On January 30, a suicide bomber killed 101 people, most of whom were policemen, at a mosque in Peshawar. The attack was likely the work of Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), a sister organization of the similarly named group that now rules Afghanistan. As Husain Haqqani explains, the TTP’s current power—and the serious terrorist threat Pakistan now faces—is the result of extensive support it and other Islamist groups have received from the Pakistani government:
After the success of the Afghan mujahideen in driving out the Soviets—with U.S. support—Pakistan’s security services mobilized similar ideologically motivated groups to try to force India out of long-disputed Kashmir. Pakistani jihadists fought in the civil war in Afghanistan that followed the collapse of the Soviet-backed regime from 1992 to 1996, and later alongside the Taliban beginning in 2001. (Pakistan supported the Afghan Taliban regime in the 1990s.)
Islamist groups recruiting in Pakistan cited hadith—traditions and sayings attributed to the prophet Mohammed—that prophesied a great battle in the Indian subcontinent. Pakistan’s security services expected that radicalization through religion could help break the deadlock over Kashmir and empower Pakistan’s allies in Afghanistan. The strategy instead made Pakistan a battleground of competing interpretations of radical Islamist ideas. In the last 30 years, Pakistan has supported some jihadist groups and tolerated others, while also participating in the United States-led war against terrorism.
This juggling act has eroded Pakistan’s international standing and led some jihadist factions to target Pakistan’s military and security forces, occasionally inviting retaliation. When the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in 2021, Islamabad saw Kabul’s new regime as a potential close ally. After 2001, Pakistan continued to cultivate the Taliban as a counterweight to more liberal United States-backed factions; these were seen as too closely aligned with India.
Pakistan’s security services and some politicians, including Khan, have advocated a nuanced approach to the TTP and other militant groups, suggesting the groups reflect Islamic aspirations that need not be seen as inimical to Pakistan. But events have repeatedly proven that compromise with armed and violent radical Islamist groups is impossible.