Ensuring peace

August 21, 2022

Reports of the re-emergence of Taliban have alarmed authorities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Ensuring peace


he Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan has announced its decision to maintain the ceasefire in the country despite the violent death of its leader, Abdul Wali alias Omar Khalid Khorasani.

However, terrorist attacks continue in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa despite the announcement. Police and the army are being targetred on an almost regular basis. The TTP has not claimed any of the attacks and has denounced some of those. So who is carrying out these attacks?

On the night of the 7th and 8th of August, it was reported from the Chaprayal area of Swat that the militants had attacked the local police station. Later, police officials said that the local police had opened fire on some militants patrolling the mountains. On August 8, an audio message went viral on social media. It claimed that the militants had captured a DSP and some other security personnel and were holding them hostage in the Matta hills. Later, a video showing the hostages was also released. The audio clip claimed that an agreement had been reached with the Taliban to return to their areas.

In view of the ceasefire agreement, the hostages issue was referred to a jirga.

Such incidents have alarmed people throughout Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in particular and the country in general. The big question on everybody’s mind is: is a Taliban comeback to Swat and Malakand possible?

A video has gone viral on social media claiming that the Taliban have started patrolling the streets and public roads in Swat, that they are flaunting their weapons and that they have set up check posts on some roads. This video does not show any of the Swat landmarks. It only shows the guards of a local leader.

The Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR) denied the reports. In a statement, the ISPR said that during the past few days, a misperception about the presence of a large number of TTP’s armed members in Swat Valley has been created on social media. “After confirmation on [the] ground, these reports have been found as grossly exaggerated and misleading,” it said. The ISPR, however, said that presence of small number of armed men on few mountain tops between Swat and Dir has been observed, located far away from population. These individuals, the ISPR said, had apparently sneaked in from Afghanistan to resettle in their native areas. The military said that a close watch is being maintained on their limited presence and movement in mountains and required measures are in place by all law enforcement agencies for the safety and security of people of adjoining areas. “The presence of militants anywhere will not be tolerated and they will be dealt with full use of force if required,” the military warned.

Thousands of people took to the streets recently to demand peace and condemned the reported militancy in Dir district which borders Swat. The demonstration was prompted by an attack on Malik Liaquat, a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) member of the provincial assembly in Dir. The lawmaker’s brother, nephew and some guards were killed in the attack.

The protesters demanded the arrest of the attackers. The TTP has denied involvement in the incident but some locals claim that the Taliban had been demanding extortion money from the MPA and that he was targetted for his failure to pay them. The situation in the adjacent Bajaur district is quite similar. The Taliban are reported to have attacked several people for refusing the extortion demands. The Awami National Party (ANP) has already accused certain members of the PTI government of making regular payments to the Taliban. It says they have been supporting terrorism by paying the militants.

These allegations gained weight when Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan claimed that their local leaders were receiving threats. It should be noted that according to the PTI the threats are emanating not from the TTP, but the ISIS.

Ensuring peace

“These reports have been found as grossly exaggerated and misleading. The presence of a small number of armed men has been noticed on a few mountain peaks between Swat and Dir. These are located away from major population centres. These individuals had apparently sneaked in from Afghanistan to resettle in their native areas,” the ISPR said.

Recently, Imran Khan’s picture along with a Taliban leader was placed on the title cover of a magazine released by the ISIS. It showed both leaders as enemies of Islam. It can be concluded that just as the Taliban are the targets of the ISIS, the PTI too is on its list of enemies.

This was probably the reason that the TTP issued a statement on the Dir incident and denied involvement in the attack on the PTI MPA.

As a result of the public reaction all over Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Taliban had to retreat. It was reported that most of them had gone back to Afghanistan. The situation has calmed down since that development.

On the one hand, across the border in Afghanistan, talks on a peace agreement between the government and the TTP are in progress. On the other hand, target killings are being carried out from Bajaur to Waziristan, adjacent to the Afghan border. In North Waziristan, Wazir tribals have been protesting against the unrest for several weeks.

Recently, the security forces announced the arrest of several target killers. The confessional statements made by the suspects appeared on the social media. The tribes are still protesting nonetheless.

A parliamentary delegation was also sent to Waziristan on the instructions of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif. The tribes gave it 15 days to meet their demands. This is the reason why intelligence-based operations in North Waziristan have been accelerated. According to security sources, there is not a single leader of the militant organization in Pakistan. However, many of their facilitators are operating. This is why the security forces are constantly being targetted and the peace remains precarious.

Security forces and police are also being targeted continuously in Tank district and Dera Ismail Khan, which shares a border with Waziristan. There is a pattern of more incidents happening closer to Darra Adam Khel, south of the Peshawar valley.

However, this pressure has started moving to the north of Peshawar valley i.e. the region from Shabqadar up to Chitral.

The question is that if peace talks are in progress and there is a ceasefire deal with the Taliban, then why do these incidents continue? The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan is a collection of several local organisations. In the past, several groups have left the TTP on account of their differences and continued to carry out attacks against the security forces. After the death of Abdul Wali alias Omar Khalid Khorasani, a founding member of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and the main TTP leader for the negotiating team from Momand, along with his colleagues in Afghanistan, his group is putting pressure on the central organisation to annul the agreement.

They want to undertake revenge attacks for the death of Omar Khalid Khorasani, including attacks inside Pakistan. Many militant organisations in Afghanistan have ties with various factions of the TTP. Many fighters of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan have also had links with Central Asian organisations. Above all, the presence of the ISIS in Afghanistan has provided a compatible platform to many fighters of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. Therefore, even after a peace agreement is reached, some threats to peace in Pakistan will persist. The next question is: what is the need for this agreement? It is an attempt to reduce the intensity of militancy in the region.

If a large number of TTP fighters take the path of peace, then dealing with the remaining fighters and foreign elements will be a smaller problem for Pakistan. Right now, one of the major threats is the presence of facilitators of the militant organisation in the country. These facilitators are part of the populations in both urban and rural areas. They are facilitating various organisations from Khyber to Karachi. This could be one of the major threats in the future.

All eyes are currently on the peace talks that have entered the final stages. Some points of the agreement have been shared on the social media.

Sources close to the process warn that until a final draft of the peace agreement has been prepared and signed by the parties, nothing is certain. A battle of nerves is currently going on.

The government wants to find a solution to these problems as soon as possible. The Afghan Taliban are playing the role of mediators in the talks. Despite the ceasefire, Pakistan can ask the Afghan Taliban to respond to the attacks against its security forces, but Pakistan is aware of the ground reality. The authorities realise that some elements disagree with the central organisation and are not in favor of peace talks. When two policemen on polio duty were killed recently in Tank, the responsibility was claimed by Lashkar-i-Khorasan spokesperson Asadullah Jhangvi. These people were part of the TTP in the past but are now operating independently and leaning towards the ISIS.

The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist,  researcher and trainer on terrorism, conflict and peace development. He can be reached at frkakakhel@gmail.com

Ensuring peace