Terrorism

Increased threat from TTP looms over Pakistan

By Zarak Khan

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Policemen in Karachi perform security duties on a highway in August. [Zakar Khan]

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistani authorities are ramping up operations following the Afghan Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan, which observers say could encourage the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to expand their reach.

The TTP in a statement claimed responsibility for 32 terror attacks carried out in August, mainly on law enforcement personnel. The claim could not be verified independently.

The group also claimed responsibility for 26 attacks in July.

On September 5, the TTP claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Quetta that killed four Pakistani troops and wounded at least 18 others.

TTP leaders have praised the Afghan Taliban's return to power, including top leader Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud during a television interview with CNN in July.

The US government designated Mehsud as a global terrorist in 2019 and the following year the United Nations sanctioned him for his ties to al-Qaeda, which he denies.

He also denies that the TTP is fighting alongside the Afghan Taliban.

"Our fight is only in Pakistan and we are at war with the Pakistani security forces," he told CNN through an intermediary.

Mehsud admitted, however, the group's desire to take over control of Pakistan's tribal areas and make them "independent".

Strong ties

With the Afghan Taliban gaining territory, the TTP may feel emboldened to make a comeback, security analysts say.

"The Taliban's takeover in Afghanistan has no doubt boosted the TTP's morale and increased the group's strength," said a counter-terrorism police official in Karachi.

The increase in violence over the past few months is just the beginning, he said. "There will be an increase in terror attacks in Pakistan," he predicted.

The TTP has carried out hundreds of attacks on Pakistani security forces and civilians.

More than 150 Pakistanis, mostly children, were killed on December 16, 2014, when TTP terrorists stormed the Army Public School in Peshawar. More than 110 others were wounded.

The Pakistani army responded with a military operation against militant groups operating in tribal areas that forced the TTP to relocate to Afghanistan, where the Afghan Taliban provided a sanctuary for it.

However, Afghan and coalition forces targeted and killed numerous TTP leaders in Afghanistan.

Since their takeover, the Afghan Taliban have released thousands of prisoners, mostly hardcore militants -- including TTP leaders and other members.

Among them is Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, the former deputy chief of the TTP, who led the TTP in Bajaur district and has close links with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Afghan police and intelligence officials in 2013 captured Mohammad in Nangarhar province.

The TTP on August 16 published a photo of Mohammad after his release and congratulated "him and a large number of other militants on their release".

Ongoing crackdown

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, forces have been ramping up operations against the TTP.

On September 8, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police's Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) in an operation in Hangu district arrested nine TTP militants accused of being involved in various incidents of terrorism.

Punjab Police's CTD on September 4 announced it had conducted 45 extensive intelligence-based operations across the province and arrested five members of proscribed organisations, including the TTP.

On August 24, police arrested two accused TTP militants during a raid in the Ibrahim Hyderi area of Karachi.

In June, Sindh Police's CTD published the latest edition of its Red Book, a listing of wanted terrorist and militant suspects.

Those listed have the names of 23 TTP militants, including many believed to be sheltering in eastern Afghanistan after the Pakistani army's Operation Zarb-e-Azb in 2014.

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