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The Azadi Briefing: Deadly Attack Further Inflames Tensions Between Pakistan And Afghan Taliban  

A Pakistani soldier examines the site of a suicide bombing in Dera Ismail Khan that killed nearly two dozen people on December 12.
A Pakistani soldier examines the site of a suicide bombing in Dera Ismail Khan that killed nearly two dozen people on December 12.

Welcome to The Azadi Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan. To subscribe, click here.

I'm Abubakar Siddique, senior correspondent at RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. Here's what I've been tracking and what I'm keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

A suicide bomber killed 23 soldiers in an attack on a military base in northwestern Pakistan on December 12, in one of the deadliest attacks against Pakistani security forces in years.

The Tehrik-e Jihad Pakistan (TJP), a lesser-known militant group, claimed responsibility for the attack in the district of Dera Ismail Khan. Islamabad and some experts believe the group is a front for the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban.

Following the deadly attack, Islamabad delivered a strongly-worded message to the Afghan Taliban demanding that it hand over TTP leaders allegedly hiding in Afghanistan.

One provincial Pakistani minister even called for retaliatory attacks inside Afghanistan.

The Taliban's chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, pledged a probe but reiterated Kabul’s stance that it is not responsible for Islamabad’s security while pointing out that the attack occurred deep inside Pakistani territory.

Why It's Important: The attack further inflamed tensions between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban, longtime allies who have fallen out over the Afghan extremist group’s alleged sheltering of the TTP.

Abdul Sayed, a Sweden-based researcher, said Pakistan is ramping up pressure on the Afghan Taliban to cut ties with the TTP. But he said the TJP, which only entered the scene in the past year, allows the TTP and its Afghan ally to maintain a position of plausible deniability.

Sayed said the emergence of the TJP, which has claimed responsibility for several high-casualty attacks against Pakistani forces in recent months, marks a new phase in the TTP’s insurgency against Islamabad.

“These attacks exclusively focus on security forces, sparing civilian casualties,” he said, referring to the TTP's past policy of attacking civilian targets.

What's Next: There are no signs that the TJP, the TTP, or other militant groups will ease their attacks against Pakistani forces.

On December 15, three soldiers and three suspected militants were killed in attacks on a regional police headquarters and two military posts in northwest Pakistan. A new armed group called Ansar al-Jihad has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Pakistan's powerful army chief, General Asim Munir, is touring Washington in an apparent bid to solicit Washington's support for what Islamabad considers to be its new domestic war on terrorism.

But analysts remain skeptical about U.S. military support for Islamabad.

What To Keep An Eye On

The U.S. Treasury has slapped sanctions on a former Afghan official, his son, and related entities, accusing them of misappropriating millions of dollars of funds provided by U.S. government contracts.

In a December 11 statement, the Treasury said former Afghan parliament speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani and his son Ajmal Rahmani “perpetrated a complex procurement corruption scheme resulting in the misappropriation of millions of dollars from U.S. Government-funded contracts that supported Afghan security forces.”

On December 8, the Treasury also sanctioned two senior Taliban officials for serious human rights abuses.

Fariduddin Mahmood, the head of the Taliban’s Academy of Sciences, and Khalid Hanafi, the minister for the propagation of virtue and prevention of vice, were designated “for serious human rights abuse related to the repression of women and girls, including through the restriction of access to secondary education for women and girls in Afghanistan.”

Why It's Important: Mir Rahman Rahmani is one of the most prominent figures from the former Western-backed Afghan government to be sanctioned by Washington.

It is unclear if the measures against him will trigger similar actions against other former Afghan officials accused of corruption.

U.S. sanctions against senior Taliban officials appear designed to punish the group over its severe restrictions on women’s rights.

Rights abuses and corruption are regarded as some of the key drivers of the four-decade-old war in Afghanistan.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have. You can always reach us at

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari- and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday, in our newsletter, Azadi Briefing, one of our journalists will share their analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

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