TTP Activity Causes Continued Deterioration in Pakistani–Afghan Relations

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 22 Issue: 4

Border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Source: Arab News)

Executive Summary

  • Continued attacks from the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) out of Afghan territory have strained relations between Kabul and Islamabad over Afghanistan’s continued sheltering of the Islamist group. Tit-for-tat escalation and intensifying rhetoric between the two countries could possibly lead to war in the future.
  • Between September 2023 and February 2024, TTP terrorist attacks killed over 70 people. 75 percent of Pakistan’s suicide bombers in 2023 were identified as Afghan nationals.
  • Islamabad reacted to Kabul’s refusal to act against the TTP by forcibly expelling over 1.5 million Afghan refugees after November 1, 2023.

On September 6, 2023, the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), or “Pakistani Taliban,” attacked military check posts in Chitral, Pakistan from Afghanistan. In the incursion, four soldiers and 12 militants were killed (The Friday Times, September 6, 2023). On the same day, Pakistani military and Afghan border forces exchanged fire at Torkham, resulting in the closure of a key border crossing for nine days.

Pakistan had previously blamed Afghanistan for abetting TTP in Pakistan, and the Chitral attack by the TTP triggered a harsh reaction from Pakistan toward the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Soon after Pakistan’s response, the Afghan Taliban arrested 200 TTP fighters (The Express Tribune, September 29, 2023). Nevertheless, Pakistan does not consider this sufficient. It wants more action from the Afghan Taliban against the TTP. Additionally, some Pakistani analysts question the veracity of Kabul’s claimed arrests.

Pakistan’s Shattered Dream

The Afghan Taliban had cordial relations with Pakistan for the past two decades. Pakistan provided the group shelter and supported the Taliban in its insurgency against NATO forces in Afghanistan. In return, Pakistan expected that once the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, their government would be friendly, and Pakistan’s western border would be secured at last. However, this did not happen. Rather, the TTP renewed its insurgency against Islamabad from Afghanistan, and the Afghan Taliban have been unwilling to crack down on the TTP—its long-time ideological and organizational ally (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 21, 2022).

In the early days of the Taliban takeover of Kabul, Pakistan advocated for international rapprochement with the Afghan Taliban’s reconstituted “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” (IEA). Moreover, Pakistan repeatedly requested the United States and other Western countries release suspended financial assistance, without which the Taliban government could barely survive (The Express Tribune, August 29, 2021). In particular, Pakistan repeatedly urged the United States to unfreeze the Afghan assets, which had been frozen after the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul (Dawn, August 20, 2022).

On the other side, the Afghan Taliban mediated peace talks between Islamabad and the TTP. However, as the temporary month-long ceasefire expired and peace talks collapsed in December 2021, TTP militants increased the tempo of their cross-border attacks against Pakistani security forces (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 21, 2022). Having fought alongside the Afghan Taliban in their two decades of war against the Western-backed government in Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban are not disowning the TTP now—much to Pakistan’s disappointment (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, November 28, 2023). Additionally, the Afghan Taliban have downplayed Pakistan’s requests to forbid the use of Afghan soil as a base for TTP attacks against Pakistan, further irritating Pakistan.

Fraying Relations

After the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021, terrorism returned to Pakistan, particularly in its Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces. Pakistan has blamed the Afghan Taliban for providing sanctuaries to TTP fighters in Afghanistan and for the accompanying uptick in terrorism in Pakistan. However, the Afghan Taliban has denied the TTP’s presence in Afghanistan multiple times. Not believing the Taliban’s assurances, Pakistan has on several occasions stated it would target the TTP in Afghanistan, after which the Afghan Taliban reacted by saying it would not let anyone attack Afghanistan (WION, January 3, 2023).

Pakistan conducted airstrikes in the eastern Afghan cities of Khost and Kandahar on April 16, 2022. These strikes killed 47 people, mainly children and women. Pakistani authorities did not comment on this incident (Al Jazeera, April 17, 2022). Likewise, the Afghan Taliban chose not to react to the attack despite its recent pledge to exercise restraint. Later, on January 5, 2023, there were reports that Pakistan launched airstrikes on TTP strongholds in Nangarhar Province. This came three days after Pakistan’s National Security Council decided that the country would adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward all terrorists (Hash-e Subh Daily, January 5, 2023). While Pakistani authorities did not comment on the previous airstrikes in Afghanistan, they denied carrying out the alleged January 5 strikes (Dawn, January 5, 2023).

On the other hand, verbal sparring between the leadership of Pakistan and Afghanistan has been ongoing since the TTP launched terrorist attacks in Pakistan. For its part, the Afghan Taliban blame rising terrorism on Pakistani incompetence rather than Afghan assistance to the TTP. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stated that Pakistan lacks the capacity to prevent security incidents from happening and is instead trying to use Afghanistan as a scapegoat. These comments came after Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister, Anwaar ul Haq Kakar, claimed that the Afghan Taliban’s inaction over the TTP’s activities was unacceptable to Pakistan (TOLOnews, November 20, 2023).

Due to Pakistan’s increasingly harsh rhetoric, Afghan Taliban members are now turning away from Islamabad, even those who were once extremely close to it. For example, Sirajuddin Haqqani warned Pakistan against any “misadventure” in Afghanistan. Haqqani is currently the Afghan interior minister but is better known as the head of the Haqqani Network—and a famously close collaborator with Pakistan’s leading spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

This statement was made after Pakistan threatened to target militants operating in Afghanistan for their role in a suicide bombing in Bajaur on July 30, 2023. The attack killed more than 60 individuals and was claimed by Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) (Times of India, August 22, 2023). Although relations between the two countries were already at a nadir, the situation deteriorated further when Pakistan issued an ultimatum to Afghanistan: either expel the TTP or face consequences. Pakistan’s special representative to Afghanistan, Asif Durrani, then followed up on this threat with a repeated warning to the Afghan Taliban, stating that they had to either choose between the TTP or Pakistan (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, November 28, 2023).

On January 7, 2024, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, the chief of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) or JUI-F, also visited Kabul in a bid to revive relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. JUI-F is considered to have close ties with the Afghan Taliban. Among the many items on Maulana Fazl’s agenda, resolving the TTP issue was at the top (Dawn, January 7, 2024). Even so, Fazl’s visit achieved little, and the TTP continued its attacks on Pakistan after the visit. Relations between the two countries have not improved since.  On February 2, Pakistan’s Foreign Office once again asked the Taliban administration in Kabul to extradite the TTP’s leadership (Dawn, February 2, 2024). Given that these threats have come continuously and no subsequent decline in terrorism occurred, there is no likelihood of relations improving between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban.

Expelling the Refugees

As the TTP continued attacking Pakistan, the Pakistani authorities focused on the Afghans involved in many of these attacks. Suicide bombers in up to 75 percent of attacks in Pakistan in 2023 were identified as Afghan nationals. As nearly two million Afghan immigrants were living in Pakistan without legal status and Pakistan had security concerns, the country’s caretaker government set a November 1, 2023, deadline for Afghan refugees to leave or face forcible expulsion. This was a rash decision, which upset the Afghan Taliban and harmed relations further. (Arab News Pakistan, October 5, 2023).

Increasing frustration in Islamabad over the failure of negotiations and the loss of leverage over their former Afghan Taliban allies led to the Pakistani decision to expel around 1.5 million Afghan refugees. Considered an action of last resort, this pressure tactic was intended to finally compel the Afghan government to act against the TTP (Al Jazeera, November 7, 2023).

Pakistan began forcibly expelling Afghan refugees following the deadline’s expiration on November 1, 2023. In Islamabad, the police demolished refugees’ homes. In Karachi and other cities, arrests and detentions started as the deadline expired. This was followed by forcible deportations (Dawn, November 1, 2023). Pakistan’s heavy-handed approach toward the Afghan refugees angered the Afghan Taliban. Afghanistan’s defense minister, Mullah Yaqoob, denounced Pakistan’s policy as “cruel” and “barbaric” (Dawn, November 2, 2023). Rather than changing Kabul’s policies toward the TTP, however, the expulsions only widened the gulf between the two countries.


As long as the TTP continues attacking Pakistan, there are no prospects of relations between Kabul and Islamabad improving anytime soon. Moreover, since the TTP is not giving up on violence and officials in both Pakistan and Afghanistan engage in ceaseless verbal attacks, the two countries may eventually step into an all-out war. Both parties are stubbornly sticking to their positions. The Afghan Taliban refuse to abandon the TTP, and Pakistan refuses to accept an arrangement that does not result in a crackdown on the group.

If a war broke out between Afghanistan and Pakistan, it would be catastrophic for the whole region. The Afghan Taliban are trained guerilla fighters and have extensive experience in fighting protracted, asymmetric wars. Meanwhile, Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country with a strong military. Both will not hesitate to fight to the last soldier—or civilian. Were the parties to go to war, the TTP would also join on the side of the Afghan Taliban. Besides these concerns, other terrorist groups in the region, such as ISKP and al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), would benefit from a regional conflict. Fighting between Kabul and Islamabad would destabilize both states and impair their goals while furthering those of the region’s militants.