Since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in August 2021, the authorities in neighboring Pakistan have warned of a strengthening of the terrorist organization Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The TTP, while sharing the name with and affiliated with the Afghan terror organization, operates independently. Islamist violence in Pakistan increased in 2022. In November, the TTP canceled an uneasy ceasefire with the government in Islamabad and ordered its fighters to carry out attacks “wherever you can across the country”.
According to “Pakistan Security Report 2022”, released by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) in early January, terrorist attacks in Pakistan increased by 27 percent in 2022 compared to the previous year. According to the report, 86 of the 262 attacks last year were carried out by the TTP.
The latest attack happened on Monday at a mosque in Peshawar. It is one of the bloodiest attacks in Pakistan in years. The TTP’s most brutal attack to date was directed against a school in Peshawar in 2014: 149 people, including 132 children, were killed.
About 100 people were killed in the recent suicide bombing at the mosque in Peshawar. More than 300 believers are said to have stayed in the mosque at the time of the explosion. Most of them were police officers who had gathered there for evening prayers because the mosque is in a high-security zone.
Who are the Pakistani Taliban (TTP)?
A local Taliban commander, who belongs to the TTP’s Jamat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) splinter group, claimed responsibility for the attack. The attack was in revenge for the death of TTP founding member Omar Khalid Khorasani, who was killed in neighboring Afghanistan in the summer of 2022.
However, a TTP spokesman later denied that the group was responsible, claiming that “any action in mosques” violated their “laws”. So the TTP core tries to distance itself from the attack.
But Jamat-ul-Ahrar is a large and powerful faction of the TTP that has been involved in numerous attacks against Pakistani forces and religious minorities. One of the main demands of the TPP is that the Pakistani government and military should reduce their presence in the northwest of the country. The TTP frequently carries out attacks in the region, which the government already has only patchy control over.
The TTP is made up of several militant Sunni groups that have been waging a murderous campaign against the Pakistani state since 2007. Although the Islamists are not directly linked to the Afghan Taliban, they are committed to their goals.
The Pakistani government banned the organization responsible for numerous attacks across the country in 2008. The United Nations and the USA have also declared the TTP a terrorist organization.
Failed policy of appeasement?
Even during the supposed ceasefire declared in June 2022 and lifted in November, the TTP continued to carry out attacks. Experts blame the Islamabad government’s soft policy towards the TTP and the invitation to peace talks to contribute to the extremists’ increasing violence.
“We need a comprehensive operation to curb militancy in Pakistan instead of pursuing soft policies,” a former MP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province told DW. The government should not negotiate with terrorists. Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also recently condemned the appeasement policy of the previous government under Prime Minister Imran Khan towards extremist groups on the Arabic channel Al Jazeera.
“The threat to Pakistan from the TTP is significant and growing,” said Madiha Afzal, a researcher at the Brookings Institute specializing in Pakistan. “Pakistan has made many attempts to negotiate with the group over the years. But the negotiations always failed because the group rejects the Pakistani state and its constitution,” she adds.
“The state’s only option,” Afzal told DW, was “to carry out a comprehensive military operation like in 2014.” However, this is currently difficult because the TTP could cross the border into Afghanistan, which is ruled by the Taliban.
shelter in Afghanistan
Most of the TPP leadership operates out of Afghanistan, which shares a porous 1600-mile border with Pakistan. After the US military pulled out of Afghanistan in August 2021, the extremists found shelter with Taliban allies in Kabul.
The tense security situation in Pakistan is being exacerbated by a long-lasting economic crisis. “This attack comes at a time when the economy is on the brink,” said Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 2015 to 2019.
Adaptation from English: Ines Eisele