The April 7 meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC), chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, surprisingly admitted that the former Army Chief General Bajwa-led initiative of talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been a main reason for the resurgence of the terrorist group and that now an all-out offensive would be launched to defeat it.
The decision was made in a two-hour NSC meeting comprising the top civil and military leadership. Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Shamshad Mirza, federal ministers for defence, finance and information, and senior military leadership were in attendance.
The statement after the meeting read: “The meeting agreed to launch an all-out comprehensive operation — with renewed vigour and determination — with the help of the entire nation and the government, which will rid the country of the menace of terrorism.” Insofar as the launching of an all-out offensive against the TTP is concerned, it is indeed an important measure. However, much would depend upon how the offensive is conducted. We have seen over the years that there have been a lot of loose threads in the strategy about the TTP. For instance, on the one hand the government has been carrying out operations against the group and on the other hand holding talks with it. Because of lack of viability in the government strategy, the TTP has taken a lot of advantage to bounce back and carried out its nefarious agenda of destabilizing the country and making the people feel insecure.
Acknowledging and understanding itself the loopholes in the strategy to deal with the TTP, the NSC vowed that the proposed comprehensive operation against the group would aim at eliminating the scourge of terrorism in all its forms from Pakistan. However, for this to be successful the offensive will also include efforts at the political, diplomatic, security, economic, and social levels. This is a very important aspect of the NSC decision because an anti-terrorism policy cannot be limited to military operations; there ought to be political, economic, social and even psychological strands of the policy. In Pakistan what we have seen over the years is that the anti-terrorism strategy has been focused mainly on military offensives along with only a few administrative measures, like mainstreaming the Pashtun tribal areas, the traditional heartland of the TTP, through a constitutional amendment.
However, the merger of the FATA into the Khyber Pakhtunkhhwa province as an effort to mainstream the tribal regions was not only hurriedly but also thoughtlessly done. Consequently, after nearly five years of the merger into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province the former Pashtun tribal borderlands, formerly known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), could not be mainstreamed and put on the path to development as desired by the country’s policymakers at the time. Instead, the merger has given rise to many other problems while leaving the old problems unresolved. One of the new issues after the merger is the resurrection of the largest terrorist network of Pakistan, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). In recent months, it has staged several deadly attacks including a late January 2023 attack in a mosque in the Peshawar police lines, martyring more than 100 people and another attack on top police chiefs’ offices in Karachi which martyred five security forces personnel followed by the martyring of police personnel in regular attacks in KP.
The TTP resurgence is not sudden, rather since the merger of the tribal districts in May 2018, the group has been constantly regrouping itself. Although the top leadership of the TTP is based in Afghanistan after their defeat in large-scale operations by the military between 2014 and 2016, its support base has been intact in the tribal districts. The dilution of the support base could only be possible by appropriate policy decisions which could ensure good governance in the tribal districts. After the merger, administration in the areas has worsened. This has reinforced the propaganda of the TTP that any effort to change their historical distinctive tribal status would be disastrous.
It is important to note that the TTP, in its negotiations with the government authorities last year, had put the condition of the reversal of FATA merger. It has been wishing the reversal of the merger for its interests keeping in view the extensive support base it has in the region. However, at the same time the TTP is shrewdly trying to represent the majority opinion in the tribal districts that the merger was done without their wishes taken into consideration. So the TTP has taken the fullest advantage from the merger of the tribal districts and the huge administrative vacuum it created.
Rightly, the NSC April 7 meeting termed the recent spate of terrorism a result of a soft corner for and reckless policy with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which was completely contrary to public expectations and aspirations. The meeting observed that terrorists, as a result, were not only allowed to return without hindrance but dangerous militants were also released from jails in the name of confidence building. So as a result of the facilitation given by these dangerous returning terrorists and various militant organizations present in a large number in Afghanistan, the militants have disrupted peace and stability in the country. Although the civilian leadership of the NSC, mostly from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), by identifying the ‘soft’ corner for the TTP wanted to blame its diehard political rival, former Prime Minister Imran Khan, and his favorite military general and former head of ISI, Lt. Gen (R) Faiz Hameed, for facilitating the TTP. But it must be clarified that it was neither Mr. Khan nor Gen. Faiz who had a soft corner for the TTP and even thinking so is unthinkable. Unfortunately, it has been the state policy. Moreover, if talks with the TTP were a mistake then they were held earlier by the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 2013 with the Hakimullah-led TTP.
Furthermore, PM Imran Khan was removed in April 2022, and talks continued with the TTP afterwards under the military command of General Qamar Javed Bajwa until his retirement in November 2022. So the state held negotiations, whether it was Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan or Gen Bajwa in the saddles. Now if the purpose could not be achieved through the talks then the other way is an all-out offensive against the group and thus the state is now on the right path. But the success of the offensive would depend upon political stability in the country which unfortunately at the moment is not there.