Tehreek-i- Taliban Pakistan militants have reached a loosely- structured understanding to coexist with the ISKP along the Pak-Afghan border
The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has stepped up attacks against the security forces under its so-called Operation Al-Badr.
According to intelligence sources, TTP militants held a meeting on April 1 in Chagharsare in the Asadabad area of Kunar province of Afghanistan, adjacent to Pakistan’s Bajaur district.
Mufti Khalid, the TTP operational commander, briefed the participants of the meeting on Operation Al-Badr. Qari Musa, Haji Koka, Haji Bilal, Maulvi Talha and Commander Obaid attended the meeting. A majority of the participants of this meeting were from Peshawar valley, Mohmand and Bajaur. Some associates of Mullah Fazlullah, the slain head of TTP, were also present. TTP Bajaur leader Maulvi Faqir Mohammad and Mullah Fazlullah had spent a lot of time in Chagharsare considered the base camp behind many terror activities in Bajaur district.
The TTP told the media after the meeting that law enforcement personnel would be their prime targets. The group also threatened to attack civilian officials and places of worship, especially on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr.
According to official reports, Mufti Khalid claimed that some of their militants had reached Peshawar, Bannu, Islamabad, Quetta and Karachi for attacks that were part of the operation. So far, attacks have been carried out in Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Bajaur and some other areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Over the coming days, the TTP said, they will try to carry out attacks in Quetta, Karachi, and the Punjab.
Security agencies are aware of the situation and working round the clock to stop the militants.
The TTP has decided to identify specific targets and justify the attacks in terms of retaliation against security operations as attacks against the general public run the risk of an increase in the pressure from the Afghan Taliban.
Mohammad Ali Babakhel, a senior analyst who writes on militancy, says: “The transition of TTP command from Mullah Fazalullah to Noor Wali Mehsud and the changed situation in Afghanistan have enabled the TTP to reconsolidate itself. It sees working in collaboration with other groups as an opportunity to learn new techniques.“
There is a big difference in the ideologies of the TTP chapters active in the southern and northern districts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In the south, the anti-US Afghan jihad has been the defining struggle; in the north, it has been the anti-India Kashmir jihad.
According to reports from Kulachi, where militants have deep roots and active cells, five police personnel were killed and three others were injured in a rocket attack on a van. The same evening, a border post was attacked in South Waziristan. An officer was martyred and several others were injured in the attack.
That is partly why in the north the Islamic State has a visible influence on the TTP.
Journalists reporting from areas administered by militants who had the opportunity to interact with militant leaders were unanimous in this assessment. There was a time when militant leaders from the south did not take those from the north very seriously.
The fighters from the southern region had been actively participating in the Afghan war across the border. For this reason most of the drone strikes were in the southern part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. When TTP leadership was handed over to Mullah Fazlullah of Swat, there was no unity in the TTP for quite some time.
The central TTP leadership is currently in favour of Mufti Noor Wali’s talks with the government. However, Abdul Wali alias Omar Khalid from Mohmand wants a war against the government of Pakistan.
In the Operation Al-Badr so far, most of the attacks have been in the southern districts. According to reports from Kulachi, where militants have deep roots and active cells, five police personnel were killed and three others were injured in a rocket attack on a van. The same evening, a border post was attacked in South Waziristan. An officer was martyred and several others were injured in the attack.
The TTP strategy previously has been to weaken the police and local law enforcement agencies before mounting larger attacks. In the past, local elders have also been on their target list. They apparently believed that this made it easier for them to terrorise the residents of any area. Being native, the militants are familiar with the terrain, pockets of sympathisers and financiers from the underworld.
An officer speaking on the condition of anonymity said, “These TTP militants know the situation, especially in the border areas, and can be an asset to our external enemies.”
The TTP militants have reached a loosely structured understanding to coexist with the ISKP along the Pak-Afghan border.
It is pertinent to mention here that, in the long war against terrorism, the capabilities of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police have also improved. Amid recent attacks, the police conducted an operation in Bannu, killing five target killers and a militant commander.
While Al-Badr operation of the TTP is under way, the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISKP) is also continuing its attacks. Recently, the ISKP claimed the murder of a security official in Bajaur district. Local sources say that the security forces are retaliating with heavy causalities on the other side.
The militant operations are being planned and controlled mostly from three Afghan provinces: Kunar, Nangarhar and Khost.
In addition, there is Kandahar, which in the past was used to attack targets in Balochistan. Since the advent of the Taliban government, infiltration from Kandahar has significantly decreased.
That is why the TTP presence in Quetta and Karachi is far less visible now. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, too, their operations have been limited mostly to southern districts and the newly-merged tribal districts.
Why have the Afghan Taliban failed to stop the TTP from carrying out terror attacks in Pakistan? There are two reasons for this. One, that both have the same ideology and many among Afghan Taliban believe that the Pakistani Taliban had supported them in the past when they were at war with the then Afghan government and foreign troops. The second reason is strategic. The Pakistani Taliban grew up alongside the Afghan Taliban. The Pakistani Taliban know them very well. That is why the Afghan Taliban want the Pakistani Taliban to make peace with Pakistan or stay in Afghanistan.
The Afghan Taliban fear that if they increase pressure on the Pakistani Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban will join the ISKP. In that case, they could pose a major threat to both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The ISKP carried out a suicide attack recently at a mosque in Peshawar using the TTP network. Security forces have been able to prevent several such attacks.
“Our militancy landscape does not favour lone wolves,” says Mohammad Ali Babakhel.
However, we need to keep an eye on the changing nature, style and goals of the militancy. The war that started with an anti-American rhetoric is now taking a new form due to sectarianism and intolerance in the society. There will always be a threat of TTP militants using weapons against civilians because they can be brainwashed. Pakistan has its sectarian fault lines and many of these militants have lifelong bonds with international terror outfits. The militants may take advantage of the emerging rifts in our society and become a permanent threat.
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer on conflict and peace development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org