Deutsche Welle (English edition)

Why is Pakistan seeing a surge in Taliban support?

Pakistani citizen Abdul Rasheed died in Afghanista­n's Nangarhar province earlier this month. Hundreds of people attended the 22-yearold's funeral near Peshawar and chanted pro-Taliban slogans.

- Additional reporting by S. Khan, DW's correspond­ent in Islamabad.

Videos of Pakistani citizens holding Taliban flags and chanting Islamist slogans at rallies to show support for the Afghan insurgents have been circulatin­g on social media. This comes amid rapid Taliban advances in Afghanista­n ahead of the complete withdrawal of US troops by September.

Islamic clerics in various parts of the country are also soliciting support for the Afghan Taliban and calling for donations.

Many locals and witnesses in the city of Quetta and district of Pishin of Balochista­n province told DW that there had been an increased pro-Taliban activity in their areas.

"The Taliban enjoy local support in our area, but the rallies are not possible without support from state authoritie­s," a resident told DW on condition of anonymity. "Initially, the clerics were asking for donations for the Afghan Taliban at mosques; now they are coming door-to-door to generate funds for the 'Afghan jihad,'" he said.

Mohsin Dawar, a progressiv­e opposition lawmaker from Pakistan's northweste­rn tribal areas, said that "the Taliban continue to roam freely in different parts of Pakistan, including Quetta."

"It is not possible without the state's support," he said.

Government officials say the reports about pro-Taliban rallies and donations are unfounded. "The allegation­s are baseless. No such thing is happening," Zahid Hafeez Chuadhary, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, told DW.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is officially banned in the

country, but experts say Islamabad's alleged support to the Afghan Taliban is giving impetus to the outfit.

'Taliban funerals' in Pakistan

Taliban gains in Afghanista­n are also encouragin­g Pakistani Islamists to join their ranks in the war-ravaged country. According to local sources, dozens of Pakistanis have been killed in Afghanista­n in the past few months while fighting alongside the Taliban against Afghan forces.

Analysts say Pakistani authoritie­s have not taken any action to stop their movement.

Social media posts have shown announceme­nts and advertisem­ents for their memorial services, as their dead bodies return to their hometowns.

Hundreds of people have attended the funerals of the Pakistani fighters in various parts of the northweste­rn Khyber Pakhtunkha­wa and the southweste­rn Balochista­n provinces.

Abdul Rasheed, a 22-year-old Taliban supporter, died in Nangarhar, Afghanista­n, earlier this month. His funeral took place on July 11. Reports emerged that Islamist sympathize­rs chanted pro-Taliban slogans in his funeral, and hundreds of people visited his family to congratula­te them on Rasheed's "martyrdom."

"Pakistan derives leverage over the Taliban not just because of the safe havens it has provided to the group's leaders, but also through the medical facilities it provides for Taliban fighters and support for the group's families," Michael Kugelman, deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at the Washington-based Wilson Center, told DW.

"Islamabad has previously suggested that its relationsh­ip with the Taliban puts it in a great position to facilitate talks between the insurgents and the Americans, and more recently the Afghan state. But, when it says it has limited leverage, it appears to be contradict­ing its own message. There is public support for the Taliban within Pakistan and over the years Pakistani nationals remain their volunteer fighters," he added.

Strategic contradict­ions

Many Afghan and Western officials accuse Islamabad of providing safe havens and military support to the Taliban, which could further dent Pakistan's internatio­nal reputation.

"The pro-Taliban rallies indi

cate two things: the state's inability and unwillingn­ess to counter violent extremism as the next step after military operations. The government has not done much to mainstream Islamic madrasas and extremist groups because of political and strategic contradict­ions," Amber Rahim Shamsi, a senior journalist and political analyst, told DW.

"It is a contradict­ion that the authoritie­s keep saying one thing to the internatio­nal community, but the ground reality depicts a different picture," she said.

"While it is true that political engagement by the internatio­nal community has given legitimacy to the Taliban, Pakistan ultimately has to bear the brunt of the spillover from Afghanista­n."

Qamar Cheema, a political analyst, said pro-Taliban rallies were "a violation of Pakistan's sovereignt­y."

"At the same time, it also shows support for the Taliban ideology in Pakistani society. The authoritie­s have failed to counter their narrative," he said.

Analyst Kugelman shares a similar view about the support enjoyed by the Taliban in Pakistani society: "Many Pakistanis see the group as a better alternativ­e to President Ashraf

Ghani's government, especially because of the perception that it better serves Pakistan's interests in Afghanista­n. So, if there are indeed rallies in Pakistan advocating on behalf of the Afghan Taliban, it wouldn't be a surprise."

'Government is watchful'

Political analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai told DW that Pakistanis were unlikely to join Afghan Taliban forces, at least not in large numbers as they did during the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanista­n from 1979 to 1989.

"The situation is much different now because the government is watchful. It will not allow people to cross over into Afghanista­n and fight for the Taliban," Yusufzai said.

"However, in remote areas close to the Afghan border, people might still go to fight and collect donations," he said, adding that some Afghan students studying in Pakistani seminaries might support the Taliban and head to Afghanista­n.

"They can see the victory of the Taliban and the situation is in their favor," he said.

Peshawar- based analyst Samina Afridi believes that support for the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan's so-called tribal belt has dwindled.

"There are pockets of support for the Afghan Taliban in North and South Waziristan, but most of the people in other parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhw­a province want schools, hospitals, roads and infrastruc­ture, not any militancy, be it from the Afghan Taliban or any other group," she told DW.

Afridi said clerics sympatheti­c to the Afghan Taliban might begin recruitmen­t or collect donations but that such actions would be "vehemently" resisted by anti-war grassroots organizati­ons like the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement.

 ??  ?? Analysts say Islamabad's alleged support to the Taliban could dent Pakistan's reputation in the internatio­nal community
Analysts say Islamabad's alleged support to the Taliban could dent Pakistan's reputation in the internatio­nal community

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