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Saturday, February 17, 2024

TTP Conundrum and Taliban and its implications for Pakistan

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan created a vacuum that was supposed to be filled by the Afghan national government but given the capacity of the Afghanistan government, it could not withstand the Taliban’s decisive onslaught for more than a few weeks.

Taliban seized the control of Kabul (2021) and declared their government which still needs to be recognized by the international community. European countries are clear in their stance that the Taliban regime will not be recognized whereas regional governments, fearing economic and humanitarian crises in Afghanistan are urging the international community to unfreeze Afghanistan’s money to run the affairs of the government. But this seems quite unlikely due to the two following reasons:

Will the West ever agree to those conditions?

If these two conditions are met then there is no harm if Western countries unfreeze not all but some part of the money conditional to Taliban’s compliance. The second condition is a hard nut to crack for the Taliban themselves as TTP seeks their motivation and power from the Taliban government in Kabul.

Despite establishing almost near-total control over Afghanistan, the Taliban regime is struggling to seek legitimacy through United Nations members. But this time Taliban returned to power with a bit liberal approach. International media is reporting from Kabul free from any fear. Women are attending school and colleges, the same is being floated on social media platforms. But the U.S. and her allies are not trusting the Kabul regime.

The first and foremost Taliban’s foreign policy objective is to get recognition in the international community. Without de jure recognition, the Taliban may not avert the impending humanitarian crisis. But the scale of such a humanitarian crisis will not be limited to Afghanistan but it will definitely expand to neighboring states. Drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, refugees and human trafficking are likely to increase as a result of a humanitarian catastrophe.

TTP as an added challenge for Pakistan

Among several other challenges the resurgence of terrorist activities in Pakistan carried out by the TTP is an alarming thing. Although Pakistan’s military action coupled with drone strikes by the U.S. decimated the TTP networks utterly between 2014-2018. Pakistan’s decisive Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-fasaad have been decisive in quelling terrorists but after the U.S. withdrawal, TTP makes inroads to Pakistan.

The TTP was mainly the byproduct of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and had backing from India as well because its main target was the Pakistani military and law enforcers.

The influx of Taliban and Al-Qaeda members into Pakistan after the U.S. invasion in Afghanistan caused Talibanization of the areas in KPK and Balochistan. TTP recruited from madrassas of the tribal areas to wage fierce resistance to the U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan.

Therefore, India, through its media campaigns generated a narrative that the U.S. was unable to gain grounds without Pakistan’s support in the war against terrorism. The reason for such a narrative was to instigate the Taliban against Pakistan which ultimately resulted in the creation of TTP. Indian clandestine support to TTP to target Pakistan empowered it as a powerful terrorist organization.

Pakistan had to clearly side with the U.S. in the war against terrorism and therefore, TTP’s creation was to confront Pakistan. Baitullah’s spokesperson, Maulvi Omar, in December 2007 clearly declared that the TTP was to present a united front against the Pakistan Army’s operations.”

The TTP was not engaged in the anti-military terrorist campaign before the reign of Hakimullah Mehsud, it was more focused on the foreign invasion of Afghanistan. But After the death of Baitullah Mehsud, Hakimullah established links with Al-Qaida, Sipahe Sahaba and Lashkar Jhangvi. This deadly cooperation also led to increased sectarian attacks against Shiites in Pakistan.

Mullah Fazlullah, the TTP leader in Swat Valley ordered attacks in Army Public School (APS) Peshawar (2014) and Bacha Khan University (2016). The TTP also claimed responsibility of terrorist attacks on Mehran Naval Base and Karachi International airport(2014). After Fazlullah’s death in a drone strike (2018), Mufti Noor Wali, a native of South Waziristan strengthened TTP presence and its terrorist activities in Karachi. Targeting of navy’s surveillance aircraft surely points to Indian involvement in the acts of terrorism.

Pakistan army launched operation Radd-ul-fasaad (2017) to eliminate the latent threat of terrorism. That operation was aimed at consolidating the gains that were made in other military operations and the objective of the operation was to restore peace in Pakistan by rendering terrorist organizations completely ineffective.

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan created a vacuum that was supposed to be filled by the Afghan national government but given the capacity of the Afghanistan government, it could not withstand the Taliban’s decisive onslaught for more than a few weeks.

After the return of the Taliban regime in Kabul, the TTP finds it an opportunity to regrow and spread its network in Pakistan. As the TTP and Afghan Taliban had close cooperation since their inception but they are two sides of the same coin because they were trained together, facilitated each other through financial and human resources and want the Shariah system to be implemented as an ultimate goal of their campaign. After the Taliban’s return to Kabul, hundreds of TTP prisoners were released, it included even senior leader like Faqir Muhammad and renewed their oath of allegiance to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The TTP seems onto the recourse of recovery once again as it largely gains support and direction from Afghanistan. Recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan point to the TTP pathway to consolidation and reinvigoration of violent campaigns.

The U.S. still perceives TTP as an operational threat Noor Wali Mehsud was designated as a global terrorist in 2019 but as U.S. forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan, and U.S. focus has shifted from Afghanistan to Indo-Pacific and unexpected Ukraine-Russia war. This policy preference for the U.S. is likely to provide TTP and Daesh a chance to regrow. No other country can be blamed for this threat.

As the U.S. troops were set to leave Afghanistan in 2020 but that deadline was lingered on, there had been some critical developments regarding the reorganization of terrorist groups and their various factions.

In August 2020, Umar Media announced that Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and Hizbul Ahrar had formally rejoined the TTP in an effort to consolidate their efforts against Pakistani security personnel. The Hakimullah Mehsud Group under the leadership of Mukhlis yar had already rejoined the TTP in July that year. Later Amjad Farouqi group (affiliated with al-Qaeda), Usman Saifullah Kurd group of Lashkar- e-Jhangvi (under Maulvi Khush Muhammad Sindhi) had pledged allegiance to Noor Wali. Such an alliance certainly is going to be more deadly as combined efforts of these terrorist outfits are likely to wreak havoc if the Taliban do not intervene and stop it from happening by exercising their influence on TTP.

Pakistan’s concerns about Afghanistan

After the Taliban’s return to Kabul, there was wishful thinking in Pakistan that the Taliban will establish Shariah and not allow the TTP to use Afghan soil against Pakistan to plot and execute terrorist attacks. But the reality is the opposite what most of the people expected. The release of senior TTP leadership from Afghanistan prisons, providing them de facto asylum and allowing them freedom of movement reflects that the Taliban know each and every move of the TTP. Pakistan’s government is on the target list of TTP as the latter stressed the Pakistan government to release prisoners but later on alleged that government did not keep its commitment.

Pakistani government remained concerned about the impending humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Due to Pakistan’s sincere efforts, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) agreed to establish a humanitarian fund to avert food, fuel and cash crisis as millions were facing hunger over the winter. Another significant effort to salvage Afghanistan has been done on the eve of the 48th meeting of foreign ministers of OIC held at Islamabad 22 March 2022.

Given Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts for Afghanistan, the latter has a moral responsibility to take concrete measures against the resurgence of TTP in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It must be ensured by the Taliban that TTP will be honoring Doha Agreement. A recent terrorist attack in Pakistan was carried out by the TTP, therefore, Operation Radd-ul-fasaad must continue till the TTP is totally eliminated.

Another important measure that will be beneficial for Pakistan in the long term, is to introduce deradicalization programs at educational institutes. This drive of deradicalization will put youth on the path to harmony, peace and progress and put a permanent end to recruitment by the terrorist groups. Hence, an immediate assurance from Afghanistan is required to suppress the threat of TTP.


Dr. Musarat Amin is an Associate Professor at the Department of National Security and Strategic Studies, Air War College Institute, Faisal Base Karachi. She can be reached at drmusarat12@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.