Shadow war

March 31, 2024

Security forces ramp up operations following deadly terrorist attacks

Shadow war


he demons of the fall of Kabul in August 2021 still haunt the region. Pakistan, which shares a long border with Afghanistan, has been suffering the worst after-effects of the withdrawal of international forces from the war-torn country.

In the backdrop of the recent attacks in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, most security analysts agree that the situation is back to the first decade of the 21st Century.

However, this time it is not a new wave of terrorism. It is an entirely different war with new ideologies, new strategies and new objectives. The biggest dynamic of the current situation is that the Afghan Taliban now face a ‘jihad’ against them by the ISIS. In Pakistan, the once ‘good Taliban’ have turned against the state. In the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, militants belonging to the Hafiz Gul Bahadur faction are targeting security forces. According to a credible intelligence source, Bahadur is based in the Laman area of the Birmal district in Paktika province of Afghanistan. Pakistan has tried various channels and tools to convince the Afghan Taliban government to take action against the banned Tehrek-i-Taliban Pakistan and Hafiz Gul Bahadur.

The interim Afghan government, however, has been reluctant so far. This has created an impression that the Afghan Taliban are supporting these elements in their fight against Pakistan. However, people close to the Afghan Taliban have a different perspective. Some of them say that the Pakistani fighters are the major force in the Haqqani network. Inside Afghanistan, the Haqqani network has significant influence, especially in south-eastern provinces.

In Pakistan, its power base is in South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Lakki Marwat, Tank, Bannu, Kurram, Hangu and some parts of Baluchistan. These fighters had fought against US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan for the Haqqanis. Consequently, it is difficult for the interim minister of interior, Sirajuddin Haqqani, to take stern action against the TTP and Hafiz Gul Bahadur.

Others have a different perspective. To them, it is a tactical issue in the emerging war in the region. In this region, the seeds of ISIS were sown by TTP fighters creating a local chapter named Islamic State in the Province of Khorasan. Some elements in the Pakistani Taliban are inclined towards the ISKP. They are silent due to various considerations, at least for the time being. If the Afghan Taliban launch a crackdown against the Pakistani Taliban, a majority of these fighters could join the ISKP. So, the Afghan Taliban are reluctant to take any action against the TTP.

The previous government, under prime minister Imran Khan, had initiated talks with the TTP and Hafiz Gul Bahadur. Demands were exchanged and as a goodwill gesture the government set free hundreds of militants in its custody. This created a stir in the region, especially in Swat where thousands of citizens protested against the return of these militants. However, the previous administration assured the people that there was no danger in allowing the fighters to live peaceful lives in the tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The government was eventually replaced.

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There are elements in the Pakistani Taliban who are inclined towards the ISKP. However, they are silent due to various considerations, at least for the time being. If the Afghan Taliban launch a crackdown against the Pakistani Taliban, it is very likely that a majority of these fighters will join the ISKP. The Afghan Taliban are reluctant to take any action against the TTP due to this consideration.
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After a brief halt, the militants resumed attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Not all these attacks were carried out by the TTP or Hafiz Gul Bahadur. New groups such as Tehreek-i-Jihad Pakistan and Ansar-ul Jihad started claiming responsibility for the attacks. Global militant outfits such as the ISIS or the ISKP also increased the frequency of their attacks in Pakistan. Moreover, the TTP introduced modern weaponry, including sophisticated M24 sniper rifles, M4 carbines with Trijicon ACOG scopes and the M16A4 rifles with thermal scopes. The TTP has received these weapons after the former Afghan government collapsed and US troops withdrew from Afghanistan. In some cases, the weapons were obtained from people who had looted the abandoned military bases.

Former Afghan commanders handed a significant amount of these weapons to their TTP fighters. The sniper rifle, equipped with a thermal scope, has become the weapon of choice for the TTP in its operations against Pakistani security forces. The US is believed to have left behind $7 billion worth of weapons and military gear in Afghanistan. This poses a serious threat to the stability and peace in the region.

In Balochistan, there are reports that the TTP and nationalist insurgents have joined hands and have helped each other in several attacks. The recent attacks in Balochistan show that the insurgent tactics have changed. Suicide bombings have been carried out by insurgents for the first time. Some of the attacks have been carried out by women. Majeed Brigade has claimed some of these attacks.

It is pertinent to mention here that Aslam alias Achu, head of the Majeed Brigade, was once treated in India. He was later killed in Afghanistan in 2018. The insurgents also have bases in the bordering regions of Iran.

After months of futile efforts to persuade the Afghan Taliban to take action against the TTP, Pakistani forces carried out targeted operations in Khost and Paktika regions on March 18. Local sources have confirmed that the buildings were used by the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group. Earlier, similar strikes had been carried out against terrorist hideouts located in Iran.

On March 26, six people, including five Chinese citizens working on the Dasu dam project, were killed when a suicide bomber targeted their bus in Bisham. Following the attack, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif chaired an emergency meeting attended by Chief of the Army Staff Gen Asim Munir, federal ministers, chief ministers, chief secretaries, inspector generals of police and chief secretaries. The meeting resolved to stop the resurgence of terrorism in the country.

The current wave of terrorism is also affecting other countries. The ISKP has claimed responsibility for the deadly Moscow attack. After the attack, it published a 30-page polemic. The tone of the polemic is anti-Taliban and some of it is aimed at the propaganda wing of the Afghan Taliban’s Al-Mirsad Media. The pamphlet argues that the attack in Russia was meant to expose the Afghan interim government and the Doha Deal. The Taliban had claimed that they will restrain the Islamic State and banish the ISKP affiliates from the Afghan soil. The pamphlet talks about Russian and Chinese interests in Afghanistan and blames the Afghan Taliban for their presence. However, there are no details about the attack in Moscow.

The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer. He also works for the digital media platform The Khorasan Diary

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