Why attacks surge in northwest Pakistan
There has been a spike in the number of attacks on security forces operating in the now merged areas of Waziristan — former tribal areas. For the past few weeks not, a day passes when an attack is not launched on the forces causing heavy casualties. Why this uptick in violence at this stage? There are a number of reasons.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) a militant group that was seeking to establish a permanent foothold in the tribal areas has been reactivated recently. The group had lost its relevance in the last few years because it was operating without any specific agenda. The TTP had lost support of the masses and the Taliban of Afghanistan had severed all connections with it. People in the tribal areas were fed up with the presence of so many wanted militants who only brought death and destruction to the region. The TTP, faced with such stark realities and making no headway in the pursuit of its ill-defined goals, began to split. Its splinter groups tried to create their own fiefdoms in the area but failed. The TTP retreated and most of its activists crossed over into Afghanistan.
Now a new scenario is emerging. The Pakistan –Afghanistan border has been fenced, which has made cross-border movement very difficult. Secondly, the Taliban are in negotiations with the Afghan government, mediated by the US. This has caused an alarm in the ranks of the TTP, because any reconciliation between the Afghan Taliban and Kabul would usher in an era of peace. That would pose a problem for a militant organization like TTP which would then have to confront the Taliban in Afghanistan's government. Sensing this, the TTP is trying to create some space for itself while negotiating from a position of strength. With that end in view it has embraced the groups that had separated from the main body some years ago and, in order to make its presence felt, is now making a last-ditch effort to reemerge on the scene. With the splinter groups having come back into its fold, the group has now the required manpower to target government forces and installations.
Another reason for the spike in attacks is that with the areas now merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the old system of territorial responsibility where a section of a tribe would be held liable for crimes committed on its soil is no longer functioning. The new system, meanwhile, has not taken roots. There is a frightening vacuum in the area as far as catching culprits is concerned. Taking advantage of this situation where law enforcement has become weak and fragile, the TTP has been emboldened to attack government positions wherever it can. The escalation in violence has caused a great deal of anxiety among government circles, especially among border administration officials.
If intra-Afghan reconciliation materializes and some semblance of peace is restored with the Taliban in the saddle, many militant groups, including Daesh, the Turkistan Islamic Movement and others, would be seeking to defend themselves. Many such outfits would have to be routed, defeated and annihilated. TTP fears elimination when it will be confronted by the Afghan Taliban backed by government machinery and resources.
Rustam Shah Mohmand
The rise in the number of attacks comes at a time when the prospects of peace in Afghanistan have brightened up in the wake of talks between the Taliban and Afghan government in Doha, Qatar. If intra-Afghan reconciliation materializes and some semblance of peace is restored with the Taliban in the saddle, many militant groups, including Daesh, the Turkistan Islamic Movement and others, would be seeking to defend themselves. Many such outfits would have to be routed, defeated and annihilated. TTP fears elimination when it will be confronted by the Afghan Taliban backed by government machinery and resources. This is the background of the prevailing new wave of brutal attacks in the tribal areas.
Pakistan has to create institutional frameworks for the new laws in the tribal area. Two years since the merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and introduction of the new system, the area has only seen a rise in crime, prolonged litigation, agonizing delays, expensive lawyers, growing insecurity, deforestation, conversion of farm land into residential and office complexes, etc. People have become disgruntled, frustrated and have lost faith in the ability of the government to deliver.
This despondency is visible throughout the region. Such an environment is ideal for the growth of criminal and terrorist groups. The government will have to sooner or later introduce some special laws that would be more compatible with the needs of the people and the area. The new laws will have to incorporate the good features of the law that is now discarded so that crime can be controlled effectively and outfits like TTP dealt with sternly. Resorting only to the use of force will not solve the problem. It may get even worse.
*Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.