Fahad Ali talks about an
TTP spreading its tentacles – It is quite clear that the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) menace is not going away as is evident by consistent encounters between it and the security forces resulting in casualties. That TTP has a covert support of the Afghan Taliban is not a hidden factor anymore signifying that Pakistan-Afghanistan imbroglio is ever present with hardly any chances of its amicable solution. Pakistani officialdom has been trying hard to secure the cooperation of Afghani regime to act as a pacifier with respect to TTP’s hard line attitude towards cooperating with Pakistan particularly in the tribal belt. TTP obviously utilises the safe havens allowed to it within Afghanistan and its fighters come back to attack their targets in Pakistan virtually with impunity. Quite naturally this state of affairs is causing considerable worry to Pakistani policy makers though they feel quite besieged at the moment as they are also facing political instability. The policy makers are also badly handicapped by the current economic situation Pakistan finds itself in with no outside financial assistance coming its way. The entanglement faced by the policy makers has encouraged the TTP to grow bolder and increase their terrorist attacks in Pakistan whose effects are felt over all the country.
It is widely acknowledged that the link between the Afghan Taliban and proscribed militant outfits Al-Qaeda and TTP are as strong as they were in the past and there are hardly any chances of them getting terminated. In fact it is pointed out that the terrorist groups operating in the region have greater freedom of manoeuvre under the Taliban de facto authorities and subsequently they are making good use of this and the threat of terrorism is rising. While the Afghan Taliban regime has sought to reduce the profile of these groups and conducted maintaining links to numerous terrorist entities along with lobbying member states for counter-terrorism assistance in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIL-K), which it perceives as its principal rival. In fact the Taliban forces, both Afghani and Pakistani, have conducted operations against ISIL-K, in general, but they have not delivered on the counter-terrorism provisions under the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the United States of America and the Taliban. There are indications that Al-Qaeda is rebuilding operational capability that TTP is launching attacks into Pakistan with support from the Taliban and their attacks are gradually becoming more sophisticated and lethal.
This is precisely Pakistan’s problem and it has been insisting that the TTP and other anti-Pakistan armed groups operate from Afghan soil. The Taliban government hosted peace talks between the TTP and Pakistani security officials to put an end to the violence in Pakistan but the talks collapsed over tough conditions from both sides. Following that a high-powered delegation visited Kabul to conduct parleys with senior Taliban officials and placed forward a single point agenda: to take action against the TTP. However, what actually happened was an upsurge in attacks in Pakistan conducted by TTP from their safe havens in Afghanistan. The expectations have completely dashed that the Taliban’ assumption of power would help Pakistan secure its western border, instead their relapse into past practices which have aggravated Pakistan’s security predicament.
A more upsetting scenario has developed in the meantime and that is the fast aggravating political and economic instability in the country as these are considered perfect conditions for terrorist networks to grow and strengthen themselves. As persisting political turmoil dominates the mainstream discourse, terrorist groups are busy restructuring their networks as is borne out by the fact that TTP announced new formations indicating that the group has been gaining strength and is spreading its wings and establishing new contacts in the Pakistan’s religiously and ethnically vulnerable regions. TTP is now establishing centres in Balochistan, north and south Punjab that it thinks has strong religious predilections and it is reported that there now exist about a dozen strongholds that they operate from. It appears that TTP is doing all this because it is sure that the Afghan Taliban are supporting their activities and would also provide them time by engaging Pakistanis in parleys.
Interestingly, the TTP announced these formations after reports emerged of group infighting. It has been said that frustration has been brewing in their ranks because of the pressure exerted by the Afghan Taliban, who want to pacify Pakistan regarding their role in supporting the TTP. However, insufficient evidence is available that the Afghan Taliban regime has tried to put pressure on the TTP. In fact, according to some other accounts, the Taliban’s support for the TTP is not only intact but is also on the rise. TTP is also striving to absorb new groups and it is reported that few new groups have joined it. It is pointed out that the expansion of the TTP network may have multiple implications and repercussions as it is already known that TTP has made inroads in south Punjab. However, the surprising element is the inclusion of some groups from northern Punjab where the religious militancy was not so manifest and aggressive.
TTP is also getting organised in Balochistan and this development has caused considerable worries within the security circles. Its growing influence in the province is closely monitored and this vigilance has shown that many terrorist groups are merging themselves with the TTP. Though it is unclear how many members or militants each of these groups has yet it indicates that the group has been consistently adding to its strength, which will undoubtedly enhance its operational capabilities in the areas where these newly merged groups are based. In a sparsely populated province the group finds it easy to hide its activities successfully and maintain a sustained accessibility to Afghanistan. The distances in Balochistan also entail a tentative grip on the situation by security apparatus of the state enabling TTP network to avoid detection and often they carry out terrorist activities with almost impunity. Though the security forces are conducting successful operations against the TTP in and out of Balochistan yet its expansion in areas where insurgency already exists makes it doubly hard for them to contain their activities. These difficulties are realised by the terrorists who get emboldened by this fact and continuously devise new methods to cause mayhem.
It is the TTP’s declared policy to encroach on Baloch regions as the group believes that the area is ripe for new recruitments, mainly from the youth of religious institutions, who have political and ideological reasons for not joining the Baloch insurgents. The expansion of TTP network is particularly worrisome in wake of the financial crisis faced by Pakistan that, to some degree, makes it difficult to adequately finance anti-terrorism operations in most areas where such activities are taking place. The menace is real and is getting nasty by the day endangering the lives of citizens who are already sick and tired of living under consistent threats and mortal danger. Extended over a longer period, such an environment of insecurity, militancy and violence can also pose serious threats to political and economic stability. It is important that TTP’s activities are curbed and efforts should be increased to put pressure on Afghan Taliban to control them with iron hand as they will not otherwise desist from carrying out their nefarious designs. The Weekender