TTP still strong in Karachi

Taliban have dispelled the impression that a recent split has weakened them

TTP still strong in Karachi
The June 8 attack on Karachi Airport was Pakistani Taliban’s largest strike so far, officials and security experts say. And it is significant because it indicates that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) still has the capacity to carry out attacks on highly secured installations across the country.

Media reports suggest that intelligence agencies had repeatedly warned authorities of a possible terrorist attack on Karachi Airport. “There are a number of residential colonies in the surroundings of the airport and it seems that the attackers came from these neighborhoods, where there are reports of the presence of members various banned militant groups,” said a former Airport Security Force officer. He agreed that such a coordinated attack was not possible without insider information.

After the separation of powerful Mehsud militants led by Khan Said alias Sajna on May 28, security experts thought the TTP might weaken. The group has dispelled the notion with the new attack. A source close to Mehsud militants in Karachi confirmed that they had officially abandoned the TTP, and had nothing to do with the attack.

[quote]Al Qaeda and its affiliates view airports and airbases as important targets[/quote]

There are three factions of TTP operating in Karachi — the Mehsud Taliban, the Swat Taliban, and the Mohmand Taliban. The Mehsud faction, which is considered the most powerful of the Taliban groups in Karachi, had also split. The militants loyal to Sajna expelled from Karachi the militants loyal to Hakimullah Mehsud. But the airport attack shows the Swat and Mohmand factions of the TTP are still strong enough to attack high-value targets.

Although the TTP has claimed responsibility of the attacks, security officials believe the well-coordinated raid could not be possible without support from Al Qaeda. A senior police official who participates in operations against Taliban in Karachi said the TTP alone cannot carry out such a large attack. “Preparations for attack must have taken two or three months, and the attackers were given full training,” he said.

Khadim Hussain, a security expert who monitors Taliban insurgency in Pakistan and Afghanistan, agrees. “It was a classic Al Qaeda affiliated attack. It has similarities with attacks they carried out in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the past.” He said Al Qaeda and its affiliates strategically view airports, airbases and security forces’ compounds as important targets.

In December 2012, an attack on Baacha Khan International Airport in Peshawar killed nine people. In August 2012, two air force officers were killed in an attack on Kamra airbase. In May 2011, an attack on naval base Mehran killed 10 security personnel, and two P-3C Orion maritime surveillance planes were damaged. At least 22 people were killed in an attack on GHQ in Rawalpindi in October 2009.

The Karachi attack raises serious doubts that negotiations with the TTP would continue. Members of a negotiations committee appointed by the Taliban admit that the process has practically ended after the attack. “Peace talks with the TTP were a drama. It is impossible for the government accept their demands, like the implementation of Sharia across the country, withdrawal of the army from tribal areas and release of high-profile militants from prisons,” said Raees Ahmed, a Karachi-based political analyst. The ceasefire provided sufficient time for the Taliban to regroup and prepare for major attacks like the one on Karachi airport.

Some analysts believe the Karachi Airport attack may be part of TTP’s strategy to put pressure on the government not to launch a full-fledged operation against foreign militants in North Waziristan. On May 30, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a North Waziristan-based militant commander, announced he had revoked his truce with the government, citing the recent airstrikes by security forces as a breach of the accord.

Gul Bahdaur had signed a peace agreement with the government in 2008, and had not been targeting Pakistani security forces since then, mainly focusing on Afghanistan.

But the group was providing sanctuaries to the TTP and other foreign militants, especially the Haqqani Network, Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, in the area under his control. Because of that, there had been immense pressure on Pakistan from both the US and China, to carry out operation in North Waziristan, against the militants targeting their interests.

The writer is a journalist and a researcher


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