Does the PTI leadership believe that the fresh wave of violence in the country’s North West is part of a larger conspiracy to block Imran Khan’s return to power in Islamabad? They may not say this publicly, but this is what PTI’s lobbyists are telling US policy makers in Washington. D.C. On occasions, they have gone to the extent of telling people in US think-tanks and US policy makers that the Pakistani military is quite adept in manipulating the situation in North West to its advantage in domestic politics and the current violence seems to have been orchestrated to create obstacles in the way of holding of peaceful parliamentary elections. This view might not be part of a PTI driven public discourse in Pakistan, but US policy makers and the US non-governmental sector in Washington are quite familiar with this position that PTI lobbyists have taken in their interaction with policy making circles in Washington.
Interestingly, this lobbying on the part of PTI sympathizers in Washington interfaces well with Imran Khan’s public position in Pakistan that Pakistan military should not launch a military operation against the TTP, and the government should not seek help from Washington for launching an operation in the Pak-Afghan border areas, because Pakistani society cannot afford another wave of violence.
Imran Khan took this position in January 2023 while addressing a seminar in Peshawar. It is not clear whether PTI’s lobbying in Washington and Imran Khan’s public position on TTP in Pakistan are synchronized or not. But it appears that PTI is working on a plan to block any move on the part of the government of Pakistan to launch a full-scale military operation against the TTP in erstwhile tribal areas.
This becomes clear when we take into account PTI’s lobbying in Washington and Imran Khan’s public position in Pakistan: on the one hand, it is trying to convince US policy makers that the fresh wave of violence in Pakistan’s North West might be a hoax created by the Pakistan military establishment, while on the other hand, it is trying to influence the public discourse in Pakistan by taking the position that any military operation and any attempt to seek US help in this connection would create a permanent gulf in Pakistani society and might lead to an even more intense, fresh wave of violence.
Apparently, the PTI leadership is desperate to return to power in Islamabad and in these connections, they think that a delay in holding of parliamentary elections in the country could block their path to power. Good approval ratings in latest public opinion polls have given PTI the confidence that they would win the elections if they are held immediately. Any launching of a full-scale military operation in the erstwhile tribal areas would lead to the creation of circumstances where immediate holding of parliamentary elections would not seem possible.
Is PTI justified in carrying out this lobbying campaign in Washington? Is TTP driven violence really a hoax created by the Pakistani military? Can a political party contemptuously disregard a rising security threat, an internal one, and launch an advocacy campaign in a foreign capital just to lay the groundwork for its return to power? Or alternatively, can we really believe that PTI is right and violence in the North Western is being orchestrated to delay parliamentary elections in Washington? And last but not the least, is it not ironic that the party which is carrying out this lobbying campaign is the same which only a year ago was accusing everybody under the sun of conspiracy against its government with the help of policy making circles in Washington?
But first things first: the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan are now again in a position to pose a substantial terror threat to Pakistani security forces and urban centers, after they were allowed to regroup in Taliban’s Afghanistan from August 2021. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have the largest number of foreign fighters presently stationed in Afghanistan after Taliban takeover of Kabul, according to a United Nations monitoring committee report published last year. United Nations Security Council’s ISIL and al-Qaeda sanctions monitoring committee’s 30th report on the presence and capability of various terror groups based in Afghanistan shows that the TTP currently has the “largest component” of 3,000 to 4,000 foreign fighters in Afghanistan. This number is larger than any other group of foreign fighters stationed in Afghanistan. TTP’s central leader, Noor Wali Mehsud started efforts to reorganize the militant group sometime in 2020, when clear signs emerged of American withdrawal from Afghanistan.
According to experts, Al-Qaida leadership based in Afghanistan played a crucial role in assisting the re-organization of TTP in Afghanistan. According to the UNSC Report, Noor Wali Mehsud’s success in reuniting various TTP factions has made the group “more cohesive, presenting a greater threat in the region.” As the report mentions further, the “TTP is working in alliance with other transnational jihadi networks, such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), based in Afghanistan. The group is also tied to al-Qaida, as the February 2021 report of the UNSC showed that the anti-Pakistan group’s merger was facilitated by al-Qaida.”
PTI chairman Imran Khan advocates that Pakistan should negotiate with TTP. In the period between 2007 and 2014, Pakistani society witnessed a horrible wave of violence in which thousands of security forces personnel and ordinary citizens laid down their lives. The Pakistani government had in the past entered into peace deals with the Taliban, only to be shocked later with a fresh wave of violence from Taliban’s side.
In May 2004, Pakistan signed an agreement with the then-leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Nek Mohammad of South Waziristan. The agreement called for a ceasefire. The Taliban was allowed to retain its weapons. This agreement lasted only 50 days. In 2006, another agreement was signed, which the then-governor of KP, hailed as “unprecedented in tribal history.” This, too, failed to bring peace. Another agreement was signed in 2008, which also failed to end terrorism.
The Pakistani government is facing a severe cash crunch, and the country’s economy is in no position to sustain a prolonged military campaign in the erstwhile tribal areas. The Pakistani military is engaged in a low-key counterinsurgency campaign in the Pak-Afghan border areas against TTP. Making the situation worse is the recent unearthing of evidence that the religiously motivated TTP has started to collaborate with secular minded Baloch separatists in planning terror attacks in Pakistani urban centers.
There are other signs which point out that the TTP has found a strategist in their new leader, Noor Wali Mehsud, who is trying to withdraw TTP from any commitment to the world of international terrorism. Media reports suggest, and experts concur that Noor Wali wants to focus his attention on the organization’s campaign against the Pakistani government, and wants to extract his organization from any situation where he has to face an American CIA led drone campaign in tribal areas. In the past, drone campaigns had cost TTP heavily and now Noor Wali Mehsud doesn’t want to rub the US administration the wrong way.
No one here is advocating that parliamentary elections should be delayed. But lobbying against the security interests of the society which you claim to be representing in your parliament is criminal to say the least.
TTP is not simply threatening the military, it is threatening the fabric of Pakistani society as whole. TTP led violence will determine whether we will survive as a normal state and society, and whether we will take another plunge into another war. No doubt holding parliamentary elections are equally important for our survival as a society and state. But if petty party interests dominate your senses, you don’t deserve to lead this unfortunate, crisis riddled nation.
It is a sad day when Pakistani leader is lobbying against the country interest to perpetuate its own selfish grab of power at any cost.
In most countries this effort, except in Pakistan & USA, would be deemed traitorous. Sad testament to the fact that lust for power supersedes national interest and integrity.