Security co-operation between Pakistan and the United States will weaken the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other transnational militant groups in the region, say security analysts and civil society activists.
Pakistan's National Security Committee (NSC), the country's highest civil-military forum for discussing national security, met on December 30 and January 2 to assess a recent rise in terror attacks claimed by the banned TTP.
Attendees at the NSC meeting, who included Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and army chief Gen. Asim Munir, reiterated their intent to crush terrorist groups operating inside the country.
The NSC asked Kabul to deny safe haven to Pakistani terrorist groups on its soil and to end its patronage of them, the statement said.
A day after Pakistan's NSC January meeting, Washington announced its support for Islamabad's counter-terrorism decisions.
"The Pakistani people have suffered tremendously from terrorist attacks. Pakistan has a right to defend itself from terrorism," said US State Department spokesperson Ned Price, while addressing a news briefing on January 3.
The United States calls on Kabul to uphold its previously stated commitment "that Afghan soil is never again used as a launchpad for international terrorist attacks", said Price.
The TTP has intensified its attacks in Pakistan since calling off a shaky months-long ceasefire reached with Islamabad in late November.
A TTP suicide bomber on December 23 detonated his explosive-laden vehicle near a residential area in Islamabad, killing a police officer and reportedly at least 10 civilians.
Earlier on December 18, TTP militants seized a counter-terrorism centre in Bannu district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, resulting in a hostage standoff.
Government forces retook the centre three days later and killed all 33 terrorists. Two members of special forces were killed.
The deaths of TTP leaders in US drone attacks and internal rifts left the TTP crumbling up until early 2020, but the recent reunification of disgruntled splinter groups and events in Afghanistan since August 2021 have reinvigorated the group.
Its fighters were largely driven out of Pakistan into neighbouring Afghanistan after Operation Zarb-e-Azb in 2014.
Pakistan, the United States, and the United Nations have designated the TTP a terrorist organisation.
US-Pakistani co-operation grows
Recent moves by Washington, such as a visit to Pakistan by US Central Command (CENTCOM) chief Gen. Michael "Erik" Kurilla in mid-December and the allocation of funds to secure the Pak-Afghan border, show an acceleration in security co-operation between the two countries, say security analysts.
Kurilla and top Pakistani military leaders, including Munir, discussed "security co-operation, security along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the threat posed by terror groups in the region, ongoing operations and opportunities to increase co-operation between CENTCOM and the Pakistan Army", CENTCOM said in a December 16 statement.
Kurilla travelled to Peshawar and visited the headquarters of XI Corps, which is assigned to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and is responsible for about half of the border with Afghanistan.
He and XI Corps leaders flew by helicopter to the Big Ben outpost overlooking the Khyber Pass, where they "observed border security and discussed the cross-border threat of terror groups operating in Afghanistan", CENTCOM said.
It was Kurilla's second visit to Pakistan in four months.
"Gen. Kurilla's visit shows that the United States is concerned about the degradation of the security situation in Pakistan by terror groups, such as the TTP and regional branches of trans-national groups like al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and 'Islamic State' -- Khorasan Province (ISKP)," said a senior police counter-terrorism official in Peshawar.
On December 1, the US slapped a terrorist designation on Qari Amjad, the TTP's deputy chief and chairman of its so-called military commission, along with other three AQIS Pakistani leaders.
"US assistance, particularly in intelligence sharing, is crucial for cash-strapped Pakistan's counter-terrorism operations against the TTP," said the police official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to media.
"Because of security co-operation between the two countries, the TTP was largely weakened after the US drone attacks killed ... the terror group's chiefs, from founder Baitullah Mehsud in August 2009 to Mullah Fazlullah in June 2018," he said.
A recent TTP letter banned rank-and-file militants from meeting with TTP chief Mufti Noor Wali over drone strike concerns, one effect of Pakistani-US security co-operation.
The TTP last Wednesday (January 4) also threatened to unleash attacks on Pakistani political leadership, explicitly naming Sharif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for cracking down on the terror outfit to allegedly "appease" the United States.
Victims of terrorism and civil society activists also hailed both the Pakistani government's decision to crack down on the TTP and the support offered by the US in counter-terrorism efforts.
"Negotiation with the TTP has emboldened the terror oufit. The Pakistani nation supports the government's decision to launch a counter-terrorism offensive against the TTP," said Fateh Joseph, a Christian civil society activist who lost two relatives in a suicide bombing of All Saints Church in Peshawar in September 2013.
In December, the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA), in a report submitted to the Senate Standing Committee on Interior, also blamed peace talks with the TTP for encouraging a surge in terrorism across the country, Dawn reported December 9.
Welcoming Washington's assistance, Joseph asked other countries to support Pakistan in its counter-terrorism efforts.
"The TTP and its allied transnational groups are posing a security threat not only to Pakistan but also to the entire world," he said.