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The threat remains: Militants’ internal divisions

August 27, 2013

EVERY few months or so, differences and divisions in the TTP bubble to the surface and allow the outside world an insight into the internal functioning, hierarchy and present operational status of the umbrella organisation of militants towards which most groups have now gravitated. But, as with all things TTP, it is difficult to know what the individual clues mean, or even how to piece any of them together. According to media reports, the TTP central shura has either ousted or temporarily suspended Asmatullah Muawiya, believed to be head of the TTP’s operations in Punjab, for speaking out of turn and welcoming the PML-N government’s offer of dialogue. Analysts have pounced on the news as signs of strain within the TTP — though according to Muawiya himself the Punjabi Taliban are an independent group. They see this as a possible clue pointing towards the eventual break-up of the terror conglomerate. Some of that could be true, or not much of it.

Consider that on several occasions in the past, there have been suggestions of rifts within the TTP, but no discernible effect materialised on the overall state of militancy or the TTP’s structure. In the present case, it could just be a case of a falling out between two or more of the TTP’s leaders rather than terror sub-franchises going their separate ways. Perhaps the most relevant fact here is that the Punjabi Taliban continue to live and operate alongside the TTP in North Waziristan Agency. If Asmatullah Muawiya has been punished and sidelined, the threat the Punjabi Taliban continue to project will not be immediately affected. If anything, through a series of leadership losses, the TTP has demonstrated its capacity to continue to strike and pose a grave threat to Pakistan’s internal security.

The basic problem, one that has been articulated by consecutive governments and the military high command for years now, is that there is no overall strategy to gradually roll back the tide of militancy, terrorism and extremism. Even now, as the present government promises an overarching strategy will be rolled out soon, there is a sense that the government is willing to continue with strands of the old policy of picking and choosing which groups need to be acted against and which will be tolerated, or even covertly supported. That approach has not worked in over a decade of trying nor will it work if given another 10 years. Pakistan’s internal security will always be at risk as long as there is a dualist policy, whether in Punjab or in Fata. Does the government know that and accept its implications?