The unfinished business

October 10, 2021

The resurgence of Tehrik-i-Taliban poses a conundrum Pakistan is eager to solve

The unfinished business

There is a growing concern in the country over the recent attacks on its military and paramilitary forces.

Many fear a revival of a militant organisations following the Taliban takeover next door. For Pakistan, the remains an unfinished business.

Under Baitullah Mehsud in 2007, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was the country’s most active armed group. It was composed primarily of small groups operating out of the erstwhile FATA. The militant organisation had resorted to extreme violence against the state and its institutions, resulting in a stern military operation to eradicate the TTP and its support base from areas bordering Afghanistan. As a last resort, many TTP fighters took refuge in Afghanistan’s eastern provinces.

As the government’s focus shifted to other matters, signs of a TTP resurgence started emerging in 2020 when it carried out more than 120 attacks against the LEAs in border areas. The TTP has gone through an extensive passé of crisis and internal disintegration. By 2018 it was nearly non-operational and its insignificant leadership could gather possibly no more than 2,000 fighters under its direct authority. Noor Wali Mehsud was designated the emir in June 2018 following the death of Fazlullah. His selection was a crucial decision made by TTP’s central shura (council) amid military operations and US drone strikes that significantly damaged the TTP infrastructure over the past five years.

In a strategic move, he took the TTP headquarters from eastern Afghanistan, specifically Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, to the southeastern Paktika province.

Mehsud‘s appointment appears to have unified the TTP factions, including the Sajna group, Omar Khalid Khorasani’s Jamaat ul Ahrar, and Mukarram Khan’s Hizb ul Ahrar, under his command to revive the group. He enjoys close ties to Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Chechen Islamist militants (Emirate-i-Kaukav), and Chinese militants under the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement. To further his agenda and seek local support, Mehsud has developed contacts with Baloch separatist groups and Sindhi nationalist groups involved in attacks against Pakistani LEAs and nationals working on CPEC related projects.

With TTP regrouped, there are three security-sensitive fronts for the country. With BLA in Balochistan and cross-border attacks from Iran, the TTP presence along the Afghanistan border means that Pakistan will be kept on its toes.

With TTP regrouped, there are three security-sensitive fronts for the country. With BLA in Balochistan and cross-border attacks from Iran, TTP’s presence along Afghan border means that Pakistan will be kept on its toes.

The LEAs have been monitoring the situation carefully. The Afghan Taliban are reported to have said that Afghanistan’s soil will not be used against any neighbouring country. But this is an uncertain bet on Pakistan’s part. Although the TTP’s predicament remains a difficult one, Mehsud has relaunched and repositioned it effectively.

Unlike the last decade the political and economic situation in the tribal districts now favours Pakistan. Once a militant breeding ground, the area is now on the verge of economic development. Capacity enhancement in FC and police is continuing.

The TTP is currently working out of hideouts based in Afghanistan with support from other militant groups, providing it with logistical and intelligence services within Pakistan. Disenfranchised to a great extent by military operations in Pakistan, the group is now reported to be regaining strength by collaborating with groups like the ISIS with monetary support from India.

The LEAs and intelligence agencies have been mapping the resurgence of the TTP and its affiliates in the trans-frontier areas. Pakistan still holds the kinetic and non-kinetic options against the TTP and its affiliates. The state has the option of non-kinetic operations, including a higher magnitude of intelligence based operations to eradicate support systems within and, if necessary, outside its borders through pre-emptive strikes. That is if the Afghan Taliban fail to curtail TTP’s footprint or decides to use TTP to gain leverage against Pakistan.

The State Bank has introduced stringent financial measures to curb financial support to such armed groups. It is crucial to stop their access to international support, recruitment and links with other militant groups.

It has been days since Prime Minister Imran Khan revealed that the government is in talks with the TTP. Some say the talks are now being held from a position of strength. However, the TTP has issued a rebuttal and vowed to continue fighting.

Nationwide military and intelligence-based operations are under way. For a country trying to shed a negative image and make the world recognise its commitment against terrorism, there should be no tolerance for the likes of the TTP if the talks fail and the attacks continue.

The writer is an independent media and foreign policy analyst. She tweets @MsAishaK

The unfinished business