An uncertain Pakistan

In the recent years, the TTP has expanded its network and operations to other parts of Pakistan, including Sindh and Punjab provinces.

An uncertain Pakistan
The barbaric, audacious attack targeting a school in Peshawar on December 16 is a dark day in the history of Pakistan.

The genocidal attack killing more than 140 people, mostly children, was staged by Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which has been fighting a war against the state of Pakistan.

The latest killings were ostensibly to seek revenge for the counter-terrorist operations along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Large scale attacks causing terror is nothing new for the TTP. This time, the target was unfortunately the softest of them all – the school children.

Soon after the attack, the focus shifted to neighbouring Afghanistan. Pakistan Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif flew to Kabul along with the chief of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to seek cooperation for the handover of TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has used strong words for the Afghan leadership that if there is no cooperation, Pakistan would hunt him on its own. Since 2013, the TTP leadership is with Fazlullah and the umbrella group is said to have undergone splits over the issue of leadership.

To analyse threat of Taliban in Pakistan one should also look into history and events in neighbouring Afghanistan. Afghan Taliban was formed during the Soviet war in Afghanistan with the support of the ISI and the Pakistan army. The TTP, an offshoot of Afghan Taliban, was formed in 2007 as an umbrella organisation of different groups. It recruited volunteers from the madrasas in the northern provinces of Pakistan which share boundary with Afghanistan.

Reports suggest that Pakistani recruits joined Taliban when it pledged an allegiance to Al Qaeda. Taliban regime (1996-2001) in Afghanistan was overthrown following the US-led multilateral forces’ invasion. Pakistan had to join the war on terror following immense pressure from the US in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks, and it is believed that some of the intelligence men ended up playing “double game”.

The war had its spill-over effect. Since the US attack, most Taliban recruits and members of the Haqqani network have taken shelter in the mountainous belt of Waziristan and adjoining provinces and have been recruiting and training locals. The US, helped by Pakistan, has resorted to drone attacks, insensitive killings, explosions, offensive and counter offensive operations. The US drones have killed more than 2,500 people since 2004. The locals have taken up arms against the Pakistan government and the US presence.

The December 16 attack was to avenge the counter operations launched in June 2014. Called Operation Zarb-e-Azb (Strike of the Prophet’s Sword) in North Waziristan, it has killed more than 1,200 militants but displaced about 7 lakh civilians. The nature of information emerging from this region cannot be assumed to be accurate. The region, dominated by Pashtuns, has remained neglected by the government and is largely underdeveloped.

The US troops stationed in Afghanistan since 2001 are withdrawing in a phased manner and complete withdrawal would be done by end of 2014. In past few months, Taliban has revived and increased attacks, raising questions about stability in the region. The complicated Afghan peace process remains inconclusive.

Security threat
As for Pakistan, TTP has emerged as its biggest security challenge. Despite splits in TTP over leadership and other issues, the organisation’s operational ability was not affected. Over the years, the group’s network has spread and manpower increased. Its target are not just the state but civilians as well including symbolic attacks like one on Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai to dissuade girls from studying in schools. Pakistani military has remained unsuccessful in exploiting the divisions within the group.

The latest attack might be an attempt by Fazlullah to assert his control over TTP. It may be noted that Afghan Taliban is believed to be cordial towards the Pakistani military and they do not necessarily have any influence over TTP.

But Afghan Taliban, TTP, Haqqani Network and other militant groups active in the region have an organic bond based on similar historical experiences and ideology. The TTP, like the Afghan Taliban, wants to impose sharia law in Pakistan and withdrawal of American troops from the bordering areas and drone attacks.

In the recent years, the TTP has expanded its network and operations to other parts of Pakistan, including Sindh and Punjab provinces. Pakistan has taken action against terrorism in a selective manner and has never shied away from using trained militants to target and destabilise India.

The Taliban was raised with a latent motive to install a puppet regime in Afghanistan. But calculations went wrong when TTP emerged and turned out to be a Frankenstein for Pakistan. Pakistani military and its most potent instrument, the ISI, nurtured these organisations and had an illusion that they will always be at their command and will.

The continued American drone attacks are turning Pashtuns against the Pakistan government which appears not to care much for them. Rehabilitation of displaced people along the border and interiors would be another challenge. The strong resentment among Pashtuns against the government is manifested in non-cooperation with law enforcing agencies and hostile reactions.

Pakistan is unlikely to flush out militants completely, given the strong roots of the organisation and its sympathy among the dominant ethnic group in the region. The government should strive to regain the confidence of the people who have been affected by ongoing offensive.

It must realise the futility of categorising terrorism and nurturing the terrorists to unleash their sabotaging mentality against the neighbouring countries. If there is any deviation from this hard fact and if the military ignores this reality, then it should brace up to further attacks in the coming days.

(Das is assistant professor and Khaji is post-graduate researcher at St. Joseph’s College, Bengaluru)

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