Tehreek-i-Taliban threatens terrorist strikes against political leaders
The prospect of an alliance against the state between the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and Baloch rebel groups is terrifying. If such an alliance does indeed take shape, eradicating the the militancy will become harder for the security forces. Such an eventuality will also be extremely disturbing for the people of Pakistan.
The TTP is an umbrella group of militant organisations operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The group was formed in 2007 with the aim of overthrowing the Pakistani government and establishing a ‘religious’ state in the country. The TTP has carried out numerous terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including suicide bombings. The deadliest of these attacks was carried out on December 2014 at Army Public School in Peshawar. The outfit was largely driven out of Pakistan through successful military operations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the erstwhile Tribal Areas. However, some TTP fighters have recently returned to their former strongholds in Pakistan and are once again active in KP.
Unlike the TTP, the Baloch rebels comprise loosely knit groups that have much less organisational strength. However, some of the attacks they have mounted have been as deadly and sophisticated as those by the TTP. Also, unlike the TTP, the Baloch groups are driven by nationalistic and ethnic concerns.
In addition to the operations against the TTP over the last decade, the military has launched several operations against the rebel groups in an effort to restore stability to the Balochistan province. These operations have at times resulted in a weakening of the militancy but the insurgency in Balochistan has remained at dangerous levels.
Before the rumours of an alliance between Baloch rebels and the TTP surfaced, a resurgent TTP was already active in the KP, where it carried out several attacks. It has also attempted a suicide bombing in Islamabad. Recent TTP actions in the KP have included the seizure of a Counter-Terrorism Department facility and hostage taking in Bannu on December 18. The spate of attacks has followed the ending of a ceasefire by the TTP and a direction to its fighters to launch a country-wide campaign of terror. Earlier, the government and the TTP had agreed to a truce after Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers took a prominent role in brokering peace talks. However, the negotiations made little progress and allegations of breaches of the ceasefire agreement were frequent.
As if this were not enough, in a surprising announcement, the TTP claimed to have been joined by a militant group led by Mazar Baloch, a Baloch militant leader from the Makran district.
The country is currently under severe financial strain and battling an ever-worsening political instability. It can ill-afford fighting a bigger threat of militancy. A few militant groups in the KP too have merged with the TTP.
The day after the TTP announcement, Balochistan was rocked by a wave of terrorist attacks, of which some were claimed by the TTP and others by Baloch groups. This seemed to point in the direction of an already existing joint operational strategy. In addition, rumours have also been pouring in recently of the possible involvement of Baloch separatist groups in the Gwadar unrest.
Balochistan has been home to a long-standing insurgency. Baloch rebel groups are seeking greater autonomy and greater control over the province’s resources. The insurgency has a complex history, with various rebel groups emerging and splintering over the years. For decades, these rebels have been carrying out deadly attacks against the military as well as civilian targets. In recent years, they have included Chinese nationals in their list of targets. As a result of such attacks, work on some CPEC projects has seen significant delays. The Baloch groups have claimed some of the deadliest attacks against the military and Chinese officials working in Pakistan. The Chinese government has expressed concern for its citizens living in Pakistan and has demanded better security for them.
The extent to which a possible nexus between the TTP and Baloch rebel groups can materialise is a subject of debate among analysts. Some argue that the TTP’s support for the Baloch rebels will be primarily opportunistic and driven by a desire to create chaos and undermine the government.
The security infrastructure in the KP and Balochistan will be further tested if the said groups strengthen their alliance in the western provinces of the country.
Any alliance between the TTP and Baloch rebel groups can have significant implications for the country’s security and stability. The TTP’s support for the Baloch rebels can add to the ongoing insurgency in Balochistan and create additional challenges for the military. The possibility of such an alliance also raises concerns about the TTP’s broader objectives and its potential to exploit the situation in Balochistan for its own ends. Alarm bells are thus ringing in Islamabad.
On January 4, a TTP spokesperson threatened the leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. “If these parties stick to their positions... action will be taken against their leading people. People should avoid being close to such leading people,” he said.
The authorities had investigated in the past but found no connections between these two entities. However, this time it looks different. In a matter of weeks, it should be clear whether the groups have indeed formed an alliance.
Some analysts have voiced their doubts about the rumours, pointing out that the Baloch rebel groups have a nationalistic ideology unlike the TTP, which is jihadist with an ultra-conservative view of shariah. However, an alliance of convenience on account of common short-term goals cannot be ruled out.
There is another dimension to the militants’ cooperation against the state. Strong links already between some Baloch separatist groups and certain Sindhi nationalist outfits. The political turmoil and economic difficulties make the rebel groups’ job easier.
The extent to which the possible nexus between the TTP and Baloch rebel groups would go is a subject of debate among analysts. Some argue that the TTP’s support for the Baloch rebels will be primarily opportunistic and driven by a desire to create chaos and undermine the government. Others suggest that the TTP might want a more strategic alliance and use the insurgency in Balochistan to distract the military from its operations in other parts of the country. However, these being early days, all such analyses are essentially speculative.
It is clear, meanwhile; that Pakistan needs to upgrade its security system. In this regard, the government and the military are already taking certain steps. On January 2, the NSC sent an unequivocal message to the Afghan Taliban regime that Pakistan would not allow its neighbour to provide sanctuaries to terrorists and facilitate them. “The forum concluded that no country will be allowed to provide sanctuaries and facilitation to terrorists and Pakistan reserves all rights in that respect to safeguard her people,” said a statement without naming Afghanistan. Earlier, the NSC was apprised of the country’s security situation with particular focus on the recent terrorist attacks in the KP and Balochistan. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif reiterated that that the war against terrorism would be led by federal and provincial governments as per National Action Plan in accordance with the National Internal Security Policy with people-centric socio-economic development as a priority. He said the Armed Forces will provide resolute deterrence and secure a conducive and enabling environment. “The Provincial Apex Committees are being revived in full earnest and LEAs, especially CTDs, will be brought up to the required fighting standards with requisite capabilities,” a statement said. The NSC also reiterated its resolve to have zero-tolerance for terrorism in Pakistan and reaffirmed its determination to take on any and all entities that resort to violence. “This will be dealt with full force of the state. Pakistan’s security is uncompromisable. The full writ of the state will be maintained on every inch of the Pakistan’s territory,” it added.
The United States has since expressed its support for Pakistan’s efforts against terrorism. During its daily news briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price said on January 4 that Pakistan had a right to defend itself from terrorism as its people had suffered tremendously in terrorist attacks. “We are aware of the recent statement by the Pakistani National Security Committee that said no country will be allowed to provide sanctuaries and facilitation to terrorists and that Pakistan reserves the right to safeguard its people.”
The writer is an Islamabad based researcher. He is currently holding the position of a progamme officer at Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) Islamabad. He tweets at @OsamaAhmad432