Over the last year, there has been a definite shift in the strategy of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Instead of carrying out massive attacks in large cities where hundreds of helpless civilians are the chief targets, the militants are now concentrating on military targets. Thus, we see attacks like the ones on the Kamra air base and the PNS Mehran, which are meant to destabilise the chief foe of the militants. This has now been followed by an attack on a PAF van in Peshawar, which killed eight people and injured 25 others. There are some who may be tempted to heave a sigh of relief that the TTP are at least not targeting civilians in urban centres the way they used to or to assume that their changed focus is a sign of weakness. Believing either proposition is a mistake.
The Taliban may have been slightly weakened by military operations but not only do they remain a potent force, they may also have become a more tactically astute one. Right now, the only threat they face to their power in the tribal areas is the possibility of a military operation in North Waziristan. By hitting the military hard and exposing its security weaknesses, the TTP is trying to warn the army off. The militants are essentially saying that if the military does attack them in North Waziristan, then such attacks will intensify and expose even more problems for sensitive military installations. It is up to the military now to call the TTP’s bluff and go ahead with the proposed North Waziristan operation. There is only one good way for the army to stop the TTP from attacking it and that is by defeating it completely.
The attack on the PAF van also raises once again the uncomfortable possibility of insider help. It is an open secret that there are some in the lower ranks of the military who may be sympathetic to the militant cause so the possibility that the TTP is being fed information from the inside cannot be discounted. The only way to tackle this is by first severely punishing those who have militant links and simultaneously carrying out a massive indoctrination programme, similar to the de-radicalisation one used on ex-militants, to prevent a shifting of loyalties because we cannot afford to lose this battle.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 21st, 2012.