Having installed a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul, relations between the Taliban and its benefactor has frayed dramatically in the last few months. Hopes of gaining strategic depth in Afghanistan is looking distant

There was euphoria in Pakistan when the Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan last August. The day after the Taliban came into Kabul, Imran Khan the then prime minister greeted the takeover as throwing off the shackles of slavery. The long cherished hopes of getting a Pakistan- friendly government in Kabul which would take care of its strategic interests were now within reach.

Yet less then sixteen months since the Taliban rule was cemented ties between the two countries is coming under increasing stress. Initially Islamabad tried to downplay the differences and called for talks to sort out the irritants, but now Pakistan is also losing patience, more so because of the Tehreek-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) or the Pakistani Taliban’s presence in Afghanistan. Using Afghanistan as a base they strike across the Durand Line on Pakistani territory. Despite repeated assurances, the Taliban has not acted against the TTP. They share the same ideology and is keen to convert Pakistan into a religious state with sharia law in place, much like in Afghanistan.

TTP The Spoiler In Pakistan- Afghanistan Ties:

The Taliban’s military victory over the US and NATO forces has given self-belief and new impetuous to the TTP and various Islamic groups that if Taliban could defeat the world’s only superpower, they could do the same with their governments. The blowback from Afghanistan is becoming a major problem for Islamabad. There has been an upsurge in Islamic militancy in Pakistan’s tribal areas and reports from the local press say that these groups are back to threatening businesses and collecting funds under duress. The Pakistan security forces are under attack in tribal areas once more.

In April this year the TTP conducted 19 terror strikes and one cross border attack. Negotiations between the TTP and the Pakistan government were held with the help of Taliban’s interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and Lt Gen. Faiz Hameed, the former spy chief who was then the corps commander Peshawar. The negotiations led to a ceasefire announcement in June. But it was an uneasy truce from both sides. Things came to a head on August 22, when two senior TTP leaders were attacked and killed inside Afghanistan. It is well known that the Haqqani brothers are close to the ISI, and General Faiz Hameed as ISI chief was dispatched to Kabul to make peace among the warring Taliban factions during the formation of the government. The TTP no longer trusts Haqqani and say that the killing of their top commanders took place in Afghan soil under his watch. Finally on November 28, the ceasefire was formally called off by the Taliban, though it had by then remained mostly a commitment on paper. And to show its intent on November 30, a TTP suicide bomber blew himself up near a police truck in Balochistan, killing three people and injuring 28. The group claimed responsibility and said this was in retaliation for the killing of its two top commanders. Lat month the Taliban had launched as many as sixty bomb and gun attacks on security forces inside Pakistan.

Attack On Pakistan Mission In Kabul

The latest flashpoint was the December 2 attack on the Pakistan embassy in Kabul, where the aim according to the Pakistan foreign office statement was to kill Charge affairs (CDA), Ubaidur Rehman Nizamani. Luckily while nothing happened to him a security guard was critically wounded. The Taliban government promised to swing into action and some of those involved have now been captured. Pakistan had repeatedly asked the Taliban to act against the TTP but the response has been tardy at best.

The ISK had claimed responsibility for the attack. The Taliban administration has said the perpetrators are foreigners out to spoil relations between ``two brotherly countries.’’

``It is evident that the Afghan Taliban administration seeks to use the TTP as leverage to put pressure on Pakistan. Besides, it is also apparent that some factions of the TTP are part of the transnational militant group whose origins lie in the Middle East,’’ columnist Zahid Hussain wrote in Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English daily. He writes that the Taliban is trying to shift the focus away from the TTP to the ISK.

TTP terror is now posing a major threat to Pakistan. This is why Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif raised it while speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this year. He pointed to the presence of foreign terror groups in Afghanistan, including the Al Qaeda, the Islamic State-Khorasan or the ISK what the ISIS is known as in the region, the TTP and the central Asian terror outfit. It is a fact that the Taliban has not been able to drive out the ISK and the rest of the terror groups from Afghanistan. It is just not Pakistan but many other Central Asian Republics are anxious over the presence of foreign fighters in Afghanistan. The Kabul government reacted sharply to the Pakistan Prime Minister’s speech. According to reports in the Pakistani press, Sher Abbas Stanekzai, Taliban’s deputy foreign minister in a statement had accused Pakistan of a manipulating the Afghan conflict for its economic advantage. He added a threat for good measure `If we rise against this, no one will be able to stop us.’’

Disputed Border

Successive governments in Afghanistan have not accepted the Durand Line as the border between the two countries. Clashes have happened in the border areas between the Taliban and the Pakistan security forces. Kabul regards the border fencing being built by Pakistan as illegitimate and an attempt to change the status quo. Afghans are removing the barbed wires whenever possible, leading to skirmishes across the Durand Line.

India Factor. The Haqqani network was responsible for two attacks on the Indian mission in Kabul, in one of which an Indian defence attaché and a young Indian diplomat were killed.

India Factor

For Pakistan, the return of the Taliban last year meant the roll back of Indian influence in its backyard. After 2001, India succeeded in clawing back its way into Afghanistan as both Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani allowed India to spread its wings across Afghanistan after the first Taliban regime ensured New Delhi was out in the cold. The Indian airlines plane hijacked from Kathmandu on Christmas Day 1999 was flown to Kandahar and the Taliban government watched India’s prisoner exchange with glee from the sidelines.

India’s $ 3 billion development assistance to Afghanistan helped in rebuilding damaged infrastructure destroyed by decades of civil war and its small water supply and electricity projects touched the lives of ordinary Afghans. Goodwill for India spread across Afghanistan much to the consternation of Pakistan.

The Taliban nurtured and trained by Pakistan’s military was virulently anti-India. The Haqqani network was responsible for two attacks on the Indian mission in Kabul, in one of which an Indian defence attaché and a young Indian diplomat were killed in 2008. India’s consulates in Mazhar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad, Herat, and Kandahar were also targeted. Unlike other countries, India consistently refused to engage with the Taliban, and solidly backed Karzai and Ghani. It was only at the end that New Delhi when it was clear that the Taliban was taking over in Kabul that a meeting was held with their representatives in Doha.

Yet despite its earlier opposition to the Taliban, New Delhi is now seriously engaging with the regime. India has opened its mission with a technical team in place, though a full-fledged diplomatic staff is yet to be posted. It has also been sending humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan from medicines to wheat to vaccines. The Taliban government wants more Indian development projects in the country. New Delhi is cautiously treading its way in Afghanistan and Pakistan is watching with concern. How this eventually plays out remains to be seen.