The Pakistani army claimed in 2016 that it had wiped out the militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from its stronghold, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Five years later, the force is forced to negotiate a peace settlement with the same force.
TTP is considered the largest and deadliest militant group in Pakistan. It was founded in December 2007 as an umbrella organization of 13 militant Taliban factions. Their stated goal is to defeat the Pakistani army, uproot its civilian government and establish an Islamic caliphate in the country. The organization wants to implement the Sharia it interprets first in Pakistan and then in South Asia.
It follows a similar regressive pattern of Sharia interpretation as the Afghan Taliban, such as male dominance, women as non-entities, enforced religious doctrine without modern education, and choosing the path of violence to further their cause.
2007 TO 2014 – MAKING A NEMESIS FOR THE FUTURE PAKISTAN
Established on December 14, 2007, TTP carried out no fewer than 12 terrorist attacks in the same year. According to the dataset available from the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the group carried out 31 terrorist attacks over the next year, targeting civilians, security forces, and public and private investments, and in the coming years, these attacks only increased many-fold.
In terms of data, 2007 to 2014, before Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched, can be considered the peak years of the TTP.
In those seven years, the group has carried out at least 1,022 terrorist attacks, killing 1,848 civilians and 891 security personnel, ie an average of 128 terrorist attacks per year, killing 231 civilians and 111 police officers.
These attacks spanned across Pakistan, with the TTP having its detachments in all four provinces of the country, led by local-level commanders. The group’s strikes include the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007, just two weeks after its establishment, showing what kind of terrorist enemy Pakistan would face in the future.
ZARB-E-AZB AND RADD-UL-FASAAD
To bring down the TTP, on June 15, 2014, the Pakistani Army launched “Operation Zarb-e-Azb” (meaning “sharp and cutting blow”) in North Waziristan, a district now included in the defunct FATA, the stronghold of the TTP, is located. FATA was merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on May 31, 2018.
The operation in an area along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border lasted nearly two years. The Pakistan Army claimed it killed 3,500 militants and lost 490 of its soldiers in the operation. The additional support came from the United States’ consistent drone strikes. Although there is no information on how much the Pakistan Army has spent on the mission, after a year of operation, the country’s foreign ministry said $1.9 billion has been spent on the exercise so far.
The big claim made at the time was that the militants had been completely wiped out of territory and the Pakistani army had indeed reached the borders of Afghanistan and claimed overall rule, military spokesman Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa stated on June 15, 2016.
On February 22, 2017, the Pakistan Army launched another exercise, “Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad” (Removal of Discord) after the country again experienced a surge in terrorist activity, as claimed in the force’s press release. The aim was to eliminate the “residual/latent threat of terrorism” and to further build on the achievements already made in previous military operations such as “Zarb-e-Azb”. Radd-ul-Fasaad is still an ongoing operation and completed five years on February 22 this year.
In terms of data, these military operations have dramatically crushed TTP attacks in Pakistan. From 2015 to 2020, terrorism incidents fell significantly to 242, or an average of 40 terrorism incidents per year. In those six years, 361 civilians were killed and 271 security forces lost their lives. In fact, there have only been five TTP terrorist attacks in 2020, killing two civilians and one security guard.
In those six years, the TTP saw many of its top leaders killed, many of its militants left to join other groups, finances were struggling and many of its fighters fled.
MISCALCULATION AND RECURRENCE
According to a May 2022 report by the UN Security Council Monitoring Team on Afghanistan, the TTP has several thousand fighters in that country and is determined to wage a long-term campaign against the Pakistani establishment. “TTP has arguably benefited the most from the Taliban takeover of any foreign extremist group in Afghanistan. It has carried out numerous attacks and operations in Pakistan,” it said.
It is true that terrorist attacks have decreased significantly based on available data, but that is only one side of the story. The overall organizational strength of the TTP is much greater than the number of 3,500 militants killed by the Pak Army. So the threat was already there. It just disappeared.
According to an estimate by Military Balance, the TTP had about 25,000 fighters in 2012. According to an estimate by RUSI, in 2018 there were only 2,000 fighters left. This means that most of them have been temporarily transferred to Afghanistan. According to a December 2021 Washington Post estimate, the TTP’s Afghanistan strength is about 10,000 troops, while the SATP estimates the unit currently has a total strength of 30,000 to 35,000 fighters.
The TTP is backed by the Afghan Taliban, and when the Pakistani army began military operations against them, they decided to shift their base to Afghanistan. There it became part of the Taliban offensive against coalition forces and the Afghan civilian government.
The Taliban had never accepted the regime change in the country and vowed to fight back from their bases in Pakistan and their homes in Afghanistan. Slowly, as the year progressed, their pace of attack increased, and by 2018 the outfit had regained significant influence on a larger scale.
Forced by the intensified Taliban offensive and a desire to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible but unable to find a way out, the US under President Donald Trump appointed veteran Afghan-American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad to negotiate with the Taliban in 2018. The US-Taliban A peace deal was signed on February 29, 2020, resulting in the Taliban taking over the country by August 2021.
The Taliban victory was a major boost in confidence for Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network and TTP fighters. Also, the Taliban victory meant it was time for TTP to pay back.
And soon they were back in the game, of course with the support of the Afghan Taliban. The first step was reunification with their splinter groups. With the support of the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network, this went smoothly. Next they stepped up their terror operations across the border and shifted their base back to Pakistan.
In 2021, the number of TTP attacks rose to 33, a steep jump from 5 terrorist attacks in 2020 that killed six civilians and 8 security forces. This time, the TTP has opted for a different approach. The outfit says it will not attack civilians. Instead, it targets the Pakistani military and its security personnel, as well as Chinese investments in the country under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Eight TTP attacks this year have so far killed no civilians.
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