Pakistan in Hot Soup
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 07 Jan , 2023

Pakistani historian and academic FS Aijazuddin wrote in a recent article, “At the moment, Pakistan, like some charpoy left out in the rain, is precariously balanced on its four uneven corners. Each province is at a different elevation, tilting away from the federalism of Islamabad”. This indicates how much imbalanced the country is today. But the mounting woes of Pakistan indicate the country is in a ‘hotsoup’, not merely ‘in soup’ because that would be too mild.

According to the World Bank, Pakistan’s economic grow this expected to reach only around “two percent” in FY23. Due to higher energy prices, the weaker Rupee, and flood-related disruptions to agricultural production, inflation is projected to rise to around 23 percent in FY23.The current account deficit is expected to narrow only slightly to around 4.3 percent of GDP in FY23 (from 4.6 percent in FY22). The fiscal deficit (including grants) is projected to narrow only modestly to around 6.9 percent of GDP in FY23 (relative to a budgeted deficit of 4.7 percent), reflecting both negative revenue impacts from flooding and increased expenditure needs.

The Pakistani government has been forced to announce plans for energy conservation like restaurants, hotels, and markets to close by 8:30pm and wedding halls by 10pm, stopping production of incandescent light bulbs and inefficient electricity fans, and levying of additional duty on inefficient electric fans. Together with the poor economic condition and energy constraints is the political instability in Pakistan. In addition to the recent political protests and demonstrations in Islamabad, there have been violent ethnic clashes in Sindh and popular protests in Balochistan and Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK).

On January 3, 2023, curfew was imposed in Pakistan’s port town of Gwadar after a crackdown on Gwadar Rights Movement’s (Haq do Tehreek) sit-ins which blocked the port, casting a shadow over a key destination for China’s BRI investment. Leader of the Haq do Tehreek had issued an ultimatum to Chinese nationals to leave Gwadar by January 5. The Movement has been staging sit-in protests outside the main gate to the Gwadar Port.

But the biggest headache for Pakistan now is the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that is attacking Pakistani security forces with full force on almost daily basis, after the slender ceasefire was called off. Most significantly, the TTP has announced a parallel government in Pakistan – similar to what the Afghan Taliban had done with the aim to rule Afghanistan, with the US eventually handing over the country to them on a plate in 2020.

As part of the parallel government, the TTP has announced new appointments dividing its government into various ministriessuch as defence, judiciary, information, political affairs, economic affairs, education, fatwa issuing authority, intelligence and a department of construction; aimed at ruling Pakistan eventually. The TTP statement was quoted by The Khorasan Diary (TKD) publication.

Moreover, the Taliban has divided the area it claims in northern Pakistan into two provinces: Northern Province -comprising Gilgit, Baltistan and other areas bordering Afghanistan; and Southern Province – comprising districts bordering Punjab. They have even claimed Dera Ghazi Khan which is a district in Pakistan’s Punjab. Interestingly, this is in accordance with what Ayman al Zawahiri, wanted as Al Qaeda chief, who had declared allegiance to the Taliban years back.

On January 4, 2023, ‘Dawn’ quoted Rana Sanaullah, Pakistan Interior Minister, stating that an estimated number of around 7,000 to 10,000 TTP militants are present in the region. But the actual number may be much more considering the push by the TTP, porosity of the Durand Line, elements on the Pakistani side of the border assisting infiltration and the multitude of armed groups in the border region making it difficult to differentiate who is who. 

On January 5, 2023, ‘Resonant News’ tweeted: “Multiple reports claim Pakistan carried out air strikes at TTP hideouts in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan.” An Afghan news agency ‘Hasht e Subh’ also  claimed these strikes (which in turn  was quoted by several other news channels) but later Hasht e Subhretracted the statement. Ground sources confirmed no Pakistani air strike took place in Nangarhar that day. However there are reports of an operation against TTP hideouts in Tanai area of Lower Waziristan on the evening of January 5 in which MawlviToor Hafiz, a TTP commander along with 12 TTP fighters were reportedly killed. Casualties on the Pakistani side are not known.

On January 6, the TTP claimed ambushing a police vehicle convoy in Musazai area of Dera Ismail Khan District of KPK Province killing eight Pakistani police personnel.A video of the ambush was also released by the TTP. Such attacks are daily occurrences while the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) is attacking the Pakistani establishment and their Chinese masters down south.

It is Pakistan’s pleading with the Afghan Taliban that had helped it arrive at a ceasefire with the TTP. But Pakistan has failed to appreciate that the ideology and aims of the Afghan Taliban and the TTP are the same and are aligned with Al Qaeda as well. Given the high from years of generating terrorism, playing one terrorist group against another and double timing both the US and China, Pakistan has failed to even notice that both the Afghan Taliban and TTP flags are flying on the roofs of the madrassas inside Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s foolish act of fencing the Durand Line knowing full well that the Afghans have never recognized it has spoiled its relations with the Afghan Taliban as well, resulting in periodic clashes.  After the bravado of hinting at the possibility of military operations inside Afghanistan and stating Pakistan won’t talk to the TTP or any other terrorist organization, Pakistan’s interior minister Rana Sanaullah has come down to mother earth; hinting at the possibility of Islamabad being open to talks with TTP.

Responding to Sanaullah’sstatement about possibilities of military operations to target TTP hideouts inside Afghanistan, the Taliban government of Afghanistan has said it would not allow anyone to attack the “Islamic Emirate” and will give a befitting response, if any such misadventure is considered by Pakistan. Simultaneously, the Afghan Taliban also shamed Pakistan for surrendering to the Indian Armed Forces in 1971 and losing East Pakistan.

Now Sanaullah says that the TTP will have to surrender before the law and put aside arms and ammunition, and that Pakistan must approach the situation in a way that keeps the TTP at its “lowest level,” thereby preventing terrorist attacks in the future. This statement has come after the TTP threatened to eliminate the ministers of the ruling coalition government if the latter continues to take tough measures against the militants “to please America”. 

The above Pakistani plan is unlikely to work because the TTP would neither surrender before the law nor lay down their arms. They did not do so when the earlier ceasefire was negotiated through the Afghan Taliban, so why would they agree to such terms now. The CIA-ISI links are also unlikely to work because there are no American troops in Afghanistan now that need to be logistically supported through Pakistan. Moreover, for fear of China,Pakistan denied a US base on its territory that America desperately wanted. Besides, Pakistan dare not fire at US aircraft/drones overflying Pakistani airspace.   

The only possibility of a Pakistan-TTP ceasefire appears to be if Pakistan agrees (officially or unofficially) to TTP’s demand of imposing Sharia in the tribal areas, that too without TTP surrendering their weapons. Hostilities, therefore, will most likely continue with Pakistan getting cooked in its own stew.    

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army.

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