Taliban in Afghanistan turn blind eyes to Pakistani militants

PESHAWAR (AP) -- Shahana bakes a birthday cake each year and invites her friends to her house in Peshawar, Pakistan. She sings happy birthday to her son and even lights a candle. It's not a birthday without the birthday girl.

Taliban in Afghanistan turn blind eyes to Pakistani militants

Asfand Khan was her son. He was 15 when gunmen attacked his military-run school in Peshawar. They killed 150 students and a few teachers. Asfand was hit in the head three times at close range.

The attackers were the Pakistani Taliban who, seven years later, have increased their attacks seemingly inspired by the return to power of Afghanistan's Taliban in Kabul. Eight Pakistani soldiers were killed in an attack on a Taliban outpost in Pakistan's northwest. Two more Pakistani soldiers were also killed in an attack against Taliban outposts on Wednesday night.

According to a U.N. July report, the Pakistani Taliban (also known as TTP) are regrouping and restructuring with their leadership in Afghanistan. Shahana, a Pakistani citizen, is worried about the possibility of seeing the same horrific violence that the Taliban used to inflict.

Yet, the Afghan Taliban are not willing to expel TTP leaders from Afghanistan or prevent them from attacking Pakistan. Pakistan is leading an effort to convince the rest of the world to help Afghanistan from economic collapse by engaging with its new rulers.

All of Afghanistan's major powers, including Russia, China and the United States, are faced with this dilemma as they try to figure out how to deal in Kabul.

During more than 40 years of war, many militant groups were able to find safe haven in Afghanistan. Some of them, such as the TTP are former battlefield allies for the Afghan Taliban.

The Taliban have not shown any willingness or ability to expel them. Only one exception is the Islamic State affiliate. This is the Taliban's enemy. It has waged a campaign against them and for many years against Afghanistan's Shiite Muslims. Hundreds have been killed in dozens of attacks on schools, mosques and even a maternity ward.

Washington has named the Islamic State branch (known by the acronym IS-K) as the main militant concern emanating from Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, the Taliban's long-standing ally, is not considered a threat. Although the U.S. military leaders acknowledge that there are some signs of growth, it is near rudderless with its current leader Ayman alZawahri still alive, but not well, according to a July U.N. report.

However, there are many other militants in Afghanistan and these are raising concerns with Afghanistan's neighboring countries.

China is concerned about insurgents from the Uighur ethnic group, who are seeking an independent Xinjiang. Russia and Central Asian countries are concerned about the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. This group has been recruiting among Afghan ethnic Uzbeks in recent years.

It stands for Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. They were responsible for some of the most horrific terrorist attacks on Pakistan, including the attack on the military public school in 2014.

According to U.N. reports, the TTP has anywhere from 4,000-10,000 fighters. According to Amir Rana (executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies), an independent think tank based in Islamabad, the TTP has been able to expand its recruitment in Pakistan beyond the traditional tribal areas along the border, where it had previously found fighters.

Analysts believe that the Afghan Taliban's unwillingness to take down the TTP is a sign of their willingness to crackdown on other groups.

"The simple truth is that most terrorist groups in Afghanistan, except IS-K, are Taliban ally," states Michael Kugelman (deputy director, Asia Program, Washington-based Wilson Center). "And the Taliban don't want to turn their guns against their friends, despite mounting pressure from regional actors and the West."

Pakistan's attempts to encourage international relations with the Afghan Taliban is hampered by their militant presence. This is in an effort to bring some stability to an economy that is slipping into financial ruin.

Analysts believe that Pakistan's military believes the TTP's losses are better than undermining the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan by pressing them about the matter. A collapse could lead to a flood of refugees. Pakistan may be their first stop but Islamabad warns them that Europe and North America are their preferred destinations.

Islamabad tried to negotiate with TTP last year, but it was unsuccessful. Rana of Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies stated that Pakistan's simultaneous negotiation with and attack on the TTP was "confusing" and could encourage like-minded insurgents from both countries.

He said that it also worries its allies.

Rana said that China is spending billions on Pakistan and was unhappy with Islamabad's attempts to negotiate with the TTP due to its close ties with Uighur separatists. TTP claimed responsibility for the July bombing that killed Chinese engineers in northwest Pakistan and an April attack on a hotel where the Chinese ambassador was being held.

Pakistan is under increasing pressure to hand over the TTP leadership to the Afghan Taliban.

However, Islamabad's relationship to the Taliban is complex.

The Pakistani military is the one that oversees Afghanistan's policy. It has close ties with the Taliban leadership, going back over 40 years to an earlier invasion. They fought and defeated the Soviet Union invading forces together with the U.S.

Washington and its Afghan allies accused Pakistan of aiding the Taliban after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. Even though Taliban leaders and their families were living in Pakistan, they denied the allegations.

The Taliban have other interests than Pakistan's, especially the question of their 2,500-kilometer (1600-mile) border. The Durand Line, also known as Afghanistan's border, was drawn in 19th century by British colonial administrators. Afghanistan has never recognized it.

Last week, Afghan Taliban anger at Pakistan's construction a border fence threatened violence. Social media videos showed Taliban burning barbed wire rolls meant for fencing and threatening to open fire upon Pakistani troops.

The Taliban's Defense Ministry released a statement stating that Pakistan was not allowed to build a border fence. The Pakistani military spokesperson Gen. Babar Iftikar stated that the fence is 94% complete and will be finished.

He stated that the fence at Pak-Afghan's border was necessary to regulate security, border crossings and trade. "This is not a fence to divide people but to protect them.

Even if Pakistan asked the Taliban to turn over TTP leaders to them, it shouldn’t expect any results says Bill Roggio editor of The Long War Journal, which tracks global militancy.

He stated that the Afghan Taliban would not expel TTP because it doesn't expel al Qaida. Both groups played an important role in the victory of the Afghan Taliban. They were there to support the Afghan Taliban, and they have paid a lot of sacrifices over the last 20 years.

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