Release of TTP militants from Afghan jails draws criticism from Pakistan

By Zarak Khan


Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan on August 16 released a photo of leader Maulvi Faqir Mohammad after his release from an Afghan jail in Kabul.

ISLAMABAD -- Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants freed by the Afghan Taliban from prisons in Afghanistan could hinder Pakistani efforts to eradicate terrorism from within its borders, say analysts.

The Afghan Taliban released thousands of prisoners, mostly militants and including TTP leaders, from prisons amid its takeover of Afghanistan.

Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, the former deputy chief of the TTP, was among them.

Afghan police and intelligence officials in 2013 captured Mohammad, who led the TTP in Bajaur tribal district and has close links with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan.

The TTP on August 16 released a photo of Mohammad after his release and said that "the group congratulates him and a large number of other militants on their release".

Several other key imprisoned commanders were also released by the Afghan Taliban, a TTP leader told Pakistani Forward.

"The Afghan Taliban has shown its enmity toward Pakistan and its people by releasing ... militants who have bombed worship places, bazaars, schools and public spaces across the country," said Saleem Sahoutra, a Christian activist in Peshawar.

Sahoutra's brother was killed in twin suicide bombings carried out by a TTP-linked group at All Saints Church in September 2013 that killed 104 people and wounded another 142.

"Both the Afghan Taliban and the TTP are inhumane and have nothing to do with Islam or any religion," he said.

A senior counter-terrorism police officer in Islamabad also expressed concern about the release of TTP militants in large numbers.

"The Afghan Taliban has been spoiling [Pakistan's] decades-long effort to weaken the TTP and eradicate militancy through well-co-ordinated operations," the officer said on the condition of anonymity.

"Pakistan's military and political leadership should know that the Afghan Taliban and the TTP are two sides of the same coin," he said.

"Instead of supporting the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan should become part of global efforts against the Afghan Taliban, the TTP and its alliance with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan," the officer said.

A strengthened TTP

The TTP has carried out hundreds of attacks on both Pakistani security forces and civilians, including an assault on a school in Peshawar in 2014 that killed more than 145 people, mostly children.

Following a crackdown on the TTP's various factions across Pakistan, the militants shifted their hideouts to neighbouring provinces of Afghanistan.

There, they masterminded terrorist acts in Pakistan and launched cross-border attacks, causing tension between the Pakistani and Afghan governments.

However, Afghan security forces along with allied forces killed or captured a number of TTP militants in Afghanistan in both ground operations and in air strikes, further crippling the terror outfit.

Pakistan in 2017 began building a fence along its border with Afghanistan.

Those factors, combined with the deaths of successive leaders and internal rifts, left the TTP crumbling up until early 2020, but the recent reunification of disgruntled splinter groups and the Afghan Taliban's territorial gains have reinvigorated the group.

The TTP has stepped up its attacks on law enforcement agencies in Pakistan's border districts -- a former TTP stronghold until the Pakistani military launched a large-scale operation in 2014.

The group recently claimed responsibility for two separate attacks on July 30 and August 2 that killed three police officers assigned to protect polio vaccination teams in Dera Ismail Khan and Peshawar.

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