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PR Short Notes


Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 558, 18 February 2023

USIP reports the increasing influence of the Afghanistan Taliban on the TTP: Three Takeaways



The Pakistan Taliban’s (TTP) “growing threat” poses a bigger challenge to the “struggling” country.

Bhoomika Sesharaj

On 14 February, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) released a report that said that the Pakistan Taliban’s (TTP) “growing threat” poses a bigger challenge to the “struggling” country. The USIP reiterated that the unrelenting economic crisis and the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan have led to the “reemergence” of the TTP as an “increasingly potent threat” to Pakistan. Emphasising the urgency of the TTP’s rising influence in Pakistan, the report outlined the shortcomings of the Pakistani economy to deal with the terrorists and the resurgence that comes along with it and urged that the “rhetorical signals” and “anecdotal reports” of the UN officials in the country have warned of TTP terrorists “moving freely” and indulging in business in Afghan cities as well.

 

First, the scope of the TTP’s threat to Pakistan. On 30 January, a suicide bomber aligning with the TTP blew himself up in a mosque in the northwestern part of Peshawar, leaving nearly 61 dead and more than 150 injured. The bombing was claimed by a faction of the TTP who said that the act was one of “revenge” for the death of TTP commander Umar Khalid Khurasani, who was killed in August 2022 in Afghanistan. The attack was the biggest one in terms of scale and was carried out specifically against the security personnel and their installations. The USIP said that the Peshawar bombing’s “lethality and ability” to perforate into Peshawar highlights the “reconstituted critical capability” of the TTP’s urban attacks and the increasing IED explosions since the cease-fire last year.

 

The USIP warned that the Peshawar attack, along with the other 100 attacks that have taken place in over 50 days signify the “ascendant trajectory” of the TTP and pose an imperative medium-to-long-term challenge for the country. Additionally, they said that the TTP’s extensive campaign of inciting violence against certain cities in Pakistan is a function of its rising “political and material” strength which is reflected in the TTP’s “political cohesion” and its expanding nucleus of trained fighters, suicide bombers, weapons and equipment. 

 

Second, the unwavering stance of Afghanistan. In the days prior to the Peshawar bombing, the Afghan Taliban’s strategic calculus regarding the TTP had mostly remained firm, with their public messaging offering weak objections to the attacks by the TTP and painting Pakistan responsible for the militancy within its borders. The USIP resounded that this “undiplomatic rhetoric” underscores the Taliban’s “determination” to carry on its support to the TTP, even while facing intense pressure from Pakistan. The report laid that the Taliban’s unnerving support to the TTP speaks largely of the “ideological grounds” of the Afghan Taliban’s waiver to understand the necessity of maintaining a functional relationship with Pakistan and its posture to “alternate” between tension and de-escalation.

 

The USIP’s reports on the TTP’s 600,000-strong army lay bare the strategic miscalculation of Pakistan in lifting the Afghan Taliban into power and expose the machinery that has failed to differentiate between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

 

Third, Pakistan’s unlikelihood to respond. Keeping in mind the TTP’s mounting resurgence, the report said that Pakistan’s response to the attacks has remained largely “incoherent” and that it is “unlikely” to improve in the near future. It said that the Pakistani leaders have “downplayed” the TTP’s strength as well as the Taliban’s relationship and influence on and with the TTP in the last few years and are now “contending” with the “depth” of Taliban support for the TTP. The USIP’s Asfandyar Mir said that the Pakistani officials are “searching for a deal” through the Taliban and that the Foreign Ministry and other military and intelligence officials want to “work” with the Taliban to work out a “favourable” way to engage with the Taliban rather than appealing to the international community.

 

Mir added that the Taliban’s “uncompromising” commitment to the TTP means that Pakistan either has to “ignore” the rising violence or “concede” to the TTP in order to “maintain” a relationship with the Taliban. Mir highlighted that along with the deadlock in response, another key factor that “shapes” the Pakistani reply is the country’s “deteriorating economy” which is “on the brink of a default.” He said that the degenerating economy “limits” Pakistan’s military options and that it does not have the resources for a “sustained high-intensity” campaign against the TTP.

 

Additionally, the USIP’s report reiterated that the current economic and political quagmire in Pakistan has allowed U.S policymakers to be “well-placed” to have conversations with Pakistani leaders about the need to focus and develop a “clear counter” TTP plan, but the scope of the assistance remains “limited.” However, the report’s concluding remarks lay bare the larger question of how Pakistan will handle the Afghan Taliban who “provide” safe haven to the TTP and if it does, it will be a “decisive” move “emanating” from Islamabad and not at the “behest” of the United States.

 

References:

Asfandyar Mir, Tamanna Salikuddin, Andrew Watkins, “Is Pakistan Poised to Take on the TTP?,” United States Institute of Peace, 14 February 2023

Anwar Iqbal, “Afghan Taliban ‘unlikely to stop support for TTP’,” Dawn, 16 February 2023

Inam Ul Haque, “Peshawar blast, TTP and Afghanistan,” The Express Tribune, 9 February 2023

Pervez Hoodbhoy, “Why the TTP is undefeatable,” Dawn, 7 January 2023

 

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