Heavy Resistance And Infighting See TTP Retreat From Chitral

Locals supported the army in pushing the cross-border attackers back but want security bolstered as a tense calm prevails

Heavy Resistance And Infighting See TTP Retreat From Chitral

Hundreds of militants of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who had stormed into the border region of Chitral in Pakistan from across the border, have been beaten back with strong resistance from locals and the military after three days of fighting. Reports of infighting amongst the attackers are also seen as a reason for their retreat.

Despite that, fear and tensions remain high in the Kalash Valley, where the militants had tried to infiltrate. Meanwhile, Islamabad on Friday said it had conveyed its concerns to Kabul over the cross-border attack.

On the morning of September 6 -- celebrated as Defence Day in Pakistan, hundreds of fighters aligned with the TTP crossed over mountainous terrain at high altitudes to sneak into Pakistan from Afghanistan. With rumours that TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud personally supervising the attack, the militants proceeded to attack two military posts in the remote Bumburet valley of the Kalash region near the border with Afghanistan. 

However, with the army having detected the movement and concentration of large groups of fighters in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan -- which shares the border with Pakistan at Chitral -- the military was ready for the impending attack.

The attacks caused fear and panic in the bordering regions. As news spread and the valley reverberated with heavy exchange of gunfire, its impact was felt even in the relatively distant Chitral city.

A 'Peace and Solidarity Rally' planned by some local activists in favour of the security forces was abruptly called off owing to the fighting on the border. Instead, videos were circulating on social media showing locals supporting Pakistani troops by transporting weapons and ammunition through the mountainous region on foot to the front lines while helicopters ferried in reinforcements.

A resident of Chitral Zulfikar Ahmed said that the situation in the region on Friday was calm.

"The situation in the city area remained peaceful," he said, adding that security has been alert in the upper Chitral mountains.

He added that news about the infighting amongst the various groups which formed the TTP front had spread within the mountainous region in no time. 

However, Ahmed believed there remains room to further bolster border security in the region to avoid repeating this scenario.

Other residents in Chitral, who did not wish to be named, said that cross-border infiltration was not a new phenomenon and that a constant check needs to be kept in the area, which domestic and international tourists frequent. 

They added that the fear continues to grip the entire area, especially in summer. During the winter, heavy snow and adverse weather make chances of cross-border movement almost impossible, lending security.

Over the past three days, at least four Pakistani soldiers were martyred, 12 armed fighters were killed in the clashes, and several others suffered injuries the military had stated on the first day. In the statement, the military had stated that a large group of "terrorists equipped with the latest weapons" attacked two military checkposts in Chitral, resulting in an "intense exchange of fire".

It added that Afghanistan was conveyed reports about the movement of the terrorists on the Afghan side and that Pakistan expects the Interim Afghan Government to ensure that terrorists do not use their soil.

The next day, at a conference of top commanders, it was resolved that the military would defend Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity against all kinds of direct and indirect threats.

It was further resolved that all terrorists, their facilitators and abettors, working at the behest of hostile forces to destabilise Pakistan, will be dealt with the full might of the state.

Islamabad expresses concerns

On Friday, Islamabad said it had communicated concerns about the latest incident to the interim Afghan authorities. 

"We expect them to fulfill their obligations and to deny the use of Afghan soil by the terrorists for perpetrating acts of terrorism against Pakistan," said Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch.

She added that Islamabad remains engaged with Kabul and has communicated concerns and developments relevant to the opening or closure of the border [at Torkham] as well. 

On the modern weapons left behind by American and other allied forces upon their exit from Afghanistan and which were now finding their way into the hands of militants, the foreign office said Pakistan is concerned about the large amount of weaponry that is available in Afghanistan, which has now reached some terrorist entities as well, and that it continues to pose a threat to Pakistan.

"We do not want to assign blame on anyone, but the situation needs international attention. We hope all relevant parties would understand the responsibility that they have in this respect," she added.

Role of Afghan Taliban

Regarding the role of the Afghan Taliban, some analysts were of the view that initially, they remained indifferent but later intervened to control cross-border movement. Timely intervention and proper checks on border areas from the Afghan side can help avoid such militant attacks.

In a brief comment, former Senator and an analyst of regional affairs Afrasiab Khattak expressed that the latest cross-border incident should not be considered in isolation, adding that there remains a long history of it.

Other senior analysts picked at the tactical impacts of these incursions. They noted that the intrusion was done in two isolated valleys considered 'soft' compared to two other lower passes, which are better protected.

They said that the point of attack were locations where no one lives and that only shepherds use them in the summer for grazing. Thus, bringing a small force of around 40 to 80 people through would not attract much attention.

About the plans hatched by the militants, they said one of the valleys opens into the larger Kalash Valley, which houses the ancient Kalash tribe. Hence, their target could have been the Kalash people as it would garner them international attention. But they received a firm and unambiguous response from the Pakistan side.

Domestic impact

About the impact of the militant attacks, some political analysts said that the situation has been largely controlled. 

But if such incidents continue, it may compel the top election body to seek the input of security agencies on the probability of a secure environment for polls ahead of the general elections.

Why did the attack take place?

In June, The Friday Times revealed that The Afghan Taliban had decided to relocate or shift members of the TTP away from the border with Pakistan to reduce the friction. 
However, observers feared that the plan may not proceed smoothly as the TTP was reportedly 'annoyed over this decision' and consequently may strongly resist the decision.

The members of TTP have decided not to argue over the recent decision regarding 'shifting' to Western or northern parts/ provinces of Afghanistan, but as per sources, they had shown an interest in developing a proper strategy in consultation with its leadership.

According to the agreement between Kabul and Pakistan, discussions focused on relocating the TTP to other parts of Afghanistan away from the Pakistan border. During his visit, the Acting Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Amir Khan Muttaqi had agreed to Islamabad's proposal to relocate the TTP.

Currently, thousands of Pakistani Taliban and their families are living in Khost, Paktia and Kunar along the Pakistan border. Pakistan accuses them of mounting or facilitating terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. 

These families had fled to Afghanistan during the Zarb-e-Azb operation in 2014.

In a meeting in Norway, Pakistan pressed for continued engagement with the Afghan government despite conceding that the Afghan Taliban had failed to honour its commitments with the international community.

Since the Taliban assumed control of Afghanistan in August 2021, there has been a significant increase in TTP attacks on Pakistan. TTP has also claimed responsibility for several attacks in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions.

The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan spans 2,670 kilometres (1,659 miles) and includes 18 designated entry points. Tensions between the two neighbours increased after the Taliban removed the border fencing at some points along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, resulting in an increase in TTP terrorist attacks inside Pakistan in recent months.