The brazen attack on Peshawar Air Base on December 15 and the assassination of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Senior Minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour on December 22 has initiated another round of media debate in Pakistan. The discussion is revolving around the intentions of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). A dominant theme emerging in Pakistan’ s media is that these attacks are to create enough upheaval in the country to make it impossible to hold elections, scheduled for early next year. On the international side, the concern is that such attacks raise the specter of extremists taking over Pakistan’s nukes, the ultimate nightmare for the West. The same apprehensions are playing out in other parts of the Muslim world; such as, preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and stopping the extremists in Syria from taking over its chemical weapons. Not to forget similar fears led to the first Iraq war.
There is, however, a need for a fresh look at TTP’s strategic goals, especially as US shifts to a lighter footprint in Afghanistan beyond 2014. While Pakistan and US have changed their strategies to match the ground realities, one should not expect anything less from the much adept Taliban. Moreover, It’s critical to understand the nature of TTP’s ties with Afghan Taliban. If the Afghan reconciliation goes well, TTP has the most to loose, and it’s in fact now struggling to remain relevant.
What Is TTP Up To?
The aims and objectives of TTP need to be first understood through the prism of their worldview. Secondly, as a reaction to the counter strategies adopted by Pakistan and US. And, at a third level, its plans are also impacted by the nature of Pak-US, Pak-India, and Pak-Iran ties.
The ebb and flow of TTP terror activities appear to be related to the level of cooperation between Pakistan and US on the War on Terror. For example, a period of calm prevailed after the country suspended the Afghan-NATO supply lines.
In the present atmosphere, the uptick in TTP activities may be related to the following reasons:
- TTP may have received inside information on a possible deal between Pakistan and US, regarding conducting military operations against the extremists. The early December meeting of Khar and General Kiyani with Hillary Clinton and other senior NATO officials in Brussels, may have been read as an indication of this. Moreover, the get together of Pak-US Defense Consultative Group was held in Rawalpindi from December 3 to 4. These meetings led US government to reimburse $688 million to Pakistan for keeping its military in the tribal areas.
- The attack on Mullah Nazir on November 29 may have been seen by TTP as an attempt by Pakistan and US to divide various factions of Taliban. Therefore, TTP has launched a counter offensive.
- Improving Pakistan-India ties, without any visible shift on India’s part regarding the Kashmir issue. Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik visited India on December 14 to signal the go-ahead for the new visa regime, signed with India back in September.
- Most importantly, to dent the fast smoothening Afghan reconciliation process. The 7th trilateral meeting between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey, held from Dec 11 and 12, was impacted by the attack on the Afghan intelligence chief on December 6th. Afghan president alleged the planning of the attack took place in Quetta.
TTP, Afghan Taliban And Afghan Reconciliation
The Afghan reconciliation will most directly be impacted by the ambiguous nature of ties between TTP and Afghan Taliban. The general understanding is that the focus of Afghan Taliban attention is in the fight against coalition forces across the border, and they want nothing to do with attacks with in Pakistan. On the other hand, TTP not only assists Afghan Taliban but also aggressively targets the Pakistani state. This difference in approach has been a hurdle in the proper functioning of Shura-e-Muraqabah, composed of delegates from Pakistani Taliban (good and bad), Afghan Taliban, and Al Qaeda.
In their ties, the confusing part relates to the kind of strategic support Pakistani Taliban provides to Afghan Taliban. A pattern repeatedly observed is whenever there is the talk of the military operation in North Waziristan against Haqqani network and other extremists, cross-border attacks from Nuristan and Konar into Swat increase, especially targeting Pakistan army. So while Afghan Taliban might not get directly involved in going after targets in Pakistan, it may be using TTP for that purpose and to distract and cajole Pakistan from going overboard in its cooperation with NATO and US.
This is somewhat similar to the role Pakistan Army gets blamed for its stance towards Afghan Taliban. Pakistan has been accused of turning a blind eye towards Afghan Taliban that has sanctuaries in FATA. The Afghan government and NATO are now blamed for a similar attitude towards Fazlullah faction of Swat Taliban that have taken refuge in the North East Afghanistan.
What To Expect Next?
Thus, it can be presumed that if Afghan reconciliation and US withdrawal are not managed well, TTP might become a tool in containing Pakistan’s influence. Any semblance of unity between Afghan Taliban and TTP represents a bad omen for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. In this regard, how the TTP and Afghan Taliban ties evolve will have a key impact on the Afghan reconciliation. No wonder, General Kayani and other senior and military and intelligence officials have reportedly emphasized facilitating a grand reconciliation between various Afghan factions is now the top priority of Pakistan.
On the other hand, if the Afghan peace process goes well and Afghan Taliban put their arms down, TTP is likely to end in a tough spot. In such an eventuality, it is likely to gravitate more towards Al Qaeda and other Jihadists. To remain relevant, TTP will do whatever it can to disrupt the Afghan reconciliation and to destabilize Pakistan. How the Pakistan-India ties unfold will, in turn, determine the fate of Indian-centric jihadist and their collaboration with TTP and Al Qaeda.