By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
On September 29, 2022, a Pakistan Army soldier, Sepoy Jamshed Iqbal (27), was killed in an exchange of fire with terrorists at the Kharlachi border crossing in Kurram district. Later, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson Muhammad Khorasani, through the outfit’s social media account, claimed responsibility for the attack, declaring that the Mujahideen of TTP attacked when the Army tried to surround them, killing three soldiers.
September 28: unidentified militants opened fire at the main gate of the Daraban Police Station, injuring Police constable Ismail, in the Dera Ismail Khan District. TTP later claimed the incident.
September 27: 21 Pakistan Army soldiers were injured in a suicide attack by a suspected TTP militant in the Mir Ali Subdivision of North Waziristan District. The attacker was reportedly identified as ‘Hamza’ in social media accounts. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Besides TTP, the Shura Mujahideen of North Waziristan, also known as the Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group (HGB), is also active in the area.
On September 26: two Pakistan Army soldiers, Naik Rasheed (29) and Rasool Badshah, (22), along with an unidentified militant, were killed, during an exchange of fire at a military post in the general area of Azam Warsak in South Waziristan District. TTP later claimed the attack.
September 24: two Army soldiers, Naib Subedar Javed Iqbal (45) and Naik Hussain Ahmed (38), were killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in the Esham area of North Waziristan District. TTP claimed responsibility for the incident.
September 13: three soldiers were killed when terrorists open gunfire on troops from across the fenced border in the Kharlachi area of Kurram District.
According to partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management, a total of 40 fatalities have been recorded – eight civilians, 20 SF personnel and 12 militants – since September 2, 2022. On that day, TTP claimed its first ‘self-defense attack’, killing a policeman, Zahuruddin, in the Choudhwan area of Dera Ismail Khan District. This was the first TTP claimed attack since the start of the ceasefire with the government on May 1, 2022.
Importantly, in this latest round of violence several civilians suspected by the TTP to be linked with the government/ security apparatus were also targeted. Prominent incidents of this nature included:
September 14: TTP militants killed a member of the local peace committee, Muhammad Shirin, in the Charbagh Dkorak area of Swat.
September 13: eight persons including, a peace committee member Idrees Khan, and two of his Police guards, were killed and several other people sustained injuries in a remote-controlled blast at Kot Katai village in the Bara Bandi area in the Kabal tehsil (revenue unit), Swat District. TTP claimed responsibility for the incident.
On September 9: four Policemen were killed and two sustained injuries when a convoy of Tank tehsil Chairman Saddam Hussain Khan was ambushed by unidentified gunmen near Pai village in Tank District.
Through social media account, TTP has claimed at least 35 attacks in 14 districts across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, describing them as either Difai (defensive) or inteqami (revenge) attacks, between September 2, 2022 and September 30. These districts include Khyber, with 5 attacks; Lakki Marwat, 5; Mohmand, Kurram, D I Khan, North Waziristan and South Waziristan, three each; Swat, Kohat, Orakzai, and Mardan, two each; and one each in Bannu, Peshawar and Bajaur.
Meanwhile, the Security Forces (SFs) too have killed eleven militants (eight TTP and three HGB) in four incidents since September 2,2022. Prominent incidents include-
September 23: two TTP terrorists were killed during an exchange of fire with SFs in the Sheikh Badin Mountain area of Lakki Marwat District.
On September 5: an Army officer and four soldiers were killed while five terrorists, including ‘commander’ Tufail, were killed during two separate intelligence-based operations (IBOs) in North Waziristan District. The militants who were killed included both TTP and HGB cadres.
From these incidents, it appears that the civilian government in Pakistan is confused. While no reactions are forthcoming from the Federal Government, which is busy with almost daily political firefighting; the provincial government has downplayed the resurgence of violence. On September 20, Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, Special Assistant on Information to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister, blamed anti-TTP elements for the violence, further claiming, “The talks between government and TTP are moving forward. If any agreement is reached then it will be presented before parliament for approval. A general amnesty for militants could not be ruled out.” Saif had visited Afghanistan several times, in connection with peace negotiations with TTP.
The Pakistani Army leadership,on the other hand, seemed to have realized the challenge. On September 28, 2022, at the Corps Commanders conference, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Chief of Army Staff, directed the troops to go after terrorists as they have increased attacks, particularly on security forces, declaring,
Formations must leave no stone unturned to take action against terrorists in coordination with all LEAs [law enforcement agencies]
However, Ayesha Siddiqa, an expert on Pakistan’s security establishment, in a report published in Gandhara/Radio Free Asia on September 21, noted that there was little interest within the Pakistani military for any major kinetic action this time, as compared to earlier confrontations, due to the lack of western aid:
Now, with no money on the table, the Pakistani military is unwilling to fight the Taliban, which is leading to extortion in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Before the recent surge, the last TTP-claimed attack was on April 29, 2022. TTP had claimed killing two soldiers while attacking a Pakistani military check point in the Khadi area of Mir Ali tehsil, North Waziristan District.
The rise in violence also comes after the suspension of talks following suspicious assassinations of prominent TTP and HGB commanders in Afghanistan. While, the role of the Inter-Services-Intelligence (ISI) is suspected by the militants, internal rivalries too cannot be ruled out.
On August 23: unidentified assassins killed top HGB ‘commander’ Yasir Parkey, along with three accomplices, in the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan.
Earlier, another four TTP leaders had been killed, including:
August 8, 2022: TTP ‘intelligence chief’ and member of its ‘military commission’, Abdul Rashid aka Uqabi Bajauri, was killed in a landmine explosion in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Uqabi belonged to the Bajaur District of KP.
August 7, 2022: Three TTP ‘commanders’ and a driver were killed in a roadside mine explosion in Barmal District, Paktika Province, Afghanistan. The killed ‘commanders’ included Omar Khalid Khorasani, Hafiz Daulat Khan and Mullah Hassan Swati, while the driver was reportedly the son-in-law of Omar Khalid Khorasani.
These killings have caused widespread resentment and suspicion among the terrorist formations. An August 27, 2022, internal note issued by TTP’s Military Commission (South) head Badshah Mehsud, instructed leaders to avoid meeting Emir Noor Wali Mehsud for two months without permission from Badshah Mehsud.
There are also instances of differences amongst TTP factions coming to fore. A September 25, 2022, report, suggests the reemergence of TTP divisions along largely the North (Malakand Division) – South (Bannu, North and South Waziristan) axis. While the local Pakistani Taliban leadership of Mohmand, Bajaur, Dir, Swat, Buner and Malakand, more aligned with Salafism, believed that the fighting should resume in the wake of Khorasani’s assassination, the Mehsud-led central leadership did not agree to the proposal. Subsequently, TTP commander Saifal aka Mullah Burjan of Swat, recommenced his activities in the district. The TTP command is divided into two ‘commissions’ – North and South – and further into seven provinces, DI Khan, Mardan, Peshawar (includes Khyber and Dera Adam Khel), Malakand (includes Bajaur), Kohat, Hazara, and Bannu.
Besides the attacks claimed by TTP, directed against both SFs and civilians, cases of extortion have also surged in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. According to a September 29 report, extortion has become rampant. In one instance, based on a police report filed with the local counterterrorism department, TTP militants had abducted 10 employees of a telecom company and demanded PKR 100 million ($418,000) for their release. Similarly, in another such case, an unnamed Swat based official disclosed, TTP militants were paid PKR 25 million ($103,000) as protection money by an unnamed provincial lawmaker.
However, the head of the TTP’s grievance commission, Abu Yasir, rejected these claims, asserting:
We have neither allowed nor will we allow anyone to do so… We have stopped many. And in some cases, members of the Tehreek have also done it on an individual basis, but we have stopped them… We have stopped our colleagues and asked others as well, when a complaint has been lodged with us.
Meanwhile, the prospect of the TTP taking over the tribal areas has led to several protests by citizens in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In one such incident, on September 16, 2022, a large number of people took to the streets in Swat Valley against incidence of militancy in the area, demanding police action. This was in response to the September 13 killing of eight persons, including peace committee member Idrees Khan, in Swat District.
In the current circumstances, the fate of the negotiations looks murky. Further, Pakistan’s federal political leadership, embroiled in coping with the twin economic and political crisis, is finding it difficult to throw its weight behind the talks. At the same time, full-scale operations necessary to contain TTP are also looking unlikely, with unrealistic hopes of an accommodation still alive. The ongoing conundrum in KPK is, consequently, likely to continue, with violence rising.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management