In the wake of the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan in August 2021, two decades after their expulsion by American forces, the geopolitical landscape of the region underwent a profound transformation. Pakistan was deeply implicated in the complex network of global attention and censure, strongly charged with allegedly aiding and abetting the Afghan Taliban in their conflict with the coalition forces commanded by the United States. In spite of Pakistan’s crucial role in promoting peace negotiations, the post-conflict situation took an unanticipated and unsettling turn when terrorism visibly reappeared inside its borders, clouding the country’s laboriously constructed efforts to maintain stability and strengthen its security apparatus.
When Pakistan welcomed four million Afghan refugees in 1979 during the Soviet invasion, the country’s dedication to humanitarian endeavors became evident. But the world community largely ignored Pakistan’s contributions, in spite of the country’s enormous sacrifices and earnest attempts. Although these refugees are evidence of Pakistan’s compassion, their presence has complicated the country’s politics, economy, and security. The concept of non-refoulement protection, in particular, seemed inadequate in addressing the changing needs of millions of refugees, who, it was widely believed, were no longer eligible for protection and refugee status.
As nations such as Australia utilized “national security” exemptions to restrict the implementation of non-refoulement norms, Pakistan was obliged to confront the issue of Afghan refugees being forced to return to their country of origin. Regrettably, there was a noticeable surge in terrorist activity in Pakistan at the same time as this forced repatriation. Public opinion increasingly associated Pakistan’s response to the Taliban government’s alleged lack of cooperation about terrorism funded by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) with the expulsion of Afghan refugees.
The leadership of Pakistan met in 2012 to discuss ways to counter the growing threat of terrorism. The result of this was the 2013 start of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which was directed towards a number of extremist organizations, such as the TTP, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, al-Qaeda, and others. The accomplishment of this mission led to a notable decrease in acts of terrorism. But tensions and hostility between Pakistan and Afghanistan have been heightened by recent clashes between their security forces, which highlighted the ongoing problem of the Pak-Afghan border contention.
After the Taliban took over, there were concerning doubts regarding Afghanistan’s involvement in attacks on Pakistan. Appearance of the Bannu bomber, who was identified as Afghan further manifests use of Afghan soil to perpetrate terrorism in Pakistan. Security agency assessments and forensic evidence pointed to a significant Afghan involvement in Pakistani terrorist actions. Events such as the early 2023 attack on Pakistan Army troops in North Waziristan, spearheaded by an Afghan Taliban commander who was now linked with the TTP, introduced a new facet to the intricate relations between Pakistan and the government run by the Taliban in Kabul.
As events like the foiled attack at Zhob Cantonment and the attack in Mianwali demonstrated the involvement of Afghan nationals, the repatriation of Afghans gained pace. Pakistan faces significant obstacles in combating cross-border terrorism, as evidenced by the recent intelligence-based operations in Tank district’s Kot Azam that claimed the lives of six militants, including citizens of Afghanistan. One of the main factors influencing the repatriation operations was the involvement of Afghan individuals in terrorist activities in Pakistan.
Pakistan was met with ungratefulness by the Afghan people after decades of unwavering support for Afghanistan, including help in driving out Soviet soldiers and offering sanctuary during the US-led war on terror. Pakistan resisted taking military action against the Afghan Taliban leadership despite pressure from the US, only to have its efforts ignored and undervalued. Pakistan finds itself in a difficult diplomatic position as a result of accusations that it is manipulating the Afghan crisis and its inability to forge a cordial western border.
The hard-won security brought about by years of counterterrorism work is seriously threatened by the rebirth of terrorism within Pakistan’s borders, as the country struggles with the complexity brought about by the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan. The Afghan refugee problem complicates an already complicated situation by being entwined with challenges related to national security and diplomacy. In order to meet these difficulties, the international community must work together to address the underlying causes of instability and advance long-lasting peace in the region, in addition to reevaluating regional initiatives. Pakistan’s continuous battle is a sobering reminder that serious and cooperative efforts from all parties involved are necessary to bring about regional peace.