Slaying the TTP hydra

The recrudescence of Taliban violence owes itself to reversal in Taliban’s fortunes in Afghanistan

Dr Raashid Wali Janjua April 09, 2024


Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has staged a comeback with a vengeance in the wake of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Contrary to all expectations, the return of Taliban government (now referred as IAG i.e. Interim Afghan Government) has not resulted in easing of Pakistan’s worries on its restive Western frontier. According to the figures shared by field formation, the terrorist incidents that have been on a precipitous rise ever since the arrival of IAG in Kabul in 2021. The TTP and its affiliates launched 1,215 attacks in 2023 in K-P which is a steep rise compared to the 903 in 2021 and 858 in 2022. A total of 1,803 casualties were suffered by Army, FC, Police and civilians in 2023 — with injured 1,214 and 589 killed. In 2024, till last week of March, TTP has launched 204 attacks resulting in 340 casualties including 112 fatalities in K-P.

What are the main reasons for this spike in violence and its continual traction especially in the Newly Merged Districts (NMDs) of K-P? The answer lies in a number of reasons that include internal as well as external factors. Despite repeated engagement, the Taliban government has failed to rein in TTP militants both for ideological as well as expedient reasons.

The spiritual and temporal power of IAG government resides in Kandahar in the person of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada who accords premium to ideological linkages with all those who fought alongside Tehrik-e-Taliban Afghanistan (TTA). The TTP uses the narrative that “we were with you when Pakistan betrayed you” and IAG is sympathetic to that narrative. It is because of the above reason that TTP is still being treated with kid gloves and indulged by Taliban leadership within IAG in Afghanistan.

So far no fatwa i.e. religious decree has been issued prohibiting TTP attacks on Pakistan by the spiritual head of IAG, Mullah Haibatullah. Instead a simple amr i.e. order has been issued which lacks the religious sanction. The thrust therefore of our religious diplomacy from here onwards should be on securing a fatwa by IAG’s spiritual head. IAG lacks the will to prevent TTP from attacking Pakistan. It has the capacity to stop these attacks as it has effective control down to village level in Afghanistan in the shape of its vigilance teams. When IAG could control and checkmate Daesh it could very conveniently rein in TTP too.

The recrudescence of Taliban violence owes itself to reversal in Taliban’s fortunes in Afghanistan. After TTA’s ascension to the Kabul throne the TTP that was on the run got a new lease of life. Ironically several hardcore TTP militants like Faqir Muhammad and Gul Muhammad, who escaped in the famous Nangarhar jailbreak, participated in the abortive peace talks with the Government of Pakistan on behalf of TTP. Splinter groups like Hafiz Gul Bahadur and terrorists like Tipu Gul from Lakki Marwat were corralled into the fold of TTP through influential elements in IAG.

The population profile in NMDs shows a large number of women and youth due to economic migration of the men. The elderly heads of families and clans exert influence but some are effective while others are ineffective. As a result, the young population comprising teenagers is seething with anger and frustrations which make them prone to terrorists’ cause which promises them excitement and adventure besides financial rewards.

The best way ahead to counter the depredations of TTP in NMDs is to shape an environment that denies TTP the space to maneuver. Shaping the pro-state environment entails control of the spaces and their effective holding through good governance and development. The panacea to peace is livelihood provision. The state should concentrate on livelihood provision and the local mineral resource extraction offers the best opportunity. NMDs are resource rich but unfortunately out of 30 exploration blocks only 6 have so far been explored.

To the surprise of many the graph of terrorist acts has plummeted down in areas where economic activity was generated for the people. Darra Adam Khel, where the illegal arms trade has reduced to mere 10% of its earlier volume with the start of coalmines business for locals, is a striking example of the power of economic opportunity. Another difficult mountainous area between Hangu and Aurakzai known by the acronym ‘ZJL’ (Zor Gargaray), which had remained the bête noire of all LEAs, has been weaned away from crime and terrorism due to involvement of the locals in the lucrative coalmines business.

Over centuries in the absence of livelihood opportunities and fertile lands the Mehsud and Wazir tribes in North and South Waziristan had developed stakes in illegal trade with Afghanistan. To wean them away from Afghanistan the provision of livelihood opportunities as well as economic integration with the rest of the areas of Pakistan is essential. Poverty and joblessness make people vulnerable to TTP’s recruitment drive. The analysis of TTP casualties in NMDs shows that 72% of terrorists killed in last four years were below 30 years of age. While 65% of them were illiterate or primary qualified, 66% were jobless, with only 10% having any criminal background.

The targeted livelihood opportunities for economic empowerment of the people are direly needed for people, famished of the livelihood means close to their villages. Shopping malls and medical tourism facilities near Pak-Afghan border have huge potential to act as employment cum commerce hubs, benefiting both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The capacity of police needs to be built and instead of re-employing the old dead wood of levies, fresh recruitments amongst the locals be made, purely on merit. The best officers should be posted as ACs and DCs and their performance in NMDs should be evaluated as a career incentive. On political front there is a need for the political ownership of the counterterrorism policy. The K-P government has to be taken on board to fight this war and consistency of the state policies ensured. On external front Pakistan needs to remain positively engaged with IAG while pulling all stops to promote and facilitate legal trade between the two countries.

The hydra-headed monster of TTP terrorism can be only be slayed with an attack on multiple fronts by whole of the society.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2024.

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