Taliban on the offensive

Jan 19 2014


Maulana Fazlullah is firmly in the saddle now and if there were any doubts about the potential of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan to launch new attacks in the aftermath of Hakeemullah Mehsud’s death in a drone strike last November, the spike in the number of attacks has proved all that wrong.

As of Friday, there have been 41 attacks in all throughout Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since January 1 – 41 attacks in 17 days, claiming 24 lives. Peshawar, as usual and as always, tops the chart, incurring the major brunt of the terrorist attacks. There has been no let up.

What is more worrying is that the graph has been going up. Notwithstanding, the brief hiatus and a small decline in terrorist attacks in October and November – partly due to the death of TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud – the figures have jumped up from 36 per cent of the year’s total in August to 48 per cent when 2013 came to a close. (Just over 830 attacks were carried out in the year.)

Government and security officials are worried. “There is an upward trajectory,” says a government official. “The graph is going up and up.”

There has been a spike in target killings of policemen, intelligence officials and political figures. In December, there were a total of 10 target killings and there has been no let-up this month.

An internal KP government document warns: “The trend of the last twelve months indicates that the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa should expect to deal with an average of 70 incidents.” The forecast, ominously, is true. Peshawar is bad, Charsadda is heating up, Swabi is no good either and the prognosis for Hangu and for Bannu is bad. Attacks in Shangla have ratcheted up too.

Several factors are responsible. One, with Fazlullah at the helm, the TTP is finding its moorings again. The TTP Mohmand is also upping the ante, increasing its activities in Charsadda, Mardan and Peshawar. The number of incidents of extortion and kidnapping for ransom has also registered a steep rise.

The strategy to cut a peace deal with one group to neutralise another in the Khyber tribal region has not played dividends either. In the words of one senior government official, it has backfired.

Rumours and speculations of an impending military action in North Waziristan have caused the relocation of a large number of militants from their stronghold to Orakzai, which has increased pressure on the Frontier Region and Hangu.

But while the TTP or for that matter several other independent groups have not indicated their willingness to engage in peace negotiations, the PTI government in KP and the PML-N government’s support for peace overtures have not had any impact on the overall security situation either.

Militants have not ceased their attacks in KP, despite PTI not owning the war, opposing drone strikes and blocking Nato supplies. The provincial government is at a dead end.

The federal government also seems confused. There has not been any real effort to engage the militants. It is clueless.

From the botched effort to send a team of negotiators to North Waziristan in November, to tasking Maulana Samiul Haq with approaching the Taliban, to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s latest statement offering to co-opt Imran Khan, Fazlur Rehman, Samiul Haq, Prof Munawwar Hassan and for that matter “anybody who can be of help” to assist with the peace process, the random moves betray the government’s lack of seriousness.

So, who is Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan talking to? And who are the interlocutors? It transpires that a team of religious clerics led by a senator from South Waziristan has been engaged to talk peace with a militant group in the tribal region.

The group has sway in one particular area and it does not represent the TTP. How this will influence the remaining motley crowd of militant groups, particularly their chief patron in the TTP, to embrace peace is a million dollar question. As one senior government official acknowledges, “There is confusion all around.”

Somehow, Imran Khan’s public view of Pakistan’s so-called war on terror is not in sync with the administration in KP. Grudgingly they may have lapped up their party leader’s words but in meetings with the federal government to devise a counter-terrorism strategy, not surprisingly, the government continues to own the war. And Dawn has proof.

Not surprisingly therefore, peace with militants has become an unwanted baby, being passed between Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif as neither is willing to own it. Now there is a call for yet another All Parties Conference. Militants are continuing the attacks and people are continuing to die. There is no let-up.