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By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

At least nine Frontier Corps (FC) personnel were killed and several others were injured when terrorists triggered an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosion targeting a Security Forces (SFs) convoy near the Miranshah Road in the Ghulam Khan Tehsil (revenue unit) of North Waziristan Agency (NWA) in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), on May 8, 2014. No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack, though it is generally believed to have been the handiwork of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Earlier, on February 16, 2014, TTP claimed to have killed 23 FC personnel kidnapped on June 14, 2010, from the Shoonkri Post of Mohmand Agency in FATA. According to reports, TTP Mohmand Agency ‘spokesman’, Omar Khurasani declared that the kidnapped FC personnel were killed as revenge because the Government was continuously killing TTP cadres in different parts of the country, including Karachi (the provincial capital of Sindh), Peshawar (the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, KP) and Swabi District in KP. He declared that, if the Government did not stop killing the TTP supporters, TTP would also continue to kill SF personnel.

Moreover, at least 23 civilians were killed and many others were injured in a bomb explosion in the Pir Wadhai area near the Sabzi Mandi locality in Islamabad on April 9, 2014. Police disclosed that the explosives were planted in a guava box, which exploded at the time of auction. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, though the IED and pattern of attack again suggested a TTP role.

Within hours of the May 8 attack, Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) General Raheel Sharif and Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif held a meeting to discuss the security situation. An unnamed senior military official later asserted, “The Army would respond to the provocation by terrorists as terrorism and peace talks cannot go hand in hand. The attack is a clear act of provocation and is a serious blow to the peace process. This will have serious repercussions.”

Indeed, peace talks with TTP have failed to curtail terrorist activities across the country. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of 460 fatalities, including 223 terrorists, 190 civilians and 47 SF personnel, were reported from across the country in 128 incidents of killing since March 26, 2014, when the talks between the representatives of the Government and the TTP were initiated. The period has witnessed a total of 33 major incidents (each involving three or more killings). This was despite a month-long ‘unilateral ceasefire’ declared by the TTP on March 1, which was later extended till April 10. The ceasefire ended thereafter, with TTP alleging that there was no positive response from the Government. TTP ‘central spokesperson’ Shahidullah Shahid later declared, on April 16, that the central council of TTP would not extend the ceasefire, adding, however, “The TTP will not abstain from taking any steps if the Government makes some progress.” During the ceasefire period, 340 persons were killed in terrorist violence, including 191 civilians, 108 terrorists and 41 SF personnel. In the worst attack during this phase, on March 14, 2014, 11 persons were killed and another 45 were injured in a suicide attack targeting the Police in the Sarband area of Peshawar. On the same day, at least 10 persons, including nine civilians and one trooper, were killed and another 35 were injured, in a bomb explosion targeting an FC vehicle in the Science College Chowk area of Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. A newly formed TTP splinter group, Ahrar-ul-Hind (AH, liberators of India or victors of India) claimed responsibility for both incidents. Umar Qasmi, 'chief' of AH, claiming responsibility for the attack, declared, “We don't abide by these talks and will continue to stage attacks." The group has so far claimed responsibility for three such attacks in which 32 people were killed and another 105 were injured since January 2014.

Recurrent violence amidst talks appears primarily due to intense division within the TTP itself. This rift began soon after the death of its founder Baitullah Meshud (killed in a US drone attack on August 5, 2009). Baitullah Mehsud’s clansman and deputy, Hakimullah Mehsud (killed in a drone attack on November 1, 2013), was appointed unanimously as the new leader by a 42-member shura (council), but his authority was challenged by Baitullah Mehsud’s spokesman Waliur Rehman Mehsud (killed in a drone attack on May 23, 2013), who was made TTP’s ‘deputy chief’ after a brief power struggle.

After the killing of these leaders, however, Khan Saeed alias Sajna came to head the Waliur Rehman group, and Fazlullah (also known as Mullah Radio, the leader of Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) or Swat Taliban) came to lead the ‘united’ TTP, which follows Hakimullah's line. The Hakimullah group is believed to be the main stakeholder in the peace-talk.

Significantly, TTP’s decision to initiate peace talks divided the groups further, and factions of TTP have started fighting each other. Between April 6 and May 8, 2014, at least 80 terrorists have been killed and an unspecified number of others were injured (the exact figure may increase as there was erratic reporting and movement of Journalists in conflict areas is severely restricted) as two factions of TTP, one led by Shehryar Mehsud, the ‘chief’ of 'united TTP' in South Waziristan Agency (SWA), and another led by Sajna, clashed in the Shawal area of NWA in FATA. The rival factions have accused each other of grabbing power in order to control South Waziristan’s Mehsud tribal area. Sajna had been considered the right hand man of Waliur Rehman, whereas Shehryar was a confidante of Hakimullah Mehsud.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan on February 15, 2014, observed, “There are 43 militant groups operating under the umbrella of TTP of which 14 to 18 fall in the list of major factions and the remaining considered to be the smaller groups, while there are groups in TTP amalgam which are against the peace dialogue. Major groups of TTP are supporting dialogue but there are few elements who do not want peace.”

In fact, about 130 major and minor terrorist groups, some of which have splintered off the TTP, operate in and from a 27,220 square kilometers area of FATA, according to Ashraf Ali, President of the FATA Research Centre, an Islamabad-based think tank. Ali had argued, on December 20, 2011, “The TTP has not been able to forge a united command ever since it lost its influential commander, Baitullah Mehsud, in an air strike in August 5, 2009. The TTP is plagued by a leadership crisis as neither its incumbent head Hakimullah Mehsud – too immature to lead – nor Maulvi Faqir, a leading 'commander' from Bajaur Agency, is in a position to keep it united.”

There was an inevitable futility about the aborted talks, which the Government is desperately trying to restore. With fragmented terrorist formations, each trying to outbid the other in their extremism and terrorist excesses, and with scores of terrorist groups mushrooming over the years, many of them with state support, as well as support from powerful political actors, Pakistan can receive little respite from the relentless terror that engulfs the country.

[Source: SATP]

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