Sergio Restelli

Afghanistan to Pakistan, the spread of terrorism

Imran Khan official Twitter profile
Imran Khan official Twitter profile

As terrorism spreads out of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas into the Punjab heartland and other provinces, a ten-year timeline of 2013-2023 published by Dawn newspaper states that the banned Tehreek- e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has killed close to 400 soldiers, policemen and para-military Rangers.

These are statistics only of high-security sites like the army and police establishments, not other public spaces. The number of civilians injured is much higher. It does not account for places like mosques, churches and other places of worship, including those of the Ahmadiyas, the Muslims minority who have been declared non-Muslims under Pakistan’s Constitution.

The timeline does not account for 174 killed, mostly children, in the TTP attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2016.

Pakistan officially claims that 84,000 people have been killed due to terrorism, but no timeline for that has been cited. The TTP is the largest of the terror groups, while there are many more. Security analysts have said that most terror groups are affiliated to Al Qaida or the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP).

The list does not account for killings by older Sunni extremist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba and many others who have worked under different names, often changing their names after being banned.

Political analysts say right-wing mainstream political parties maintain ties with terror groups and use their cadres, especially during election campaigns. They have termed it “terrorism on sale”. This explains the politicians’ foot-dragging on strong action against militants each time there is a major terror attack. Typically, the politicians take recourse to debates in the legislature when speeches condemning terrorism are made. The security forces are exhorted to act but are held back when the political interests of the powerful are threatened. When convenient, the government of the day blames the security forces that, along with the secret services and intelligence agencies, are also complicit.

Of the major politicians, while others have been subtle, former Prime Minister Imran Khan has been a vocal votary of holding a dialogue with the militants. Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf had dubbed him “Taliban Khan.” But Musharraf was also accused of using the TTP. Two different probes indicated his role in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The TTP’s birth is attributed to Musharraf’s ordering a siege of Lal Masjid in Islamabad when 100, mostly girl students of a madrassah, were killed. It proliferated and developed links with the Afghan Taliban.

The TTP unilaterally called off the ceasefire in December 2021 and again in November 2022, when the government  did not agree to its terms. It  demanded that the merger of what was Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) be annulled.

The TTP-terror-timeline is published amidst a debate on who is responsible for their ‘soft’ handling that the security experts, the United Nations and the Western countries by successive Pakistan regimes. Islamabad accuses, with a measure of justification, that the Taliban rulers in Kabul are providing safe havens to TTP and hosting thousands of families of rebels. Kabul denies it.

Imran Khan planned to ‘rehabilitate’ TTP in the tribal region. He has said that his choice was to “kill’ 30,000 to 40,000 people”, including women and children, or give them a chance to live peacefully.

He has now accused former army chief, General Qamar Jawed Bajwa, with whom he fell out last year, of wanting to bring the Taliban back home. Journalists who claim to quote Bajwa say the later blames Khan of “soft- peddling” on the TTP. In the latest twist, Khan’s party PTI and a minister of incumbent Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif have named retired Lt. Gen. Faiz Hamid, former ISI chief, of pushing this move. Hamid’s handling of the Afghan Taliban and the TTP became the cause of a rift between Khan and Bajwa. Khan lost power when Bajwa went ‘neutral’. This places the TTP in the centre of the current slug-fest between the army and the politicians and among the political parties.

A Dawn editorial  says that the assessment of the “TTP juggernaut” spreading out of the tribal areas and “spreading havoc in the rest of the country” has proved true.

Noting that “over the last few decades, major Al Qaeda operatives have been apprehended from the metropolis,” it emphasises: “Whatever the facts, the state needs to act now before more such attacks take place.”

Calling for a decisive response to TTP, it asks “the squabbling politicians who rule in our name, as well as the security establishment that keeps reminding us that ‘all is well’ to “understand the true situation.” Meanwhile this indecision causes the growth of terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan endangering democracy and cause security concerns for the whole region.

About the Author
Sergio Restelli is an Italian political advisor, author and geopolitical expert. He served in the Craxi government in the 1990's as the special assistant to the deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Martelli and worked closely with anti-mafia magistrates Falcone and Borsellino. Over the past decades he has been involved in peace building and diplomacy efforts in the Middle East and North Africa. He has written for Geopolitica and several Italian online and print media. In 2020 his first fiction "Napoli sta bene" was published.
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