September 20, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9557

Pakistani Writer Warns Of Regional 'Re-Talibanization,' Says Afghan Taliban's Rise To Power Threatens Pakistani Media

September 20, 2021
Special Dispatch No. 9557

After the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Afghan Taliban organization) seized power in Kabul on August 15, 2021, the jihadi group's ideological cousin, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (the Movement of the Pakistani Taliban, TTP), warned Pakistani journalists to stop describing the TTP as a terrorist or extremist group.

The ideology of the TTP, which has been regularly carrying out attacks in Baluchistan and in the Pakistani tribal districts bordering Afghanistan, is similar to that of the Afghan Taliban, and TTP fighters owe their allegiance to the emir of the Islamic Emirate, as does Al-Qaeda. Mufti Noor Wali, the emir of TTP, has resolved to create a separate state comprising the tribal districts.

Before and after Kabul fell to the Afghan Taliban on August 15, several prisons in Afghanistan were left unguarded and thousands of Afghan and Pakistani Taliban inmates broke free. Now, they pose a new danger to the Pakistani state, which has supported the Afghan Taliban and is hoping that they can persuade the TTP not to attack Pakistan.

Mufti Noor Wali, the emir of TTP

Warning that the region's "re-Talibanization" will have serious consequences for the media, Pakistani academic Syed Irfan Ashraf wrote an article questioning the Pakistani state's "duplicitous security approach," which creates jihadi terror groups like the TTP. Ashraf, who teaches at Peshawar University and whose book "The Dark Side of News Fixing: The Culture and Political Economy of News" will be released in October 2021, wrote: "After the Doha accord, which ensured the Taliban takeover of Kabul, Afghanistan's neighbors cracked down on militant groups using Afghan soil to threaten their sovereignty. Only Pakistan kept its cool – at the risk of exposing its soft underbelly to militancy."

Following are excerpts from the article:

"[TTP] Said It Carried Out 32 Attacks In August Alone, Killing 52 People And Injuring 38 [Mostly In Pakistani Tribal Region Along Border With Afghanistan]

"The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists [PFUJ] has also expressed concern [over the TTP's threat to the media] which underscores not only the seriousness of the threat but also the need to analyze what future lies in store for press freedom in the context of the region's recent re-Talibanization. The timing of the warning is significant. In a previous statement, the banned outfit [TTP] said it carried out 32 attacks in August alone, killing 52 people and injuring 38. While it was claimed that these attacks targeted security forces, state authorities have previously blamed hostile [intelligence] agencies using Afghan soil for sponsoring terrorism inside Pakistan.

"The TTP seems desperate to prove the state is wrong and wants to establish that attacks inside Pakistan would continue irrespective of Afghan Taliban rule next door. 'Journalists are caught between the TTP and the state [of Pakistan]. With rising censorship inside the country, it's difficult to discuss security unless they first establish that they are 'loyal' Pakistanis. Many TV talk show hosts, therefore, project Afghanistan as Pakistan's 'colony,' a narrative that is reinforced by comments of some of those Pakistani journalists who went to Kabul soon after its fall [on August 15, 2021] to report on the Taliban's conquest of their own country.

"There are others who, despite a liberal demeanor and awkward efforts to stay objective, seem to share an ideological affinity with the Afghan Taliban. In this one-sided coverage, we are made to believe that the re-Talibanization of Afghanistan will help neutralize threats from the western [Afghan] border [to Pakistan]. The national media's cheerleader role reduces the TTP to an appendage status, giving the impression that this hostile outfit has no capacity to damage Pakistan. The TTP warning is meant to burst this bubble.

"Is the TTP really a threat to Pakistani journalists? The answer lies in the state's own approach toward regional militancy. Two days before Kabul fell, a top official in an informal chat indicated that if the Taliban took control of Kabul, everything else would fall into place. In other words, power elites in Pakistan do not seem really worried about the TTP. After the Doha accord, which ensured the Taliban takeover of Kabul, Afghanistan's neighbors cracked down on militant groups using Afghan soil to threaten their sovereignty. Only Pakistan kept its cool – at the risk of exposing its soft underbelly to militancy."

"Around 2,300 TTP Fighters Had Been Released From These Jails [As The Afghan Taliban Seized Power], Including Top Commanders Belonging Mostly To [The Pakistani Tribal District Of] North Waziristan"

"The day Kabul fell, thousands of inmates escaped from the Pul-i-Charkhi jail – Afghanistan's largest detention center. A couple of days before, Kandahar jail had experienced a similar situation. A Kabul-based local journalist, Anis-ur-Rehman, claimed in a tweet that around 2,300 TTP fighters had been released from these jails, including top commanders belonging mostly to [the Pakistani tribal district of] North Waziristan.

"The reported killing of two top ISIS inmates, Sheikh Mutawaqal and Abu Omar Khurasani, followed by reports of the arrest of over 25 ISIS sympathizers and the closure of mosques preaching ISIS-friendly Salafi ideology in Afghanistan indicate the [Afghan] Taliban's priorities to clamp down on militancy. While the Taliban regime seems serious in eliminating the ISIS – the main condition of their Doha deal – the TTP enjoys their hospitality. Pakistan did seek [the Afghan] Taliban action [against the TTP], but it was too little, too late.

"There have been reports that a three-member Taliban commission [in Afghanistan] has been formed to assure Pakistan that the TTP leaders will be asked to settle problems with Pakistan so that they and their families can return to their own country [Pakistan]. Asking for possible amnesty for the TTP, it is ironic that the re-Talibanized Afghanistan seeks 'strategic depth' in Pakistan.

"The TTP, therefore, is a ticking bomb. Around nine splinter groups have reportedly joined the outfit since the Doha accord. After his release from Pul-i-Charkhi, Maulvi Faqir, the TTP former deputy chief and a close ally of the current Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, pledged allegiance to the Afghan Taliban. On the way from Kabul to Kunar province abutting Pakistan's Bajaur district, his hometown, Faqir addressed his followers in a viral video, asserting that the TTP would continue to work for shari'a in Pakistan."

"[Pakistan] Will Be Relieved Because [Former TTP Deputy Chief Maulvi] Faqir Did Not Call For An Independent State Comprising Pakistan's Tribal Areas, A Resolve That The TTP Chief Mufti Noor Wali Made In His Latest Interview"

"The interior ministry [of Pakistan] will be relieved because Faqir did not call for an independent state comprising Pakistan's tribal areas, a resolve that the TTP chief Mufti Noor Wali made in his latest interview with the foreign media. This TTP commitment is enough to haunt the already deprived people of former FATA [federally administered tribal areas now merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan] who see the outfit through the lens of the state's regional foreign policy interests.

"So, the threat to the media does not actually emanate from the TTP, but from the method behind the ebb and flow of militancy – promoting militarism at the cost of freedom of expression. The best that PFUJ can do is to sensitize media professionals about their own role in connection with the regional economy of the imperialist war embedded in a post-9/11 world. So far this has been missing and the damage is obvious.

"In a digital media show titled 'TTP to be mainstreamed?' ex-ISI chief Lt.-Gen. Asad Durrani was awestruck by the Taliban's success against the U.S. in Afghanistan. 'They have done a great job,' said the confident analyst to his polite host, 'our military and civil administration should learn from their experience.' About the TTP, the general [Asad Durrani] took a common establishment approach: after all they are 'our people;' so he recommended amnesty for those militants ready to live in peace with Pakistan. 'Come here at will; it is your country,' he said.

"When it comes to Afghanistan, a duplicitous security approach and its influence on a large segment of the national media defies logic; it was in fact unquestioned confusion that birthed the TTP – responsible for killing over 70,000 people, a fact that power elites often cite to make the world believe in the seriousness of their efforts to eliminate regional terrorism."

Source: Dawn (Pakistan), September 16, 2021. The original English of the article has been lightly edited for clarity and standardization.

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