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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Op-ed: Pakistan should be cautious of the TTP even as terror group loses relevance in a new Afghanistan

While the group would not last very long, there is no room for complacency as it prepares for attacks in Pakistan

In a significant development, two splinter groups of Tehreek-i–Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — Harkatul Ahrar and Jamatul Ahrar — have decided to rejoin the main body of the movement after having left it following serious leadership differences.

According to sources, meetings between the TTP and the two breakaway factions had taken place in Afghan territory, on the border with Pakistan. The splinter groups have reposed confidence in the leadership of Mufti Wali Mahsud who took command of the TTP in 2018 after the killing of its previous leader, Fazlullah. The reunited TTP has pledged to carry out attacks on security forces and their installations in the tribal areas of Pakistan, which in 2018 were merged with Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province.

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The movement’s leaders have been mostly residing in their hideouts in Afghanistan ever since Pakistani security forces launched attacks targeting their bases. Drone attacks both by Pakistan and the US have taken out a large number of TTP leaders in the past few years.

But the TTP itself faces a very uncertain future. Its support base has almost vanished. The group no longer enjoys any real backing from the region’s main tribes. One reason is the overwhelming economic problems of the impoverished people who have suffered huge losses in the conflict that started when Pakistan became a US ally in its war in Afghanistan. The population has also not recovered from large-scale displacement and destruction caused by military operations against the militants.

Thousands of people have been killed, villages, markets decimated, infrastructure destroyed across the tribal area. People are desperate to rebuild their houses, rehabilitate their farms, businesses. For them to be part of a movement that would target government forces or installations while they seek to reinvent their existence would be a preposterous choice that would not find any supporters.

There is also another facet to the return of Harkatul Ahrar and Jamatul Ahrar to the TTP fold. The TTP may launch attacks and then seek negotiation from a position of strength

More importantly, the TTP has no longer any real manifesto or goals and objectives that would attract sympathy or support of the people. It has not been able to engage with the community. A wholly negativistic agenda would not appeal to the people who have plenty of their own worries and who are genuinely concerned about the future of their children.

A large number of people in the tribal areas are now looking forward to having their socio-economic problems addressed by political parties. There is also the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), led by the charismatic Manzoor Pashteen, with a goal to defend the rights of the people of the area that has heavily suffered during past two decades, and to hold accountable those involved in enforced disappearances of thousands of the region’s tribesmen who raised their voices against government policies.

Lastly, there is a prospect of a change in neighboring Afghanistan if a new dispensation, headed by the Afghan Taliban, takes control. Such a new government would not acquiesce in any militant group carrying out attacks in another country from Afghanistan’s soil. The Afghan Taliban would certainly intervene to destroy the bases and hideouts of any such group maintaining a presence in their country.

Read more: Reappraisal of border policy necessary for cordial Pak-Afghan ties

TTP is then quickly losing its relevance. But then it must be noted that it still has some followers who would be ideologically motivated to launch attacks wherever the possibility exists.

What is now worrying for the Pakistani government is that following the region’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, administration members are now more present in the area — at security checkpoints, new offices, new residences, police posts — which means that there are many targets to attack that they are widespread. This could pose some problems for the administration in the coming months.

There is also another facet to the return of Harkatul Ahrar and Jamatul Ahrar to the TTP fold. The TTP may launch attacks and then seek negotiation from a position of strength. That could be a well-calculated ploy.

Read more: Afghanistan faces a new serious challenge

But without any support from the people of the tribal areas, they will not present any real challenge to the administration. In the short term, however, provincial authorities have to be watchful and ready to deal with assaults. There are signs that such attacks may take place soon because the reunited group would like to demonstrate its strength and ability to target government forces. While the group would not last very long, there is no room for complacency as it prepares for attacks in an area that is very familiar to its cadres.

Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held the position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade. The article originally appeared at Arab News Pakistan and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.