The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Prior to 2021, the Taliban would often partner up with anyone regardless of how terrible they were. One group in particular, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, was a perfect match.

Since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in 2021, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been a major point of friction between Pakistan and the Taliban. The TTP is a militant group that operates primarily in Pakistan and has been responsible for several terrorist attacks. However, the group has a strong base of support inside Afghanistan and they loosely operate in the country where they plan attacks targeting Pakistan.

The group was formed in 2007 as an umbrella organization of several smaller militant groups. It has carried out several high-profile attacks inside Pakistan, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.

The TTP is responsible for numerous attacks on civilians and government targets in Pakistan. It also fought against Western and Afghan forces before the U.S. withdrawal. The group has been designated a terrorist organization by several countries, including the United States.

There are several factors that affect Afghan-Pakistan relations; chief among them are cross-border attacks. Before the Taliban assumed power, Pakistan requested that Kabul act against the TTP in Afghanistan. Islamabad falsely believed that once the Taliban assumed power, the Taliban would not allow the TTP to use Afghanistan as a base of operation to plan attacks. It should be noted that the Taliban had pledged prior to their takeover that they would not allow Afghan soil to be used against any state.

However, that pledge turned out to be a lie, and as we saw with the Taliban giving safe harbor to al-Qaeda’s leader before being killed by a U.S. drone strike, the Taliban not only released all prisoners but also accommodated the TTP. The Taliban argue that the TTP is an internal matter for Pakistan to deal with and has refused to take action against the TTP.

While the Taliban has generally sought to distance itself from TTP attacks in Pakistan, key Taliban figures have supported the TTP in the past. In 2011, the United States designated the TTP’s then-leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, as a “global terrorist” and claimed that he had received support from the Taliban. However, the Taliban denied these allegations and said it had no involvement in the TTP’s activities. However, the connection between the two came to light when Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban’s interior minister, acknowledged their relationship in 2022.

At the same time, it is also worth noting that the TTP and the Taliban have sometimes been rivals and have even fought against each other. In 2015, the TTP and the Taliban clashed in eastern Afghanistan. However, the two papered over any difference to focus on their common enemy, Western coalition forces.

The Taliban’s official position on Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan is not clear, and even if the Taliban condoned what the TTP was doing, it doesn’t have much direct influence over the group. However, the Taliban’s facilitation of peace negotiations between Islamabad and the TTP lifted the curtain, however slightly, on their working relationship.

The Taliban needs to fulfill the commitments it made prior to the United States’ withdrawal in 2021. This would entail, that aside from moderating its draconian approach to women’s rights, not allow Afghan soil to be used against any state. Unless the Taliban changes its rigid stance, be it women’s rights, girls’ education, or an inclusive government, the international community will not extend recognition to them. Without recognition, Afghanistan will continue to be a failed state.

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.