Three Years Ago
While press conferences conducted by Pakistan’s Foreign Office [FO] are a routine affair, the one held on November 14, 2020 was different. Instead of being conducted by a FO spokesperson, it was addressed by Pakistan’s then Foreign Minister [FM] Shah Mehmood Qureshi and co-chaired by the Director General [DG] of Pakistan army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR].
However, since Qureshi wanted to present “irrefutable evidence to the world to demonstrate the Indian state’s direct sponsorship of terrorism in Pakistan that has resulted in the deaths of innocent Pakistanis,” [Emphasis added], his sharing the stage with DGISPR is understandable. After all, it was Pakistan army’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] that had supposedly collected damning evidence that New Delhi was supposedly using Afghanistan soil to sponsor subversive activities inside Pakistan with active support from the Ashraf Ghani government.
Qureshi told media persons that “The evidence provided by Pakistan provides concrete proof of Indian financial and material sponsorship of multiple terrorist organizations, including U.N.-designated terrorist organizations Jamaat ul Ahrar [JuA], Baloch Liberation Army [BLA] and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan [TTP].” [Emphasis added].
He also revealed that a “dossier” containing “irrefutable evidence” of New Delhi’s “rogue behaviour” would be shared with the United Nations [UN] and the five permanent members of UN Security Council [UNSC] so that India could be compelled to stop its alleged terrorist actives inside Pakistan.
Nothing has since been heard about the much hyped “dossier” that Islamabad had dispatched to the UN and the ‘big five’. However, since neither UN nor the UNSC permanent members have, leave alone acting upon, not even mentioned anything about the same, it’s evident that both aren’t convinced by what Pakistan’s claimed was “irrefutable evidence” of India’s “rogue behaviour.”
Two Years Ago
Pakistan’s persistence in defending the indefensible as well as peddling narratives despite the same being rejected by the international community has few parallels. So, it’s not at all surprising that despite the humongous embarrassment caused due to the outright rejection of its voluminous dossier on India’s so-called sponsorship of terrorism inside Pakistan, Islamabad continued shouting from rooftops that TTP was an Indian proxy created by its spy agency Research and Analysis Wing [R&AW].
In less than two weeks after Taliban seized Kabul, Pakistan’s then Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary pompously announced that “We should be satisfied to know with regards to the TTP that for the first time the process of Indian funding [to them]-which had been going on for a long time, has ended and at this time they [TTP] are in disarray.” [Emphasis added]. However, an inordinate spike in TTP attacks on Pakistani security forces and law enforcing agencies after Taliban takeover of Afghanistan belied Chaudhary’s claim that TTP was in “disarray.”
In November 2021, Islamabad accepted a unilateral ceasefire declared by TTP and the Pakistan army entered into secret negotiations with this proscribed terrorist group. Even though TTP didn’t completely stop its attacks, Rawalpindi still bent backwards to appease it and Pakistan daily Express Tribune in its on December 10, 2021 news report quoted a Peshawar based government official disclosing that “Up to 100 Taliban fighters have been released during the last 10 to 15 days.”
Six months later, the Pakistan army released two top TTP terrorist commanders [Muslim Khan and Mehmood Khan] who were in its custody. While the former had been sentenced to death by a military court for killing 31 Pakistani security force personnel and civilians, the latter had been awarded a 20 year prison sentence for kidnapping two Chinese engineers. Such appeasement of terrorists by Rawalpindi is indeed shameful as it is tantamount to condoning the cold blooded murder of Pakistani security force personnel as well as civilians
One Year Ago
Once its bluff accusing India of assisting TTP was called, Pakistan started blaming the Afghan Taliban for failing to deny TTP the use of its soil. While there may be some merit in this claim, the fact is that TTP had already made a significant comeback in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [KP] province of Pakistan last year itself.
On August 10 last year, the then Defence Minister Khawaja Asif admitted in the National Assembly [NA] that several public demonstrations had broken out in KP to protest against TTP presence in the area. He also voiced his genuine apprehensions regarding the success of the army led negotiations with TTP.
Unfortunately, the Pakistan army had a completely different story to tell.
Just two days after Asif’s statement in the NA, ISPR issued a statement mentioning that “During the past few days, a misperception about the alleged presence of [a] large number of proscribed organisation TTP’s armed members in Swat Valley has been created on social media.” Asserting that this report was found to be “grossly exaggerated and misleading,” [Emphasis] ISPR nevertheless accepted that “Presence of [a] small number of armed men on few mountain tops between Swat and Dir has been observed, located far away from population.”
What’s shocking is that despite a whopping 51 percent increase in terror attacks by TTP after Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, rather than taking timely action to evict TTP fighters from KP, Rawalpindi chose to remain a passive spectator while this influx was taking place. Could the fear of antagonising TTP and the associated possibility of negotiations breaking down be the reason behind Rawalpindi’s brazenly false statement regarding TTP presence in KP?
Rawalpindi’s willingness to enter into a dialogue with TTP without extracting an assurance that this terrorist group would cease attacks defies comprehension, and is from the security point of view, undoubtedly an ill-considered decision for two reasons.Firstly, this TTP not only has the blood of hundreds of Pakistanis on its hands, but is also responsible for the gruesome 2014 Army School Peshawar carnage in which nearly 150 students and staff members were murdered. So, how could Rawalpindi agree to sit down and talk peace with those who had killed their countrymen?
Secondly, with TTP making it absolutely clear right from the start that it was unwilling to make any compromises or concessions, agreeing to observe a ceasefire and unconditionally releasing convicted TTP fighters was, militarily speaking, an ill-considered and unpardonable decision as it gave TTP the much need time and space it required to refit and reorganise itself.
Abrogation of the ceasefire on the eve of Gen Asim Munir’s appointment as the Pakistan army chief and directing TTP fighters to “carry out attacks wherever you can in the entire country,” isn’t a mere coincidence. Au contraire, the timing of this announcement was meant to convey its unhappiness on Islamabad’s decision to overlook Pakistan army’s former spymaster and TTP’s Lt Gen Faiz Hameed [known for his proximity to TTP] for the top military post.
So, when Gen Munir assumed office of Pakistan’s army chief, the battle lines with TTP were clearly drawn and being unencumbered with baggage of the past, it was expected that he would pick up the gauntlet by taking TTP head-on. So, it was not at all surprising that in the very first corps commanders’ conference that he chaired as army chief, it was “resolved to fight against terrorists without any distinction and eliminate this menace as per the aspirations of people of Pakistan.”
TTP’s attacks against Pakistani security forces and law enforcement agencies continue unabated and despite Islamabad’s remonstration and even threats of hitting TTP bases inside Afghanistan, Kabul is still refusing to rein-in TTP. Pakistan army has been conducting what it refers to as ‘intelligence based operations’, TTP’s phenomenal military prowess remains intact. The fact TTP carried out multiple attacks on Jul 12 and even overran an army security post in Balochistan’s Zhob cantonment killing 12 security force personnel and injuring several others clearly indicates the brazen audacity of this terrorist group.
Though a tragic incident, the silver lining to the unfortunate incidents of July 12 is that after a six month long hiatus [during which the Pakistani security forces suffered more than 100 fatalities in terrorism related incidents], Gen Munir has finally warned Kabul to stop harbouring terrorist groups that plot and execute attacks inside Pakistan, or else, be prepared to face an “effective response” from the Pakistan army. At least 13 terror attacks have taken place after Gen Munir issued this warning and even though all of these can’t be attributed to TTP, it is certainly responsible for a majority of them. And while Afghan Taliban may or may not be actively encouraging TTP to attack targets in Pakistan, Rawalpindi needs to accept full responsibility for failing to take timey action and nip the TTP menace in the bud.
With TTP upping its attacks against Pakistani security forces, both in frequency as well as intensity and Afghan Taliban dithering in acting against this terrorist group, losses being suffered by the Pakistani security forces continue to rise. So, what remains to be seen is whether Gen Munir will walk his talk by putting his threat of “effective response” into practice, or just like his predecessors, try to reach a negotiated settlement with TTP.