The Pulse | Security | South Asia

The Twin Factors Behind Pakistan’s Growing TTP Problem

Yes, the Afghan Taliban’s victory emboldened the TTP. But Islamabad also missed its chance to deal the group a decisive blow.

The Twin Factors Behind Pakistan’s Growing TTP Problem

Police officials and others attend the funeral prayer of a police officer, a victim of Monday’s suicide bombing, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Feb. 2, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad

A little over two weeks ago, a deadly suicide bombing killed over 100 individuals and injured around 225 at a mosque in Police Lines, Peshawar.

The bombing was a gruesome reminder of the recent uptick in terror incidents in Pakistan, with 2022 alone seeing more than 300 such attacks. Of these, approximately 89 were carried out by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an extremist outfit that was formed in 2007 amid the U.S.-led War on Terror.

Omar Mukaram Khurasani, the incumbent head of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction of the TTP, claimed initial responsibility for the Police Lines bombing. However, a TTP spokesperson has since vehemently denied this, stating that the group does not attack mosques.

The brutality of the incident was, nevertheless, reminiscent of the 2014 Army Public School (APS) massacre, also in Peshawar, which led to the tragic death of approximately 144 individuals, most of them children. The TTP actively took responsibility for the APS attack.

Initial investigations suggest that the mosque bombing was orchestrated by the local splinter group of the TTP to avenge the August 2022 death of Omar Khalid Khorasani – the mastermind behind the APS attack.

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It is important to highlight that the TTP was largely defunct during the 2015-2019 period. But as of late, it has resurfaced, this time with a list of clearly defined demands. The TTP ended a five-month-long ceasefire agreement with the Pakistani government toward the end of last year due to a refusal to meet those demands.

How did the TTP regain its footing, going from a spent force to one that has recently sent tremors of fear across Pakistan?

The country’s incumbent government attributes this newfound resolve to tacit support from the Afghan Taliban, and the alleged inability of the interim government in Kabul to abide by commitments made in the aftermath of its August 2021 takeover.

These accusations, although harsh, are not entirely without merit. The TTP remains ideologically aligned with the Afghan Taliban, and went as far as to pledge its allegiance to them in the run-up to the latter’s return to power in 2021. The Afghan Taliban also see the group as a valuable asset to monitor Pakistan’s intelligence organizations, and the two share several ideological and strategic goals.

But Pakistan’s TTP problem runs deeper than mere Afghan interference.

It is also the direct consequence of several fault lines within state policy – ranging from inconsistent counterterrorism strategies to the ostensible failure to implement them.

In the late 2000s and early 2010s, Pakistan’s military conducted several kinetic operations, especially in the border areas, to wipe out militants. Several TTP sleeper cells were raided and prominent leaders were killed. However, the state failed to follow this up with measures that would eliminate violent extremism at its core.

The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) remained largely inoperative, and successive governments adopted inconsistent measures that either appeased or ostracized the group – ultimately tipping the balance of power in the TTP’s favor.

To make matters worse, a grim history of colonial-era laws in the border areas, a stalled IMF program, and the overall political polarization that hindered the formulation and implementation of a coherent counterterrorism policy, set the stage for an eventual resurgence of the TTP.

As of January 30, Pakistan has entered a new phase of militancy.

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Political parties in the country have since cobbled together some semblance of unanimity by calling an All Parties Conference, and have ramped up security arrangements across sensitive areas. Pakistani forces killed seven TTP militants in North Waziristan on Tuesday.

However, it remains to be seen whether these measures will mark the beginning of the journey towards a long-term policy to combat Pakistan’s growing TTP problem.