TTP is still a potent threat

us marine leading attack on pakistanAsif Haroon Raja

Jihadis who had taken part in Afghan Jihad against the Soviet forces were from Pakistan, mostly from FATA and settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Jihadis from Arab, African and Central Asian countries refused to return back to their countries of origin after the successful culmination of Jihad since they were not welcomed back. The US and Saudi Arabia that had collected them and used them as holy warriors also abandoned them. Most got settled in FATA, rented or purchased houses, got married and produced children and the locals accepted them.

After the US Congress joint resolution authorizing President George W Bush to use force against the perpetrators of 9/11 terrorist attacks, Bush used a huge hammer to kill a fly, but the fly flew away. Once the ruling Taliban regime in Kabul realized that Afghanistan was being systematically destroyed through carpet bombing without any regard to human casualties, it decided to carry out a tactical withdrawal in November 2001 and fight the intruders through guerrilla war at a later date. The entire lot of Taliban leadership and Al-Qaeda leaders and operatives took refuge in Tora Bora Mountains to save themselves from tons of molten poured on them from the air. Daisy cutters, cruise missiles and other deadly munitions including depleted uranium were used to smoke them out of the caves.

The entire lot managed to escape since there were no troops on ground to physically surround them. The escapees fled to neighboring Kurram Agency from where they trekked to other tribal agencies. This was the initial blunder committed by the US military for which it had to pay dearly. It doesn’t appeal to senses that the US military and its allies didn’t take into account that eastern and southern Afghanistan where the Taliban were the strongest was contiguous to Pakistan’s tribal belt in the northwest and in southwest, both inhabited by Pashtuns with blood relations with Afghan Pashtuns. The US military in conjunction with Pak military should have worked out foolproof arrangements to prevent crossing of Durand Line. Although Pakistan deployed 70,000 troops along its western border, but the effort was too little and one-sided, taking into account the porous nature of 2600 km long border.

When the US and its western allies initiated global war on terror in October 2001 in Afghanistan, all parts of Pakistan including FATA and Balochistan were peaceful and phenomenon of suicide attacks was unheard of. The two extreme flanks in the northwest and southwest were systematically destabilized under a well-conceived plan hatched by USA-India-Britain-Israel-Germany-Northern Alliance regime in Kabul. All of them were to act as friends of Pakistan solely interested in fighting and eliminating scourge of terrorism with the active help of Pak security forces. Covert means were to be employed using Afghan soil. Forcing Gen Musharraf to send regular forces into FATA was part of the plan since it helped in instigating the tribesmen to pick up arms and save their tribal culture and honor. For this purpose, CIA and FBI established outposts in FATA in 2002 to eliminate pro-Pakistan elders and promote anti-Pakistan Maliks and clerics.

Nek Muhammad belonging to Ahmadzai Wazir tribe in South Waziristan (SW) was the first one to pick up arms against the Army. No sooner he signed a peace deal with the Army at Shakai Fort in 2004; he was killed by a drone. His place was taken over by Maulvi Nazir who also signed peace deal with Army and stuck to it till his death by a drone in 2012. Unknown Baitullah Mehsud working as a religious teacher in Bannu suddenly emerged on the centre stage and took command of militant elements within extremist Mehsuds in early 2004 and decided to confront the security forces. The Army after entering Mehsud belt under the domination of Baitullah Mehsud in 2005 could reach up to short of Srarogha when peace deal was signed. The Army then locked horns with Hafiz Gul Bahadur led Uthmanzai Wazirs in North Waziristan (NW) where it encountered toughest opposition and suffered heavy casualties. Both sides inked peace agreement in July 2007, which was broken but renewed in August 2008 and is still intact.

A well calculated propaganda war was unleashed by militants portraying Pak Army as mercenaries fighting own people for dollars. Extremist clerics and Maliks termed Army soldiers as non-Muslims unworthy of burial and fateha. Pakistan’s constitution, democracy and legal system were declared un-Islamic. They propagated that their Pashtunwali culture was in dire threat. People were told that their salvation was in Shariah alone and not in pro-rich western model of governance and laws. They were exhorted to rise against the state. Drone attack on a seminary in Bajaur in 2006 and military operation against Lal Masjid in 2007 give them additional propaganda grist to paint the Army in poor light. Acceleration of drone attacks from 2009 onwards in which innocents were killed gave another handle to beat the government and Army with. These themes became a rallying point for the TTP to muster support of the locals and to induct new recruits.

With easy money and armaments provided by the patrons, Baitullah was able to unite various factions of Pakistani Taliban fighting in different compartments under the umbrella of TTP in December 2007. In all the seven tribal agencies and in Darra Adam Khel, command structure was evolved by Baitullah led Shura based in Srarogha. There are all-told 45 extremist groups challenging the writ of the state. Out of these, Pakistan banned 38 religious groups. It made it easier for al-Qaeda and TTP to welcome these ostracized groups into their folds and thus add to their militant strength both in tribal belt and cities. Induction of Punjabi Taliban and linkage with Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) further added to its strength. Uzbeks are the most hardy and ruthless fighters.

 IMU formed in 1998 has been active in Pakistan and has organized several high profile attacks on sensitive targets. Its leader Tahir Yuldashev was killed in 2008. His successor Abu Usman Adil was killed in 2012. Uzbeks were involved in the attack on Bannu Jail on April 15, 2012. 200 Taliban had attacked the prison and managed to free 384 prisoners including some on death row. Late Qazi Hussain’s convoy was attacked by an Uzbek girl in November 2012.  The group which attacked Peshawar airbase on December 16, 2012 had four members of IMU.  Uzbek fighters were involved in planting remote control bomb in NW on January 13, 2013 killing 17 soldiers. On May 12, 2013, IMU organized suicide attack on IGFC Balochistan killing 10 people. This attack was planned to avenge Pak Army’s aerial attack on IMU’s religious seminary run by Abdullah Ibn Zubair. IMU joined hands with TTP and both now make joint teams to hit targets and get their imprisoned comrades released. Adnan Rasheed is the coordinator.

Although the TTP was badly mauled by the Army in 2009 through its major operations in Swat, Bajaur and SW, it regained strength because of material support provided by CIA, RAW and Afghan CDS. Easy flow of cash from its patrons has enabled the TTP Shura under Hakimullah Mehsud to raise the monthly pay-scale of ordinary fighters to Rs 30,000. Commanders of different tiers receive much higher pay. Ransom money collected from abduction and extortion are other sources of cash. Parents of suicide bombers receive 12-15 lacs while orphans and ones with no means of subsistence and those suffering from chronic diseases are hired for Rs 2-250,000 only.  Their ages ranging between 12-15 years are subjected to intensive indoctrination and given dozes of injections to keep them in a delirious state till they blow themselves up at the assigned place.

The TTP has established suicide jackets and IEDs producing factories in secret places in inaccessible areas. Several of these facilities were unearthed and destroyed during operations Rah-e-Rast and Rah-e-Nijat in Swat and SW respectively.  These facilities have been reopened in Orakzai and NW agencies and now in Tirah Maidan area. Al-Qaeda provides technical assistance for the improvement of IEDs. There is little check on transportation of material like explosives, calcium ammonium nitrate and detonators required to make IEDs and suicide jackets. TTP militants are active in all the seven agencies and making forays in major urban centres for specific targets but have greater freedom of action in NW. With the death of pro-Pakistan Maulvi Nazir, TTP influence in Ahmadzai Wazirs controlled SW is increasing.

Although the TTP has managed to re-organize itself with the assistance of its creators, it is infested with genuine Taliban, fake Taliban and criminal elements. Hakimullah doesn’t hold sway over all operational commanders of TTP as well as associated militant groups and is handicapped because of a proper command HQ. However, as long as funds and military hardware keep flowing in from Afghanistan, TTP will remain a potent threat. What is required is to plug the supply routes, break off foreign agencies connection with TTP, segregate local extremist groups affiliated with TTP, isolate fake Taliban and criminals from legitimate Taliban. Tirah battle must be rounded up speedily to prevent the TTP from making it into a formidable stronghold. At the same time, the US should be firmly told to cease drone war and respect Pakistan’s sovereignty. Option of talks with genuine Taliban must be kept open.

The writer is a retired Brig, defence analyst, columnist and book writer.

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