Conflict Alerts # 572, 1 December 2022
In the news
On 28 November, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) ended the ceasefire agreed with the government in June and ordered its militants to stage attacks across the country. The statement from the group said: “As military operations are ongoing against mujahideen in different areas [...] so it is imperative for you to carry out attacks wherever you can in the entire country.” The TTP claimed that its decision followed a series of incessant attacks launched by the military in Bannu's Lakki Marwat district. The group also claimed that it had repeatedly asked the people of Pakistan to be patient so that the negotiation process is not sabotaged. However, with the continuing attacks by the army and intelligence agencies, the group claimed they have decided to initiate retaliatory attacks across the country.
Following the end of the ceasefire, the TTP carried out a suicide attack in Quetta’s Baleli area, leaving four individuals, including a police officer and three civilians dead and over 20 wounded. The suicide bomber targeted a police vehicle carrying security personnel deployed to protect polio vaccination campaign workers in Quetta.
Issues at large
First, the resurgence of the TTP. Since 2021, the TTP has made a steady comeback into parts of Pakistan. There are several reasons for this resurgence. For instance, the negotiations with the government, which to an extent has tried to mainstream the group by allowing members of the group to return to Pakistan. As a result, hundreds of TTP fighters have been returning to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including its former stronghold Swat. This has angered the people who in recent months have staged protests against the rise of militancy in the region. In addition, the Taliban’s takeover and the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan have given the TTP more space to operate in the region. Moreover, the porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan allows TTP militants to move across the border easily. Yet, it is not all good for the TTP as its major setback comes with the killing of its prominent leaders, including its intelligence chief in August 2022.
Second, ceasefire violations, surge in violence and the threat of militancy. The recent ceasefire agreement between the TTP and the federal government came into effect on 2 June 2022. A previous ceasefire was agreed upon on 29 April 2022. However, there were frequent breaches. Attacks by the TTP have been on the rise since September 2022. Most of the attacks took place around South Waziristan and North Waziristan districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. According to the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), the TTP has claimed responsibility for 87 attacks in 2021, an 84 per cent increase in attacks in comparison to 2020. Additionally, the threat of sub-groups that are close to the TTP such as the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group, Lashkar-e-Khurasan, and IMAM group has emerged as a matter of concern. The TTP has supported those who have carried out the attacks while it keeps its hands clean during the ceasefire period.
Third, the lack of political consensus and stalled negotiations between the TTP and the government. The incumbent government and opposition in Pakistan have divergent views on how to deal with the TTP. While the previous Imran Khan government took on a softer position, the coalition government under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has taken on a harder stance in dealing with the group. Additionally, there is no political consensus on the threat posed by the TTP as the politics seem to be focused on Islamabad and not on issues such as the TTP. Meanwhile, all the ceasefire agreements have been called amid peace negotiations between the federal government and the TTP. The talks first started in October 2021 but broke down in December after the Ministry of Interior claimed to have been in talks with the group for more than a year. The talks failed as the TTP accused the Pakistani government of failing to fulfil its main demand including the reversal of the merger of former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as continuing to detain TTP members while a truce was still being negotiated. Meanwhile, there have been several criticisms of the government against entering into peace talks, fearing that this would legitimize the group and make it difficult to contain the militancy.
Fourth, the military’s position on the TTP. The military has conducted several operations in the region to flush out militancy. In the last decade, there have been three military operations – Operation Rah-e-Nijat in 2009, Operation Zarb-e-Azb in 2014, and Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad in 2017. These operations have had some success, but the threat of militancy has not been removed completely. In turn, the military operations have resulted in strong resentment among the people against the army and the government. The latest attack comes as General Syed Asim Munir takes over as Chief of Army Staff and General Qamar Javed Bajwa retires. Through the attack, the TTP might be signaling the new army chief to revive the negotiation process which had stalled since the transfer of Lt General Faiz Hameed.
First, the TTP has become an existential crisis for Pakistan. It is unlikely that TTP will hold back on the violence given that the group is disgruntled with the position of the government and army. Additionally, the regional and domestic situation has emboldened the group which seems to have re-strategized and come back stronger. Thus, the TTP is likely to assert itself as an entity of its own not just in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but also in Balochistan and Karachi specifically.
Second, the state’s incoherent strategy. This past year, the state took on a different narrative on the TTP, from terming it a threat to negotiating and considering amnesty for its members to calling them a “menace” to the state. These confusing and often contradicting narratives have emboldened the TTP and have left the Pakistani public ill-informed and confused about the nature of the threat the TTP poses. Additionally, the state is also left in a difficult position between taking a hard or soft stance on dealing with the group. However, without a concession, the issue is unlikely to be resolved; but by doing so, other militant groups in the country would raise similar demands, pushing the state into a tight spot.
Third, the military will take a hard stance against the TTP. The military has been carrying out intelligence-based operations across the region in which several terrorists have been reportedly killed. Although a full-fledged operation has not been launched to flush out the militants, the increasing operations highlight the hard stance that the military has taken to address the threat of the TTP and militancy at large.