An audacious attack

Published December 21, 2022

WE are witnessing the rapid unravelling of Pakistan’s anti-terrorism policy, and can expect an escalating human and material cost. On Sunday, in their most audacious attack yet since late November when they called off their tenuous ceasefire with the government, 33 TTP militants detained inside the Bannu Counter-Terrorism Department centre managed to overpower their interrogators and take a number of law-enforcement personnel hostage.

The militants in a video message initially demanded safe passage to Afghanistan for themselves; they later revised that to say they wanted to be moved to North or South Waziristan. After a stalemate lasting nearly 48 hours, the authorities decided to take the bull by the horns and went in with all guns blazing to free the hostages.

All the militants on site were killed in the ensuing two-hour operation, while at least three SSG commandos were martyred.

Despite the outcome, the fact that the militants were able to take hostage the very officials trained in counterterrorism is a symbolic win and a morale booster for the TTP. The violent extremist grouping has successfully exploited the weaknesses in the state’s approach.

Pakistan conceding to talks with the TTP at the urging of the Afghan Taliban, once the cornerstone of the country’s ‘strategic depth’ policy, provided the militants with the opening they needed.

Their intransigence on demands that Pakistan could not possibly accede to, such as reversing Fata’s merger with KP, indicated they were not interested in peace. Instead, they used the military-led ‘negotiations’ as a smokescreen to infiltrate KP and reinforce and resurrect sleeper cells in the province.

Some TTP elements were allowed to return from Afghanistan to Swat as a ‘goodwill gesture’; although military forces denied it later, it was clear the outlaws met with no resistance in entering a part of KP not contiguous with Afghanistan.

A Nacta report to a Senate committee earlier this month said that by their presence, the militants were trying to gauge “the pulse of the locals and response by the state”.

From the huge rallies both in Swat and the tribal districts demanding action against the resurgent TTP, it was clear what the people wanted. But the state continued to gaslight them, with the military’s media wing dismissing the threat as “exaggerated” and the KP government insisting all was well.

Given the perilous security situation, the province’s CTD is woefully underprepared for what lies ahead.

According to a recent intelligence report, it spends less than 4pc of its budget on operations, with zero allocation for procurement, and its human resource is described as “poor, untrained and very ill-equipped”.

Now that the TTP has made ingress in areas from where it had been expelled in kinetic operations some years back, they will not give up without a fight. And the cost of myopic policymaking in the corridors of power will once again be borne by ordinary Pakistanis.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2022

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