THE DEVELOPMENT OF TEHREEK-E-TALIBAN PAKISTAN AND THEIR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

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By Dr. Sahibzada Muhammad Usman

When the Taliban surged back to power in Afghanistan over two years ago, observers warned that their return would also herald the revival of the danger presented to neighboring Pakistan by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

The terrorist assaults carried out by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are still fresh in the minds of many Pakistanis. The TTP, the Taliban movement’s Pakistani affiliate, was founded in 2007. However, it is not a uniform organization; rather, it is a loose association of diverse organizations that sometimes vie with one another for dominance inside the TTP.

In addition to the assaults on the army headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2009, the Ahmadi mosques in Lahore in 2010, and the campaigner and eventual Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai in 2012, this terrorist group is also accountable for hundreds of other attacks with thousands of casualties.

One of its bloodiest assaults occurred in Peshawar in 2014, when 130 students were slaughtered. This heinous assault caused Pakistan’s environment to alter noticeably. The National Action Plan, which outlined a path of strict action to combat the terrorist group in Pakistan aggressively, was adopted by the nation’s political leadership in response to the assault. The government intensified the Zarb-e-Azb military operation, initiated just before the plan was adopted, and targeted terrorist organizations in the remote tribal homelands near the Afghan border.

The Pakistani army eventually succeeded in generally driving out the TTP from Pakistan in the following years, but not without fierce conflict and many casualties. The number of TTP militants and commanders that crossed into Afghanistan steadily decreased due to their departure.

At the same time, internal power disputes and the disintegration of the organization were caused by the assassination of many TTP commanders in American drone operations. The TTP was not totally eliminated, however. It was able to exist because of its deep ideological and historical links to the Afghan Taliban.

The TTP was able to assault Pakistani border stations repeatedly from within Afghanistan, causing friction between the Kabul and Islamabad governments. Pakistan pushed Kabul to take immediate action against the terrorist organization.

Despite the tight relations between the two, Pakistan’s government has made no move to urge the Taliban in Afghanistan to transfer TTP officials to Pakistan. Such extraditions were resisted, in particular by the powerful Haqqani group of the Afghan Taliban, which still has strong relations with the TTP.

In order to use the TTP as a negotiating chip with Pakistan, it is now widely accepted that the old Afghan secret agency, NDS, which was destroyed when the Taliban regained control, had covert links to the group. In a 2017 video, former TTP spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan made the assertion.

Mullah Fazlullah, the TTP commander, was killed by a U.S. drone operation in 2018, and his deputy Noor Wali took over as leader. Within the TTP, a process of consolidation started under his direction. The TTP’s feuding factions were mostly brought together under Noor Wali’s leadership. He is regarded as a seasoned combatant for the terrorist group.

He claimed credit for the 2007 suicide strike in the garrison city of Rawalpindi that assassinated Benazir Bhutto. The TTP was also made stronger by the Afghan Taliban’s military victories.

There was some excitement among Islamist groups in Pakistan when the Taliban swiftly took over Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, and the Afghan army essentially dissolved. Imran Khan, the ex-prime minister of Pakistan at the time, took the Taliban’s win as evidence that there was no way to end the battle in Afghanistan militarily.

Khan said the Taliban were “breaking the chains of slavery” when the hardline Islamists took control of Kabul. Many TTP militants marched into Kabul at the same time as the Taliban. They happily stood in front of Afghan army trucks for photos. Pakistan asked that the Afghan government adopt a tougher stance against its sibling outfit or, at the very least, ensure that Afghan territory would not be utilized to conduct strikes against Pakistan.

The TTP, under pressure from the Taliban, proclaimed a cease-fire in May 2022 and said that it was prepared to engage in negotiations with Imran Khan’s administration, which was headed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. Some TTP militants returned to Swat and Dir in Pakistan, where they had been driven out in 2007 after a deadly military campaign. Khan’s administration had undoubtedly said that TTP members might return in exchange for a truce, despite claims to the contrary.

Imran Khan acknowledged that his administration has previously expressed a willingness to let the return of up to 5,000 TTP members and their families in early 2023. The radicals’ presence horrified the ordinary populace. Many people dreaded a return to the TTP’s era of terror when it ruled over major portions of Swat.

Thousands of people were compelled to abandon their houses during the following military actions. A further military battle would have devastated the civilian population in a precarious economic climate. The local community in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a border region, has recently protested against the TTP’s return on many occasions.

In November 2022, talks between the TTP and the Pakistani government were unsuccessful. The TTP responded by announcing the termination of its ceasefire. Terrorist assaults have significantly increased in frequency since that time. Armed confrontations between Pakistani security personnel and the TTP are now fairly routine.

To show off its capability to strike, the TTP is striking military outposts and police stations. The most horrific incident in recent weeks occurred in Peshawar in January 2023, when a TTP suicide bomber detonated himself in a mosque primarily filled with law enforcement personnel. The incident claimed the lives of almost 100 people.

Shehbaz Sharif, the current prime minister of Pakistan, said at a National Security Council meeting on April 7 that he wanted to clamp down even harder on the terrorists in light of the security situation. However, little effort is being taken to combat extreme views in the nation. Even today, hardline mullahs are still allowed to express their opinions without worrying about facing severe consequences from the government. These viewpoints appeal to young people because of poverty and dismal prospects.

About Author:

Dr. Sahibzada Muhammad Usman

Research Scholar and Academic; Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Pisa, Italy. Dr. Usman has participated in various national and international conferences and published 30 research articles in international journals.