TTP’s ideology will be difficult to defeat The Statesman 17 Jan 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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TTP’s ideology will be difficult to defeat The Statesman 17 Jan 2023

          Shamil Shams writes in an article in The Dawn in 2016, titled ‘Before and After Zia-ul Haq’, ‘Pakistani decision makers have found religious extremists a natural choice for alliance/usage as tools of foreign policy.’ He justifies his statement by stating, ‘the centrist, post-colonial state dominated by the military has always considered secular, nationalist and democratic forces a challenge to its hold on power.’ In Oct 2021, Imran Khan went a stage further and created the Rehmatul-Lil-Aalamin Authority- a council of mullahs and religious clerics to save the people of Pakistan from the western culture. Hypocrisy from Imran. For Pak rulers, post Zia, extolling religion was a means of gaining domestic support. 

          The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban in Aug 2021 termed by Imran as ‘breaking free of the shackles of slavery,’ marked a new chapter in the history of Pakistan. Pakistan supported the Taliban mainly because Kabul was presumed to be pro-Delhi, a repeat of Zulfikar Bhutto supporting Afghan fundamentalists because the then Afghan President Daud was Delhi leaning. The arrival of the Taliban in Kabul was expected to be the end-all of all Pakistan’s problems emanating from across the border. It signalled the termination of Indian influence as also support for continue terrorism in Kashmir. However, it turned out to be Pakistan’s biggest strategic blunder.

          With the US deployed in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s current nemesis, the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan), was kept under check being targeted by US drones, its members jailed by the Kabul leadership as also eliminated in encounters. Pakistan had India to blame for supporting terrorist groups operating from Afghan soil, thereby hiding its failures. It could fool its public with hope that when the Taliban came to power all would be well. Finally, Pakistan could achieve what it had always believed, Afghanistan as its strategic depth. Alas! It was not to be.    

          The current Kabul dispensation insults Pak by displaying the 1971 surrender photograph, challenging it to launch operations across the Durand Line with similar consequences, releases TTP prisoners from Afghan jails as also provides them sanctuary and support. The Taliban gaining Afghanistan emboldened other terrorist groups including the Islamic State and Baloch freedom fighters as there was none to target them from the air. It has also given hope to hard-line religious elements within Pak to reshape the country into a fundamentalist Islamic state. Despite all threats by Pakistan, the Kabul leadership refuses to act against the TTP.

As per the Dawn, in the past one year over 400 have been killed and 700 injured in 262 terrorist attacks on its soil, an increase of 27%. Majority of the attacks were by the TTP and the Baloch. What hurts Pak more is that the Chinese, employed in multiple projects, as part of the CPEC are also being targeted, forcing China to go slow, apart from demanding additional security, adding to Pakistan’s exchequer.   

          Converting Pakistan into a Sharia state, one of the TTP’s demands, also has support from Pakistan’s masses, who have been largely Islamized, as also its hard-line clerics. Basically the TTP is pushing what the Afghan Taliban have always supported and Pak clerics dreamt of. It seeks to delegitimize the Durand line which separates Pashtuns on both sides and convert Pakistan, starting with the erstwhile FATA, into an Afghan model Sharia state. The Taliban have never recognized the Durand Line and have objected to Pakistan’s fencing of it.

The Pak army is compelled to battle the TTP while subduing the Pashtuns, protesting and demanding an end to violence. Many amongst the security forces may even be backing the TTP in its demands as Islamization is inbred in the Pak army.

Such is the confidence of the TTP that its leader Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, sent a video message to Pakistan’s clerics mentioning, ‘If you find any problem in the jihad that we are waging, if you believe we have changed our direction, that we have gone astray, then you’re requested to guide us.’ To display its ability of taming the Pak army, the Taliban announced its own government for the regions it will soon take over.     

At the same time the TTP claimed it was open to talks with the Pakistan government. Pakistan is aware that the TTP will stick to its demands, which can never be conceded to. Simultaneously, they cannot bank on support from Kabul as the TTP is their closest ally and seeking what the Taliban have always desired. Talks thus are unlikely to achieve anything except giving the TTP space to expand their network deeper into the country as also regroup. Attacking their bases in Afghanistan will enlarge the conflict drawing the ire of Kabul. A desperate Pak spokesperson termed as ‘rubbish’ claims that Pak air force had targeted TTP bases across the Durand Line.  

An option open to Pak is to reconcile with the PTM (Pashtun Tahafuz Movement), a non-violent large-scale movement seeking an end to violence in the erstwhile Pashtun dominated Waziristan, part of the erstwhile FATA, and strongly against the violent tactics of the TTP. However, by suppressing them and prisoning their elected leaders, Pak security forces have only enhanced local anger. It cannot backtrack now.

Pakistan failed to learn from India that unless it engages the local population, follows a policy of winning hearts and minds, terrorism can never be brought under control. It has taken India decades to change the scenario in Kashmir, something Pak may find difficult to do along its western borders. Finally, Pakistan is repeating what India always claimed, there are ‘no good or bad terrorists.’  

With support continuing from clerics of an Islamised society as also security force elements, it is unlikely that the Pak army will be able to convincingly defeat the TTP. It may subdue the TTP, but their ideology will remain intact. The TTP demands are what majority in Pakistan desire. Their ideology will remain a source of problem for Pak. With passage of time the TTP may become more acceptable in regions under its control than the Pak army. The army angering its local populace by suppressing them is only making peace impossible.