Pakistan vs Afghanistan, the forgotten war

There is a war that we often forget but which continues to cause victims and above all refugees. In the early hours of March 18, Pakistani airstrikes targeted several suspected Pakistani Taliban hideouts in neighboring Afghanistan, killing at least eight people. It was the reaction to the attack that occurred on Saturday the 16th, when the insurgents killed seven soldiers of the Islamabad army in a suicide attack that took place in the north-western region of the country. In that episode the attacker had launched himself with his truck loaded with explosives against a garrisoned position in the city of Mir Ali, a city in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, on the border with Afghanistan, while other militiamen advanced behind the vehicle, shooting . The troops responded and killed all six attackers in a shootout. The following day, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari attended the soldiers' funeral and vowed to take revenge for their killings, stating in his speech: “The blood of our martyred soldiers will not be wasted.” The attack was also later claimed by a newly formed militant group called “Jaish-e-Fursan-e-Muhammad”, which Pakistani security officials believe is mainly composed of members of the outlawed group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (abbreviated as TTP), which often targets Pakistani soldiers and police.

However, it is also known to Western intelligence that TTP fighters and leaders have been hiding in Afghanistan since the country was reconquered by the Taliban in 2021 after twenty years of US and NATO presence. The Taliban government in Kabul, through the chief spokesman of the Afghan Taliban Zabihullah Mujahid, immediately denounced the attacks which risk further increasing tension between the two nations since the attacks would have been carried out in the provinces of Khost and Paktika, on the border – very little outlined – with Pakistan. There was no comment from the Pakistani army, while the Pakistani Taliban – a separate militant group but allied with the Afghan Taliban – confirmed the attacks, saying that several women and at least three children were among the victims.

Returning to the air attack, it is not known how deep the Pakistani jets flew within Afghan airspace, but it is certain that they were the first interventions since 2022, i.e. since Pakistan targeted the militants' hideouts outside outside its borders. Pakistan is certainly not new to these actions: last January there were some exchanges of fire inside Iranian territory, where Tehran had reported Pakistanis trespassing. In his speech, the Taliban Mujahid said: “These attacks represent a violation of Afghanistan's sovereignty and there will be negative consequences that this country will not be able to control.” Although the Kabul government often states that it will not allow the TTP or any other militant group to attack Pakistan or any other country by leaving or taking refuge in its territory, the Pakistani Taliban has stepped up attacks within the nation in recent years, putting a strain on relations between Kabul and Islamabad.

The Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) organization is an alliance of militant networks formed in 2007 to unify the opposition against the Pakistani army. The stated objectives are to expel Islamabad's influence from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, through the implementation of a strict interpretation of Sharia law throughout the country and the expulsion of troops of the coalition from Afghanistan, which later occurred. The leaders of the TTP have always affirmed, even publicly, their desire to establish an Islamic caliphate by overthrowing the government in Islamabad thanks also to maintaining close ties with the leaders of al-Qaeda. Since then the movement has repeatedly threatened to attack the United States, going so far as to claim responsibility for the failed car bomb attack in Times Square, New York, on May 1, 2010. The following year a TTP spokesperson promised to attack the United States and Europe to avenge the death of Osama Bin Laden which occurred on May 2, 2011 during Operation Neptune Spear, a mission conducted by “Team Six” of the US Navy Seals.