An unlikely nexus

Published May 8, 2023

THE enemy of my enemy is my friend, goes the ancient proverb which likely explains many an improbable alliance between disparate groups fighting a common enemy. The same logic would explain the contention that the TTP are forging a nexus with Baloch separatists (and with militant groups in Balochistan and KP), a view that has found space since several months on mainstream and social media.

Most recently, it was aired at a consultation in Islamabad on Pakistan’s policy options on Afghanistan. However, despite a spike in violence by both TTP and Baloch separatists across the country, no concrete evidence has yet been presented on such an alliance taking shape, let alone an instance being cited where the two militant actors have cooperated in any capacity.

Baloch separatist groups have maintained a tactical silence on possible collusion with the TTP; after all, why debunk claims that make them appear a more formidable foe? The TTP, meanwhile, has been actively promoting the claim that it has forged a nexus with Baloch militant outfits.

In December, it announced that a group led by Mazar Baloch had pledged allegiance to the TTP chief Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud and that this would strengthen the TTP in Balochistan.

Since the umbrella organisation announced the end of the ceasefire agreed with the government, there has been a perceptible shift in its narrative towards a more political and nationalist rhetoric — likely an attempt to gain more acceptance among the Pakhtun population.

Its appeal to Baloch nationalist sentiment also fits into the same strategy, as a propaganda tactic. Experts at the aforementioned consultation in Islamabad also noted that the TTP and other local militant groups were filling the vacuum left by mainstream and nationalist political parties in KP.

In Balochistan, the exclusively security-centric lens through which the province has long been viewed, and which is also responsible for the lack of a truly representative government there, has created a fertile landscape for all manner of violent extremist outfits to proliferate and wreak havoc on the people.

These groups — some of which were once given carte blanche to hunt down Baloch separatists — are the TTP’s natural allies. The Baloch separatists, notwithstanding their demonstrated capacity for violence, are on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum. One common factor, however, is that Afghanistan has become a safe space for both these adversaries of Pakistan.

But, as history is witness, contradictory alliances do happen: the lack of conclusive evidence at this point does not preclude the possibility of some sort of ‘working arrangement’ between the TTP and the Baloch separatists in the future. To prevent this, the state must without delay take the only path that has the prospect of long-term dividends — empower Balochistan in the true spirit of the 18th Amendment.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2023

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