Special Study For Opinion Maker
Talks or War with Taliban Part 2
Emergence of TTP in Pakistan
Tehrik-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) comprising an alliance of five militant groups emerged on Pakistan’s landscape in December 2007 under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud belonging to Shabi Khel tribe, which is not among the main tribes of Mehsuds. It took the TTP five years to establish itself starting 2002 with its sub-commands in five tribal agencies of FATA and main HQ at Srarogha in SW. Subsequently it spread its tentacles into settled areas of KP called PATA including Bannu, DIK, Swat, Malakand and Dara Adam Khel. Linkage with Punjabi Taliban under Asmatullah Muawia extended TTP’s reach to southern Punjab as well. Alignment with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Kashmir related Jihadi groups that were banned in 2002/03 spread the sphere of influence of the TTP to every part of Pakistan.
Today it has 54 groups under its wings including a dozen foreign groups. Maulvi Nazir group in SW and Hafiz Gul Bahadar group in North Waziristan (NW) have remained independent and are in bad books of USA.
Peace Deals with Militants
Between 2004 and 2008 when Gen Musharraf was at the helms of affairs, eight peace deals were signed with militant outfits. Only two deals struck with Maulvi Nazir and with Hafiz Gul Bahadur survived. Bahadur has now revoked the peace agreement on May 28, 2014. During the period from 2004-08, the Pakistani Taliban with the help of foreign support had gained an upper edge. 18 administrative units were under their control. Large numbers of soldiers were in the custody of TTP and morale of lower ranks in Army and Frontier Corps (FC) was low. Peace deals enabled the militants to regain breath, regroup and get their prisoners released.
Peace deal with Maulana Fazlullah and Maulana Sufi signed in Swat in February 2009 was dishonored in April 2009 when the militants after agreeing to renounce violence in return for enforcement of Nizam-e-Adal in Malakand Division violated the treaty by intervening into Lower Dir and Buner. It evoked a nationwide condemnation.
Reasons Behind Under Performance of Security Forces. Some of the reasons behind under performance of security forces were:
The troops had been launched to fight guerrilla war without acclimatization, training, motivation and financial security.
A significant percentage of troops particularly the Pashtuns were convinced that the Taliban were on the right to demand Shariah.
The FC was ill-equipped and not trained to fight guerrilla war.
Above all, intelligence dissemination was controlled by CIA and ISI had taken a backseat.
Troops had to remain mindful of collateral damage and to bear the brunt of negative propaganda of foreign and home media.
Unlike ISAF, own troops seldom got air or helicopter support when in distress.
Operations were cyclic in nature. Troops moved from one tribal agency to another after signing peace deal without consolidating gains.
Militants enjoy the choice of time and target. They have safe exit and supply routes and safe havens in Afghanistan.
Shortfalls Rectified.These shortfalls to a large extent were rectified by Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani when he took over in November 2007 by starting low intensity conflict training and awarding a highly attractive welfare package to lower ranks. ISI under Lt Gen Shuja Pasha made concerted efforts to recover the lost intelligence ground.
Army Wrested Initiative in 2009
When the Army backed by PAF launched a major military operation in end April 2009, it was a different Army and it took the militants by complete surprise. If the militants daringly put their lives at stake so did the soldiers. Both matched in boldness and chivalry, but the Army had an edge because of better discipline, fighting techniques, mobility, firepower and above all superior cause. Junior officers led from the front while senior officers closely supervised the operations.
As a consequence, Swat operation was a complete success, although heavy casualties occurred due to tough resistance put up by the well dug in militants and suicide bombers. Fazlullah and his followers beat a hasty retreat and fled to Afghanistan. The FC threw out the militants from Bajaur.
Why Fazlullah failed in Swat?
The system in vogue in Swat for over hundred years was close to Shariat. The people were dispensed quick and fair justice, provided cheap education and the Wali was approachable. When Gen Yahya integrated Swat with Pakistan in 1970 and did away with their age-old system, the rot began. However, process of education continued, making Swat one of the most educated districts. Lack of justice and bureaucratic red tapism gave birth to TNSM under Maulana Sufi in 1990. The movement was crushed in 1994 but after agreeing to introduce Shariah in Malakand Division. The commitment was not honored since High Court in Peshawar and Supreme Court retained monopoly over Shariat courts.
When Fazlullah came in limelight in 2007, his daily FM radio broadcasts were listened to and he became very popular because of too many flaws in our judicial, electoral and parliamentary systems. Once Fazlullah became powerful with the help of his foreign patrons and launched a reign of terror, he became unpopular and the people wholeheartedly welcomed the Army.
Impact of Operation Rah-e-Nijat
When Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a drone in August 2009 in SW, the TTP vowed to avenge his death and surged up spate of suicide attacks and bomb attacks. Storming of GHQ by militants on October 10, 2009 impelled Gen Kayani to take the battle to the main base of TTP in Mehsud inhabited SW. On October 17, a three pronged offensive was launched. Night operations were conducted for the first time in that region, thereby giving no respite to the militants. Within a month, the mother of all battles was won and TTP scattered. Provision of safe bases by Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur helped the Army in achieving success. TTP was disallowed to re-establish itself in Kurram, Orakzai and Mehmand agencies. Khalid Omar Khurasani heading TTP in Mehmand Agency fled to Nangarhar and Maulvi Faqir Muhammad in-charge TTP chapter Bajaur Agency to Kunar. In mid 2013, security forces won the battle of Tirah against TTP-Lashkar-e-Islam combined forces. Tariq Afridi heading Darra Adam Khel’s TTP chapter was killed in the Tirah battle.
Why Army Couldn’t Consolidate its Gains?
In 2009/10, Army managed to recapture 17 out of 18 administrative units. Operations in Swat, Bajaur and SW broke the back of the TTP and Army gained an upper hand. About 3000 militants were captured alive and handed over to the police for trials. While the Army did its job superbly, it was unfortunate that the judicial prong couldn’t keep in step with the military prong and not a single terrorist was convicted and punished. All were released who later on recommenced their militant activities with a renewed vengeance. Likewise, civil administration has until now not been able to take over its duties in the captured areas. Army is performing multiple jobs of security, rehabilitation and development but is devoid of special powers of investigation and trial. PPO is being resisted by opposition parties.
But for phenomenal clandestine support by foreign powers to the terrorists, scourge of terrorism could be bottled up. The disarrayed network of TTP was helped to get regrouped in NW, Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan.
Why Military Refrained from Attacking NW
Pakistan refrained from launching a major military operation in NW despite extensive pressure from the US because of multiple constraints. These included paucity of troops since the Army had already deployed about 150,000 troops in the northwest. Pulling out additional troops would have been at the cost of weakening the critical eastern front and losing strategic balance. With displaced persons from SW, Kurram Agency and Tirah Valley not having returned to their homes, it would have resulted in further displacement of 4-5 lakhs from NW. Already five millions have suffered displacement from their homes. Facing defeat, the militants could have escaped to urban centres and with the help of sleeping cells, settle down and continue with their militancy.
An operation would have annoyed the only three friendly groups of Hafiz Gul Bahadar, Haqqani network and late Maulvi Nazeer as well as Afghan Taliban, with the possibility of all the groups getting united on a single platform and confronting the Army in a treacherous terrain. With untrustworthy Indo-US-Afghan nexus playing a double game and wanting Corps plus size force to get bogged down in NW, such a course would have proved disastrous.
Stealth helicopters attack in Abbottabad on 2 May 2011 to get OBL followed by an attack on Mehran Base on 22 May and attack on Salala Post on 26 November were in reaction to Army’s reluctance to launch an operation in NW. Inaction in NW however gave a free hand to TTP affiliated groups to continue striking targets at will.
Dissent within TTP over Talks
Unlike Hakimullah Mehsud who disfavored talks, his deputy Waliur Rahman assisted by Khalid Mehsud, alias Khan Said Sajna favored dialogue and had convinced the Shura members to make an offer of dialogue to the government. His group suggested Maulana Fazlur Rahman, Munawar Hassan, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan to act as guarantors to preclude possibility of backtracking from the agreement. The offer was not taken seriously by the PPP led regime and it made it conditional to renunciation of violence.
Talks offer was renewed once rightist PML-N and PTI were voted to power after May 11 elections. A stage was set for a big breakthrough when Waliur Rahman who was the moving force behind peace talks was killed by a drone on May 29, 2013. Jundul Hafsa, also known as Janoon-e-Hafsa took the revenge by killing ten foreigners at base camp of Nanga Parbat on June 23, 2013. One thing became clear that offer of talks by the government created division in TTP as well as in the society. Asmatullah Muawia and spokesman Ehsanulah Ehsan were sacked by Hakimullah in August 2013 for favoring peace talks. Sajna after being appointed as head of TTP SW chapter was replaced by Latif Mehsud who was given additional portfolio of commander TTP chapter Miranshah. Both Muawia and Sajna defied their ouster and the later started making efforts to form his independent group in Mehsud inhabited SW. It further heightened differences between the pro and anti-peace groups. The US and its allies supported anti-Pakistan militants and targeted anti-US militants based in FATA.
It was generally expected that the TTP leading militancy in the northwest and in Punjab would tone down its acts of terror particularly against civilian targets once PML-N and PTI formed governments in the centre and KP respectively. As a result of their soft approach the TTP had spared these two parties and targeted liberal political parties during the election campaign. ANP suffered the most in terms of human losses and in elections.
Contrary to high expectations, the Taliban accelerated their terror strikes after the new government took over in early June 2013. Bulk of attacks took place in KP and PTI lost three sitting MPAs. This surge occurred in spite of APC called by the government on September 9, 2013 in which it was agreed by all the participants belonging to different parties and religious groups as well as the Army to enter into dialogue with the militants without pre-conditions and give peace a chance. Fight-and-fight strategy was replaced by talk-and-talk strategy.
The government stuck to its standpoint despite lot of noise made by seculars and liberals. Anti-peace talks lobbies launched a concerted campaign to sabotage proposed peace talks and kept picking fault lines in the resolution passed by the APC. When the TTP welcomed the initiative taken by the APC, it was taken as a sign that the road had been cleared for negotiations between the two sides. The KP government felt so confident that it announced phased withdrawal of troops from Buner, Shangla, Upper and Lower Dir, Chitral and Malakand districts starting mid October 2013 and handing over responsibility to civil administration. While the ground was being smoothened for the meeting, an unexpected and unfortunate incident took place a day after the announcement of withdrawal plan. On September 15, Maj Gen Sanaullah Niazi and two others embraced martyrdom as a result of an IED planted by Fazlullah’s militants at Upper Dir.
Peace process got a big jolt when TTP claimed responsibility on the following day and vowed to continue hitting military targets. This hostile act in response to Government’s policy of appeasement was regrettable. It caused deep anguish and anger to the rank and file of the Army and put the central and KP governments in awkward position but gave a strong handle to the anti-peace lobbies to beat the peace makers with and make fun of them.
As the debate between pro-peace and anti-peace lobbies intensified, another gruesome act of terror took place on September 22 in Peshawar where a church was struck by two suicide bombers soon after Sunday prayers killing 84 people and injuring 175. While TTP denied involvement, Jundullah Hafsa, a faction of TTP comprising Punjabi Taliban and led by Asmatullah Muawia claimed responsibility of church attack. In the wake of widespread denunciation inside and outside the country over the dastardly attack on church and condemnation by Ulemas of all schools of thoughts terming the act against the teachings of Quran and Sunnah, TTP Shura urged Muawia to disown the act. Soon after his disownment, another group Jundullah led by Ahmed Marwat based in NW claimed responsibility.
Hakimullah received another setback when his confidante Latif Mehsud was arrested by US forces in end October in Afghanistan. In the backdrop of Interior Minister’s hectic backdoor efforts, Hakimullah consented to attend a meeting in NW on November 2, 2013 but peace process halted when Hakimullah was killed by a drone in his newly constructed house in Dandey Darpakhel in NW on late night of 31 October. Although hardliner Asmatullah Shaheen was appointed acting Ameer, struggle for succession took a precarious turn. Sharp division within TTP Shura over the next appointee forced Mullah Omar to intercede and break the impasse by appointing non-tribal but highly controversial and runaway Maulana Fazlullah as the new Ameer. His deputy Sheikh Khalid Haqqani was also a non-tribal from Swabi. Shahidullah Shahid was appointed spokesman.
In the wake of series of revenge terror attacks, PM Nawaz Sharif disappointed pro-war lobbies by giving peace yet another chance and formed a government peace committee comprising Irfan Siddiqui, Maj retired Amer, Rustan Shah and Rahimullah Yusafzai. TTP responded by giving names of Maulana Samiul Haq, Maulvi Abdul Aziz, Prof Ibrahim and Mufti Kafaitullah to represent Taliban. In the first meeting in NW, the TTP put forward demands of withdrawal of Army troops from SW and release of non-combatant prisoners. Despite the launching of peace prong the militants continued attacking civil and military targets.
In response to killing of 13 police commandos and injury to 57 in Karachi on February 14, 2014, followed by gruesome beheading of 23 FC captive soldiers in NW on February 27 and an attack on a FC convoy in Bannu, on Gen Raheel Sharif’s request, six surgical air attacks on militant hideouts in NW, SW, Tirah and Khyber Agency were carried out in last week of February 2014, which caused over 70 militants and some important commanders were killed. The losses together with killing of member of TTP central Shura Asmatullah Shaheen on February 24 compelled the militants to declare unilateral ceasefire for one month starting March 1, 2014. Suicide-cum-gun attack on Islamabad district courts on March 3 was disowned by TTP but was claimed by an unknown group calling itself Ahrar-ul-Hind.
During the lull period of ceasefire, peace process was speeded up. Few more attacks were also disowned by TTP which indicated sharp division within rank and file of TTP. Seven hours long meeting of TTP nominated committee with members of TTP Shura at a village in Orakzai Agency on March 26 under cordial atmosphere raised hopes and light could be seen at the end of the tunnel. However, high hopes dashed when the TTP refused to extend ceasefire after March 31 on the plea that the government was not responding to its requests concerning release of non-combatant prisoners and withdrawal of Army from SW, allowing the TTP a safe zone to hold talks freely. In the meanwhile, fight between two Mehsud groups in SW, one led by Sajna and the other by hardliner Shehryar (a close associate of Fazlullah), started in April which is continuing. Infighting has caused heavy casualties to both sides. Sajna group is from Deobandi school of thought and Shehryar group from Deobandi offshoot Panj Peer, which is averse to shrine worship.
When all efforts made by TTP Shura as well as Mullah Omar failed to patch them up, Sajna dissociated himself from TTP and he was nominated head of his own faction in SW in last week of May 2014. Azam Tariq associating himself with Sajna stated that elements within TTP were foreign funded and involved in un-Islamic practices like extortion, kidnapping for ransom and attacks on mosques/shrines/churches. He added that TTP harbored killers. Hafiz Gul Bahadur group in NW revoked the peace accord with the government on May 30 in reaction to alleged civilian casualties in surgical air strikes and announced to attack civil and military targets. In anticipation of a military operation, about 900 families in NW have migrated to Khost and about 800 families to Bannu and Lakki Marwat. In the process some good Taliban have turned bad and some bad as good.
In reaction, Fazlullah launched over 200 militants from Kunar and attacked a military border post in Bajaur on May 31 killing one soldier and injuring some. Retaliatory attack by artillery guns and gunship helicopters killed 16 terrorists. Two terrorist cross border attacks were mounted on June 4 on border posts in Bajaur killing four soldiers. In addition, a suicide attack along Fatehjang-Pindi road martyred two Lt Cols and two soldiers that day. On June 5, a top expert in training suicide bombers, Ashiqullah Mehsud, a close associate of late ill-famed Qari Hussain, was killed in NW. His death has further weakened Shehryar group. An ultimatum has been given by the Army to the elders/Maliks in NW to shunt foreign militants (Uzbeks, Arabs, Chechens and Tajiks) in next 15 days, that is, by 20 June 2014.
In desperation, a high profile terror attack was carried out on Jinnah airport Karachi at 1130 pm on 9 June by well-trained ten militants (mostly foreigners aged between 20-25 years) laced with mostly Indian origin deadly array of weapons. A quick and efficient response by law enforcing agencies (LEAs) defeated the dangerous objectives of the attackers and killed all of them. In the process 19 persons embraced martyrdom. TTP claimed responsibility saying it was in reaction to bombardment in NW. For the first time Pak media acted responsibly and eulogized the spirited fight back of LEAs. The nation as a whole as well as all political/religious leaders condemned the dastardly attack and paid glowing tributes to the LEAs.