The Pakistan government has now taken the ownership of talks with the largest militant-terrorist network, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but the basis upon which the security establishment has convinced the parliament to start talks with the banned group is quite thought-provoking. According to media reports, the military high command, in an in-camera briefing to the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) on July 4, said that the Afghan Taliban had conveyed to them that unless Islamabad talks with its Taliban, based in Afghanistan, there were strong threats of their joining forces with the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K). Once both groups (TTP and IS-K) come together, they would pose a grave threat to the security of Pakistan and Afghanistan, or for that matter the whole region.
Insofar as the IS-K and TTP joining forces are concerned, there has always been a possibility of such an eventuality. There are several reasons for it. Both groups are based in Afghanistan and they have a working relationship. Secondly, both IS-K and TTP believe in global militancy. Thirdly, they also have strong doctrinal association. Fourthly, both are stateless entities with the former receiving a severe drubbing in its heartland, Iraq and Syria, while the latter driven out from Pakistan. However, the problem is that the TTP has been the deadliest terrorist-militant group of Pakistan, which has on its hand the blood of 70,000 Pakistanis, mostly innocent civilians, particularly students of APS Peshawar. Some people question how come the state could talk to the terrorist group when it has not renounced militancy and has made some very dangerous demands including the reversion the merger of the tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Thus, the process of talks would be complex and extremely difficult to move forward, unless the TTP gives up its arms and demands. Yet another important aspect of the fear that the TTP may join forces with the IS-K is that the Afghan Taliban consider the IS-K a bigger threat than the TTP. But the thing which is quite pinching for Pakistanis is that for us the TTP has been more deadly than the IS-K. The Afghan Taliban may be right in their own calculation as they have been fighting the IS-K inside Afghanistan but for them the TTP have been brethren-in-arms, who have been instrumental in their win against the Afghan national forces and NATO in the past. One thinks that the talks between the TTP and the Pakistan government would not move meaningfully forward. Having said this, the IS-K is also a grave threat to Pakistan and the region.
It is quite heartening that for the last seven years since the IS-K was formed, the group has been making its best efforts to have a strong network in Pakistan but Pakistani authorities, particularly police and Counter Terrorism Departments of provinces, have so far not let it succeed in its objectives. For instance, some years back Pakistani authorities claimed to have busted the recruitment network of the Islamic State (IS-K) in the country which showed effective measures taken by the state security institutions against the global terrorist organization. But it also exposed the seriousness of the threat, which the group, also known as Daesh, poses to Pakistan. When the network had been smashed, its commanders were found to have connections with the central leadership of the group based in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. The security agencies had also arrested top ten commanders of the IS, who were said to be on a mission in the country to recruit thousands of foot soldiers for its Middle East war theatre, specifically in Iraq and Syria.
The names of the IS-K commanders included Hashim Khan from Mohmand Agency and Shakeel Khan from Bajaur Agency, Shaheen from Orakzai Agency and Imran from Gujrat. Hashim Khan S/o Inzar Gul Khan was a key commander of Daesh and running a recruitment camp in Pakistan. Before joining Daesh, he was commanding the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Abdul Wali Group. Shakeel Khan and Shaheen were recruiting militants for Daesh in Rawalpindi and Attock. Imran Mehdi, who is a resident of Gujrat, was in direct contact with Daesh’s top leadership in Syria. Before joining Daesh, he was a key commander with Al-Badar and Jamatul Muslimeen. Moreover, the security agencies in an intelligence-based operation had arrested four Daesh terrorists from Allama Iqbal Town, Lahore. Their names are Syed Abdul Alam, Hafeezur Rehman, Nisar Ahmad and Tusawwar Amin. “They were following the command of Daesh Syria through its journal, Dabiq, in which the organisation had directed its followers all over the world to launch local attacks,” reads the document. Hafizur Rehman, a resident of Khushab, was running a training camp in the heart of Lahore. Before joining Daesh, he received training in Afghanistan with Al-Badar Mujahideen and also worked for TTP’s Malik Yaqoob Group.
“They (Daesh terrorists) had decided to make their presence felt and were about to launch an attack on the office of an intelligence agency,” it further read. A number of the arrested members of Daesh were said to be the former members of Kashmir-focused militant organisations like Al-Badar and Jamatul Muslimeen. This means that there was always a threat and potential that many members of Kashmir-focused militant groups could join Daesh.
Some time back, Pakistan’s former permanent representative in the United Nations, Maleeha Lodhi, while dismissing the allegations of ex Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Pakistan for nurturing terrorist launching attacks inside Afghanistan, had said that Afghanistan must ensure that its territory was not used by others. Lodhi was pointing out that some of TTP elements, who had allied themselves with Daesh, continued to enjoy the backing of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency. Afghanistan’s top intelligence agency, before the Taliban takeover, had been nurturing the IS-K to make it fight with the Afghan Taliban on the one hand, and create problems for Pakistan, on the other. Now when former anti-Pakistan Afghan President Karzai and President Ghani and their security establishment are no longer there and Afghanistan is controlled by the Taliban, in this situation the IS-K would try its utmost to shift its entire network to Pakistan. This is really concerning for Pakistan and for the IS-K the logical way to do is to join forces with the TTP, which has a strong network in Pakistan. It is a good strategy not to let the IS-K and TTP join hands but this cannot be done through negotiations with the latter, because the talks would be counterproductive for Pakistan.