Imminent challenge

How security in tribal areas has been impacted in the recent wave of terror attacks across the country

Imminent challenge


fter Operation Zarb-i- Azb, all tribal units of the then federally administered tribal areas (FATA) along the Afghan border were declared secure. Peace had returned. Life had returned to normal after the conflict. The parliament had resolved the Durand Line issue and the tribal areas had been merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. But then the Taliban gained strength in Afghanistan and US allies started surrendering to the Taliban. That was why the US and its coalition partners in Afghanistan started peace talks with the Afghan Taliban in Doha, Qatar. The process soon started looking like unconditional surrender. Finally, the US allies announced the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The then Afghan government was badly disorganised and on August 15, 2021, the Taliban took over Kabul.

On this side of the border, with the military operations against militants inside the tribal territories of Pakistan, their hideouts had been destroyed, a majority of them had been forced to seek refuge in Afghanistan. A significant number had gone into hiding in cities across the country.

When the charge of the former tribal areas was handed over to the civil administration, it was necessary to organise development works and restore peace and order, deploy the police and establish civil institutions like other parts of the country. They had to provide police in all tribal districts and complete the construction of police stations and outposts. Recruiting police and arranging employment for the youth was one of the priorities. These would make the courts and legal systems effective. Along with this, the combing operation against sleeper cells and facilitators of the militants across the country would be completed. Unfortunately, the PTI government at the time stirred up political chaos in the country. Opposition parties, media and the civil society were worried. The concrete actions promised in the post-APS operation against extremism were forgotten. So was the resolve to initiate development activities in these areas. Instead, political extremism was promoted.

When the Afghan Taliban offered negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban, these negotiations took off in a very crude manner. While negotiations were in progress, dozens of militants were released as a goodwill gesture. After August 15, 2021, the security forces started losing control over the tribal areas for which civilians as well as security forces’ personnel had sacrificed their lives. When the government started negotiating with the militants with little thought and preparation, the Pakistani Taliban started pressing for more. Meanwhile, the head of the TTP negotiation team, Omar Khalid Khorasani, was killed. There were also reports that some TTP fighters were joining the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP). Perhaps the Afghan Taliban had also realised this emerging threat. That could explain why they repeatedly insisted on negotiations with the TTP to settle the issue as soon as possible. The TTP fighters joining the ISKP ranks could become a permanent headache for the Afghan Taliban.

However, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government had other priorities. It failed to appreciate the imminent threat. They believed that the forty thousand militants they were talking to should be brought back to Pakistan and resettled in the border regions. Those familiar with the militancy generally agree that this was an absurd notion. How could a fighter who considered democracy un-Islamic and the establishment of a caliphate as the only solution accept a democratic government and the constitution? Having seen the Afghan Taliban drive out the US and its allies from Afghanistan, why would he lay down his arms?

What followed was a predictable increase in militancy in Pakistan after the arrival of the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan. The police and security forces were attacked in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including in North Waziristan, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, South Waziristan, Tank and Peshawar districts. This time, more attacks were carried out in other districts of Pakhtunkhwa than in the former FATA. Once a deadlock was reached in the negotiations, the TTP elements already opposing the talks reorganised the organisational structure.

When PTI chief Imran Khan was out on the streets blaming state institutions for his ouster, the militants took advantage of the political chaos to strengthen their positions. Under this new structure of TTP, the former tribal structure of the organisation has been abolished. Earlier, the Taliban were led by a local militant commander in every district from North Waziristan to Bajaur. This was the reason why the TTP often seemed to suffer from tribal rifts. This time, they have brought in militant commanders from outside and appointed them in every district. For example, TTP command for the Zhob region of Balochistan has been assigned to Sarbakaf Mohmand from the Mohmand district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The commander has claimed responsibility for the suicide attack on the mosque in Peshawar Police Lines. Since then, militants from North Waziristan and Lakki Marwat have attacked the Karachi Police headquarters. An important development after August 15, 2021, has been joint attacks by Baloch youth and the TTP. When the Afghan Taliban carried out operations against those who took refuge while fighting against Pakistan in the areas adjacent to Balochistan in Afghanistan, many Baloch commanders and fighters sought TTP help, established contact and took refuge with them. Thus, for the first time, we are seeing TTP and Baloch fighters coming closer. Over the coming days, this can have consequences for security situation in Balochistan and Sindh.

The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer

Imminent challenge