After Pakistan Army launched operation Khyber II in the tribal region as a part of its stepped-up efforts since a militant attack in Dec 2014 killed 150 people, mostly children, at Peshawar’s Army Public School. Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is being squeezed out in their former tribal strongholds. Since the beginning of operation Zarb-i-Azb of Pak Army after the Karachi airport attack last year TTP militants have fled to other tribal regions, including to Khyber and its Tirah Valley that borders Afghanistan. They appear to be moving across the border and seem to operate from both sides of the Durand Line. But situation drastically changed after the recent very effective Khyber II operation in which most of the hideouts in the strongholds have been lost by the militants and now there been squeezed from all the sides by the Pakistan security forces. TTP, which once has presence across the country and currently resisting Pakistani troops in the volatile tribal regions on the border with Afghanistan is rapidly loosing ground and facing an existential threat. In the recent months after the attack on the Peshawar, the Pakistan government has upped the ante against the TTP and its allied militant organizations. The military has destroyed all the command and control centers of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. Now to put the effective resistance front against the security forces and to show its strength. TTP leadership has initiated the efforts to unite the various factions which break away after the leadership and ethnic dispute.
Recently three jihadist groups, including one led by a key commander who has served as a senior leader in al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, have united with the Pakistan Taliban. The merger is part of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s efforts to rebuild itself, likely with the guidance of al Qaeda. The merger is part of TTP’s attempt to rebuild its shattered image in the wake of the ongoing military operations. After the killing of Hakeemullah Mehshud the Taliban appointed Mullah Fazlullah to lead the TTP, but multiple factions were unhappy with the choice and split, including two Mehsud factions in North and South Waziristan, and a large branch led by Omar Khalid Khorasani. But Omar Khalid Khorasani’s faction (Jamaat-ul Ahrar) and Lashkar-e-Islam of Mangal Bagh joined the TTP early last month as part of the effort to mend the rift between the jihadist groups. The decision of merger was taken at a meeting attended by Mulla Fazlullah, Omar Khalid Khurasani and Mangal Bagh. The head of the new set-up was yet to be named. It worth noting that Taliban and Lashkar-e-Islam, led by Mangal Bagh, are allied to each other from long but not they formally coming toghter and making combined command structure, pooled resources, fighting force. TTP is also now trying hard to make good relation with its previous affiliates like- Harkatul Jihad Al Islami, Qari Saifullah Akhtar Group, Tehrik-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, Tehrik-e-Taliban Punjab, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and some Chechen and German-Turk groups. All these efforts are being done because of the need of the hour. Now the TTP core organization is not a big group with its cadre at most at 5,000 to 7,000 which was about 25,000 to 30,000 when it was united under the strong leadership of Baitullah and Hakeemullah Mehshud.
The recent regrouping of various TTP factions suggests efforts may be underway for broader cooperation and moreover TTP wants to be in the limelight and it is trying to send a message of its presence through the media. The ongoing military operations have forced them to adopt such tactics just to show their power. In fact, these groups have broadly lost their ability to conduct major terrorist activities solely on their own and are on the run. But according to some senior security analysts the developments of regrouping was of little significance in the prevailing situation as it may be just a propaganda tool rather than a major game changing alignment. The next few months will be critical in determining whether this new tactic of TTP is effective against the security forces operations or a simple name change for some existing groups, or as a new, unifying umbrella. But one thing which is emerging is that Al-Qaeda is playing a major role in all these patch up activities. Al Qaeda and the TTP have had a close working relationship since the latter was formed in December 2007. The Pakistan Taliban has provided shelter for al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas, while al Qaeda has provided military expertise and access to global donors. Seeing TTP fighting for its survival Al-Qaeda has come for its rescue and the inspirational source of TTP that is Afghan Taliban has turned a blind eye on all this episode in fear of annoying Pak Army and ISI. Al- Qaeda is acting as the interlocutor and meditator for the regrouping. And one thing is certain that closer to Al Qaeda than to Afghan Taliban, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is a formidable challenge for Islamabad and the region.
Author is a columnist for Middle-East and Af-Pak region and Editor of a geo-political news agency Views Around can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mr Farman Nawaz Columnist from Bannu, Pakistan provided inputs for the article.