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Escalating Crises in Afghanistan

Dr. Fahd Humayun
Assistant Professor of Political Science & Neubauer Faculty Fellow at Tufts University

January 06, 2024

Sadly, there has never been a clean separation between Pakistan’s internal dynamics and regional tensions. In 2024, an uneasy relationship with a Taliban government ruling from Kabul will likely continue to shape many internal dynamics in Pakistan, including the state’s proclivity to use a national security lens to dictate decision-making. On the one hand this is not entirely unjustified: sources suggest that 2023 saw the highest number of fatalities in recent years with Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa and Balochistan facing the brunt of terrorist attacks by groups such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan (TJP), Islamic State Khorasan (ISK) and separatist Baloch insurgents. The ability of these groups to target Pakistan security officials and law enforcement personnel is a direct function of the impunity being afforded to them by the Afghan Taliban. On the other hand, the fact that many of these groups are once again showing a large presence in Pakistan’s border districts is a sobering reminder of squandered counterterror gains of the past decade, and indeed of a civil-military equilibrium that was responsible for those gains and that now no longer exists.

With limited leverage over the Taliban government and in the absence of clear reciprocity on effective border management, Pakistan has few good options. An immediate casualty of terrorist violence is likely to be the status of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. Afghan refugees have seen a surge in expulsions and deportations in the past six months. A second casualty will likely be the Pakistani state’s response to Baloch protesters who have marched on Islamabad seeking both answers and justice for disappeared family members. But in the face of heightened security concerns, it is unlikely that there will be any resolution to either Balochistan’s decades long insurrection or to ethno-nationalist tensions that all too frequently get conflated with state subversion.

With the Pakistan military heavily invested in political affairs of the state, counterterror and counterinsurgency responses in 2024 are likely to remain ad-hoc at best. And while the Pakistani state is unlikely to explicitly favor a policy of active conflict with the Taliban government next door, the lack of a coherent national security strategy that is backed by a strong popular mandate means that counterterror policy will continue to vacillate between external entreaties and internal heavy-handedness.

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