The recent spate of terrorist attacks in Pakistan shows the extent to which various militia groups have expanded their operations throughout the country.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is a serious internal security threat to Pakistan. Baloch insurgent groups and Sindh Revolutionary Army (SRA) are securing forceful positions in the South. Islamic State (IS) is also developing a growing local footprint. Many IS fighters fighting in Afghanistan are known to be former TTP militants. Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba are gaining strength in the country.
The deadly suicide bombing in Bolan that killed nine personnel of the Balochistan Constabulary was claimed by Tehreek-i-Jihad Pakistan, a splintered offshoot of Hizbul Mujahideen. Non-state actors across the country are cashing in on political instability. The situation will worsen if the state does not adopt a united front on national security.
Pakistan must rid itself of the mindset that terrorists can be categorised as good or bad. The protests that erupted in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) last year after a van driver was shot dead in Swat, stemmed from the government’s decision to allow militants who had been in hiding in Afghanistan to come back if they laid down their arms.
This has proven to be a flawed strategy. It allows militant groups time to regroup and rearm. TTP ended a ceasefire with the government soon after the deal was made, and in December, 2022, they seized a counter-terrorism department in Bannu.
Pakistan cannot continue to let morally bankrupt terror militias dictate terms to a sovereign country. It has taken the fight to them before, and it can do it again. The main difference this time is the fact that the benefactors of various local terror militias are now in control of Afghanistan.
Evidently, there are certain elements in the civilian and military leadership that have a soft spot for them for ideological or strategic reasons. One cannot forget a smiling General Faiz Hameed standing in a Kabul hotel post-Taliban takeover reassuring reporters that “everything will be okay”. There is also considerable sympathy for the Taliban government among the general people.
Attacks claimed by the TTP show that it has acquired training and resources required to target heavily guarded areas. The suicide bombing inside the Peshawar police lines mosque, which killed over 100 people, was claimed by TTP-Mohmand, a splintered conglomerate of the TTP-Central. The same group was involved in the attack on the office of police chief on Shahrah-e-Faisal, Karachi. Its leader, Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, denied his group’s involvement. The Afghan Taliban also deflected blame by asking Pakistan to “put their own house in order instead of externalizing the problem”.
The alliance between the Taliban and TTP runs deep. The TTP provided safe havens to Taliban when the US landed in Afghanistan. Taliban is now returning the favour. The two groups share ideological and ethnic roots. Taliban’s Supreme Leader Habitullah Akhundzada has labelled the terror network unleashed by the TTP as jihad. Attempts by Taliban and TTP-Central to project distance from the recent attacks are merely an attempt to divide public opinion.
It is high time Pakistan adopts a new counterterrorism strategy. Firstly, the country must never engage with the TTP from a position of weakness. Pakistan has given concessions without getting anything in return. Any future negotiations must be premised in an unconditional guarantee of complete surrender, which entails the suspension of all operations in Pakistan, including those that have emerged in Balochistan. If the TTP does not accept this ultimatum, the government must be prepared to launch a nationwide offensive, like it did in 2014.
Secondly, the Afghan Taliban must cooperate fully. Afghanistan carries far too much regional importance for Pakistan to alienate them. But Pakistan must use its influence. Demands made by the Pakistani delegation at the high-level talks in Kabul were strong. The state must ensure Taliban crackdowns on TTP hideouts. If not, it must be prepared to carry out an eradication drive.
After the Peshawar attack, the US renewed its offer of counterterrorism assistance to Pakistan. Previously, it received both intelligence and drone strike assistance from the US, which led to the killing of TTP leaders Hakimullah Mehsud in 2013, and Mullah Fazlullah in 2018. Even though the US is no longer active in Afghanistan, it still has vested interest in the region. It might not feel threatened by the TTP, but it will want to keep a close eye on the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. For that reason, the US will want to extend intelligence cooperation to monitor terrorist movements.
But Pakistan must take greater responsibility, both in devising a counter-terrorism strategy and harnessing international cooperation. Pakistan cannot continue to let morally bankrupt terror militias dictate terms to a sovereign country. It has taken the fight to them before, and it can do it again. The main difference this time is the fact that the benefactors of various local terror militias are now in control of Afghanistan.
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