Relocation of TTP Members in Afghanistan: Goals and Implications
The Interior Minister of Pakistan announced that the plan to transfer the members of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to areas far from the Pakistan border has been finalized by the Afghan Taliban government. According to him, the budget of this plan is made by the government of Pakistan, and the Taliban government of Afghanistan implements it. Numerous evidences and reports indicate that in this plan, members of TTP will be stationed in the north, southwest, and possibly the center of Afghanistan. Some reports also say that the implementation of this plan has already started, with the transfer of a group of 300 members of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in Takhar province. In this article, we examine the goals of the Afghan Taliban government from the implementation of this plan, and the consequences of this plan for the Taliban, the Afghan people, and the neighboring countries of Afghanistan.
By: Abdul Rahim Kamel
The support and strategic cooperation of the Pakistan government for the Taliban's victory in Afghanistan is not a hidden matter. In response to this all-round cooperation, the government and security institutions of Pakistan were sure that the Taliban government would cooperate in solving the issue of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as requested by the Pakistan government. To legitimize their desired strategy, the political and religious leaders of Pakistan named the Afghan Taliban as "good Taliban", and TTP as "bad Taliban".
But after the victory and formation of the government in Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban maintained their political authority to some extent. Also, in response to Pakistan's demands, especially regarding the issue of war and peace between TTP and Islamabad, the Afghan Taliban played the role of a third power and an independent actor.
Instead of cooperating with Pakistan in suppressing TTP, the Taliban government adopted the role of a peace-loving mediator. Accordingly, last year, the Afghan Taliban facilitated peace talks between the Pakistan government and TTP, which led to a temporary ceasefire in Pakistan. Using the experience of Afghan Taliban peace talks, TTP tried to emerge as an influential actor in the Pakistani political scene. But after the government of Pakistan did not accept the political demands of TTP, this group announced the end of the ceasefire and started its most severe attacks on government and military targets in Pakistan. This political and military move of TTP has unprecedentedly questioned the prestige and authority of the government and security officials of Pakistan in the public opinion of Pakistan.
The government of Pakistan publicly and explicitly accused the Afghan Taliban government that the terrorist operations of TTP are taking place from the territory of Afghanistan, and that with the formation of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, the opportunity to recruit and renew the forces of TTP has increased in Afghanistan.
These accusations greatly strained the political and diplomatic relations between Kabul and Islamabad, and Pakistan openly threatened to attack the safe havens of TTP in Logar, Khost, and other neighboring areas of Pakistan.
Finally, a few days after the tripartite meeting of the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, China and the Taliban in Pakistan (May 2023), international media reported that Kabul and Islamabad have reached a preliminary agreement to contain and prevent the military attacks of TTP against the government of Pakistan, so that the TTP members should be stationed in other regions of Afghanistan, far away from the border of Pakistan.
Recently, the Minister of Interior of Pakistan announced that the plan to relocate the TTP members in areas far from the border of Pakistan has been finalized by the Afghan Taliban government, which will be implemented with the funds of the Pakistan government and the management of the Afghan Taliban government. Numerous evidences and reports indicate that according to this plan, the TTP members will be stationed in the northern, southwestern and possibly central areas of Afghanistan. Some reports also say that the implementation of this plan has already started, with the transfer of a group of 300 members of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in Takhar province.
In this article, we examine the goals of the Afghan Taliban government from the implementation of this plan, and the consequences of this plan for the Taliban, the Afghan people, and the neighboring countries of Afghanistan.
The goals of Taliban to relocate TTP in Afghanistan Strengthening the strategic relations of the Taliban government with Pakistan
The evidence shows that the Taliban government, with a realistic assessment of political developments and the mutual needs of Kabul and Islamabad, has finally been convinced to show more objective cooperation towards Pakistan's request to manage TTP members in Afghanistan. From another point of view, this cooperation of the Taliban with the government of Pakistan can indicate that the Taliban government is trying to open the chapter of cooperation and interaction on major issues with neighboring countries, including Pakistan.
On the other hand, the political situation of Pakistan clearly shows that the religious figures of Pakistan are in agreement with the political and military authorities of Pakistan regarding the preservation of the foundation of the Pakistani government, and they consider the anti-government war of TTP as an illegitimate and irreligious war. This is despite the fact that the same religious authorities in the madrassas of Pakistan, for many years, acted as an institution that legitimized the jihad of the Afghan Taliban, and issued fatwas (religious orders) on the legitimacy of the Taliban and their support. Therefore, it seems that in the plan to relocate TTP members, the Afghan Taliban government has once again consolidated its religious relations with religious leaders of Pakistan’s madrassas.
Also, in a realistic view and according to the Taliban government's assessment of Pakistan's policies, it was possible that if Kabul did not cooperate with Islamabad in controlling the TTP members in Afghanistan, the Pakistan government would retaliate and start negotiating with the political leaders opposed to the Taliban. In this case, Pakistan would definitely follow the same scenario that it implemented step by step in the last two decades for the victory of the Afghan Taliban group against the then Kabul government. Therefore, to prevent this scenario from happening again, the Afghan Taliban government has preferred to cooperate directly with Islamabad in order to control TTP rather than using any other solution.
Nevertheless, the Afghan Taliban government has played a double game in relocating TTP members: While the Taliban has shown its goodwill in interacting with the Pakistan government, it has still maintained its hosting of TTP in order to use this group as a potential pressure lever and a possible instrument of intervention against Pakistan in the long term.
In general, it can be said that one of the important, but tactical, goals of Kabul in moving TTP members to areas far from Pakistan's border is to solve Pakistan's security concerns in the current situation and time.
Legalizing the presence of jihadi groups fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan
There is documented evidence of the presence of several regional jihadist groups in Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban government. The Taliban government first preferred to deny the presence of these groups in Afghanistan, but it seems that they did not succeed in this denial policy, and finally had to accept the presence of these groups, including TTP members, in Afghanistan. After accepting this fact, the Taliban proposed to relocate the TTP to the northern and western regions of Afghanistan. In fact, the Taliban implicitly decided to somehow legalize the presence, organization and settlement of TTP and other similar groups in Afghanistan based on a bilateral agreement with their respective governments. In other words, the implicit consequence of the bilateral agreement between Kabul and Islamabad regarding the relocation and settlement of TTP in Afghanistan is to legitimize the presence of this group in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, by legalizing the settlement and movement of these jihadi groups (as former comrades of the Afghan Taliban), the Islamic Emirate of Taliban has tried to maintain cohesion in the middle ranks of its forces. In fact, the fighters and the middle ranks of the Taliban consider it immoral and un-Islamic to not properly host these groups as former comrades-in-arms, and to possibly handing them over to their respective governments. It is also possible that the Islamic State of Khorasan group (ISKP) will use this as a propaganda tactic against the Taliban leaders, and attract Taliban fighters.
It seems that one of the tactical goals of the Taliban for settling and moving the TTP in Afghanistan is to relieve the security pressures of the neighboring countries due to the presence of jihadist groups in Afghanistan. In addition, by properly hosting and organizing these jihadi groups in Afghanistan, the Taliban can maintain and strengthen the cohesion of its own forces as well as these jihadi groups.
Changing the demographic context in North and SouthWest Afghanistan
In a macro view, the political developments of the last hundred years of Afghanistan are rooted in the social context of the country. Rural uprisings in Afghanistan have either overthrown governments in Afghanistan, or prevented their absolute domination in some areas of the country. Due to their special social context during the past anti-Taliban resistance, the provinces of Panjshir, Takhar, and Faryab in northern Afghanistan may still be considered as a source of potential threat against the Taliban government.
Most likely, the Taliban government feels two specific threats from the northern and southwestern provinces of Afghanistan, which have an almost homogeneous and special ethnic and social context:
First, by evaluating the developments of the contemporary history of Afghanistan, the Taliban has definitely reached the real conclusion that the social and ethnic context of the north and southwest regions of Afghanistan played a fundamental and undeniable role in the formation of resistance against the Pashtun Taliban in the 1990s. Therefore, the Taliban will still consider this role and this threat as a serious issue.
Second, another assessment that the Taliban considers as a historical fact is that the Tajik and Uzbek peoples of the northern provinces of Afghanistan have deep-rooted historical, cultural, linguistic and ethnic commonalities with the countries of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Also, the southwestern provinces of Afghanistan have similar commonalities with Iran. Such commonalities made these countries support these people in the 1990s against the Taliban.
These two threats have probably made the Taliban government think of somehow preventing the activation of the capacities of these areas as a challenge to their government. Therefore, the Taliban is trying to change the demographic and cultural context of these areas by moving and settling Pakistani Pashtuns there, and take these areas under their control.
According to these facts, it can be estimated that the only main strategic and long-term goal of the Taliban (along with their other tactical and short-term goals) of the relocation plan of TTP is to create a significant change in the demographic, ethnic and cultural context of the northern and southwestern regions of Afghanistan.
Taliban strategists believe that by settling Waziristan Pashtuns in these areas of Afghanistan, they will block any resistance movements of the people of these areas.
Now the question that is raised is, how can these newly arrived Pakistani guests solve the concerns of the Taliban government about the rise of the indigenous people in these areas?
In order to answer this question, it is necessary to pay attention to the various plans of forced migration, displacements of nomads in the regional countries in the past, as well as the historical process of settling Pashtuns of the south and east Afghanistan in the fertile regions of the north by Afghan kings.
According to sociological studies, these newly arrived guests get used to the new geographical conditions after a while, and take root there. After some time, they will become a demographic context and will appear in the form of a local power in the developments of those areas.
On the other hand, the Taliban government will try to make these immigrant Pashtuns loyal to the Kabul government, by donating agricultural land and creating necessary economic opportunities for them. In this case, they will fight as a local army against any kind of rebellion against the Taliban, and there is no need to deploy central government army units in these provinces. In this way, the costs of the Kabul government can be easily saved.
The fact is that changing the demographic structure of the northern, central and southwestern regions of Afghanistan and settling non-local Pashtuns there is part of the Taliban's ambitious plans. Research reports, especially the recent report of the United Nations Security Council, clearly state that the Taliban is trying to strengthen the sovereignty of the Pashtuns, and to Pashtunize Afghanistan in the style of the 1990s.
The effects and consequences of the relocation of TTP in Afghanistan Strengthening the political authority of the Pakistan government
Pakistan has not had a good political, security and economic situation in the last two years.
The strengthening of TTP and its expansion in different parts of Pakistan, the unprecedented increase in TTP attacks on the government and security institutions of Pakistan, the failure of the peace talks between this group and the Pakistani government, as well as the allegiance of the TTP leader to Mullah Haibatullah, the leader of the Afghan Taliban are very serious threats that have worried the public opinion and the government of Pakistan.
On the other hand, Pakistan's political crises and the spread of recent protests, including those of Imran Khan's Tehreek-e-Insaf supporters, have severely damaged the government's authority in Pakistan.
This poor political and security situation has also had a direct and very negative impact on Pakistan's economic situation, and has imposed more pressure on the people of Pakistan than before.
In such a situation, the plan to relocate the TTP members in areas far from the border of Pakistan can be considered a relatively big political achievement for the government of Pakistan, and to some extent it will increase the authority of the Pakistan government in controlling the internal politics of the country.
2- Reconstructing the political face of the Afghan Taliban
The Taliban government regards the relocation of TTP members as a concession from Kabul to Islamabad. In return, the Taliban may have taken Pakistan's commitment to solve the issue of Afghan refugees in Pakistan as well as Pakistan's economic and customs cooperation with Afghanistan. Undoubtedly, Islamabad, like Kabul, will tactically implement these demands of the Afghan Taliban in the short term.
Beyond these issues, the most important consequence of the plan to organize and settle TTP members in Afghanistan will be a significant reduction in the military attacks of the Pakistani Taliban, which may encourage them to resume peace talks. This will change the face of the Afghan Taliban from an insurgent group to a peacekeeper in the complex issue of "Pakistan regime and Pakistani Taliban", and the Taliban can use this new face to gain political legitimacy.
3- Increasing tribal hegemony and ethnic differences in Afghanistan
The political history of Afghanistan clearly shows that the policy of deliberately changing the demographic structure of Afghanistan by the past rulers of the country has increased the social differences in Afghanistan. Therefore, the continuation of this policy by the Taliban will definitely postpone the process of nation building and national integration in the country until uncertain times.
From this point of view, the deliberate and forced change of the demographic context in some areas of Afghanistan, especially in the border areas with neighboring countries, may be beneficial for the government and political leaders in the short term, but it will destroy all the foundations of nation building.
On the other hand, changing the demographic context with the aim of suppressing the cultural assets of other ethnic groups, psychologically causes a deep gap and hatred in the relations of different ethnic groups in the country.
Creating centers of insecurity on the borders of neighboring countries
The relocation and settlement of any terrorist group in the vicinity of a region undoubtedly carries the risk of security threats, and this fact cannot be easily denied. As much as the presence of TTP near the border of Pakistan is threatening, the presence of this group near the borders of other Afghan neighbors may cause a potential security threat. This is because, according to real and documented evidence, there has been a kind of convergence, cooperation, and hosting among various jihadi groups based in Afghanistan and under the rule of the Afghan Taliban. This is precisely what has caused the Afghan Taliban to support and host these groups in Afghanistan.
Therefore, there is a possibility that the presence of TTP in the north and south-west regions of Afghanistan will somehow provide the ground for the presence of other radical Islamic groups in these regions.
On the other hand, experience has shown that like-minded social groups in the border strip of two countries may violate the security and border protocols and establish a direct relationship with each other, which sometimes causes serious headaches for the governments.
It is likely that in the future, the presence of radical and extremist social groups on both sides of the common border will finally provide a safe area for recruitment and training.
It seems that the main goal of the plan to relocate the TTP members to the north, southwest, and perhaps the center of Afghanistan is to change the demographic, ethnic and religious context of these areas. It seems that in this plan, the Taliban pay more attention to the realities of Afghanistan, and want to solve their internal concerns.
The implementation of this plan will also naturally have effects on the interactions between the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Kabul intends to use it as a tactic and short-term goal.
In the long term, however, it seems that the plan to relocate TTP members will not have a serious and lasting effect on solving the problem of this group with the Pakistan government, because the roots of TTP are inside the Pakistan soil. In the meantime, by hosting some of the members of this group in Afghanistan, the Kabul government will continue to preserve and protect them as a political leverage for itself and against Pakistan.
Abdul Rahim Kamel, is an analyst of Afghanistan issues.