Thousands of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) cadres are undergoing rigorous combat training and also undergoing sea training for naval combat in order to take on the Pakistani Navy. Pakistan-TTP war may break out in the near future and this time Pakistan will likely experience much more instability and violence than before.
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
According to ground reports, hundreds and thousands of heavily armed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) fighters are converging from different areas around the Durand Line. The TTP already has some areas of Waziristan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) under its sway. The Durand Line has never been recognised by Afghans, including by the Taliban ruling Afghanistan and the TTP. In recent months there have been clashes between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan because of Pakistan’s fencing activities at the Durand Line. The Taliban have been cutting through and uprooting the fence at places, which has led to occasional artillery fire from the Pakistani side and even aerial attack in one case.
As of now the Pakistani establishment apparently is not worried about the large number of armed TTP cadres converging on to KPK. The Pakistani military and the ISI are confident that they can “empower” the TTP and use them to smother Pashtun resistance. Empowering the TTP implies to let the TTP administer the area unofficially and impose Sharia on the local population.
Pakistan’s Minister of Interior has declared Afghanistan as the enemy of Pakistan and Afghan Taliban has accused Pakistan for allowing the US to use its airspace for drone attacks in Afghanistan including for the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri
According to Ayesha Siddiqa, Pakistan-origin scholar at the University of London, “The institutional thinking (inside the military) is that the tribal areas are religiously conservative and the TTP should be allowed to implement their Shari’a-based system to keep the rest of Pakistan secure.” She further said that the Pakistani military views Punjab (Pakistan’s eastern province) as Pakistan’s core whose protection supersedes peace and security in the peripheral regions – least of all the tribal regions.
The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), a civil rights organisation, is however worried. The PTM blames the Taliban and the Pakistani military for tormenting Pashtun civilians, who make up most of the estimated 80,000 civilians killed and more than six million people displaced since the TTP emerged in 2003. According to ground reports from KPK, not only have hundreds of TTP cadres come into the area recently, but even before Pakistan signed the peace agreement three months ago it had been negotiating with TTP since second half of 2021.
Manzoor Pashteen, leader of PTM, told a gathering of KPK political leaders on August 16, 2022, that the TTP have already made a significant comeback in Waziristan, formally divided between the South Waziristan and North Waziristan districts. Pashteen said several Pakistani government agreements with the TTP and other Taliban factions before TTP’s eventual departure to Afghanistan in 2014 didn’t lead to peace, and added, “We are not against the negotiations, but we oppose theatrics in the name of talks. We have no choice but to resist. We are against imposing a war on our homeland again.”
Afrasiab Khattak, a Pashtun and a senior leader of the National Democratic Movement, was more direct in saying that the entire negotiation process is aimed at “tackling” the Pashtun political resistance against Talibanisation. According to him the TTP has been violently stopping the election campaign of Pashtun nationalists in KPK and the Pakistani military wants to orchestrate “political engineering” to empower Islamists at the cost of secular Pashtuns. Khattak had survived a suicide attack by the TTP targeting the Awami National Party (ANP) in 2008.
Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) is a non-violent organisation, but the Pakistani establishment wants to suppress it because they have been rightly accusing the Pakistani military for collaborating and supporting various Taliban factions
The residents of Swat and the nearby Lower Dir districts staged protests this month after TTP militants established checkpoints, injured and kidnapped Pakistani security forces personnel. They were also blamed for targeted killings and high-profile attacks. Similarly, residents of North Waziristan of KPK have been protesting the rising insecurity and assassinations for more than a month. At the same time, in talks with the Pakistani establishment, the TTP has been insisting that their cadres should return to their homes with weapons.
Raised in 2018, the PTM is a non-violent organisation, but the Pakistani establishment wants to suppress it because they have been rightly accusing the Pakistani military for collaborating and supporting various Taliban factions.
Adding to Pakistan’s woes, the Pakistani military has spoilt its relations with the Afghan Taliban resulting in clashes at the Durand Line. On August 22, 2022, Rana Sanaullah Khan, Pakistan’s Minister of Interior, declared Afghanistan as the enemy of Pakistan. On the other hand, the Afghan Taliban has accused Pakistan for allowing the US to use its airspace for drone attacks in Afghanistan including for the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda leader.
In the above backdrop, the Pakistani military may not find handling of the TTP that easy this time since hundreds of their armed cadres are back in Pakistan and thousands are following. To think that the TTP will be satisfied with imposing Sharia in KPK is naïve in the first place when the TTP had made it more than clear years back that their aim is to overthrow the Pakistani government and bring whole of Pakistan under Sharia rule. This also is the aim of the Afghan Taliban and both are inexorably linked. That is why thousands of TTP cadres including leaders were released from prisons in Afghanistan immediately after Kabul came under the Afghan Taliban.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had made it more than clear years back that their aim is to overthrow the Pakistani government and bring whole of Pakistan under Sharia rule
The three month old ceasefire between the TTP and Pakistan is unlikely to last. Thousands of TTP cadres are undergoing rigorous combat training including sniper training, in camps in Afghanistan and appear determined to hit Pakistani security hard this time. Significantly, a specific number of TTP cadres are also undergoing sea training for naval combat in order to take on the Pakistani Navy at sea and in ports. All this indicates that the Pakistan-TTP war may break out in the near future and this time Pakistan will likely experience much more instability and violence than before.
As for India, some 20-25 Islamic State Central Asian terrorists have been under training in Kunar Province of Afghanistan under three-four Pakistani-military-ISI instructors According to ground reports they were chanting slogans against multiple countries including India. The capture of one IS terrorist in Russia who was on a suicide mission to India via Turkey is already in the news. But more suicide terrorist will be making similar attempts and this cycle is likely to continue given the attitude of Pakistan.