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Saturday, February 24, 2024

The whirlpool of terrorism: Denial, factionalism and covert support

To fend off the terrorist threats emanating from the factionalism within TTP with no effective control of the central leadership, covert support by TTP for such attacks, or the rhetorical support by the Afghan Taliban for the terrorist attacks against Pakistan, the country needs to focus on the concerns raised above, rather than merely focusing on the security lapse occurred in Peshawar.

The deadly suicide attack in a mosque that killed more than 100 worshippers in Peshawar, Pakistan, has raised several alarming concerns. While the country grapples with the rapid upsurge in the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) attacks after it unilaterally ended the ceasefire brokered by the Afghan Taliban, the deadly attack and the ensuing confusion regarding the responsibility of the attack carries the potential for threats that are far greater than just the security lapses, like the one that occurred in Peshawar. As the police and law enforcement agencies along with political leadership question the lapses and evaluate responses to the menace of terrorism, while the analyst and talk show hosts echo similar concerns, the real threat(s) lie somewhere else.

Jamat ulAhrar (JuA), an extremist faction of the TTP, claimed responsibility for the attack on the mosque that killed hundreds and injured more than 170 people. The terrorist attack was the second deadliest in Peshawar after the Army Public School (APS) attack of 2014, where more than 130 children were killed. The group claims the attack to be carried out to avenge the death of the former leader, Omar Khalid Khurasani who was killed in Afghanistan in August 2022. The central leadership of TTP has denied responsibility for the attack, calling the act a crime and a prohibited act. However, the organization’s media cell, Umar Media did not call the act an act of terrorism. Pro-TTP media cells also floated fake responsibility claims in the name of Islamic State-Khurasan Province (ISKP), to avoid the flak of the civilian population, and divert the attention to the ISKP. Whereas, a pro-ISKP telegram account also denied the involvement of the organization in the attack.

On the other hand, the Afghan embassy in Pakistan was quick to denounce the act as an act of terrorism having no basis in religious doctrines. Contrarily, the Afghan Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi while denying the plausibility of Afghan soil being used for cross-border terrorism, asked Pakistani authorities to look for the problem within their borders. The statement of FM Muttaqi however, did not as well call the attack an act of terrorism.

Understanding the matter better

The confusion concerning the actual responsibility of the attack and as an act of terrorism or not has serious implications for Pakistan’s internal security as well as its bilateral relations with the Afghan Taliban government.

In terms of the internal security threats, the denial of responsibility for the attack by the central TTP leadership highlights one of two possibilities, either the central leadership lacks effective control over the factions, or it had the information regarding the attack and is denying the responsibility owing to its complex and often the confusing relationship with its factions. If the central leadership lacks effective control of its factions, the intelligence gathering and the authenticity of the attacks become ever more difficult. Also, the free hand to the factions could mean multiple fronts for law enforcement agencies of Pakistan to deal with.

Additionally, the tainted history between JuA and TTP can also become a security risk for Pakistan. The group split from TTP back in 2014 calling its parent organization too moderate against the Pakistani state. It has rejoined TTP twice, once in 2015 and again in 2020. If the TTP’s central leadership genuinely abhors the attack and questions the JuA leader, Omar MukarramKhurasani for violating the code of conduct, there are chances for the JuA to join hands with the ISKP in Afghanistan. Thus, becoming a greater threat to not only Pakistan but Afghanistan as well. Both organizations have maintained a relationship and conducted attacks in unison.

On the bilateral front, the condemnation by the Afghan Taliban of the attack as un-Islamic runs the risk of pushing JuA against both, TTP and Afghan Taliban, leaving them with no option but to join hands with ISKP. Simultaneously, the statement of the Emir of Afghanistan and the leader of the Afghan Taliban, HibatullahAkhunzada indirectly supporting the attacks of TTP against Pakistan, calling the country un-Islamic holds serious pitfalls for the future relations between the two countries. Similarly, the audio tape of a religious cleric based in Afghanistan who has significant influence over the Afghan Taliban made claims that Pakistan is not an Islamic state. The claims were made in response to the claim made by a top Pakistani cleric, Mufti TaqiUsmani, who called TTP attacks and jihad anti-Islamic and cannot be waged against an Islamic state, i.e., Pakistan. These statements give TTP and its factions rhetorical support to continue attacks against Pakistan, seriously tainting the relationships between the two countries.

To fend off the terrorist threats emanating from the factionalism within TTP with no effective control of the central leadership, covert support by TTP for such attacks, or the rhetorical support by the Afghan Taliban for the terrorist attacks against Pakistan, the country needs to focus on the concerns raised above, rather than merely focusing on the security lapse occurred in Peshawar.

The deadly suicide attack in a mosque that killed more than 100 worshippers in Peshawar, Pakistan, has raised several alarming concerns. While the country grapples with the rapid upsurge in the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) attacks after it unilaterally ended the ceasefire brokered by the Afghan Taliban, the deadly attack and the ensuing confusion regarding the responsibility of the attack carries the potential for threats that are far greater than just the security lapses, like the one that occurred in Peshawar. As the police and law enforcement agencies along with political leadership question the lapses and evaluate responses to the menace of terrorism, while the analyst and talk show hosts echo similar concerns, the real threat(s) lie somewhere else.

Jamat ul Ahrar (JuA), an extremist faction of the TTP, claimed responsibility for the attack on the mosque that killed hundreds and injured more than 170 people. The terrorist attack was the second deadliest in Peshawar after the Army Public School (APS) attack of 2014, where more than 130 children were killed. The group claims the attack to be carried out to avenge the death of the former leader, Omar Khalid Khurasani who was killed in Afghanistan in August 2022. The central leadership of TTP has denied responsibility for the attack, calling the act a crime and a prohibited act.

Read more: President, PM vow to end terrorism

However, the organization’s media cell, Umar Media did not call the act an act of terrorism. Pro-TTP media cells also floated fake responsibility claims in the name of Islamic State-Khurasan Province (ISKP), to avoid the flak of the civilian population, and divert the attention to the ISKP. Whereas, a pro-ISKP telegram account also denied the involvement of the organization in the attack.

On the other hand, the Afghan embassy in Pakistan was quick to denounce the act as an act of terrorism having no basis in religious doctrines. Contrarily, the Afghan Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi while denying the plausibility of Afghan soil being used for cross-border terrorism, asked Pakistani authorities to look for the problem within their borders. The statement of FM Muttaqi however, did not as well call the attack an act of terrorism.

The confusion concerning the actual responsibility of the attack and as an act of terrorism or not has serious implications for Pakistan’s internal security as well as its bilateral relations with the Afghan Taliban government.

In terms of the internal security threats, the denial of responsibility for the attack by the central TTP leadership highlights one of two possibilities, either the central leadership lacks effective control over the factions, or it had the information regarding the attack and is denying the responsibility owing to its complex and often the confusing relationship with its factions. If the central leadership lacks effective control of its factions, the intelligence gathering and the authenticity of the attacks become ever more difficult. Also, the free hand to the factions could mean multiple fronts for law enforcement agencies of Pakistan to deal with.

Additionally, the tainted history between JuA and TTP can also become a security risk for Pakistan. The group split from TTP back in 2014 calling its parent organization too moderate against the Pakistani state. It has rejoined TTP twice, once in 2015 and again in 2020. If the TTP’s central leadership genuinely abhors the attack and questions the JuA leader, Omar Mukarram Khurasani for violating the code of conduct, there are chances for the JuA to join hands with the ISKP in Afghanistan. Thus, becoming a greater threat to not only Pakistan but Afghanistan as well. Both organizations have maintained a relationship and conducted attacks in unison.

Read more: Javed Akhtar accuses Pakistan of terrorism in India in Lahore event

The way forward

On the bilateral front, the condemnation by the Afghan Taliban of the attack as un-Islamic runs the risk of pushing JuA against both, TTP and Afghan Taliban, leaving them with no option but to join hands with ISKP. Simultaneously, the statement of the Emir of Afghanistan and the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Hibatullah Akhunzada indirectly supporting the attacks of TTP against Pakistan, calling the country un-Islamic holds serious pitfalls for the future relations between the two countries.

Similarly, the audio tape of a religious cleric based in Afghanistan who has significant influence over the Afghan Taliban made claims that Pakistan is not an Islamic state. The claims were made in response to the claim made by a top Pakistani cleric, Mufti TaqiUsmani, who called TTP attacks and jihad anti-Islamic and cannot be waged against an Islamic state, i.e., Pakistan. These statements give TTP and its factions rhetorical support to continue attacks against Pakistan, seriously tainting the relationships between the two countries.

To fend off the terrorist threats emanating from the factionalism within TTP with no effective control of the central leadership, covert support by TTP for such attacks, or the rhetorical support by the Afghan Taliban for the terrorist attacks against Pakistan, the country needs to focus on the concerns raised above, rather than merely focusing on the security lapse occurred in Peshawar.

 

Written by Shiraz Shaikh

The writer is an Assistant Research Associate at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.