Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) based insurgent group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is once again on the rampage staging spectacular and stunning terrorist attacks in the Punjab as well as Bajaur tribal agency. The latest attacks have resulted in killing of six Pakistan Army soldiers in Gujrat district of the Punjab and nine trainee cops of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Prison Department in Lahore, the provincial capital of the Punjab province. On the other hand reportedly Afghanistan province Kunar-based TTP insurgents stormed different villages of Mamond in Bajaur which resulted in killing of several insurgents and local tribesmen.
Terrorists also struck in Quetta targeting Awami National Party (ANP) provincial leaders during a rally. Six of the ANP men were killed in the bomb blast in Kuchlak area in the outskirts of Quetta. Many also got injured including the party head in Balochistan Auranzeb Kasi and his wife. The TTP has not claimed responsibility for the Quetta attack so far, however, given the fact that the city and his suburbs have been infested with Taliban sympathizers it is most likely that the attack has been carried out by the TTP. There may be acceptance of the responsibility of the attack sooner or later. It is well-known that Kuchlak area of Quetta has served as an Afghan Taliban sanctuary. Generally secular Baloch insurgents, fighting for an independent Balochistan, carry out attacks on other ethnic groups in Balochistan to drive them out of the province. The TTP involvement in the Kuchlak attack on the ANP is seemingly there because the locality is the Pashtoon-populated with no Baloch presence or influence. The ANP, which has been leading the ruling-coalition government, in KP has been a bête noire of TTP because of the party’s and its government firm anti-TTP stand. These actions included the Swat-Malakand military offensive of 2009 which took back the region of the insurgents’ virtual control. Therefore, TTP apparently is the most likely perpetrator of the attack.
The Kuchlak attack is the first major attack on ANP leaders in Balocistan. Most of the previous attacks on the ANP leaders and workers by the TTP have been made in KP and FATA which have so far claimed the lives of around 400 of party members. Tens of ANP ranks and files have also been killed in Karachi in seemingly intra-party ethnic violence in the last few years.
The above-mentioned Gujrat attack was made on the camping troops on a river bank falling in the district. The terrorist reportedly opened fire on the camping soldiers. Shooting down of several troops in such a dare-devil attack is indeed alarming. Regarding the TTP insurgents shooting down of nine trainee cops of Khyber Pakthunkhwa Prison Department in Lahore reportedly the TTP fighters entered a hostel being used by the trainee cops in Rasool Park area of Samanabad. The insurgents killed the cops in the three-storey building by reaching to every part of it and accomplish the task in just 4-5 minutes without being encountered by the law enforcement agencies.
Both the Gujrat and Lahore attacks have been claimed by the TTP. Launching attacks in the Punjab and Balochistan is part of the TTP new strategy as enunciated by its central spokesman, Ihsanullah Ihsan, twice in recent weeks vowing to carry attacks in the Punjab and rest of the country. After the Lahore attack Pakistani media organizations quoted Ihsan saying, “As I have stated earlier, we have shifted our operations out of the tribal areas.”
More significantly Ihsan revealed that the TTP has become an international network of “all” militant groups, having people from Bangladesh, India, the Middle East and even Europe. Although the media reports are not quite clear what the TTP spokesman exactly said and really meant from these words but the crux of the statement and the message it carries is clear. This should ring alarm bells in the power and security corridors of Pakistan because, if the TTP really has become an international network of militant-insurgent groups, the entire country has to face its consequences. Apparently, the TTP has all what it takes to become an international network of multinational insurgent groups.
The new strategy of the TTP of shifting operations outside FATA is indeed a very important development. There have been statements from different civil and military leaders that TTP and affiliated insurgents groups have been defeated in FATA and soon they would be mopped up. In this regard the statements of Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, who is also the administrative head of FATA, Masud Kausar and Corps Commander Peshawa, Lt. General Ghulam Rabbani are noteworthy. So the shifting of the TTP operations outside FATA may be due to the pressure exerted by the security forces. This is a critical stage on the insurgency as after feeling their bases and strongholds in FATA under threat the insurgents may have decided to spread out. This is typical of any non-separatist insurgency like that of the TTP. Given the nature and dynamics of the TTP insurgency it can be forecasted that there could be widespread attacks across the country in the approaching months. Because it is arguably that phase of the insurgency in which the survival of the leadership and the group would be the most important. Therefore, we might witness ferocious and daredevil attacks.
The shifting out of the operations outside FATA by the TTP is seemingly a well-thought out strategy to take the cover of the cities and countryside. At the same time this has created an opportunity for the security forces and the government agencies to consolidate their victories against the insurgents in the tribal areas. Because if it turns out that TTP has really lost strongholds in FATA then the government including the security forces have to take steps on war-footing to address the core issues so as to prevent the region once against becoming the base of insurgents. In particular the government must ensure political parties and other civil society groups to carry out their activities in the tribal areas; the authorities must also move swiftly to establish institutes of higher learning in FATA that have been pending since long. As there are hundreds of thousands of tribesmen and tribeswomen living a life of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) for years now the authorities must use the opportunity to repatriate as many of these dislocated people as it can. This would go a long way in restoring stability and order to the tribal areas.
(The writer is a researcher and political analyst: email@example.com)