Mirror image of TTP Taliban wreaking havoc in Pakistan

Shortly after the Taliban came to power in Kabul, the aligned insurgent group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) stepped up its attacks across the border against the Pakistani state.

While the Afghan Taliban have consistently denied that the TTP is their rebel proxy, the former exerts significant influence over the latter, as evidenced by the Afghan Taliban’s official “mediating” role between the TTP and Islamabad in recent weeks.

Some have seen Pakistan’s recent push to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit held in Islamabad to recognize the Afghan Taliban government as part of a broader negotiation on the TTP, few believe the strategy will produce the result desired by Pakistan.

The TTP is fighting for an Islamic state under Sharia law in Pakistan, similar to the “Islamic Emirate” that the Afghan Taliban have just established in Kabul.

Despite its loyalty to the Afghan Taliban, the TTP also has strong ties to the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K), which was born largely from disgruntled members of the TTP.

ISIS-K and the Afghan Taliban are at loggerheads; Notably, TTP and ISIS-K are not in conflict, with ISIS-K even recently issuing statements of support for TTP. This connection, depending on how it evolves in the coming months, could have major security implications in the region and beyond.

According to a US intelligence assessment Cited by think-tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, ISIS-K may be able to mount an attack on the West, including the United States, in the near future.

So it was lost to a few when the TTP leadership recently threatened to switch loyalties from the Afghan Taliban to ISIS-K if the former pushed too hard for a peace deal with Pakistan. The 2020 U.S. National Terrorism Reports also cite a direct ideological affinity between the TTP and al-Qaeda, the Carnegie Endowment noted in a recent report.

Islamic State-Khorasan fighters at Sheikh Jalaluddin training camp in Afghanistan in a file photo. Photo: Facebook

This means that the TPP, with several thousand fighters and strongholds on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, can likely continue to wage its war against Islamabad with or without Kabul’s support.

The Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan re-energized the TTP’s attacks in Pakistan. According to data compiled by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, the TPP carried out 44 attacks and killed 73 people in Pakistan between July and September 2021.

More recently, two soldiers were injured and a military vehicle was destroyed on Wednesday 22 December after the TTP detonated a bomb near Drabin police station in Dera Ismail Khan district.

This was the 21st attack by the TTP after the end of a ceasefire agreement that was not renewed after a month at the end of November. The TTP claims that Pakistan violated the terms of the agreement by not releasing its jailed fighters and by assembling more during the brief cessation of hostilities.

The failed ceasefire shows that the TTP remains focused on a military victory and not on a political settlement, and that the Afghan Taliban are unable – and probably unwilling – to control a group that is its ideological mirror.

Since July 2020, ten militant groups opposing the Pakistani state merged with the TTP, including, among others, three Pakistani affiliates of al-Qaeda and four major factions that split from the TTP in 2014.

As a result of these mergers, TTP violence has become Following frequent, and this string of violence continues to accelerate following the Afghan Taliban takeover in Kabul in August 2021.

Following in the footsteps of the Afghan Taliban, in 2020 the TTP adopted a more centralized and less tribal bureaucratic organizational structure, in which it appointed ghost governors for different regions of Pakistan and announced the very first centralized military training system.

Taliban-mediated talks are therefore unlikely to produce significant results, not only because the TTP remains ideologically predisposed to Sharia, but also because the Afghan Taliban’s mediation naturally favors the TTP – a entrenched position. in that the TTP directly assisted the Taliban post-9/11 Resurgence and subsequent long war against the United States.

According to a Pakistani diplomat who requested anonymity, the Afghan Taliban is unlikely to “simply eliminate the TTP” because “many TTP fighters who fought alongside the Afghan Taliban have developed a kind of brotherhood that leaders Taliban are very unlikely to break with Pakistan. “

At the same time, the Afghans and the Taliban cannot be considered too pampering for the TTP. In an attempt to help and recognize, the Taliban promised the international community that they would not allow transnational terrorist groups to operate from its territory.

Taliban supporters gather to celebrate the US withdrawal of all their troops from Afghanistan to Kandahar on September 1, 2021, following the Taliban’s military takeover of the country. Photo: AFP / Javed Tanveer

The Carnegie Endowment notes in its report that the TTP understands two thirds of these fighters and that if he continues to mount attacks in Pakistan, the Taliban’s promises will be considered void, further isolating the regime in a time of famine and economic collapse.

the TTP claimed in 2020 that he no longer had a regional or global agenda beyond Pakistan. The Carnegie Endowment report said the statement may have reflected an attempt to reduce international support for Pakistan’s battle against the TTP, which Islamabad was previously able to secure. sophisticated American drone technology because of its ties to al-Qaeda.

In 2018, the TTP officially excluded of his manifesto calls for a “greater jihad” in Afghanistan and support for al-Qaeda’s global jihadist program – calls that prevailed in his early accounts, according to the same report.

It’s all part of TTP’s survival strategy. According to a May 2021 report by the United States Institute of Peace, the TTP draws much of its strength from “its network of relations with the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, al-Qaeda and other groups based in the Punjab ”. Therefore, “as long as these relationships are maintained, TTP is likely to exist in one form or another.”

The TTP is also likely to survive as “the Afghan Taliban’s” counterweight to Pakistan in a complex regional environment in which the Taliban increasingly rely on the presence of these groups to shape or reshape their ties with the Taliban. Regional states, including Pakistan, ”according to a Pakistani security official who requested anonymity.

The use of these groups is also linked to how certain factions within the Taliban – namely the powerful and autonomous Haqqani network which controls the Home Office – continue to follow an ideology that prioritizes jihad over justice. political and economic stability.

In this context, the resistance of some powerful Taliban factions to act against groups like the TPP offers them conditions conducive to the survival, expansion and continuation of their transnational jihad from Afghanistan.

As the UN report also pointed out, various transnational terrorist groups based in Afghanistan are seeking to export their jihad to both Central Asia and China’s Xinjiang region.

The fact that the TPP is attacking both Pakistan and the Beijing-funded China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure building program directly links the group to the broader transnational jihad emerging in Afghanistan today.

In July, at least nine Chinese officials were killed in a TTP attack in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KPK). In April, a TTP attack on a luxury hotel in Quetta reportedly targeted Chinese officials, although no one was killed in the attack.

In Gilgit, Pakistan, on July 14, 2021, soldiers drop from an army helicopter to a military hospital a Chinese national injured in a bombing of a bus. Photo: AFP

Even though TTP leader Noor Wali Mehsud claimed that the TTP was only at war with Pakistan, attacks on Chinese Belt and Road projects show “how the group is increasingly integrating ‘transnational jihadist ideology which has a more than visible presence in Afghanistan,’ said the Pakistani security official.

At the same time, TTP’s link with ISIS-K has dangerous implications for Islamabad and Beijing given ISIS-K’s repeated vow to bring jihad to China to avenge abuses against ethnic Uyghurs now detained in sprawling camps in Xinjiang.

“Unless Pakistan decides to launch another military operation, a resurgence of TTP-ISIS-K in the tribal areas of Pakistan will be a disaster for Pakistan as an obvious target will be the CPEC projects,” warned the Pakistani diplomatic official.

It is not clear to most that Pakistan is considering a large-scale and costly military assault on the TTP in the remote and mountainous tribal border areas. While previous anti-TPP operations were sometimes backed by US coalition forces, this support will not be available in the post-US withdrawal context.

While a key source of aid may be China, Beijing has yet to make any commitments to expand direct military aid and assistance to Pakistan, despite the TTP’s growing threat to CPEC and regional ambitions. wider areas of China.

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