When the United States withdrew its forces from Afghanistan after 20 years in the country, it did so with the promise that once the Taliban returned to government, they would not provide safe haven for terrorist groups.
The Taliban’s commitment included not only al Qaeda, the terrorist group whose presence in the country led to the US invasion in 2001, but also the Taliban’s ideological twin neighbor, the Pakistani Taliban, or TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan). ).
But the recent breakdown of an already shaky year-long ceasefire in neighboring Pakistan between the TTP and Islamabad raises some troubling questions about whether that promise will hold.
The end of the ceasefire in Pakistan threatens not only an escalation of violence in that country, but also a potential increase in cross-border tensions between the Afghan and Pakistani governments.
And it is already targeting links between the Afghan Taliban and its Pakistani counterpart.
As recently as the spring of last year, Pakistani Taliban leader Noor Wali Mehsud told CNN that in exchange for helping drive the United States out of Kabul, his group would expect support from the Afghan Taliban in its own right. struggle.
Like their former brothers in arms in Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban want to overthrow their country’s government and impose their own strict Islamic code.
In an exclusive interview with CNN this week, Mehsud blamed the breach of the ceasefire on Islamabad, saying it “violated the ceasefire and martyred dozens of our comrades and arrested dozens of them.”
But he was more cautious when asked directly if the Afghan Taliban were now helping his group as he had once hoped.
His response: “We are fighting the Pakistani war from inside Pakistani territory; using Pakistani soil. We have the ability to fight for many more decades with the weapons and the spirit of liberation that exist on Pakistani soil.”
Those words should worry not only Islamabad, but Washington as well.
The FBI has been tracking the TTP for at least a decade and a half, long before they radicalized and trained Faisal Shazad for his brazen burning attack in New York’s Times Square in 2010.
Following the Times Square attack, the TTP was designated a terrorist organization and is still considered a threat to US interests.
And while Islamabad is keen to downplay the threat from the group, Home Minister Rana Sanaullah says Pakistan can “fully” control the conflict with the TTP, describing talks with the TTP during the ceasefire as talks “that are conducted in a state of war”. – their control of the situation revolves around the TTP staying within the borders of Pakistan.
There are growing questions about the scope of the TTP and Islamabad’s perception of the situation does not match Mehsud’s.
In April this year, the Pakistani military attacked targets in Afghanistan warning that “terrorists are using Afghan soil with impunity to carry out activities inside Pakistan.”
And in late November, the day after the ceasefire broke down, Islamabad again claimed that the TTP was using Afghan territory as a safe haven, sending Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to express her concerns. concerns to Kabul.
The following day, the TTP claimed responsibility for an attack in the border province of Quetta, where a suicide bomber had attacked a police van assisting a polio vaccination team, killing three and injuring 23.
When CNN pressed Meshud on Islamabad’s claims that it is receiving Afghan aid, asking if the support is being kept secret, he dismissed this, saying: “When we don’t need any help from the Afghan Taliban; What’s the point of hiding it?
However, cross-border tensions between the Afghan and Pakistani governments are building and came to a deadly head last week in an exchange between the two countries’ militaries near the Chaman/Spin Boldak border post, a vital trade link between the two countries. two countries.
Six people died and 17 were injured. While there is no evidence of direct TTP involvement, or at least not yet, the end of the ceasefire has clearly raised the heat.
The situation is only getting more flammable, with the TTP announcing this week that three more jihadist groups have joined their ranks, all along the troubled Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.
The United States also accused the Pakistani Taliban of using Afghan territory, doing so in a statement three days after the ceasefire ended in which the State Department named TTP defense chief Qari Amjad as a ” Specially Designated Global Terrorist.
That raises the possibility that the US could target TTP commanders operating in Afghanistan, just as it killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri with a drone strike in Kabul in September.
“The United States is committed to using its full suite of counterterrorism tools to counter the threat posed by terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, including al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as part of our relentless efforts. to ensure that terrorists do not use Afghanistan as a platform for international terrorism,” the State Department said in its statement.
Interestingly, the Pakistani Taliban are the only terrorist group in the region to have acknowledged al-Zawahiri’s assassination.
However, in his interview with CNN, Mehsud was defiant, saying he “did not expect the United States to take such a step” against his group.
“America should stop bothering us by interfering in our affairs unnecessarily at the instigation of Pakistan: this cruel decision shows the failure of American policy,” he said.
But he also responded with a threat, that “if the United States takes that step, the United States itself will be responsible for its loss. The United States has not yet understood Pakistan’s deceitful policy; Pakistan’s history bears witness that it keeps changing direction for its own interests.”
Washington, for its part, faces a dilemma. Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto is currently visiting the US and the TTP was likely on the agenda when he met UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for a Council discussion of Security on the “maintenance of international peace and security” on December 14. he will figure in her talks with US administration officials in Washington, DC, which are scheduled to take place on December 19.
But as the United States has already discovered to its own expense, there are no easy solutions in Afghanistan.
More than a year since their withdrawal and the humanitarian situation in the country continues to worsen, and despite the US recently loosening controls limiting the Afghan Taliban’s access to international funds, the former government-turned terror group continues to fail even in moderate international organizations. good governance expectations.
The UN human rights chief recently accused the Afghan Taliban of “the continued systemic exclusion of women and girls from virtually all aspects of life,” and last week they carried out their first public execution since coming to power. .
However, if the Afghan Taliban is shown to be aiding the TTP, there is another troubling prospect for the US: it may face increased pressure to re-engage.