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‘TTP Growing in Baloch Separatist Backyard’

To weigh in on the Baloch- Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) equation amid the Afghanistan-Pakistan tensions, Mark Kinra speaks with Abdul Basit, a Research Fellow at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore….reports Asian Lite News

As AfPak simmers, there is considerable speculation that secular Baloch rebels and the anti-Pakistan Islamists under the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) banner maybe, for now, passively collaborating with each. To weigh in on the Baloch-TTP equation, and more, Mark Kinra spoke with Abdul Basit, a Research Fellow at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Basit specializes in issues of politics, violence, religious extremism, terrorism, and security in South Asia.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q) There has been a lot of speculation regarding growing convergence between the Baloch groups and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Do you think TTP is lending a helping hand to Baloch in some way or other?

A) This is one of those important but difficult questions to which circumstantial evidence can be presented as more concrete primary evidence is not there. For instance, TTP has been growing in the backyard of Baloch separatist groups like the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF). There have been groups from Balochistan who have joined TTP. So TTP has made a mark in Balochistan for sure.

Ideologically Baloch Separatists are very secular and TTP is a hardcore Islamist organization, which wants a theocratic state in Pakistan through armed struggle or what they believe is Jihad, while the goal of the Baloch separatists is to have a Baloch state. There is no similarity between these two broader movements. The only thing that brings them together is their animosity towards the Pakistani state, which is the common enemy. The other common factor between the two is that both are ethnic groups with some genuine grievances so they feel as oppressed ethnic groups at the periphery.

In fact, if you go through TTP’s propaganda, then it is logical for these two entities to combine their courses at some level. We have seen TTP continuously bromance and extend an olive branch to the Baloch separatists. In the past Baloch separatists were very vocal in condemning TTP and its agenda, but recently there has been this deafening silence from Baloch Separatists concerning the inroads of TTP into Balochistan, TTP’s outreach in its propaganda publications and this silence can be construed as their consent.

Pakistani Generals accuse Taliban govt of sheltering anti-Pakistan groups as 5 soldiers killed in attack.(photo:IN)

There is a lot that we need to analyse including that these groups are very turf-conscious. They do not allow anyone in their backyard and react very brutally. But Baloch separatists have not said a word, let alone react brutally or violently. Baloch Separatists have adopted suicide terrorism by learning this skill from TTP. . However, Baloch separatists denied this and stated that they had these capabilities even before they and did not learn from TTP. In any case, if you put all these points together their silence, organizational learning from TTP, operating in close vicinity, coexisting in the same conflict theatre, sharing weapons routes or networks, or getting money from similar people. It is very strange to assume that their paths haven’t crossed and circumstantially one can speculate that there is some form of cooperation there. I have got pushback from relevant people and my counter-response to them is whatever you tell me privately why don’t you share it publicly on your letterhead officially that will kill all the speculation, which is not to open another front and focus on separatist insurgency. I can only say that they don’t have to open a front to say that they do not cooperate which leads me to believe that some kind of bromance between them.

Q) On one side TTP is being shifted to Northern Afghanistan and on the other side TTP is increasing its footprints in Balochistan, with the latest wilayah being formed by merging in Southern Balochistan. How do you see these movements?

A) Relocation to northern Afghanistan has not been confirmed; no one has been shifted to be very honest but the proposal was discussed between Pakistan and the Taliban regime considering the tension between them. The proposal stated to move TTP away from the border as the casualty rate was getting high and was not sustainable so the Taliban relocated them from the border area but TTP were still there but not close to the border. Afghans have an identity card known as Tazkira which you can show and go anywhere. Recently Tazkiras have been cancelled and this system has been attached to the General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI), the Intel wing of the Taliban, so now they have to report to the GDI, earlier there were no restrictions. There are about 40-45,000 TTP along with their families and if Pakistan wants to relocate will have to provide money then only the Taliban might move them to Northern Afghanistan. Concerning Wilayah, it is on paper only; if such is the scenario, Baloch separatists will not have any issues with any such development considering it is more propaganda and less substance.

Q) Due to the rise in TTP’s influence in Balochistan, do you suspect any conflict between TTP and Baloch Separatists?

A) You cannot predict the future for a conflict theatre like Pakistan which is competitive, fluid and ever-evolving, currently, I do not foresee any conflict but I cannot rule out one. Balochistan has a diverse ethnic population of both Baloch and Pashtoons, most of TTP’s activities and attacks are in Pashtoon areas and not in Baloch areas, so if they are not encroaching into the Baloch areas, I think Baloch separatists are not very uncomfortable with TTP being there. There have been no instances of any inter-group fighting between the Baloch separatists and TTP but we have to wait and see what happens.

Q) Recently, a new militant group has emerged in Balochistan, Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan (TJP). Do you think it is an offshoot of Daesh or TTP? And why do you think such a group has emerged in Balochistan?

A) TJP is a front group of TTP, there were rebel elements within TTP who were hitting soft targets without taking permission from TTP. Attacking soft targets is a violation of TTP’s code of conduct. TTP created this front group which has Pakistani and Afghan elements plus Al Qaeda chipping its fighters making it an umbrella group where multiple groups are coordinating or cooperating or pulling in fighters. If you look at the attack pattern of TJP, most of the attacks have been carried out between Balochistan’s Pashtoon belt and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and are either suicide attacks or commando-style attacks like 26/11 of Mumbai.

When TJP was carrying out these suicide attacks, TTP did not carry out any major suicide attacks which drives one to say that TTP outsources its suicide operations to TJP and second TJP attacks looked like typical ISKP. Both ISKP and TJP claimed the same attacks but there was no conflict of claims between TTP and TJP. Recently, friction emerged because of which a lot of speculations were clarified between TTP and TJP, an attack was claimed by TJP but later TTP’s commander who belongs to Jamat ul Ahrar blew the cover by saying they attacked as revenge for the killing of their commander – Umar Khalid Khurasani, who was killed in Afghanistan last year.

The commander questioned why TTP’s central shura was not claiming the attack and rather attributing it to TJP or allowing a group like TJP to claim it, so TTP fired that commander and acknowledged that TJP is a brother jihadi organization. So, when you call someone a brother that means there are links. This is the first time the claim has been made. I think TJP was created so that TTP could carry out high-profile attacks along with a plausible deniability option in case the Taliban pressurizes them to stand down, they can put it on TJP which seems a smart move. Also if Al Qaeda becomes active in Pakistan then the international community’s concerns will grow because it’s a transnational group and if Al Qaeda finds space in Pakistan; carrying out attacks will not be seen as Pakistan under attack because Al Qaeda will be rebuilding its cross-national linkages but if you package Al Qaeda as TJP, then it will be worrisome more for Pakistan and less from an international standpoint. Under the Doha agreement, the Taliban are under obligation to stop Al Qaeda and other groups from using Afghan soil for attacks in other countries and if Al Qaeda is using Afghanistan for attacks in Pakistan, it’s a violation of the Doha Agreement. So TJP was this nice arrangement to couch all these groups, deflect the Taliban’s pressure, maintain plausible deniability and still get away with the attacks.

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TTP’s Evolution: A Looming Challenge for Pakistan

If the group continues the same trajectory, by the end of 2024 it will not only match Taliban successes, evolve into a greater umbrella, but also overshadow Al Qaeda’s influence, making it potentially and operationally obsolete in the region, writes Anant Mishra

Even before Kabul fell in 2021, scholars argued that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was on the rise.  During that time, after years of power tussle and fragmentation within the leadership, the group reflected signs of possible elevation and organizational maturity. To some scholars’ surprise, it not only withstood against the potent threats posed by the Islamic State then, it developed its influence through local affiliation, strengthened support within the loyalists/hardliners, refrained from targeting local civilians through suicide attacks, roadside bombings, and retained a heightened momentum of attacks.

During the Taliban’s two-year reign, TTP not only restructured itself after the Kabul takeover, but also focussed on gaining more affiliates, influence local groups, reinforce within the ranks, growing in strength and potency to become the single largest Islamist affiliate with the capacity to challenge Pakistani military establishments. If the group continues the same trajectory, by the end of 2024 it will not only match Taliban successes, evolve into a greater umbrella, but also overshadow Al Qaeda’s influence, making it potentially and operationally obsolete in the region. Hypothesising greater successes over vast geography in the northern regions of Pakistan and considering continued growth of affiliate groups, it can be reasonably predicted that Taliban fighters from Afghanistan will relocate to the border regions of Pakistan, with TTP re-focussing locally with a strengthened centralised organizational architecture, and a significant escalation in violence, forfeiting any prospect of a peace deal with Islamabad.

Mapping Taliban’s influence

Soon after the Taliban entered Kabul, the TTP became the first Islamist militant affiliate to officially celebrate the Taliban’s takeover. The world witnessed a formal declaration by the emir Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, hailing Taliban’s return as the greatest victory to jihad. He then formally renewed his group’s allegiance to the Taliban emir Hibatullah Akhundzada, promising unconditional support. Considering TTP’s veterancy in combatting US and their allies for over two decades in Afghanistan, the emir pledged his group by supporting the Taliban in ensuring stability and strengthening Taliban’s influence in the region.

During Taliban’s two-year reign, the author witnessed large scale recruitment within the TTP in the initial year and steady injection of fighters in the early months of 2023. The large-scale recruitment can be attributed to the release of prisoners held by US & allied forces including senior TTP leadership such as the deputy emir Maulawi Bajauri and former spokesperson Mufti Khalid Bulti. Fallowing his release, deputy emir Bajauri held numerous rallies of TTP fighters in Paktika, Nangahar, Khost and in Kunar province, bordering with the Bajaur district in Pakistan, his native. During his address, he emphasised renewed struggle against the militant state Pakistan, urging his fighters to renew their jihad against the state. Hailing local support, he claimed that the group was nearer to achieve victory against the state. According to one source, his recruitment rallies continue to witness large influx of sympathisers, injecting fighters within the TTP ranks, especially those hailing from the southern regions of Afghanistan.

That said, unlike the first year, the second year of Taliban reign witnessed Rahbari Shura making critical note on Pakistan’s stance on Pashtunistan and skirmishes at the border, resulting in key leadership echoing Taliban affiliates to join TTP’s jihad against the Pakistani state. On several accounts, members echoed on their religious obligation to support the TTP with active members in the Shura hailing from tribes loyal to the group. This resulted in an influx of Taliban members reinforcing TTP ranks, especially the suicide squads, in the latter half of 2022 and early 2023. Many Taliban fighters (at the provincial levels) have declared individual jihad against the Pakistani forces, a trend which could further reinforce TTP ranks in the fall of 2023 and early 2024.

For TTP the war against the state of Pakistan is conducted on similar grounds made by Taliban against the US led-allies and the erstwhile Islamic Republic. Hence, the two years of Taliban reign has bolstered TTP’s jihad against the Pakistani state and strengthened it organizationally, which is reflected in its sustained operations in the region. The Taliban remains sympathetic with some members of the leadership council openly advocating (unconventional stance) to strengthen the TTP ranks. If Taliban continues to demonstrate its strength in Afghanistan, the group could recall its fighters (in Taliban ranks), retaining a complete focus on the border regions. This would result in TTP enjoying greater levels of ‘strategic depth’ in Pakistan, reinforced by Taliban.

Projecting TTP’s growth

Taking the note of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) performance under Taliban’s two-year reign, the author highlights TTP’s growth on three key factors:

Growing affiliates,

Centralising organizational architecture,

Focus on local objectives

Expanding influence through affiliates

The author witnessed TTP’s inclination to grow affiliates in early 2019, and by 2020 it had allegiance of at least three factions, but after the fall of Kabul, the process escalated enormously. In the initial year of the fall, TTP had over 23 affiliates, mostly local factions and hawala groups, with one faction (medium regional influence) seeking allegiance on the day of the fall. Since then, 11 factions joined the group in 2022, with 5 more factions taking allegiance in the first half of 2023. If TTP retains the rate of influence, 8 more factions operating independently but providing material support could potentially seek allegiance in the latter half of 2023 and early 2024.

In the first half of 2023, large influx of Pakistani militants under administrative control of Taliban, who took part in numerous insurgency operations, were ordered to join the TTP. This decision was taken in principle to the presence of Pakistani fighters, who had fulfilled their service in the fight against the US led allies, and according to one source, their experience could prove value to TTP rather than the Taliban, transitioning from insurgency to governance. This also pointed the Taliban’s inherent nature to view outsiders, even within their ranks. It is a point of argument, whether this nature is inherent with the Afghan sense of unity or insecurity emanating from disgruntled Taliban fighters joining ISKP ranks, with most holding Pakistani passports. Has the presence of foreign fighters made Taliban insensitive to their cause? The answer lies partially in Taliban’s response against those fighters holding Pakistani nationality, which according to one Taliban source, is a view that strengthens the narrative of Taliban being an ISI tool.

Furthermore, the deputy emir’s efforts to centralise TTP’s organizational architecture has renewed faith in the leadership, motivating local Pakistani militants to seek affiliation and execute a Taliban styled victory in Pakistan. By early 2024, Mehsud’s decision to centralise organizational architecture and modus operandi will bear fruits. By preventing any attacks against local civilians, TTP leadership have bolstered their presence as a just, true to its jihad Islamist group, an ideal for local sympathetic groups and hawala networks. This could pave the way for TTP to re-absorb factions that earlier broke away due to internal tussle and ambitions, demonstrating resilience.

With growing affiliates, TTP has bolstered its presence in two key ways: First, with greater affiliates TTP is no short supply of battle-hardened fighters within its rank, significantly impacting its fight against Pakistan. Key militant factions operating in Lakki Marwat, Lower Chitral, Khyber and Bannu districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces sought allegiances in January 2022. With majority Pakistani nationals within Taliban ranks hailing from the districts, TTP will expand its stronghold.

Second, the number of affiliates has provided strategic opportunity for TTP to expand in areas such as southern Balochistan or the tribal district of North Waziristan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. According to an expert, the allegiance by four Baloch militant groups in 2022, will support TTP in expanding its influence in the Baloch dominated areas of Balochistan province of Pakistan, in the latter half of 2023 or early 2024.

In 2024, the district of North Waziristan could become a point of contention between TTP and Hafiz Gul Bahadar (HGB). Although, North Waziristan was critical in the fight against US led allies in Afghanistan and continued to remain a contested land between ISI trained Islamist factions and those affiliated with Taliban. The TTP is still far away from enjoying an administrative dominance in the region. The region is a stronghold of Hafiz Gul Bahadar (HGB), a militant faction, which remains unchallenged for years. It received significant support from the Al-Qaeda and Haqqani Network, according to one source, is blessed by Sirajuddin Haqqani himself, making North Waziristan an uncontested HGB sanctuary. That said, it is yet to see if HGB will permit TTP from operating in region, especially when the region has witnessed more than nine militant factions seeking allegiance to the latter.

Centralised decision making

A key development that will contribute to TTP’s resurgence in the fall of 2023 and most of 2024, is it transitioning from an umbrella Islamist militant organization to a centralised organizational architecture, mirroring that of Taliban. TTP functioned on an umbrella architecture with local leadership exercising more power than the central command, which were heavily dependent on them even for the basic functions. Replacing them was getting difficult, especially powerful commanders.

The new organizational structure enables TTP leadership not only to appoint shadow governors but nominate/rotate key command units on critical appointments. The TTP began restructuring in 2022, and according to one source, may remain in transition till the fall of 2024. Referring to the new structure, the number of appointed individuals has increased, with the group formulating over seven known ministries (information and broadcasting, political affairs, defence, accountability, education, finance, and welfare), a dedicated intelligence directorate (based on General Directorate of Intelligence), suicide units have elevated to a dedicated brigade, a training centre, a court based on Islamic law, and a housing ministry which was formulated in the early 2023. The shadow provinces have also increased from six to nine with governors exercising similar powers bestowed to them by a dedicated shura, a provincial commander and a police chief.

According to one source, the leadership council functions in the similar as Taliban’s Rahbari Shura, which will consult with the Emir for all appointments, of all shadow provinces. The term minister will be referred to a member of the leadership council, who will be nominated by the Shura, in consultation with the Emir. Each minister will be assisted by a deputy; however, it remains unclear if the Emir is consulted over this appointment. Unlike Taliban’s Ministry of Interior (MoI) & Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), one of two largest ministries, TTP leadership gave special emphasis to the Ministry of Defence. It formulated two military commissions (North-zone and South-zone) by 2023, and by 2024 it may formulate two more. The military commission will be headed by a director, supported by a staff of six, reporting to a deputy, who will monitor vivid responsibilities of the commission.

It remains unclear whether the provincial shadow governor will supersede the military commission but, according to an expert, ministers have been given the power to appoint representatives at the provincial level on the recommendations of the director of concerned military commission, whose powers are expected to enhance as the organization restructures.

Renewed Focus: Pakistan

The nature of TTP has always been of a group rooted in local sentiments, engaged/affected, and even influenced by Pakistan’s tribal politics, with localised, territorial centric modus operandi. Yet, many argue over TTP’s extra-regional ambitions, pointing their decades of participation in insurgency against the US led allies, supporting jihadist movement elsewhere. Its history with Al-Qaeda also reminds us of the suicide bombing of a CIA base in Khost, one of many examples’ testimony to its global ambitions.

That said, under the leadership of Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, it is highly likely for TTP to undertake a transnational approach, especially when the emir admitted the same in a revised manifesto. After taking over the leadership in 2018, Mufti Mehsud drafted a memo with a new modus operandi of the group. The manifesto exclusively mentioned TTP to retain focus on local affiliates, making a commitment of focussing their fight against the Pakistani state.

TTP’s ability to retain its focus locally will depend on two key factors:

Al Qaeda’s declining influence in the region

Replicating Taliban’s success in Pakistan

One can hardly argue on the assistance provided by the Al-Qaeda to shape the future of TTP. Experts may deny Al Qaeda’s contribution in restructuring the group, but it remained vital until the group retained complete self-functional capability, in the first few years of establishment. Al-Qaeda not only exercised significant influence but from the appointment of emir to modus operandi was consulted with the Al Zawahiri for the first few years. In the initial years, the Al-Qaeda’s closely mentored and monitored group’s progress, sharing recruitment initiatives, and exchanging propaganda materials, while even financing few cross-border operations. However, with time, TTP outgrew but after the U.S. drone strike that killed AQ emir Ayman al- Zawahiri, TTP emerged from the shadows. Today, the influence of TTP is contested, with many scholars pointing towards the decline of Al Qaeda, as the principal reason for TTP to conduct recruitment uncontested. With AQ limited to train & assist, its operational capability is largely limited to advising Taliban or at best support TTP, losing its relevance as a jihadist/Islamist militant faction.

According to sources, TTP was closely monitoring the Doha accords, which could have been one of the reasons for the group to retain exclusive focus on localised issues. The Taliban’s victory at Doha (diplomatic) bolstered their commitment to focus on localised issues, enabling them to focus on local jihad and divert attention from cross border engagement to direct confrontation with Pakistani security establishments in Pakistan.

Taking the lessons from Taliban, the TTP leadership may focus on three key factors:

Engaging Pakistani security establishments (One State, One Enemy)

Bolster influence through affiliates,

Strict adherence to united cause (Ideologue synchronisation).

Learning from the Taliban’s two decades of insurgency, TTP may restructure its current modus operandi to:

Like Taliban, it may focus on local recruitment, expansion of local affiliates, prioritising Pakistani jihadists

Like Taliban, TTP may forfeit fighting along the border, across trans-national territories.

Like Taliban, TTP may focus its propaganda to the failures of Pakistani state as a net security provider. Its narrative may target economic and political instability in the state.

TTP may renew their campaign to target political elites and continue to blame civil and military leadership of corruption, resulting in severe economic crisis of the state accusing them of stealing from the people.

Unlike Taliban, TTP has not demonstrated any political agenda or proposed itself as an alternate to the federal government

It may demonstrate itself as the sole entity capable of bringing an ease to current political crisis in Pakistan, making claims of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan under the Taliban rule.

Looking at the Future

Taking a note of TTP’s trajectory, the emir Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, appears to replicate Taliban’s organizational structure and carry similar reforms undertaken by the slayed Taliban emir Mullah Mansour, to strengthen and bolster regionally. As discussed in the statements in detail, it can be predicted that the group to likely to limit its immediate objective within the state of Pakistan by early 2024. Replicating a Taliban model, TTP may hope to achieve Taliban styled victory in Pakistan.

(Anant Mishra specialises on Afghanistan, where he has served three combat deployments. He was adviser to key military and civilian leaders of the Ashraf Ghani government. Views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)

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UN report warns of TTP’s potential merger with Al Qaeda

The report, compiled by a UN committee that monitors terrorist activities across the globe, endorsed Pakistan’s complaint that the banned TTP has incre­ased its influence in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover

According to a report submitted to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), banned outfit Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakis­tan (TTP) might seek a merger with Al Qaeda to create an umbrella organisation that incorporates all militant groups operating in South Asia, reported Dawn.

“Some UN member states registered concern that TTP might provide an umbrella under which a range of foreign groups operate, or even coalesce, avoiding attempts at control by the Taliban,” the report said. The report, compiled by a UN committee that monitors terrorist activities across the globe, endorsed Pakistan’s complaint that the banned TTP has incre­ased its influence in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover, the Pakistan media outlet reported.

The report further warned, “One member state noted the possibility of Al Qaeda and TTP merging. It assessed Al Qaeda to be providing guidance to TTP for conducting increased attacks within Pakistan.”

However, Kabul rejected UNSC report claiming Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan. According to the document, training camps run by various terrorist groups in Afghanistan’s Kunar province are being used by fighters of the banned TTP as well.

“Since the reunification with several splinter groups, and emboldened by the Taliban take over in Afghanistan, TTP has aspired to re-establish control of territory in Pakistan.,” the report added.

The report further said that the TTP does not control territory. “TTP capability is assessed as not matching its ambition, given that it does not control territory and lacks popular appeal in the tribal areas,” the report said.

The UN committee reported that in June, certain elements of the banned TTP were relocated away from the border area, as part of the Taliban’s efforts to rein in the group under pressure from the government of Pakistan, reported Dawn.

Furthermore, the UN committee submitted its report to the Security Council on July 25, highlighting how the banned TTP was gaining momentum in Afghanistan since the Afghan Taliban took control in August 2021.

It also emphasized on how other terrorist groups were using the TTP cover to operate in the war-torn country., reported Dawn.

“The distinctions between members of Al Qaeda and affiliated groups, including TTP, and [IS-K] are at times blurred at the edges, with individuals sometimes identifying with more than one group and a tendency for people to gravitate towards the dominant or ascending power,” the report noted.

The report added, “There is growing reporting that other sanctioned terrorist groups are using support to TTP as a means to evade control by the Afghan Taliban.”

According to Dawn, the UN committee noted that relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaeda remains close and symbiotic. Mostly, Al Qaeda “operates covertly in Afghanistan to help promote the narrative that the Taliban comply with agreements not to use Afghan soil for terrorist purposes.”

Under the patronage of high-ranking officials of the de facto Taliban authorities, “Al Qaeda members infiltrate law enforcement agencies and public administration bodies, ensuring the security of Al Qaeda cells dispersed throughout the country”. (ANI)

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TTP’s safe haven in Afghanistan worries Pak military

The ISPR has voiced “serious concerns on the safe havens and liberty of action available to TTP [Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan] in Afghan­istan.”

The Pakistan military has deplored the convenience and freedom with which militants have been launching attacks in Pakistan from Afghanistan and has said it expects the Taliban to take action. It has also highlighted the involvement of Afghan nationals in “acts of terrorism” in Pakistan, Dawn reported.

The military’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), in a statement on Friday said, “Armed Forces of Pakistan have serious concerns on the safe havens and liberty of action available to TTP [Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan] in Afghan­istan.”

The statement comes two days after 12 soldiers lost their lives in militant attacks in Zhob and Sui districts of Balochistan.

“It is expected that Taliban would not allow the use of its soil to perpetrate terror against any country, in the real sense and in line with commitments made in Doha Agreement,” the ISPR said referring to the US-Taliban deal signed in the Qatari capital in 2020 to bring an end to the 2001-2021 war in Afghanistan.

The peace agreement ultimately led to the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in August 2021.

The ISPR’s statement came after Pakistan Chief of the Army Staff, General Asim Munir, on Friday visited Quetta Garrison where he was briefed on the attack on a military installation in Zhob cantonment, as per Dawn.

General Asim Munir Chief of Army Staff Pakistan

Nine soldiers were killed on Wednesday at the base which the militants stormed into armed with guns, hand grenades and rockets. The army said all five militants who stormed the base in the early hours were killed in retaliatory fire.

On the same day, militants also attacked security forces in Sui. Three soldiers were killed in the exchange of fire, whereas two militants were killed.

The combined deaths of 12 soldiers from attacks is the military’s highest single-day death toll from militant attacks reported this year.

The army chief also visited the soldiers injured in the attack at the Combined Military Hospital and appreciated their services and resolve. He also paid tribute to those killed, the military said. (ANI)

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Muttaqi advices Pakistan, TTP to sit for dialogue

The Taliban-led administration’s representative is currently on a four-day visit to Pakistan to attend bilateral and trilateral dialogues….reports Asian Lite News

Afghanistan’s acting Foreign Minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi on Monday asked Pakistan and the banned militant outfit Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to sit together for dialogue, media reports said.

“It is requested that Pakistan and TTP sit together for dialogue,” the Afghan minister said while addressing an event in Islamabad, The News reported.

The Taliban-led administration’s representative is currently on a four-day visit to Pakistan to attend bilateral and trilateral dialogues.

Muttaqi said the security situation in the region was discussed during his Islamabad visit.

Islamabad had held several rounds of talks — brokered by Kabul — with the outlawed TTP but the negotiations failed last year after which the militant group started terror activities.

Acknowledging Pakistan’s loss while fighting against terrorism, he said: “In the last 20 years, Pakistan has lost 80,000 lives to terrorism.”

Meanwhile, the minister also spoke about Afghanistan successfully achieving peace after 44 years, The News reported.

He added that the challenges faced by neighbouring countries Pakistan and Afghanistan are not different from one another. The minister said both countries have been through various situations and will now work together.

“Pakistan and Afghanistan will have to show flexibility and move towards a brighter future,” Muttaqi said.

Expressing Afghanistan’s interest in maintaining economic ties with Pakistan, the minister stated: “Pakistan has always been our focus. There has been interest in economic ties with the country since the beginning.”

The Afghan minister said that trade between the two nations continued despite political differences and hoped to continue economic relations in the future, The News reported.

Commenting on the significance of trade routes between the two countries, Muttaqi said: “Closure of trade routes eliminates several employment opportunities for ordinary citizens.”

Muttaqi suggested that bilateral progress can increase by 10 times with Pakistan’s investment in Afghanistan’s energy reserves, The News reported.

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TTP still using Afghan soil against Pakistan: Pak Minister

Pakistan Defence Minister alleged that the Afghan authorities have not succeeded in stopping the use of their territory for launching attacks on Pakistan.”…reports Asian Lite News

Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has said that the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is still using Afghan soil to launch attacks against Pakistan, especially in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), media reports said.

In an interview with US broadcaster ‘Voice of America’, Asif said: “Islamabad has good relations with the ruling Taliban government in Kabul. However, the Afghan authorities have not succeeded in stopping the use of their territory for launching attacks on Pakistan.”

The minister said the matter had been brought up and discussed last month during a meeting between a high-ranking delegation, including Asif and ISI DG Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum, and the Afghan officials, The Express Tribune reported.

“During the meeting, the Taliban expressed their determination to deal with this problem,” Asif said.

The Afghan authorities said that they would not allow their land to be used for terrorism against any country, the Defence Minister added.

Asif said that he believed the Afghan Taliban were “distancing” themselves from the proscribed outfit, however, due to the fact that they fought against NATO together in the past, certain “camaraderie” existed between the two sides, The Express Tribune reported.

During the interview, Asif also alleged that resettlement of TTP leaders in Pakistan was done through a “programme”.

“(PTI Chairman and former PM) Imran Khan has been signalling throughout his political career that he is ideologically supportive of the Taliban. At various points, the international media has even referred to him as ‘Taliban Khan’,” Asif said.

The minister highlighted that the people of the tribal areas and K-P are not ready to “co-exist” with the Taliban, saying: “It is noteworthy that people are protesting unarmed against the return of the Taliban,” The Express Tribune reported.

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West recognise TTP as major threat

This was the first time a Western bloc specifically referred to TTP as a security danger, something Pakistan would have appreciated…reports Asian Lite News

In a significant development, the United States and its main Western allies have recognised the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as a serious threat to both their own security and that of Pakistan, reported The Express Tribune.

Several Western countries supported Islamabad’s assertion that the outlawed terrorist organisation was conducting operations from Afghanistan during a meeting of what appears to be a newly established group on Afghanistan last month in Paris. To discuss the Afghan situation, a meeting of special envoys and representatives for Afghanistan from Australia, Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States took place in Paris on February 20.

A report published in The Express Tribune read, the meeting was kept secret for more than two weeks before the US State Department on Tuesday released a joint statement that expressed deep concerns about the actions of terrorist organisations, particularly the TTP, in Afghanistan.

The fact that the meeting took place on the eve of the first anniversary of the start of the war in Ukraine revealed that, despite the West’s possible preoccupation with the fight in their own backyard, Afghanistan had not been forgotten.

The significant thing that the joint statement highlights was the fact that the US and its Western allies expressed serious worries about the growing threat posed by terrorist organisations in Afghanistan, including the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP), Al Qaeda, TTP, and others.

The joint statement made a significant point by stating that these organisations, including TTP, “seriously harm security and stability inside the country, in the region, and beyond,” and it urged the Taliban to maintain Afghanistan’s duty to deny these organisations safe refuge.

This was the first time a Western bloc specifically referred to TTP as a security danger, something Pakistan would have appreciated. These strong Western nations, which made up the backbone of the American alliance following the 9/11 attacks, showed a resurgence of interest, indicating that they were growing more concerned about the situation in Afghanistan.

This was also reflected in their joint statement, which expressed “grave concern” over the growing threat to Afghanistan’s security and stability as well as the worsening of the humanitarian and economic situations, with more than 28 million Afghans now in need of aid, more than half of whom were women and children, and six million only a few steps away from famine.

They emphasised their worry over the Taliban’s escalating deterioration and numerous breaches of Afghans’ fundamental rights and freedoms since August 2021, particularly those of women and girls, members of racial and religious minorities, and other disadvantaged groups.

They fiercely denounced the Taliban’s decisions to prohibit Afghan women from attending universities and working for Non-Governmental Organisations (NOGs) in December 2022.

They emphasised that these actions violate and endanger not just the rights and freedoms of Afghan women, but also the country’s overall, urgently needed social and economic development, which would suffer significantly if half the population was prevented from actively participating.

According to The Express Tribune, they stressed that if restricted by discriminatory rules or practises, humanitarian assistance could not be provided equitably or effectively. They demanded that these unjustified restrictions be immediately lifted because they made it impossible for the most vulnerable Afghans to receive humanitarian aid.

They emphasised that the Taliban’s key concerns should be the country’s recovery, an improvement in the economic situation, and meeting the needs of the Afghan people while also recalling the Taliban’s role for the deterioration of the economic and humanitarian situation.

They emphasised the need for an authentic and broad national discourse that would result in a constitutional order with a representative and inclusive political system in order to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan.

They declared that members of the international community should maintain and strengthen their coordination in light of upcoming developments in Afghanistan and with the interest of the Afghan people in mind, and that the situation and developments in Afghanistan should be continuously monitored with the utmost vigilance.

The special envoys and representatives decided to get together once again soon, The Express Tribune reported. (ANI)

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TTP relocation comes at a price for Pakistan

Pakistan has yet to respond to the Afghan Taliban’s proposal to bear the expense of relocation, citing concerns that it will fail. Nonetheless, it was for the first time that the Afghan Taliban proposed disarming the TTP….reports Asian Lite News

In a first, the Taliban government in Afghanistan, has sought the financially-suffering Pakistan to bear the expense of disarming and rehabilitating the banned outfit Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) members and their families from Pak-Afghan border areas.

Finally, the cat is out of the bag: Afghanistan has asked a financially depleted and bankrupt Pakistan for assistance in relocating Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) members within Afghanistan. The Express Tribune reported that the Afghan Taliban have expressed their willingness to disarm the TTP and relocate members of the organisation from the Pakistan-Afghan border if Pakistan bears the cost of the proposed plan.

This was recently revealed at a meeting of Pakistan’s Central Apex Committee, held on February 24, to discuss the recent surge in terrorist attacks in the country as well as other security issues. The issue of the banned TTP and its safe havens across the border was one of the main topics on the agenda.

A report published in Afghan Diaspora Network read, the proposal calls for the TTP fighters to be disarmed and relocated from the Pakistan-Afghan border areas. The Apex Committee was informed that the ‘interim’ government in Afghanistan had proposed a plan to control the TTP. The Afghan Taliban government, on the other hand, has asked Pakistan to fund the proposal and bear the entire cost of TTP rehabilitation. The Afghan Taliban had made a similar proposal to China to address China’s concerns about the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, according to the Apex meeting.

However, Pakistan has yet to respond to the Afghan Taliban’s proposal, citing concerns that it will fail. Nonetheless, it was for the first time that the Afghan Taliban proposed disarming the TTP.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif presided over the meeting, which was attended by the chief ministers of the four provinces and Gilgit-Baltistan, the AJK PM, senior cabinet ministers, the Army Chief, DG ISI, and other officials.

The immediate context for this meeting was a delegation led by Defence Minister Khawaja Asif’s visit to Kabul on February 22, 2023 to share “irrefutable evidence” with the Afghan Taliban about the presence of TTP in the neighbouring country. A Pakistan Foreign Ministry press release states, “Matters relating to the growing threat of terrorism in the region, particularly by TTP and ISKP came under discussion. The two sides agreed to collaborate to effectively address the threat of terrorism posed by various entities and organisations”.

The purpose of the visit was to send a clear message to the Afghan Taliban that Pakistan would no longer seek talks with the TTP because the group had used previous peace efforts to regroup and target Pakistan.

Setback to Pakistan as fresh violence breaks out along the Afghan border(IN)

Some estimates place the number of TTP fighters in Afghanistan between 8,000 and 12,000, with the figure rising to 30,000 when family members are included. The Afghan Taliban reportedly suggested relocating the TTP at Pakistani expense during Defence Minister Khawaja Asif’s recent visit to Kabul. The Pakistani delegation also included Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum, DG, ISI.

Sensing a hardening of the Pakistani position, the Afghan Taliban proposed a new plan that included disarming the TTP and relocating their members from border areas within Afghanistan. Meanwhile, a statement issued by the PM Office said the Apex Meeting agreed that “the elimination of terrorism, economic recovery and political stability are interlinked”. “Pakistan cannot afford internal insecurity. The need for national unity, unity, and collective struggle is urgent. To achieve these objectives, a national consensus must be formed, and obstacles must be removed,” according to the statement.

In other words, Pakistan is ironically concerned about recent terrorist incidents in Peshawar and Karachi, as well as other attacks that indicate an intensification of the TTP’s campaign against the Pakistani state.

Terrorist incidents, particularly those at the Peshawar Police Lines Mosque on January 30, 2023 and the Karachi Police Office on February 19, 2023, as well as the subsequent situation, were thoroughly reviewed at the Apex Committee meeting.

Representatives from various institutions briefed participants on the overall security situation and anti-terrorist operations. Previously, Pakistan used the same actors under different names such as JeM and LeT to carry out attacks in J&K and the rest of India. These developments occur at a time when Prime Minister Sharif has stated that the government must “unwillingly” accept the strict terms of a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to provide a lifeline to an economy in distress, Afghan Diaspora Network reported.

“We have to accept the strict conditions of the IMF deal unwillingly,” he said, adding that an agreement was still a “week, 10 days” away. Pakistan’s dire economic situation has resulted in repeated requests to the IMF and other lenders to help it cope with low foreign exchange reserves and some sectors of the economy grinding to a halt. Pakistan has been negotiating with the IMF since early February 2022, with the goal of signing a staff-level agreement that will pave the way for additional inflows from bilateral and multilateral lenders. Once the agreement is signed, the IMF will begin disbursing funds from the $6.5 billion bailout agreed to in 2019.

The Pakistani Prime Minister also stated unequivocally that the release of the next tranche would not end the country’s economic woes. He then mentioned a much-needed loan from a friendly country, without naming China, and provided US$700 million to cash-strapped Pakistan without waiting for the IMF programme to be revived.

The Afghan Taliban requesting money from Pakistan to re-locate the TTP within Afghanistan is sweet vengeance for Afghanistan. They will not only bake the cake, but they will also eat it. If this occurs, TTP cadres may join the Afghanistan Taliban, bolstering its forces.

After telling Pakistan that the TTP was making the same demands as previous Kabul governments and that it would not help disarm the TTP, it has now found a way to squeeze Pakistan. Islamabad is unmistakably trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea. Pakistan, having burned their fingers in previous negotiations with the TTP, is now at a crossroads in their very existence. Will China also assist Pakistan in overcoming its difficulties?

Around 400 soldiers, cops killed in 10 years

As terrorism spreads its tentacles from Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas into the country’s Punjab heartland and other provinces, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has reportedly killed close to 400 soldiers, policemen and para-military Rangers in last 10 years.

These statistics only apply to high-security locations like military and law enforcement facilities, they do not apply to other public areas. The number of injured civilians is significantly higher. Mosques, churches, and other houses of worship are not taken into consideration, including those used by Ahmadiyas, a minority of Muslims in Pakistan who have been classified as non-Muslims by the Constitution. The 174 people killed – mostly children – in the TTP attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2016, are not taken into account in a ten-year timeline of 2013-2023 published by Dawn newspaper.

According to the report in Times of Israel, there is no chronology given for Pakistan’s official assertion that 84,000 people have died as a result of terrorism. Although there are many more, the TTP is the biggest of the terror organisations. According to security specialists, the majority of terrorist organisations are linked to Al Qaida or the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP).

Pakistan delegation in Kabul to mend fences over TTP and border flare-ups.(photo:IN)

The ten-year timeline of 2013-2023, does not include homicides committed by more established Sunni extremists organisations, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba, and many more, who have operated under several names and frequently changed them after being outlawed, Times of Israel said.

Right-wing mainstream political parties, according to political analysts, keep contact with terrorist organisations and use their cadres, particularly during election seasons.

Of the major politicians, while others have been subtle, former Prime Minister Imran Khan has been a vocal votary of holding a dialogue with the militants. Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf had dubbed him “Taliban Khan.” But Musharraf was also accused of using the TTP. Two different probes indicated his role in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the Times of Israel reported.

Musharraf’s decision to authorise a siege of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, which resulted in the deaths of 100 people–mostly female madrassah students–is credited with giving rise to the TTP. It spread widely and forged connections with the Afghan Taliban, the report said.

Because the government refused to abide by its requirements, the TTP unilaterally ended the truce in December 2021 and once more in November 2022. It sought the cancellation of the merger of the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

The publication of the TTP-terror-timeline comes amid a controversy over who should be held accountable for successive Pakistani regimes’ “soft” handling of security experts, the UN, and Western nations. Islamabad claims, rather legitimately, that the Taliban leaders in Kabul are sheltering the TTP and housing thousands of insurgent families. Kabul refutes this.

TTP would be “rehabilitated” in the tribal area, according to Imran Khan. He has stated that he had the option of either “killing” 30,000 to 40,000 people, including women and children, or allowing them to live in peace.

He now claims that the Taliban wants to return to their native country, General Qamar Jawed Bajwa, the former head of the army with whom he had a falling out last year. In the most recent development, retired Lt Gen. Faiz Hamid, the former head of the ISI, has been accused of pressing this action by Khan’s PTI party and a minister for the current prime minister Shehbaz Sharif. A gap developed between Khan and Bajwa as a result of Hamid’s management of the Afghan Taliban and the TTP. When Bajwa became “neutral,” Khan lost control. As a result, the TTP is now at the centre of the ongoing brawl between the army and parliamentarians as well as between political parties.

A report in Dawn read that it has come to pass that the prediction that the “TTP juggernaut” would leave the tribal regions and “spread devastation in the rest of the country” was accurate.

Despite the circumstances, the state needs to act immediately before other such assaults happen, it emphasises, noting that “during the last few decades, important Al Qaeda operatives have been seized from the metropolis.”

It asks “the squabbling politicians who rule in our name, as well as the security establishment” that continues reminding us that “everything is OK”,” to “understand the true situation” and calls for a swift reaction to TTP. As a result of this inaction, terrorism is on the rise in Pakistan and Afghanistan, undermining democracy and raising security concerns for the entire region, Times of Israel reported. (ANI)

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Taliban set condition for disarming TTP

The Taliban-led Afghan government asked Pakistan to fund the proposal and bear the cost of rehabilitation of the TTP

The Afghan Taliban have expressed their willingness to disarm the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terror group and relocate its members from the countries’ border but with a condition that Islamabad will bear the cost of the proposed plan.

This was revealed at the meeting of the Central Apex Committee which met on Friday to discuss the recent surge in terrorist attacks in the country and other security matters, The Express Tribune reported.

The meeting was presided over by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and attended by Chief Ministers, senior cabinet ministers, the army chief, DG ISI and other relevant officials.

Sources familiar with the meeting told The Express Tribune that the issue of banned TTP and its sanctuaries across the border was one of the main issues on the agenda.

A high-powered delegation led by Defence Minister Khawaja Asif visited Kabul this week to share “irrefutable evidence” with the Afghan Taliban about the presence of TTP in the neighbouring country.

Pakistan delegation in Kabul to mend fences over TTP and border flare-ups.(photo:IN)

The sources said the apex committee was informed that the Afghan interim government proposed a plan to control the banned outfit. The proposal envisages disarming the TTP fighters and their relocation from the countries’ border areas.

However, the Afghan government asked Pakistan to fund the proposal and bear the cost of rehabilitation of the TTP, The Express Tribune reported.

The meeting was informed that the Afghan Taliban made a similar proposal to China to address its concerns on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

However, Pakistan has yet to respond to the Afghan Taliban’s idea as there is scepticism that it might not work.

Nevertheless, it was for the first time that the Afghan Taliban came up with the idea to disarm the TTP.

Earlier, the interim Afghan government encouraged Pakistan to negotiate a peace deal with the TTP, something that backfired.

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‘Ex-army generals proposed to bring TTP back to Pakistan’

Pakistan Muslim League (N) leader and Minister Pirzada said that the former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) director general retired Lt Gen Faiz Hameed wanted to bring TTP members back to the country….reports Asian Lite News

Pakistan Human Rights Minister Riaz Hussain Pirzada on Sunday countered PTI leader Shireen Mazari’s claim that ex-army chief retired Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa wanted to “resettle” the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) members in the country, saying ex-army generals were in favour of bringing TTP back to country, Pakistan based Dawn newspaper reported.

Pakistan Muslim League (N) leader and Minister Pirzada said that the former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) director general retired Lt Gen Faiz Hameed wanted to bring TTP members back to the country. According to Dawn, the minister’s statement came a day after PTI leader Shireen Mazari claimed that ex-army chief retired Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa wanted to “resettle” the TTP members in the country.

Pirzada while talking to Nadir Guramani on Dawn NewsTV, claimed that an in-camera briefing was held in which army generals had proposed to bring TTP back to Pakistan. “However, (Foreign Minister) Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and (Prime Minister) Shehbaz Sharif talked on it … they said that a number of popular leaders were killed by TTP, including Benazir Bhutto sahiba,” he said.

The minister, in response to a question on who made this proposition, said that: “At that time, General Faiz had suggested that they [TTP] should be brought into the mainstream but it backfired.”

Pirzada’s predecessor, PTI leader Mazari had on Saturday rejected the perception that the resettlement was the idea of former prime minister Imran Khan, according to Dawn.

PTI chief Imran Khan recently blamed the negligence of Pakistan’s security forces and intelligence agencies for the rising incidents of terrorism in the country, Pakistan-based Dawn newspaper reported.

Khan, in an interview with Voice of America (VOA), spoke about the criticism received by the PTI for its decision to negotiate with the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) before the party was ousted.

To a question from VOA correspondent Sarah Zaman asked on whether he stands by his decision to greenlight the dialogue with the TTP, Khan was quoted in the Dawn report as saying,

“Well, firstly, what were the choices [the] Pakistani government faced once the Taliban took over and they decided the TTP, and we’re talking about 30, [30,000] to 40,000 people, you know, the families included, once they decided to send them back to Pakistan? Should we have just lined them up and shot them, or should we have tried to work with them to resettle them.”

TTP announces shadow government as fighting with Pakistan intensifies(IN)

Khan said his government had a meeting at that time and the idea behind it was resettlement with the “concurrence of politicians all along the border”.

“But that never happened because our government left and once our government was removed, the new government took its eye off the ball,” he said.

“But then where were the Pakistani security forces? Where were the intelligence agencies? Could they not see them regrouping?” the former PM asked.

“How could we be held responsible for their negligence?” the PTI chief asked. (ANI)

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