By Ajit Kumar Singh*
In a statement released on Umar Media, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP’s) official web site on November 28, 2022, Mufti Muzahim, the TTP’s ‘Minister of Defence’ announced an end to the seven months-long ceasefire. Muzahim “ordered” TTP forces throughout Pakistan “to launch attacks anywhere in the country” in response to Pakistani military operations. The outfit claimed that it chose to end the ceasefire after “the army and intelligence agencies continue to raid and attack” its forces. “And now our revenge attacks will continue in the whole country,” the TTP statement concluded.
Following quickly, on November 30, at least four people, including a policeman, a woman, her son, and another child, were killed and more than two dozen others, including 21 policemen, sustained injuries in a suicide attack in the Baleli area of Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. Claiming responsibility for the attack, TTP said that its fighter detonated a car bomb near a customs post to avenge the killing of its leaders.
On December 3, three Police officers were killed when terrorists opened fire on a Police patrol in Nowshera District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). TTP claimed responsibility for the attack.
These two incidents in the wake of the collapse of the TTP’s talks with the Government of Pakistan, suggest that terrorist violence is slated for a major escalation in the days to come.
The end of the ceasefire had been expected for some time, following developments in August 2022. In the last week of August, in an ‘internal memo’ to its ‘commanders’, TTP had directed initiation of “defensive attacks” in response to Pakistan’s continued security operations against the group, and had also indicated that the ‘commanders’ report all such attacks, so that Umar Media could issue appropriate statements.
Crucially, three top TTP ‘commanders’, Abdul Wali Mohmand alias Omar Khalid Khorasani, Hafiz Daulat Khan Orakzai and Mufti Hassan Swati, had been killed in the Barmal District of Paktika Province in Afghanistan, on August 7, 2022, when their car hit a roadside mine. Though no one claimed the killings, the TTP blamed “the enemy”, ostensibly referring to the Pakistan Army.
In another incident, on August 7, 2022, a TTP ‘Military Commission’ member from the Bajaur District of Pakistan, Abdul Rashid alias Uqabi Bajauri, was killed in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack in the Chowgam area of Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Again, on August 23, 2022, another important TTP ‘commander’, Yasir Parakay, was killed along with three of his associates, in the Spin Boldak town of Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Parakay had reportedly taken an anti-Pakistan position in the peace talks.
These were the killings that provoked the TTP call for “defensive attacks”.
Indeed, soon after the call for “defensive attack”, the TTP claimed four attacks in September 2022:
- September 2: in a ‘self-defense’ attack, TTP killed a policeman, Zahuruddin, in the Choudhwan area of Dera Ismail Khan District in KP.
- September 13: A peace committee member and two of his Police guards were among five people killed, while several others sustained injuries, in a remote-controlled blast at the Kot Katai village in the Bara Bandi area of Kabal tehsil (revenue unit) in Swat District, KP. The peace committee member, identified as Idrees Khan, was the target of blast.
- September 21: TTP militants killed a tribesman and injured another near the Teddi Bazaar in the Jamrud tehsil of Khyber District in KP. TTP accused the deceased of working for an intelligence agency.
- September 29: A Pakistan Army soldier, Sepoy Jamshed Iqbal, was killed in an exchange of fire, with terrorists at the Kharlachi border crossing in the Kurram District of KP. TTP claimed that its mujahideen attacked when the Army tried to surround them during a ‘trip’ in the area.
Concerned at these attacks, the Ministry of Interior had issued a nationwide alert to authorities in October 2022, exhorting them to maintain “extreme vigilance” to counter the increased risk from TTP. The Ministry noted that the risk had increased since the peace talks with TTP had stalled.
Later, in one of the worst attacks claimed by TTP since ‘official’ talks began in May 2022, at least six policemen were killed when terrorists ambushed a police patrol at Lakki Marwat in KP on November 16, 2022.
The TTP had announced an 11-day ceasefire on April 29, 2022, which it extended twice thereafter. Later, on May 31, 2022, it declared an indefinite ceasefire which came to an end on November 28, 2022. The November 28 announcement also ended the ‘official’ talks which were always on shaky ground.
It is useful to recall here that, soon after the Afghan Taliban took over Kabul on August 15, 2021, there was jubilation within the Pakistani establishment over the purported ‘fact’ that their own proxy in Afghanistan was in control, and would help Islamabad control TTP. Optimism was fed further by the fact that the Afghan Taliban did help broker a ceasefire between the two sides – Islamabad and the TTP – which led to the start of the ‘peace talks’ between the two in May 2022, with the Afghan Taliban leadership mediating. The talks, however, began to flounder at the very outset, with the TTP adamant on two principal demands that were unacceptable to Islamabad:
substantial reduction of Pakistani military forces in the tribal areas.reversal of the 2018 merger of the tribal areas with mainland Pakistan through an Amendment to Pakistan’s constitution resulting in the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with KP.
While Islamabad had indicated willingness to accept some (unspecified) reduction of military forces in the erstwhile FATA, it was totally opposed to the demand for the reversal of the merger. For its part, TTP insisted that its demand for the reversal for the FATA merger was non-negotiable.
Not surprisingly, the talks failed to progress. Islamabad sought to pressurise the Afghan Taliban to force TTP to give up its demands and end violence, but failed to realise the truth – that the bonding between the Afghan Taliban and the TTP was stronger than what it presumed, and that, consequently, its hopes were misplaced. Ideologically, the Afghan Taliban and TTP are essentially on the same page, committed to establishing Sharia rule in their respective countries.
Unsurprisingly, there has been a surge in violence in Pakistan since the return of the Taliban in Kabul on August 15, 2021. In the 15 months and 20 days since then, and despite the purported ‘ceasefire’, Pakistan has recorded 434 incidents of killing, resulting in 1,132, fatalities, including 268 civilians, 459 Security Force (SF) personnel and 405 terrorists (data till December 4, 2022). During the corresponding period preceding, there were 757 fatalities including 283 civilians, 250 SF personnel and 224 terrorists.
In KP, in particular, where TTP is the dominant player, over the same period, there were 166 incidents of killing, with 459 dead, including 110 civilians, 155 SF personnel and 193 terrorists. During the corresponding period preceding, in 134 incidents of killing, 327 people, including 110 civilians, 98 SF personnel and 119 terrorists, were killed. Though not every attack has been claimed, it is well established that the TTP has a strong base in KP and most of the attacks have been carried out by the outfit.
The fifth issue of the Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS)’s Paper Series released on October 19, confirms that there has been a surge in violence in Pakistan since the return of the Taliban in Kabul. According to the paper, in 250 terrorist attacks in Pakistan between August 15, 2021, and August 14, 2022, at least 433 people have been killed and 719 wounded, as against 165 attacks that killed 294 people and injured 598, others between August 15, 2020 and August 14, 2021.
The talks between the Pakistan Government and the TTP under the mediation of the Afghan Taliban were, since the very beginning, shrouded in deep uncertainty. The outcome is, consequently, not surprising. Pakistan is likely to experience rising chaos, significantly compounding the present political and economic turmoil.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management