The resurgence of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its consistent string of attacks on law enforcement agencies, primarily in the border areas of Pakistan, has sparked deep-seated concerns amongst both government officials and the general public. Questions abound regarding the underlying factors that have contributed to the resurgence of this terror outfit, enabling it to carry out relentless assaults originating from across the border.
Their alarming reemergence prompts a comprehensive examination into the intricate web of elements that have helped revitalise the organisation's capabilities. The backdrop against which this resurgence has unfolded also serves as a poignant reminder of the persistent threat that extremist groups pose to regional stability and security.
TTP announced its return with great pomp, launching a series of trademark, disconcerting attacks. Prominent among these incidents were the assaults in Zhob, Bannu, and, lately, Chitral.
Our policymakers and security forces are now forced to grapple with a perplexing conundrum: how has an outfit, once believed to have been significantly weakened, managed to regain its footing so rapidly?
TTP's way back
Several factors have contributed to the TTP's resurgence. The porous and often inaccessible border regions have provided a sanctuary for the group, allowing it to plan and execute attacks with relative impunity. The rugged terrain, coupled with longstanding cross-border sympathisers and collaborators, has created an environment conducive to the TTP's revival.
Furthermore, geographical, political, and strategic factors have played a significant role in the alarming surge of violence orchestrated by the TTP, ultimately responsible for the resurgence of TTP-related violence.
One particularly noteworthy element is the TTP's strategic utilisation of Afghanistan as a safe haven.
Following the Afghan Taliban's complete takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the TTP seized the opportunity to reestablish its presence along the border. This geographic haven has provided the TTP with the means to regroup, replenish their ranks, and rearm, fueling their audacious offensives against Pakistani targets across the border. The South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) states that the TTP carried out at least 200 attacks in Pakistan in the last two years, from January 2021 to June 2023. These attacks killed over 1,000 people and injured over 2,000 others.
Another factor that has garnered sympathy and support for TTP among marginalised communities is its ability to exploit local grievances and socio-economic disparities in border regions. The government's hasty integration of erstwhile federally administered tribal areas (FATA) into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa without establishing the necessary governance infrastructure created a governance void. This fuelled resentment amongst the local populace and forced them to turn to the TTP for the resolution of property and other disputes. This has not only provided a steady stream of recruits but also bolstered the group's intelligence networks, making it increasingly difficult for law enforcement agencies to thwart their operations.
The TTP's external support network has also been pivotal in its resurgence. The group is believed to have received assistance from transnational terrorist organisations, allowing it to procure advanced weaponry and technology, evade surveillance, and maintain a steady flow of funds. Such support has granted TTP a considerable advantage over government forces.
The TTP's audacious objectives have been further inflamed by the ongoing turmoil within Pakistan's political establishment. Deliberately targeting and orchestrating their attacks, the TTP aims to exploit this tumultuous environment, strategically aiming to sow internal instability and erode the foundations of governance.
Effective recruitment and training tactics have greatly aided the TTP's comeback. The organisation has succeeded in restocking its ranks with willing and young fighters who share its merciless objective by leveraging the Pashtun communities living in the former tribal areas bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The TTP has also demonstrated startling competence in teaching the use of cutting-edge weapons and passing on tactical know-how to recruits, greatly enhancing its operational capabilities.
How to tackle the TTP
As the government grapples with the resurgence of the TTP, it faces a dual challenge: not only does it need to respond to the immediate security threat, but it must also address the underlying causes that have allowed the TTP to regain its strength.
To effectively combat the growing TTP threat, the government needs to employ a multifaceted strategy.
First, the government should bolster its counterterrorism forces and enhance intelligence networks to curb TTP activities. Collaborating with neighbouring Afghanistan is essential to secure borders, close down TTP safe havens, and share vital intelligence.
Second, addressing socio-economic disparities and implementing targeted counter-radicalisation initiatives is crucial to deter recruitment. To denounce TTP violence, the government should foster regional cooperation and engage the media, religious leaders, and civil society. Halting online propaganda and expediting court proceedings through judicial reforms are essential steps.
This comprehensive approach necessitates fortified border security measures, a concerted effort to gain the support of local communities, and international collaboration to dismantle the TTP's external support networks.
To counter TTP's and its affiliated groups, the government should actively engage key stakeholders such as the media, religious leaders, and civil society. Additionally, comprehensive emergency services and crisis response strategies need to be formulated to mitigate the impact of terror incidents.
A comprehensive strategy that seamlessly combines military, intelligence, diplomatic, and economic measures is essential to safeguard Pakistan's security. This approach must also garner strong international cooperation and support, as terrorism transcends national borders, making it a global concern.