What Does the Afghan Taliban Gain from Mediating the TTP-Islamabad Peace Talks?

Following two days of indirect peace talks hosted by the Afghan Taliban in Kabul in early June, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)—an umbrella group of more than a dozen distinct Pakistani Taliban factions first formed in 2007—declared an indefinite extension of a ceasefire with the Pakistani government. The ceasefire extension, the second in two months, is reportedly the longest in the terror group’s history.

However, the ceasefire has not been strictly observed. According to the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, TTP militants reportedly carried out 33 attacks which killed 34 people and injured 46 others in July, an increase of seven attacks compared to June. Islamabad, for its part, has been accused of continuing to target the TTP. In April, Pakistani war planes carried out a strike on the TPP in Afghanistan. On August 8, a roadside bomb exploded in Afghanistan’s eastern Paktika province, killing senior TTP leader Omar Khalid Khorasani and other senior militants Mufti Hassan Swati and Hafiz Dawlat Khan. The TTP claimed Pakistani intelligence agents were responsible for the attack.

The TTP and Islamabad have previously engaged in peace negotiations to no avail and the Taliban’s role in this process has not made the prospect of a long-term peace agreement much more promising. The Taliban have provided the TTP with a safe haven since coming to power one year ago and the TTP has been vocal in its allegiance to and admiration of the regime’s approach to governing. Following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, the TTP was emboldened to violently reassert influence across Pakistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that border Afghanistan. Additionally, senior Afghanistan Taliban cabinet members—particularly Minister of the Interior and Haqqani Network leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani—have demonstrated support for the TTP, insisting that Pakistan address the group’s “grievances.” This close connection was confirmed when the Haqqani Network acted as a mediator between the government of Pakistan and the TTP in earlier negotiations in 2021, as well as in the current talks.

In this ongoing round, the TTP has asked for Pakistani government forces to pull out of former tribal regions of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the release of TTP fighters in government custody, and the revocation of all legal cases against the terror group. The Pakistan government wants the TTP to eventually disband and to sever its ties with ISIS in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. In terms of the latter condition, the Taliban would significantly benefit from weakened ties between the TTP and ISIS given the terror group’s continued threat to Kabul.

In May 2022, the U.N. published a report stating that the TTP constitutes the largest component of foreign terrorist fighters in Afghanistan, with troops numbering approximately several thousand. Additionally, the Taliban and the TTP maintain deep historical and ethnic connections and strong affiliations with al-Qaeda. Although Pakistan provided the Taliban with decades of support during its years of struggle against the U.S. and Afghan government, since returning to power, the Taliban has frustrated their former benefactors and may now be reassessing their ambitions in the region.

Immediately upon returning to power in Afghanistan, the Taliban released 780 TTP prisoners, including the former deputy head, Molvi Faqir Muhammad. The released prisoners significantly boosted the TTP’s troop size but also provided the Taliban with scores of militarily skilled supporters. Given the increased number of high-casualty attacks by ISIS-K throughout Afghanistan, it is fair to presume the Taliban is incentivized to maintain TTP loyalty. The Afghan Taliban stands to benefit from any scenario that prevents the strengthening of ISIS-K, which has challenged the Taliban’s ability to govern and has severely compromised Afghanistan’s national security. However, the prospect of an actual peace agreement could potentially backfire, as some hardline TTP members might defect to ISIS-K. In fact, from the onset ISIS-K welcomed a significant number of former TTP fighters.

Aside from security concerns, the Taliban’s role as mediator may also be impacted by dire economic and environmental circumstances—as well as international skepticism of the regime’s credibility—which continue to plague Afghanistan. Afghanistan is facing severe economic struggles and drought, causing almost 23 million of its people to become dependent on humanitarian aid. If the Taliban can facilitate peace between enemies within the region, they may soften their international reputation and persuade the U.S. as well as other states and donors to unfreeze Afghan funds.

While the Taliban has taken on the role of a mediator in the peace talks, it is uncertain if the Taliban has been anything but self-serving in this process. Although it is unreasonable to assume TTP attacks will immediately cease following another peace agreement, given that various factions within the TTP see a ceasefire critically, it is critical to consider whether the Taliban will ever hold the TTP accountable for their continued violence. The TTP recently stated that it seeks real peace in Pakistan, and that it is neither anti-state nor working for anti-Pakistan powers. However, it is uncertain to what extent the group will cooperate with Islamabad when their ultimate goal is to replace the elected government of Pakistan with an emirate based on their interpretation of sharia. The first peace agreement between the TPP and the Pakistani government signed in May 2004 necessitated a ceasefire that only lasted 50 days, and others in 2006 and 2008 also failed to end ongoing extremist violence.

The Taliban’s unwillingness to crack down on the TTP demonstrates why their role as a negotiating partner is concerning for U.S. anti-terrorism efforts in the region and beyond. The Pakistani government, distracted by an internal political and economic crisis and a growing insurgency in its southern Baluchistan province, fueled by U.S. manufactured weapons flowing out of Afghanistan, may see current negotiations as it best short-term option, albeit not a long-term solution. Although few details of the negotiations have emerged, one thing is certain, the implications of the Taliban’s actions will extend far beyond South Asian regional security.

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