Ever since the Taliban occupied Kabul after a massive military campaign across the country last year, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has intensified its military offensive in Pakistan and is targeting high-value military assets. According to a study, more than 200 terrorist attacks took place in Pakistan last year, in which the TTP was the biggest contributor.
The numbers remain strikingly high in 2022, with the Islamic State Khorasan (ISKP) concentrating its war efforts in Pakistan. In addition to that, Pakistan has also witnessed an increase in terror activities from Baloch insurgents, one of which claimed the lives of three Chinese nationals, putting Pakistan in an uncomfortable position before its staunch strategic partner. Pakistan maintains a high-risk threat assessment from these ramped-up activities on its soil, prompting Rawalpindi GHQ to hold dialogues with its arch-foe, the TTP. This underlines a major shift in Pakistan’s muscle-flexing policy of targeting TTP hideouts and leadership in tribal areas. These developments certainly have bigger strategic implications for Pakistan, the TTP, and the Afghan Taliban.
According to a study, more than 200 terrorist attacks took place in Pakistan last year, in which the TTP was the biggest contributor.
On 9 May, a high-level delegation from Pakistan arrived in Kabul to hold negotiations, mediated by the Afghan Taliban, with the TTP leadership. This is the third attempt by the Pakistani military at reaching a truce with the terrorist organisation this year.
However, Pakistan might be overestimating the Afghan Taliban’s influence on its Pakistani wing.
It is just a matter of time before these dialogues collapse given the Taliban’s non-serious approach to talks.
TTP: A Tribal Uprising Gone Wrong
With many dreaded terrorist outfits embedded in the region, tribal areas in the northwest remain the epicentre of insurgency in the whole country. Following the attacks of 9/11, the tribal areas of Pakistan witnessed a heavy influx of fighters who were running to escape America’s war in Afghanistan. This prompted the Pakistan Army to launch operations to overrun and cordon off these terrorist elements. This led to a huge outcry among the various Pashtun tribes who saw this military operation as a deliberate attempt by the military to subjugate and oppress them. The lawlessness of tribal areas gave these terrorist cadres operational ease to regroup, form coalitions, and conduct attacks on Pakistani soil.
In 2007, the most influential clan amongst the various armed factions, the Mehsud clan, pledged allegiance to the Afghan Taliban and declared the formation of the Pakistani Taliban, with goals similar to that of its Afghan offshoot. Noor Wali Mehsud, the current chief of TTP, reaffirmed its ties with the Afghan Taliban, banking on the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan last year. Experts believe Mehsud has stood out as a prominent figure in the TTP to rally all the factions of the militant group under one umbrella and coordinate Operation al-Badr, the fresh offensive launched by the TTP against Pakistani military targets in April.
Echoes from the Past
Pakistan has a long history of negotiating with terrorists, be it on its own soil or on foreign land. The country’s highly influential spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), played a major role in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the table during the Doha peace talks with the US.
However, the ISI has failed at negotiations with the TTP on various occasions. In 2006, armed tribal factions led by Nek Mohammad, a key insurgent figure in South Waziristan and who was behind many attacks on the Pakistani military and civil establishments, agreed to end hostilities and declared a permanent ceasefire. This led to the creation of the Waziristan Accords, under which the military would not target the Mujahedeen while governance rested with the jirgas, comprising tribal elders.
The accord hardly lasted for a year following an attack on Lal Masjid, after which the Pakistani military went all in to eliminate terrorist threats in the Waziristan agencies.
Ever since the collapse of the Waziristan Accords, the Rawalpindi GHQ has seen failed talks with the TTP frequently. Last year, the TTP agreed to a ceasefire with Pakistan, but then backed out and intensified its onslaught.
Talks with a Twist
On 9 May, a high-level delegation from Pakistan arrived in Kabul to hold negotiations with the TTP leadership. This is the third attempt by the Pakistani military at reaching a truce with the terrorist organisation this year, the latest being the failure at securing a ceasefire during the month of Ramzan. Unlike any previous negotiations, the Afghan Taliban is mediating the talks between Islamabad and the TTP this time. The Taliban confirmed that it is hosting both parties in Kabul. Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, former ISI Chief and currently the Commander of Peshawar Corps, is said to be leading the delegation in direct talks with the TTP Chief, Noor Wali Mehsood, under the direct observation of Sirjauddin Haqqani, Taliban’s Acting Interior Minister and the leader of Haqqani Network, a close associate of Pakistan.
Lt Gen Hameed has been instrumental in resolving internal rifts amongst the Taliban leadership during the fall of Kabul in 2021 and also played a major role in giving the rogue-military faction of the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, a major stake in the Kabul cabinet. The Rawalpindi GHQ wants to use the leverage it has with the Haqqani clan to deal with the TTP issue in Pakistan As a pre-requisite for the talks to mature, Pakistan released two TTP commanders and handed over their custody to the Afghan Taliban. During the second round of talks in Kabul this week, Pakistan released 30 high-level TTP militants. As a result, the TTP announced a 10-day ceasefire with the Pakistani military and later extend it until the end of May. Given these initial successes on the negotiation front, it appears that the TTP has an upper hand in the talks as Pakistan’s counter-offensive on the ground has failed to show any concrete results.
Pakistan Is Growing Weary
Pakistan is growing weary of the spillover effects it is facing from the Afghan Taliban’s victory in Kabul last year. A frustrated Pakistan, in an unprecedented move, conducted airstrikes in Eastern Afghanistan, killing more than 47 civilians in an attempt at targeting TTP hideouts. Clearly, Pakistan’s flawed counter-terrorism tactics are failing in the backdrop of a surge in terrorist activities in its own territory.
Moreover, Pakistan fears that such attacks can further alienate the tribals living across the Durand line, eventually making the population more radicalised against Pakistan.
The Afghan Taliban’s victory in Kabul has given the motivational and psychological ammunition to the TTP for the pursuit of its objectives. Pakistan admits that it can’t solve the TTP problem on its own. Hence, it relies solely on the Afghan Taliban’s cooperation, making the road ahead even more turbulent for Rawalpindi-Islamabad Nexus.
At the same time, the Taliban wants to use the proximity with the TTP as political leverage against Pakistan to open trade routes, bring the supply-chain management back on track, and, most importantly, loosen Rawalpindi’s grip on the governing shuras of the Afghan Taliban.
Pakistan expects the Afghan Taliban to serve the TTP on a platter to Rawalpindi. However, it might be overestimating the Afghan Taliban’s influence on its Pakistani wing. It is important to understand that the Afghan Taliban and the TTP are linked ideologically, but their leadership and organisational structure remain different. They are not operational allies; it is not clear how much control the Afghan Taliban has over the TTP and whether the TTP will fall in line with Haqqani’s interests.
It is just a matter of time before these dialogues collapse given the Taliban’s non-serious approach to talks. With the stakes being low for the TTP, it’s more difficult for both parties to come to a mutual understanding.
Moreover, the Taliban has its priorities set – it is confronted with even bigger problems with the resurgence of resistance in various parts of Afghanistan, which is taking a heavy toll on its cadres. With the foreign security cover missing over the region, the Pakistanis are finding it extremely difficult to sustain their strategic position in Afghanistan. They are falling behind in their tactical manoeuvrability and don’t cast an influential presence.
(The author is Consulting Editor-Strategic Affairs of The Honest Critique. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)