Afghanistan’s strategic maneuver: Using PTM as a hedge against Pakistan

Faizan Ahmed

PESHAWAR: Over the past month, at least 100 soldiers have been killed as a result of an increase in violence in Balochistan and the amalgamated regions of KP (the erstwhile FATA). Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) proxy groups have five-fold intensified their attacks.

Notwithstanding the sacrifices, according to the PTM narrative, “Pakistan Army is (supposedly) accountable for the violence and terrorism” in these separated communities based on ethnicity. A growing groundswell of animosity towards the Army has sadly been secured by the PTM’s methodical narrative storytelling and listening.

Recent events have made it very clear that the PTM platform has been taken over and used into a weapon in larger geopolitical conflicts against the state of Pakistan and its security institutions. For instance, Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) assert that “Afghan government for the first time funded a powerful public exhibition in South Waziristan using PTM”. They claim that “there is no doubt” regarding Afghan security establishment members funding and backing the PTM. The PTM held the protest in support of the Kabul government, not Pakistan, which is losing three soldiers on average every day to Afghan proxies. Participants accused the Army of brainwashing the populace in Afghanistan as well as for the rise in terrorism in Pakistan.

China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has also been targeted by the PTM. Its leaders have openly demanded that China stop working on the CPEC a baseline project for Pakistan’s potential heft in geo-economics. The PTM as a de facto propaganda offshoot for the Afghan government serves two objectives, a) indirectly legitimizes the TTP/BLA terrorism and, b) sustains the Indian narrative against the state of Pakistan.

In the meantime, the PTM got support from strange quarters. The Pashtun elements within Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leveraged the platform against the Army. Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN)’s top leadership facing trial used the forum to blackmail the establishment. Foreign-sponsored NGOs, including types of abortion and gay rights advocacy groups, joined the PTM, as they could not, otherwise, promote their agenda for various reasons.

This irony is yet another. The left-leaning and liberal group supported the PTM instead of attempting to moderate its radical tendencies, tactics, narrative, ideological tendencies, and support from other groups and regional nations. They had no love lost for Pashtun welfare and were upset by previous state policies.
PTM calls itself Afghan first and promotes the narrative of Kabul government on claiming the geography of Pakistan – implicit under the slogan “Upper and Lower parts are united Afghan nation). While India received a gift from God in the form of PTM for its long-standing policy of exploiting the state’s developing fault lines.

In light of this, it should be noted that the state has given the PTM a pass since its beginning. Secondly, its claim that the Army is to blame for outrageous accusations like the APS attack in Peshawar, a false flag operation, and introducing terrorism to FATA was left unchallenged. Second, no alternative narrative was presented to refute the movement’s dreamers who made irredentist assertions about a larger Afghanistan.

Still, the state allowed the PTM to informally participate in the elections without being registered as a political group; the Army did not indulge in rigging in FATA contrary to the claims of the opposition, letting the two MNAs from the PTM make it to the parliament in 2018 elections. Unlike any other group, the government for long tolerated the PTM who has brought out to life two dead ideologies: the one which romanticism Afghanistan at the cost of Pakistani territory of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan’s Pashtun belt; and the other envisions Pashtun exclusionary/regressive political chauvinism bordering racism. (Jan Achakzai)
Outside the bounds of free speech, the PTM’s use of strong language pits impressionable Pashtun youth against the government. An analogous instance was the TLP, which provoked the fury of security agencies by encouraging mutiny among its ranks. All of the aforementioned actions—or the majority of them—are being taken in the name of portraying legitimate Pashtun “human rights” demands.

It is a fallacy that PTM is defending Pashtun interests. The two MNAs of the PTM supported drone attacks in North Waziristan alongside Afghan politicians. Around 3,000 civilians were killed as a result of 500 missiles fired by the US. As hundreds of people are killed by NATO and Afghan security forces every day in Afghanistan, the PTM never denounces these atrocities.

Pashtuns are an integral part of the Pakistani state and its mainstream society, including the bureaucracy, government, and military. For instance, the Pashtun population made up over 40% of the Kakul Academy cadets who recently graduated.
Yet, the PTM is deftly turning Pakistan’s war on terrorism’s wounds into weapons by planting an enemy narrative in the minds of the ethnic community. It continues to give India and Afghanistan the ability to target the Pakistan Army and stoke tensions between the populace and the security forces by using the far left as a negotiating chip. It becomes virtually impossible to genuinely defeat the violent proxies (like TTP and BLA) giving a veneer of victimhood in the face of such a dynamic. The bottom line is the PTM is a challenge to the state: its policy must change gear from patronage to containment of the group.