South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Rolling Back the TTP Menace
Momin Iftikhar

As if the brazen, pitiless and acknowledged carnage of the Shias in Quetta, Karachi in the beginning of this year was not an apt enough reminder of the diabolic shadow of Tehrik e Taleban (TTP) looming large over Pakistan’s polity, the ongoing operation by Pakistan Army in Tirah Valley serves to poignantly underscore the excruciating price it is extracting from the state and people of Pakistan. The remote valley in the Khyber Agency straddles routes to Orakzai and Kurram Agency and its difficult terrain that lends itself to guerrilla tactics presents extreme difficulties for operations directed to flush out hardened terrorists who have taken refuge in its expanse to evade Pakistan Army’s operations in the adjoining areas.

The intensity of the operations can be gauged from the fact that even as well over hundred terrorists have been eliminated in the opening phase of the ongoing operations , twenty three Khakis have laid down their lives to prevail over the fanatically indoctrinated , well entrenched terrorists. Pakistan Army’s unflinching sense of sacrifice and duty, manifested by a high number of shahadats of its officers and jawans explains the love and respect of the masses it commands. Even as the national attention is entirely riveted over the issues related to the forthcoming elections, Army is yet again, silently and steadfastly demonstrating its iron-clad resolve to defeat the insidious threats that confront the Nations at a most critical juncture of its history. The size and scale of the military operations on Tirah amply serve to justify as to why the internal dimension tops the threats that endanger the national security; bringing into focus the menace of the TTP factor which has to be defeated and uprooted if the Nation has to find any long term respite from the scourge of terrorism.
There was no TTP in existence in Pakistan when the Daisy Cutters began to rain down on Tora Bora mountains in a desperate and no holds barred US bid to eliminate Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda leadership in the winters of 2001. There were of course Afghan Taleban sympathizers in the FATA Region, who with passage of time and with the expanding zone of operations of US troops in Afghanistan , began to coalesce and network together. As the Pakistan Army began to operate in the lawless region during the period 2002-04, to hunt down foreign terrorists who had escaped from Afghanistan and based themselves most noticeably in North and South Waziristan, the TTP menace got organized and took shape. With 5000 terrorists of all hues on its rolls, and Baitullah Mehsud at its head, the organization assumed a distinct form in 2007, assuming an identity separate from the that of Afghan Taleban under Mullah Omer. While the Taleban were fighting the US presence in Afghanistan, the TTP turned its guns on the state of Pakistan. When Baitullah Mahsud was killed in a drone strike in August 2009, his cousin and deputy, Hakimullah Mehsud took over the reins and his vicious nature injected further venom into the operations of the TTP.
Within a short span of its existence TTP emerged as a serious internal security threat for Pakistan. Attacks on the security forces operating in FATA Region increased and suicide bombings (56 in 2007) and targeted killings - phenomenon with little if any history in Pakistan – became rampant; extracting a bloody toll on the country. In one of its most gruesome attacks, the group assassinated Benazir Bhutto on 27th Dec 2007. The bigotry and wretchedness of the TTP to impose its will on settled areas became manifest with its virtual take over of Swat in 2007 where TTP’s putsch led by Fazlullah drove out all sectors of civil administration, closed all schools and let loose a reign of terror, dishing out death sentences and lashing to all and sundry who dared to infringe the writ of his decrees. It was a determined operation by the Pakistan Army that wrested normality back to this picturesque vale while Fazlullah rolled up his camp for the safety of sanctuaries in Afghanistan from where his terrorists continue to launch strikes from across the border.
TTP has become an umbrella under whose control various terrorists and extremist groups are joining ranks and fusing their own disruptive ideologies while finding common ground to create disruption and mayhem in Pakistan. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a terrorism related data base, from January 2009 to September 2012, 8953 civilians were killed in terrorist violence compared to around 1600 civilian deaths from 2003 to 2006. The favored weapon of this onslaught is the suicide bomber where more often than not young children, coerced and brainwashed, are the carriers for the deadly cargo. TTP is constantly expanding its foot print to wreak havoc in Pakistan. Sectarian terrorism which recently flared up, particularly in Quetta, Karachi and Gilgit owes its ferocity of scale and depth to the nexus of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi with TTP. No wonder that with the logistics and network provided by TTP the sectarian related terrorism has currently surpassed all other genres of terrorism in Pakistan.
Despite all the death and destruction that it has caused, a high mark has already been reached and passed and TTP’s fortunes are tumbling. Pak Army’s resolute operations have shrunk the liberty of action enjoyed by the terror network in the FATA Region leading to serious leadership, administrative and financial crises. In a fortuitous development a national consensus has evolved which seeks the defeat of this dreaded band of terrorists and their poisonous agenda. The military pressure has created rifts and dissentions in its leadership hierarchy which are leading to internal squabbles, splits and disharmonies among TTP ranks. The offer to hold talks by the terrorist organization in February this year, another sign of the vacillating resolve of the terrorists understandably, got no response from the Government. The message is clear; there can be no negotiations with terrorists unless they renounce terrorism and lay down arms. Pak Army’s sacrifices have gone a long way in recovering the once desperate situation and the Nation is proud of its valiant sons.