Pakistan has seen a dramatic surge in terror attacks over the past year, especially since the Islamist militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) ended a months-long cease-fire with the Pakistani government. The attacks, many of them carried out by the TTP, have targeted not only the South Asian nation’s military, police, and intelligence services but also polio workers and other civilians. The TTP, commonly known as the Pakistani Taliban, is an umbrella group of militants that is a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in neighboring Afghanistan in August 2021 as US and NATO troops were in the final stages of their pullout from the country after 20 years of war.
Many TTP leaders and fighters have found sanctuary and have been living openly in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover, which has emboldened the TTP. Pakistani authorities have slammed the outfit for launching attacks in the country from Afghan soil and vowed to take tough action. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan recently sought to assure the nation that security forces were countering the TTP, while efforts were also underway to bring the militant group to the negotiating table. He said the Pakistani Taliban would first have to lay down their arms. The leadership in Kabul has described Islamabad’s statements that blame the Afghan Taliban as “provocative.”
Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is regarded as a staunch supporter of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, warned Islamabad against provoking Kabul.
“If we cannot continue good relations with Afghanistan, the new War on Terror will become a curse for us,” he said addressing a seminar on Tuesday. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) political party says Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government wants to use TTP as an excuse to allow US drone strikes in Afghanistan. “They might say that since the Afghan Taliban failed to prevent TTP attacks in Pakistan, America should carry out drone attacks against the TTP inside Afghanistan,” Jamshed Iqbal Cheema, a former adviser to Khan, told DW.
The United States, meanwhile, added TTP and its al-Qaeda branch to its list of “global terrorists,” triggering sanctions against the groups. The State Department said in a statement in December that Washington is “committed to using its full set of counter-terrorism tools” to counter the threat posed by these groups and to keep militants from using Afghanistan as “a platform for international terrorism.”
The United States also named leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) as global terrorists: Osama Mehmood, head of the al-Qaeda branch, Atif Yahya Ghouri, the deputy chief of al-Qaeda’s branch, and Muhammad Maruf, who is responsible for recruitment. It also designated TTP’s leader, Qari Amjad, who oversees militant attacks in northwest Pakistan.
Sami Yousufzai, an expert on Afghan and Pakistani Taliban affairs, believes that the US is concerned over the rise of TTP attacks in Pakistan. “The TTP has very close ties with al-Qaeda,” he said, adding that its rise “could encourage other terror groups, which could pose a serious challenge to US security.” Noor Fatima, an Islamabad-based analyst, believes this convergence of security interests could bring Pakistan and the US together to fight off the Taliban.
“Pakistan should ignore the possible protests of religious parties because targeting TTP militants is in the interests of the countries. If Islamabad has to join forces with the US for this, it should not hesitate.”