Peshawar blast, TTP and Afghanistan – 09 Feb 2023

The Peshawar attack was owned by TTP, condemned by the Islamic Emirate and later disowned by TTP

On Monday, 30 January 2023 Peshawar again saw carnage by TTP, when a suicide bomber blew himself in the front row of a mosque in the highly fortified Malik Saad Shaheed Police Lines during Zuhr prayers. The death toll is 84, all except three are policemen, with more than 200 injured. This was followed by a terror attack at the Makarwal police station in Mianwali District of Punjab on night 01 February by some 20 to 25 armed assailants. That attack was foiled. And KP Police in Charsadda District foiled another terrorist attack on 02 February, killing one assailant.

As per unconfirmed TTP source “Umar Media”, this January alone, TTP undertook 46 attacks, targeting Police, CTD, Army, FC and Intelligence operatives in KP, Balochistan and even in Punjab. In KP, the D.I. Khan-Lakki Marwat-Bannu Triangle has been infested area of TTP operations, besides the newly merged districts. Targeted attacks, ambushes, guerrilla style attacks, sniper shoots, explosions/IEDs and suicide attacks are TTP’s favoured tactics. And there is really nothing new in it for the LEAs.

COAS General Asim Munir visited Peshawar on the same day alongside PM Shahbaz Shareef. The 255th Corps Commanders’ Conference reiterated Army’s resolve to fight terrorists tooth and nail, in a clean break from the policy of dialogue and appeasement, pursued under the discredited Army Chief, General Bajwa and a select few. The government has asked the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) to ensure elimination of Pakistan-specific terrorism from the Afghan soil.

The Peshawar attack, which was owned by TTP, condemned by the Islamic Emirate and later disowned by TTP has important implications for Pakistan, Afghanistan and TTP, similar to the TTP massacre of over 148 students and faculty in APS Peshawar during 2014. KP Police is investigating the recent attack from all possible angles, it being a massive security lapse. Facts like the type, quantity of explosive used, the number of deaths attributed to roof collapse in a dated structure, and the initial profile of suicide bomber have come to light. Aspects like negligence-cum-fatigue driving attitudes among LEAs, or an insider job or a combination are also being ably probed.

For the TTP, the Police Line attack may be a possible ‘bonus fratricide’ given the structure collapse after the bomber’s success to pass security unchallenged and detonate his ware in the pivotal area of prayer hall for maximum effect. This may also be a possible unintended ‘overdo’ by the TTP’s ranking operative(s)/handler(s), not initially planned; as casualties of this magnitude have wider and lasting negative implications detrimental to the TTP cause and narrative. IEA reaction and TTP revoking ownership of the carnage are, therefore, telling. In a world where TTP endears itself to the religious right and ordinary people in Afghanistan and Pakistan by harping upon its Islamist, staunchly anti-West and anti-US, pro-Sharia and pro-IEA credentials, this attack demonstrates a grave miscalculation at best, signifying TTP’s desperation and despair. And that is where holding nerve matters for the LEAs.

Desperation and miscalculation in this priority, as this attack definitely sours TTP relations with the IEA despite the acting Afghan Foreign Minister urging Pakistan to look inwards. TTP’s Khostwal Haqqani hosts, from whose area in eastern Afghanistan it operates, as well as Qandahari ideologues are not seeing kindly to this mindless carnage in a mosque. Zabiullah Mujahid, the IEA spokesperson had also previously condemned a March 2022 attack on a mosque in Qissa Khwani Bazar, Peshawar that killed over 50 worshipers, mostly ahle-Tashee. Although that attack was blamed on ISIK or Da’esh. Hence, the recent IEA condemnation is significant for Pakistan and TTP.

This bombing cements resolve of Pakistan’s civil and military leadership to fight terrorism in all manifestations, breaking clean from the failed policy of appeasement and dialogue. The Apex Committee has been revived and there is more coordination and cooperation among all agencies, consequent to the Bannu Cantt attack by TTP last December. After solidifying the inner front, exterior manoeuvre with Afghanistan is now most critical.

It is wise that Pakistan is taking its case against TTP to Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. As argued earlier, the presence of thousands of armed TTP fighters on Afghan soil would slowly become a liability for IEA, given the TTP’s penchant for operational independence and its potential to influence outcome in internecine Afghan conflicts during a probable civil war, that the US/West has now seemingly resigned to impose on a recalcitrant and non-compromising IEA. TTP also is a major legacy issue that mars IEA relations with their only interlocutor, a Pakistan…running out of patience. Additionally, the Afghan soil is historically not very welcoming to hosting larger outsider groups due to its limited sustenance and logistics. Lastly, the TTP enclave denies IEA full control and sovereignty over the entire Afghan soil. So, in reality, Islamic amity notwithstanding, this might also be an ‘induced error’.

Or worse, it can be a frantic act by any renegade group within TTP, who either acted out of desperation without anticipating IEA reaction and wider implications of the bombing. Or the responsible faction was used by forces inimical to Pak-Afghan peace. This may also be the handiwork of extra regional forces, aiming to enlist Pakistan in the cited civil war. All angles and linkages should be fully explored.

In response, internally with the nation and all agencies on one-page, selective military operations alongside relentless IBOs should continue. Complacency among affected segments of LEAs be shunned through vigorous shake-up by commanders at all levels. War on terror SOPs be religiously followed. National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) and National Action Plan be reinvigorated and later implemented in totality.

Externally, IEA leadership be educated and sensitised over Pakistan’s security construct, and on TTP. Pressure be maintained. TTP be effectively squeezed without undue noise and statements. States do what is necessary. And once the environment is conducive (not now), and after meticulous categorisation of TTP into White, Grey and Black categories, its disposal be conveyed to the Afghan side. Incentive be offered to IEA for dispersal and indefinite hosting of TTP’s Black cadre in ‘that’ eventuality. Afterall Pakistan still hosts millions of Afghans on its soil, and a little pay back by IEA would go down well to foster our critical bilateral relations.

Putting petty squabbling and mindless politics aside, all stakeholders must demonstrate clarity and resolve in response. This is not an ‘ostrich moment’.

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