. The fact that the Pakistani government could only be driven even more into the hands of Beijing by this step is shown above all by the dilemma of the US government, which is gradually losing opportunities for action in the region.

The Chinese factor in the region will increase significantly in the coming years, given the Silk Road plans. It remains to be seen for the time being whether this influence will have a consolidating or an erosive effect on the state apparatus of the neighbors. But it is already foreseeable for the foreign policy of the western states that the foreign policy agenda of the states concerned will be oriented away from Washington, London or Berlin to the east through Beijing's work.

Chances for more stability in the region?

It seems a mistake to prophesy now that more stability and peace could take hold in the region in the near future. However, as already indicated, there are several positive signs that point to an improvement in the situation. In addition to the so far constructive negotiations between the main actors, the frequency of serious attacks is also gradually decreasing, especially in Pakistan, which is an indication of the containment of the larger terrorist networks in the country. Only the IS offshoot, which is withdrawing to Pakistan and Afghanistan and so far not very rooted there, is currently carrying out attacks on a large scale in both countries.

Whether truly sustainable peacekeeping can be achieved in the region will depend on at least two factors. First of all, the internal Pakistani disputes should be emphasized, which have already had an impact on foreign policy developments on several occasions. Above all, the still strong Islamic-conservative currents, which have steadily increased in popularity in recent years, represent one of the greatest threats to internal peace in Pakistan, not least due to the resignation of Pakistani Justice Minister Zahid Hamid in November 2017 due to alleged blasphemy. The influence of the Wahhabi schools from Saudi Arabia, who have increasingly exported their ideas and material support to Pakistan in recent years, will continue to play an important factor here. It will therefore be groundbreaking how Islamabad will deal with its own extremist circles and whether it will give in to extra-parliamentary pressure from the clergy.

Ultimately, Pakistan's foreign policy action will also be decisive for the security situation in the region, especially if the Taliban in Afghanistan - if they do not demilitarize themselves - are pushed back again and need a new haven. Because then it depends on whether Pakistan is again practicing a policy of tolerance towards the Taliban in the border region with Afghanistan, or whether it is consistently continuing its current anti-terrorism policy. The latter would mean positive progress both for the Pakistani-Afghan relationship and for the general security situation with an opportunity to stabilize.

Similar to ISIS in Iraq or Syria, however, the more radical sections of the Taliban would not be completely defeatable in the near future. By retreating underground and because of their continued strong networking, the Taliban would very likely continue to carry out attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, a stable state apparatus with external help through development and reconstruction work could then deal with the terrorist threat much better than the fragile central governments are currently doing.

Stefan Lukas is a doctoral candidate at the University of Greifswald and is currently doing his doctorate in the field of modern history in the field of German-Middle Eastern relations. In 2017 he was a seminar assistant at the Federal Academy for Security Policy. The author gives his personal opinion.

Copyright: Federal Academy for Security Policy | ISSN 2366-0805 page 1/5