TTP resurgence?

September 20, 2018

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RESPONSIBLE for some of the most ferocious attacks inside Pakistan, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s destructive capabilities seem to have diminished. There are many who wonder about the whereabouts of the group — and the trajectory it may now be taking, especially after the death of its last chief Mullah Fazlullah from Swat. He was notorious for his toxic, anti-democracy propaganda communicated through FM radio in the days before the military operations.

A recap of how this group evolved is necessary to get an idea of its path today.

On Dec 13, 2007, militant groups from seven agencies of Fata and 11 districts of KP (then NWFP) united under the TTP banner. Initially, the group was concentrated in Waziristan, but gradually its ‘franchises’ in adjoining areas became operational. The TTP took full advantage of the administrative flaws: both the political administration and the tribes failed to use the instrument of ‘collective responsibility’ to deter its influence.

By providing human resource and logistics, these groups strengthened the TTP. Ideological interests and interpersonal relations kept the groups united — for a while. Eventually, lust for power, money and command resulted in factionalism. Before the military operations in Swat and Fata, (short-lived) peace accords were made with Baitullah Mehsud and Fazlullah who was in charge of the Swat chapter. Once the military started targeting the Tehreek-i-Taliban Swat (TTS) and Lashkar-i-Islam (LI), the militants were flushed out from their strongholds. However, remnants either crossed the border or became part of sleeper cells in other areas of the country.

Noor Wali is attempting to bring together the disparate groups.

The TTP tried to register a comeback during the recent election period, when it killed the ANP’s Haroon Bilour and the PTI’s Ikram Gandapur, besides leading abortive attacks in Bannu. However, the new chief Noor Wali Mehsud (Sajna group) faces multiple challenges, including the integration of different factions, securing funds, and attracting volunteers. Intensified military operations in Fata, drone attacks in Afghanistan, and the increasing influence of the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) have made matters difficult for him.

The divisions were apparent earlier too. In February 2009, militants Baitullah, Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur formed the Council of United Mujahideen to assert unity among the groups; however, the council became inactive after Baitullah’s death. The Sheharyar faction remained under the TTP umbrella, and reportedly managed to get shelter in Afghanistan’s Khost, Paktia and Paktika provinces. Khan Said alias Sajna led another splinter group which was in favour of peace talks with the Pakistani government, but he was killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan.

The emergence of the Jamaatul Ahrar was a major blow to the TTP, but the former was concentrated in Mohmand and Bajaur. Grad­ually, the TTP’s Kurram chapter also dissolved into the JuA while another faction led by Hafiz Saeed in Orakzai joined the ISKP.

The Tariq Geedar Group (TGG), headed by Tariq alias Geedar, staged a number of terrorist attacks, including those on churches and the Army Public School in Peshawar. In 2012, Tariq was killed by his associates and replaced by Aurangzeb who died four years later in a drone strike. Though the LI’s militancy stemmed chiefly from criminal and sectarian motivations, it sheltered the TTP’s displaced militants from Swat in Tirah in 2009.

With the death of Fazlullah in June, the TTP command has again shifted to the Mehsuds, who had been in charge of it for six years since the group’s inception. Military operations in Fata and Swat had resulted in the killing and the arr­est of hardcore militants, but Fazl­ullah and his associates took shelter in Afgh­anis­tan, from where they orchestrated several atta­cks inside Pakistan.

Presently, the TTP consists of the remnants of Sajna, Sheharyar, Swati, TTG, Gul Bahadur, Punjabi and Ganda­puri groups. The JuA and LI are trying to retain their independence. Under Fazlullah, the TTP had become weak. He was dependent on Umar Khalifa, who was also killed in a drone strike. Although he had the support of the Swati Taliban, he lacked the charisma of Hakeemullah Mehsud to keep the groups intact. Major groups parted ways with the TTP but it appears that Noor Wali is attempting to bring together the disparate factions. It is feared that under his command, the TTP could stage a comeback.

TTP is geographically divided into southern and northern factions. Since Noor Wali remained closely associated with the factions, he will try to replicate their strategy primarily based on suicide attacks. But this time, it won’t be easy to hit targets. Since the epicentre of the TTP has shifted from Nangarhar and Kunar to Paktia, it may endanger peace in Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu and South Waziristan. The gains of the military operations can only be sustained by administrative interventions.

The writer is the author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.

Twitter: @alibabakhel

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2018