On Saturday 23rd of September 2018, a Pakistan Army patrol party while doing a targeted operation in Datta Khel area of North Waziristan was ambushed by Tehrik e Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) fighters that resulted in six Pakistan Army causalities including a Captain ranked officer and about five soldiers. This casualty count in a single day for Pakistan Army is one of the highest in a very long time. This is also the first major TTP activity on Pakistani soil since elections. During the election season, TTP had struck multiple times in different parts of the country, targeting either the voters or candidates from different political parties resulting in the deaths of hundreds.
If we analyse the history of TTP, it came into being in 2007 when different extremist religious militant groups from many agencies of FATA and areas of KP joined together to make one united organisation and named it Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan – inspired by Afghan Taliban – and determined on implementing sharia law in Pakistan, this new group of experienced guerilla fighters, many of whom had fought the Afghan Jihad against Soviets, started a war against democracy and the Pakistan army. The first major attack which TTP is alleged of executing was that of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the two-time Prime Minister of Pakistan and favourite for a 3rd time in the elections of 2008. That started a wave of unrest in Pakistan when terrorist attacks were very frequent every other day in different areas of Pakistan.
TTP went into a severe leadership crisis after its first and founding leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a drone attack in 2009. Baitullah was rigid leader of TTP who organized TTP into a formidable force and kept it united until his death but a power struggle started within TTP right after his death. Hakimullah Mehsud, who succeeded in becoming the leader of TTP, carried on from where Baitullah had left but his attacks were primarily on different religious sects particularly the Shia sect. Hakimullah was also killed in a similar US drone attack in 2013 which brought Maulana Fazlullah on the helm.
Fazlullah was the first non-Mehsud faction head of TTP, who came to power at a time when TTP was internally disturbed and divided into different factions and the major part the Mehsud faction threatened to break away due to many problems. Fazlullah successfully united TTP once again into one force and launched a brutal five year long attacking spree all over Pakistan that resulted in thousands of deaths of innocent civilians, security personnel, politicians and religious personalities. Army Public School (APS) attack was one of the deadliest massacres masterminded by Fazlullah which resulted in the deaths of over 130 school children and school staff in Peshawar. APS attack was the incident that brought people of Pakistan at a stage where they wanted an immediate solution to TTP and its menace. The next few weeks saw increased targeted counter-terrorism operations all over the country, especially in Karachi and Lahore, to eliminate TTP elements. Fazlullah continued the extreme anti state activities until his death in June 2018. His death ended his long iron fist rule over TTP. Many must have predicted his death would lead to weakening of TTP and internal rifts and conflicts but everything so far is happening on the contrary.
TTP is now under command of Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, who has brought the crown back to the Mehsud faction. Mehsuds make up the major part of the TTP and are seen as the symbol of unity of the organisation. Noor Wali is on the mission to reorganize TTP and possibly start its resurgence, which this recent event is proof showing how they have not become weak, but in fact are planning to once again come back hard against the Pakistan Army.
This in the future might lead to TTP joining hands with IS-KP for terrorist attacks against Pakistan, which should be a grave concern for the government and the security institutions of Pakistan.
TTP is going through a resurgence because Mullah Fazlullah did not possess the charisma that Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah did, both of who held people to people contact and were known to be popular among locals while Fazlullah lacked that and was infamous for being ruthless and brutal in his indiscriminate attacks on innocent people. The revival can result in a softer image and increased recruitment among the locals.
Pakistan despite numerous military operations and failed peace talks and negotiations has not been able to find out any viable solution to TTP. It followed a policy of appeasement in the mid-late 2000s, and later went after TTP with an iron fist to impose the state writ in the tribal areas, but unfortunately failed to do so completely. The FATA merger is a mega step that has the potential to help eventually find a long-term solution to TTP and its elements in the tribal and border regions. The government has to be very careful with its strategy and should not let any weak links jeopardize the merger. TTP has evident cross border support and safe havens in Afghanistan, which would contribute in its resurgence and eventual rise against the State of Pakistan.
Photo credit: Khaama Press
Contributing Writer - Pakistan