In mid-June, two developments took place in Afghanistan. First, a drone strike culled Mullah Fazlullah, the head of the Pakistani Taliban or Tehrek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Secondly, on the eve of Eid, a cease-fire took place between the Kabul government and the Afghan Taliban. These developments bear the potential of not only affecting Pakistan, but also the consequent Pak-US and even Pak-Afghan relations.
Drone strikes might have earned a name by taking out its target surgically, with as little collateral damage as possible, but these strikes have also shown that the precise target is marked out through luring an acquaintance of the quarry into seeking head money. In March, the US announced a five million dollar reward for providing a tip-off about Mullah Fazlullah. The enticement worked. Mullah Fazlullah was not on the hit list of the US; he was required by Pakistan.
In Pakistan, Mullah Fazlullah became known in 2006, when he launched a private radio (FM station) in Swat and earned the nickname of Mullah Radio. He propagated against polio vaccination and girls’ education, declaring them Western agendas meant for vitiating a society. His propaganda against the anti-polio drive was so intense and effective that not only were polio workers attacked in Swat and Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, but common people also fell victim to it and declined to administer polio vaccination drops to their children. Mullah Fazlullah constructed his own caliphate and, since 2009, he was on the run when a military operation was launched in Swat. At the age of 15, when Malala Yousafzai raised her voice for female education, she was attacked in 2012, and she barely escaped death from a shot in the head. In 2013, Mullah Fazlullah’s efforts to spread obscurantism and extremism paid returns when after the death of Hakimullah Mehsud, he got elected as the head of the TTP.
Since 16 December, 2014, when terrorists attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan required the neutralization of Fazlullah, who had sponsored the attack. Fazlullah was the bone of contention between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan claimed that the Kabul government protected Fazlullah by not only providing him shelter, but also by facilitating immunity from attack. Being annoyed, Pakistan also remained dismissive of the “do more” demands of the US, assuming that the US deliberately spared Fazlullah in Afghanistan and, thereby, the TTP.
The province of Kunar is considered the stronghold of the TTP. In March, Abdullah, a son of Fazlullah lost his life in a drone strike in Kunar province and, now, on June 13, Fazlullah was targeted. It simply means that money works wonders in Afghanistan. Apparently, the money of US taxpayers, namely, head money, made inroads into the much-vaunted tradition of Pashtunwali, and helped the US authorities eradicate him. The US has removed a major hitch in Pak-US relations.
There are expected two blowbacks against Pakistan. First, the TTP may regroup under a new leadership and launch a series of retaliatory strikes inside Pakistan. The forthcoming election rallies may offer militants ample opportunities to launch a blood bath. Secondly, the US may reiterate the “do more” mantra and coerce Pakistan into taking action against the Afghan Taliban settled in Pakistan, especially those inhabiting the suburbs of Peshawar and Quetta. Taken both repercussions together, one can say that, in July, Pakistan may get involved in an escalating anti-militant slog. Pakistan’s mainland and the western border may see increased terrorist activity.
Along with the “do more” demand of the US, is the demand that Pakistan should persuade the Afghan Taliban to enter into negotiations with the Kabul government. The Afghan Taliban are dismissive of the Kabul government and demand to have talks directly with the US authorities. On the other hand, the Afghan Taliban feel the pressure of Pakistani authorities who keep insisting the former have talks with the Kabul government.
Several rounds of talks between the US and the Afghan Taliban have already taken place in Doha, Qatar. The Afghan Taliban seem to have been impressed with these rounds of talks. The other channel of talks with the Kabul government is with the help of Pakistan and China. The Afghan Taliban seem to have shunned this round of talks. They proffer one ruse or another to postpone this round of talks. The Murree talks stand suspended and have proved fruitless so far.
On June 7, the Kabul government announced a unilateral ceasefire against the Afghan Taliban, who reciprocated the peace overture just three days before Eid, but with the caveat that the fight would restart after the holy month of Ramadan. Declaring the US forces invaders and the Kabul government puppets, the Afghan Taliban turned down the proposal of the extension of the truce. Similarly, Pakistan thinks that the US is looking for a scapegoat to lay the blame of its failure in Afghanistan on Pakistan. On the other hand, the US has expressed its resolve to forge a politically negotiated settlement of the Afghan question.
Interestingly, Islamic State (or Da’esh) which was not consulted on the ceasefire, responded by launching a suicide attack on June 16, and then on June 17, in Nangarhar province, including the city of Jalalabad.
Currently, Pakistan is still under pressure from the US which scaled down 1.1 US billion dollars of military aid to Pakistan over the allegations that it was letting safe heavens of the Afghan Taliban thrive on its land. The killing of Fazlullah has emboldened the US to ask Pakistan for taking a concrete action against the Afghan Taliban, who are alleged to move to-and-fro between eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan across the border.
In short, the truce between the Kabul government and the Afghan Taliban may not be tenable, but the ball is in Pakistan’s court. Something will have to be forthcoming to reciprocate the elimination of Mullah Fazlullah.