An emotional ceremony took place at the Wagah-Attari border post separating Pakistan and India on November 3, a day after at least 60 lives were lost in a brutal suicide attack. The bomber struck when people were exiting the compound on the Pakistani side after the daily military parade ended at dusk. An attack of this magnitude was the first of its kind since the military began its offensive on June 15.
The Pakistan army declared that 1,100 foreign and local militants forming the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) umbrella network had been killed by the end of October. It had been visibly successful in weakening the TTP core, led by Maulana Fazlullah. However, the suicide attack raises concerns about the army’s strategy and whether today’s fragmented TTP pose a greater threat to Pakistan.
Even though the army officially began the military operation on June 15 in North Waziristan, there is anecdotal evidence of the military’s presence in the tribal areas surrounding the Taliban strongholds as early as February.
A Pakistani journalist revealed that Muhammad Ibrahim, one of the key members of the TTP-nominated committee responsible for negotiating with the Pakistan government, told him that he saw a number of tanks in North Waziristan in February. “The army had already decided that they had to launch an operation and defeat the Taliban by the end of 2014, whether the negotiations were successful or not,” the journalist said.
Therefore, it is possible that the army stealthily surrounded the different groups that form the TTP in North Waziristan a few months before the ground offensive. Moreover, they reconciled with those who welcomed concessions and facilitated the split of the Pakistan Taliban into factions.
The army’s counterterrorism strategy seems to be two-fold. First, use fighter jets, air artillery and ground forces to eliminate the Taliban. Second, simultaneously hold talks with the conciliatory TTP outfits and give concessions to some groups, reportedly including Khalid Mehsud aka Sajna’s independent Mehsud faction and the Punjabi Taliban.
These two extremely important wings of the Pakistan Taliban cut themselves off from the core, enfeebling Fazlullah’s leadership.
This may be the light at the end of the tunnel for Pakistan. But is this light at the end of the tunnel a speeding train? More noxious peripheries, such as the TTP Jamaatul Ahrar have broken away to form independent splinters bent on more bloodshed. TTP-JA is believed to be behind the brutal Wagah attack, according to media and intelligence reports, and the group has threatened to attack India next.
Six top Taliban commanders have also sworn allegiance to ISIL. This move was termed an embarrassment for the TTP. This is the first time committed Pakistan Taliban have openly disowned Mullah Omar.
BBC Urdu reported how ISIL pamphlets were found in Afghanistan and Pakistan in Pashto and Dari languages. According to the Washington Post, 330 Pakistanis left the country to fight for ISIL. The tentacles of the organisation are making their way into the country – and disgruntled Taliban members as well as breakaway groups are welcoming them with open arms.
Observers claim that even though there is no ISIL base in Pakistan, they fear that a pro-ISIL mindset is prevalent.
But as the Pakistan military expands its operation to Khyber Agency targeting Lashkar-e-Islam militants, its counterterrorism mission spreads thin. Anti-Pakistan TTP militants of North Waziristan – many of whom escaped before the operation– continue to enjoy a safe haven in Afghanistan and therefore, can quickly regroup (many have also found refuge in Karachi). They can use their allegiance to ISIL as an effective recruitment and fund-raising tool. Meanwhile, if TTP-JA succeeds in attacking India or stirring fear of an attack, there are chances of crisis and an escalation of tensions between the rivals.
The Pakistan army’s divide-and-rule strategy may have created another monster, one that has more resources and resonance and causes more bloodshed. The worst-case scenario is extremist leaders and fighters of rival factions pitted against one another on Pakistan soil – with Pakistani citizens and its fledgling democracy paying the heaviest price for this strategy.