The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

By aligning itself with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Taliban are showing the world that they have more or less given up governing Afghanistan responsibly.

Since the Taliban assumed control of Afghanistan in 2021, Noor Wali Mehsud, the current head of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), pledged fealty to the Afghan Taliban. Probably not the outcome that Islamabad had hoped for when the country tried to convince the world that the Taliban was a changed group.

Aqil Shah with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace writes: “Since the Taliban captured Kabul…Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders have been desperately trying to convince the world that the Taliban are a newer, more moderate version of the Islamist militant group that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Downplaying international fears about the egregiousness of Taliban rule, Pakistani leaders have claimed that the Taliban are, this time, open to sharing power and protecting basic human rights—if only the international community would give them time and money.”

After the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda reaffirmed to no one’s surprise that its war with the U.S. was not over. According to reporting from The Guardian, citing a United Nations report, “Al-Qaida has a haven in Afghanistan under the Taliban and ‘increased freedom of action’ with the potential of launching new long-distance attacks in coming years.”

CNN’s terrorism expert Peter Bergen has suggested that the Afghan Taliban, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, and Al-Qaeda have grown closer since the U.S. exit. In fact, as Bergen points out, even during negotiations with the Trump administration, the Taliban was in regular contact with Al-Qaeda. “‘The Taliban regularly consulted’ with al Qaeda during its negotiations with the United States while guaranteeing that they ‘would honor their historical ties’ with the terrorist group.”

By aligning with Al-Qaeda, the TTP’s primary political objective is to enhance its support and influence. The group seeks out and enjoys support from Pashtun tribesmen, extremist-leaning seminaries, Islamist political parties, and various jihadist groups. The TTP also aims for legitimacy by aligning itself with the Afghan Taliban and elevating itself ideologically above the identities of sub-groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

For that purpose, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan garnered support from Al-Qaeda by facilitating its spillover in Pakistan and by launching attacks on Pakistan and Western targets on behalf of and in cooperation with Al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda has had a profound influence on Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. In April of last year, The Diplomat reported that TTP’s change of strategy was directed by Al-Qaeda. Due to a leadership vacuum within the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan created after U.S. drone strikes killed both Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud, the group realized the liability of aligning with Al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, the group retained a relationship with Al-Qaeda.

Working with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan provides more options for Al-Qaeda to extend its network. This alliance has serious implications for Western and regional governments least of all Pakistan whose present political crisis provides ample opportunity for groups like Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan to take advantage of the situation to sow chaos.

Afghanistan is facing multiple crises since the Taliban took over. With food insecurity, an economy that is in tatters, and a lack of countries willing to work with it, the Taliban, to put it bluntly, has failed at even providing competent governance. Its alignment with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan does nothing to help average Afghans feed themselves or their families, so one must wonder why they see any upsides to giving groups like this free reign in their country.

Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai is the author of 'The Troubled Triangle: U.S.-Pakistan Relations under the Taliban's Shadow' (Routledge, 2022). He is an Islamabad-based columnist and researcher.