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New fears: TTP in Syria

July 15, 2013

THE problem with a head-in-the-sand approach to fighting militancy is that the rest of the body is left exposed. For a while now the TTP has been an enemy of the Pakistani state but there is hardly a faction within that umbrella organisation that at some point over the years has not been in the good books of the army-led security establishment. But the good Taliban/bad Taliban dichotomy never made sense to begin with and as time has gone by, the contradictions have become apparent. The TTP in all its forms has always been bad news for this country’s internal stability and external relations. Just how bad has been underlined in recent days with two foreign news services reporting that the TTP has claimed to have sent men to Syria to fight alongside rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

The Arab nexus, including links to Al Qaeda, has always been apparent in the arc of the TTP’s relatively short history. Unlike, say, the Afghan Taliban who by and large have hewed to a purely domestic agenda, ie ridding Afghanistan of foreign ‘invaders’, the TTP’s overall agenda has leaned more towards the concept of a global jihad. In the past, that has meant offering sanctuary to foreign militants who arrived in Fata for training or to escape more hostile environments in their home countries. Eventually, however, a resilient TTP was always likely to seek to contribute directly to so-called jihadist struggles outside the Pak-Afghan region. As with all things, TTP claims made by various commanders take time to be established but if the Syria claims are verified, it would mark an alarming new phase in the militant network’s existence.

Syria may be an epic mess on its own, but other countries that could be potential destinations for the TTP’s battle-hardened cadre of fighters will surely be alarmed by the possibility. Pakistan is already fairly isolated in the international arena because of its inability to systematically curb the activities of non-state actors on Pakistani soil and this latest development will only add to the pressure. But it is in the domestic arena that the repercussions will be the most severe. The TTP has proved to be far more resilient than originally thought, though perhaps that is in no small part aided by the lack of a coherent strategy on the part of the state to fight militancy. If the TTP is confident enough to be sending fighters abroad, does that mean the network believes it has enough resources locally to successfully fend off the Pakistani state? That is an enormously worrying possibility.