The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has “formally” announced what we knew for at least past two months: its shaky ceasefire with the government has collapsed. The group “directed” its field commanders to resume attacks across the country “in retaliation” for the “relentless operations” by the security and intelligence agencies in “violation of the truce”. The TTP claimed that it had “exercised restraint for too long to keep the negotiation process on track” – but the government didn’t honour it. Significantly, the announcement came from the self-styled “defence ministry” of the TTP and carries the signature of its military strategist Mufti Muzahim. It also coincided with another announcement from Mufti Burjan, the head of TTP’s military commission (South-Zone), of a ban on meetings of senior commanders with their emir Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud for two months. He didn’t give any reason, but it’s believed the group fears the emir could be targeted after the resumption of hostilities.
The ceasefire was announced by the TTP in June 2022 following months of unannounced negotiations with the Pakistani government. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the interior minister of Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, had brokered the process which Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, then corps commander Peshawar, reportedly oversaw from the Pakistani side until he was transferred in August 2022. However, the process couldn’t move beyond “confidence-building measures” as the demands set by the TTP for a final peace agreement, especially the reversal of FATA’s merger with K-P and withdrawal of troops from these regions, were akin to the state’s surrender.
The group was not happy with the slow pace of negotiations. On and off, its leaders would voice this unease. However, the simmering frustration came to a boil after some of TTP’s top commanders – including Abdul Wali, alias Omar Khalid Khorasani – were killed in mysterious targeted attacks in Afghanistan in August 2022. The TTP informally called off the ceasefire on September 3, 2022 in text messages to some journalists by its spokesman “Muhammad Khorasani”. Publicly, neither side confirmed it. Instead they sought to hush the report even though the TTP officially claimed credit for a couple of attacks that particular day. Since then the group has stepped up violence, carrying out nearly 60 bomb and gun attacks in November alone, including one on Nov 16 in which six policemen were killed in Lakki Marwat district.
This begs the question: if the truce had already ended, then why did the TTP announce it now?
There could be more than one possibility.
First, the TTP’s statement came hours after the foreign ministry said that deputy foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar will be leading a high-level delegation to Kabul for talks with Taliban officials. Rumours have it that the TTP was also invited by Interior Minister Haqqani to Kabul, but the group declined the invitation. Sources say the TTP appears to have lost trust in the “Haqqani faction” of the Afghan Taliban, which is considered close to the Pakistani establishment, and instead seeks to align itself with the rival “Kandahari faction” led by Defence Minister Mullah Yaqoob. Some Afghan media reports also claimed that Mullah Yaqoob refused to meet the Pakistani delegation in Kabul. An Afghan defence ministry official, however, denied such a meeting was ever planned. There is a possibility that the TTP’s move might have been choreographed by the Kabul regime to use it as a pressure tactic in their talks with Khar and her delegation because they believe Pakistan is again ditching their regime after warming up to the United States.
Second, the TTP announced the truce collapse a day before Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa was to pass the baton of army command to Gen Syed Asim Munir. This could be a message to the new army chief to revive the negotiation process which has stalled since the transfer of Lt Gen Faiz Hameed out of Peshawar. Gen Munir has inherited far too many challenges in the politically volatile and economically near-bankrupt country. The most pressing task could be resisting the temptation to be sucked into the political quagmire by ensuring the “political quarantine” of the military and restore affinity with Pakistani people which has been undermined during Gen Bajwa’s tenure. The TTP declared resumption of violence because, in its assessment, Gen Munir may not want to add more to his daunting to-do list.
Third, there could also be a possibility that the TTP wants to break away from the Afghan Taliban after the loss of some of its big guns in recent months in Afghanistan, suspecting a role of the Kabul regime which has been under increasing pressure from Islamabad to dismantle TTP sanctuaries. If that is the case, then we may next expect the TTP drifting towards the Khorasan enterprise of Islamic State terrorist group. And if that happens, the Taliban regime’s worst nightmare would come true. The TTP knows that its alliance with Da’ish could create the most potent threat to the Taliban’s nascent regime – and that it would try to prevent it at any cost. The TTP timed its truce collapse announcement with Khar’s arrival in Kabul to give a message to Islamabad that the Taliban would no longer speak or negotiate on its behalf. Or this could be a message to Kabul to put pressure on the Pakistani side for a deal with the TTP.
Whatever may be the reason for its latest move, the TTP has zero motivation to give up violence and disband, especially following the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban in August 2021. Instead the group has been emboldened by the Taliban’s bewildering victory over foreign forces which gave it a hope that it could also bring the Pakistan government to its knees. That was the reason the group stepped up attacks in the border regions of Pakistan following the fall of Kabul. It only agreed to engage with the government because the process was brokered by the Haqqanis with whom the group enjoyed close ideological affinity and organisational ties throughout the Taliban insurgency.
The Pakistani government also knew that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to sell a peace deal with the TTP – which is responsible for some of the worst terrorist atrocities – to its people. However, it agreed to engage with the group for two reasons: 1. to break up the TTP by cajoling the “reconcilable” elements, and 2.) to pre-empt an “IS-TTP nexus” which, the government feared, could be exploited by the hostile agencies with disastrous consequences for Pakistan. If these were the objectives, then we should be worried because neither has been achieved and the government doesn’t seem to have a plan to deal with a resurgent TTP which is seeking to capitalise on growing polarisation and political and economic chaos in Pakistan to stage a bloody comeback.
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