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Pakistan: Taliban donations, recruitment on the rise

S. Khan Islamabad
May 28, 2021

As NATO forces begin their withdrawal from Afghanistan, some clerics and Islamist groups sympathetic to the Afghan Taliban are accused of intensifying efforts to solicit support for the militant group.

Four Afghan military personnel in and around an armored vehicle at Laschkar Gah
Clashes erupted earlier in May between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters in the Busharan area in Helmand province, Afghanistan Image: Sifatullah Zahidi/AFP

Concerns have been growing in Pakistan over intensified clashes in Afghanistan, with some politicians and civil society organizations fearing that they could prompt local militants to join the Afghan Taliban.

On Sunday, Afghan forces confronted Taliban fighters near Mihtarlam, a city of around 140,000 people and the capital of Laghman province.

Clashes have escalated in Afghanistan since US and NATO forces began their withdrawal of troops on May 1, with insurgents attempting to capture new territory. Foreign forces are set to pull out by September 11.

Analysts warn that Afghanistan is at risk of surging violence similar to that of the 1990s when the Taliban rose to power and thousands of Pakistanis joined the Afghan Taliban to fight the Northern Alliance.

Recently, videos have emerged on Pakistani social media platforms showing clerics soliciting support for the Afghan Taliban and calling for donations.

The Afghan Taliban is banned in Pakistan, but some clerics or Islamist groups sympathetic to the militant group have been known to recruit on their behalf. 

'Openly collecting donations' in Balochistan

A former senator and leader of the nationalist Pukhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party in the western Pakistani province of Balochistan, who did not want to be named, claims the Taliban is already carrying out recruitment to fight the Afghan government.

"Come to Balochistan, and I will show the villages and areas where clerics are openly attending the funerals of those Pakistanis killed in Afghanistan while fighting for the Taliban," he told DW, adding that recruitment will pick up pace once foreign troops have completely departed from the war-torn country.

Afghanistan: Taliban's return to power 'likely'

Muhammed Sarfraz Khan, the former director of the Area Study Center of Peshawar University, told DW that clerics from North and South Waziristan to Kurrum and Khyber in Pakistan are "luring" people into joining the Taliban as state authorities turn a blind eye.

They are openly collecting donations, he said, adding that the withdrawal of foreign troops will have a severe impact on the northwestern and western provinces of Pakistan, the regions which are home to tens of thousands of Afghan Taliban supporters, according to the expert.

'Government is watchful'

Political analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai, meanwhile, said Pakistanis are unlikely to join Afghan Taliban forces, at least not in large numbers as they did during the Soviet War in Afghanistan between 1979 and 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 told DW.

"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 also 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 KP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) 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.

Pakistanis accused of Taliban support

Islamabad, Pakistani religious organizations and several Pakistani Taliban have also been accused of throwing support behind the Afghan Taliban.

During the 1990s, Pakistan was among the three countries that recognized the Taliban-governed Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

In recent years, critics called Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan "Taliban Khan" for suggesting that the Afghan Taliban should be engaged in talks despite the group's insurgency between 2004 and 2016. Sporadic attacks have also been carried out in recent years.

Prominent Pakistani Taliban member Asmat Ullah Mauvia reportedly joined the Afghan Taliban in the fight against foreign troops and the Ghani government.

More recently, Pakistani Taliban leader Adnan Rasheed was also reported to have joined the Afghan Taliban.

Rasheed was convicted of an attack on former Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf, in December 2003 and imprisoned. In 2012, however, the Pakistani Taliban stormed the Bannu Prison, freeing hundreds of militants including Rasheed.

Pakistani religious parties like Jamiat Ulema Islam of Maulana Fazl ur Rehman and the Jamiat Ulema Islam Sami ul Haq Group have also been accused of supporting the Afghan Taliban.

Warnings for India

Muhammad Iqbal Khan Afridi, a parliamentarian from Pakistan's ruling party, said authorities have placed strict measures to prevent cross-border movement of militants, such as setting up fences at the border with Afghanistan.

Afridi dismissed claims of Afghan Taliban recruitment or donation campaigns.

The parliamentarian did, however, warn  India against using Afghan soil to create problems for Pakistan, saying New Delhi would face dire consequences for doing so.