The TTP offensive may destabilise Pakistan - Hindustan Times
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The TTP offensive may destabilise Pakistan

Jan 04, 2023 08:10 PM IST

In this simmering cauldron, the TTP’s violent attacks in Islamabad and Punjab will only raise the people’s ire against the Pakistani State and the army for their inability to provide security — a potentially game-changing development in an election year

Pakistan is on the precipice of a serious internal military operation. The National Security Committee, headed by Prime Minister (PM) Shehbaz Sharif, met twice in one week to plan a military offensive against the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to control the new wave of militancy unleashed by the group in several parts of the country. The TTP has expanded its presence significantly in Pakistan’s tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, which Islamabad thought was a success of its “strategic depth” policy in Afghanistan, but has since come to rue as a strategic miscalculation. As part of this campaign of violence, on December 23, the TTP conducted a rare suicide attack in Islamabad, killing an officer and wounding 10 people. On December 18, TTP militants attacked a counter-terrorism department at Bannu in southern KP and took several police officers hostage. This recent surge in violence came after the TTP announced the end of an “indefinite” ceasefire on November 28. The Islamabad bombing, in particular, raised the alarm in Pakistan that the TTP may not restrict itself to KP and Balochistan but expand its presence in Punjab and Islamabad, Pakistan’s core areas.

Islamabad has accused the Afghan Taliban government of failing to stop the TTP from using Afghan territory against Pakistan. However, the Taliban has denied these allegations (REUTERS) PREMIUM
Islamabad has accused the Afghan Taliban government of failing to stop the TTP from using Afghan territory against Pakistan. However, the Taliban has denied these allegations (REUTERS)

An official report shared with PM Sharif during a national security review meeting highlighted that KP witnessed 704 terror-related incidents and Punjab five last year. The TTP and its affiliated groups reportedly conducted the majority of these attacks. However, the group has expanded in the last two years after scores of splinter outfits, including Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, joined it after a reconciliation process overseen by the Afghan Taliban in July 2020. Worryingly for Islamabad, some Baloch rebel groups have also merged with the TTP.

Islamabad has accused the Afghan Taliban government of failing to stop the TTP from using Afghan territory against Pakistan. However, the Taliban has denied these allegations. Interestingly, a TTP statement on December 19 appeared to confirm this when it said: “Vast portions of the [Pakistan’s] tribal areas are under our occupation... There is no need for us to use the soil of Afghanistan.”

After the Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan, Pakistan believed it had de facto control over Afghanistan. Then PM Imran Khan said, “Afghans had broken the shackles of slavery.” However, Pakistan’s jubilation was short-lived as the Taliban refused to accept the Durand Line as the official border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, stoking regular border clashes over Pakistan’s unilateral fencing activities, which have strained bilateral ties. The Afghan Taliban’s reported failure to pressure the TTP for a peace deal with Islamabad and the recent assassination bid on the Pakistan embassy’s top official in Kabul further deteriorated relations between the neighbours.

After failed negotiations with the TTP and the Afghan Taliban’s limitations to help Islamabad on the issue, a military offensive is inevitable. While such an operation will have economic ramifications on the country’s cash-strapped economy, it may help the army rebuild its battered image after the public tussle between Khan and former army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Besides, Islamabad is also eyeing an opportunity to garner international sympathy by projecting itself as a victim of terrorism.

This growing security instability in Pakistan does not augur well for India or regional security. Taking advantage, Pakistan-based anti-India terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad will undoubtedly feel encouraged to carry out more attacks in Jammu and Kashmir. In addition, there are reports of increased activities in several terror launchpads in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, especially after Pakistan’s removal from the Financial Action Task Force Grey List in October 2022. Moreover, army chief General Asim Munir has also signalled a hawkish approach to India through his statements and alleging India’s involvement in terror-related incidents in Pakistan through a sham “dossier”.

The challenge of the TTP’s surging campaign of violence will pose a new headache for the government and the military. In this simmering cauldron, the TTP’s violent attacks in Islamabad and Punjab will only raise the people’s ire against the Pakistani State and the army for their inability to provide security — a potentially game-changing development in an election year.

Sameer Patil is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Saral Sharma is a PhD Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Both have previously served in the National Security Council Secretariat
The views expressed are personal.

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