Countering the TTP

Raashid Wali Janjua
Sunday, Oct 10, 2021

The Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was formed in 2007 in response to the army’s action against non-state actors in north and south Waziristan. After the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, several foreign militants belonging to Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban had sought refuge in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The Pakistan Army went in to sanitise the area of their unwelcome presence in 2002, starting with Tirah Valley which was a no-go for military as well as civil law-enforcement agencies.

By 2004, the die was already cast for a violent conflict as the army expanded its punitive campaign to South Waziristan. By then foreign militants, in collusion with local collaborators of the same ideological and criminal persuasion, masking behind Melmastia (hospitality) of the Pashtun socio-cultural code of Pashtunwali, had killed over 200 tribal elders altering the centuries old social order of the tribal areas.

For the first time in the history of the tribal areas a religion-based insurgency was in the hands of a new leadership that had marginalised the tribal elders. The state entered into parleys with them in 2004 and the climax of those conciliatory efforts was the famous meeting between militant commander Nek Muhammad and Corps Commander Peshawar Lt General Safdar in South Waziristan in 2004.

The peace agreement was known as the Shakai Agreement which made Nek Muhammad a household name overnight. The deal however could not hold as the militants reneged on their pledges, resulting in Nek Muhammad’s elimination through a US drone attack. The Lal Masjid action in 2007 further catalysed the conflict, resulting in the formation of a group comprising disparate militant entities united in their hate against perceived encroachment on their social and religious rights by the state.

Two more peace deals with militants in North Waziristan and Swat called the Saroragha and Swat Agreements also withered on the vine of militant intransigence and refusal to honour their promises. The TTP comprised the Mehsud and Wazir tribesmen besides having foreign militants like Uzbeks, Arabs and Tajiks; it also took Punjab based sectarian outfits like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jamatul Ahrar under its umbrella. Other than three major peace agreements, several minor peace deals were cut with militants like Hafiz Gul Bahadur of North Waziristan, Maulvi Nazir of South Waziristan and Maulvi Faqir of Bajaur Agency. All such expedient deals however lasted a few months.

The main reason for the failure of all those deals is worth examining before attempting a prognosis of the current peace overtures by the government towards the TTP. Contrary to the Afghan national resistance in the shape of the TTA, the TTP lacked a strong ideological leaven to bind the disparate crime franchises into a cohesive whole. The result was internal friction and differences that frequently boiled over, harming the unity in TTP ranks.

The attempted unity almost always came in the shape of major concessions to constituent crime syndicates that ripped open the seams of all peace agreements of the TTP with the army and the state. The lack of ideological gravitas and cause celebre compared to the national liberation movement inside Afghanistan made the TTP vulnerable to internal dissensions, and in a bid to satisfy the mammon worship of the crime franchises on its bandwagon unreasonable demands were made on the state which could never be honoured.

Another vulnerability of Pakistan’s carpet bagging militancy in Pakistan’s tribal areas was its heavy reliance on external actors that diminished its appeal amongst the people. The well-known capture of Latif Mehsud, a senior TTP leader having been caught by US marines, after receiving $5 million from the Indian embassy in 2013 is still fresh in memory. Political expediencies obviously prevented framing of terror abetting charges against India.

These two essential elements of the TTP character have to be kept in mind before attempting to analyse the strategy of engagement with the TTP for either amnesty or mainstreaming. The third prerequisite for engagement is the need for Pakistan’s narrative to be grounded in facts. It is a fact that the TTP is a globally designated terrorist outfit whose 400 members were attacked and killed through US drones. Any attempts therefore to mainstream them have to be weighed against the likely international reaction. The Americans had entered into parleys with the TTA in Doha after solid assurances by the Taliban to hold to their end of the peace agreement. And they honoured their commitment of not attacking the US troops despite the fact that the delisting from the UN terrorism sanctions list and freeing of agreed number of prisoners was not conceded to them.

The TTP on the other hand has never kept its end of the bargain during peace agreements because of its criminal proclivities and the lack of a strong central ideological incentive like waging war against an occupying force in the case of the Afghan Taliban. The external support from RAW and NDS also was a strong incentive that had limited the TTP’s ability to break free of the vicious cycle of crime and violence. The TTP and ethnocentric Baloch militants received open support in Afghanistan during the Hamid Karzai and later Ashraf Ghani led tenures.

The only talks worth entering with the TTP should be on surrender terms with obvious incentives for the mainstreaming of those with less heinous crimes on record. The issue of amnesty also needs to be debated in parliament and a consensus evolved over the modalities of talks and the resoluteness to stamp out the last vestiges of TTP militancy. Appeasement in the name of amnesty should be the last thing on the state’s mind. The state should get its act together to ramp up its counterterror and counter-extremism efforts, sending a clear message that it would never defer to the terrorist tactics of extremists and their sympathisers. The epistemic and kinetic warfare to achieve the above end must not be shirked.

The writer is a PhD scholar at Nust.