Islamabad attacks Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan

Afghan authorities reported the death of more than 40 people, including women and children, after Pakistani airstrikes hit bases used Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan to conduct an offensive against Pakistani security forces in the tribal areas near the border. After Imran Khan's accommodating attitude, it is not clear how Shehbaz Sharif will deal with the Taliban.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Last weekend Pakistan carried out an airstrike against targets in Afghanistan in response to an offensive by the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistan Taliban. Galvanised by the rise of the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan, the group is attacking Pakistani security forces on the border, also known as the Durand Line, destabilising disputed areas.

During the operation in the eastern provinces of Khost and Kunar, more than 40 people were killed, including women and children, Taliban officials said, a clear message to Kabul, which Pakistan’s foreign minister reiterated last Sunday: control the TTP that attack Pakistan from Afghan territory.

The Afghan Taliban responded equally clearly. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid urged Pakistan "not to test the patience of Afghans on such issues and not repeat the same mistake again; otherwise, it will have bad consequences.''

Pakistani officials claim that they hit TTP bases on the border to which the Afghan security forces do not have access, and did not violate Afghanistan’s airspace.

Since US forces pulled out of Afghanistan, the security situation has worsened. In late March, the TTP killed six Pakistani soldiers and announced the al-Badr operation for Ramadan. On 11 April, an army major and a soldier were killed in the South Waziristan tribal area​​. Three days later eight more soldiers died in a TTP ambush in North Waziristan.

On the same day, the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations office reported that 97 Pakistani military personnel were killed in the first three months of 2022, including officers and regular troops.

The TTP wants to create an Islamic state in Pakistan after the success achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Although the two entities remain separate, they share the same extremist ideology.

Since the Taliban takeover of Kabul, TTP have reintegrated smaller extremist splinter groups weakened by the 2014 Zarb-e-Azb operation, led by the then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (elder brother of the current prime minister, Shehbaz, who took over from Imran Khan on 11 April).

Following the fall of Kabul in August 2021, Islamabad perhaps hoped that, after hosting and partly supporting the Afghan Taliban for years, the latter would not allow one of their groups to carry out attacks on Pakistani territory.

Things would have been easier with the US presence because the US military would have neutralised the threat at the border with targeted drone strikes.

The situation has become more complicated with the new administration in Pakistan. While Imran Khan had a conciliatory attitude towards the Afghan Taliban and had tried to conclude agreements (which later failed) with the TTP, it is not yet clear what Shehbaz Sharif will do.

What is more, Afghanistan does not recognise the border with Pakistan, the Durand Line, since it divides the predominantly Pashtun region, while Pakistan built a fence along it to stop terrorists and illegal migrants.

According to some observers, skirmishes along the border could escalate into a full-blown conflict.