SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)
Those familiar with the origins of the TTP will understand why the insurgent body’s reaching out to the Islamic State – al Qaeda’s former Iraqi franchise – is not surprising. Contrary to popular opinion, the Pakistani Taliban are not an extension of Mullah Omer’s Afghan Taliban. They are, in fact, a mixture of numerous militant groups that was stitched together after al Qaeda differed with the Taliban regarding extending the war inside Pakistan. The Afghans, understandably, were against targeting the Pakistani military – probably counting on resurrecting old alliances. But the Arabs were more expansionist, and financed the conglomerate that set up an extensive command and control system in Fata. It is this main base that has been degraded by Zarb-e-Azb.
Now on the run, it is natural that the TTP is posturing in favour of the group that midwifed its birth. Abu Bakar al Baghdadi’s caliphate has made substantive advances over the last few months. And despite recent bombing by US forces and allies, news reports suggest that IS is continuing with its advances. In Pakistan, the TTP has made a definitive transition to the blowback phase of the operation. Slowly but steadily, they are increasing their attacks; first targeting only the military, then civilians, and now back to their favourite targets – the helpless Shi’a community of Hazara.
The military, which is clearly in control of all dimensions of the NW operation, will now have to move beyond Waziristan also. Up until Zarb-e-Azb, its approach had been largely reactive. And despite successfully securing NW, it will need to expand the proactive sphere of the operation. One of the first things it will need to work on is the narrative. Instances like TTP expressing solidarity with IS occur because of the superior narrative of the enemy. They have leveraged all avenues of mass communication, especially social media, to instill their extremist reading of Shari’a in much of the periphery. The government and military, on the other hand, are still without a voice discouraging such slide to the extreme right. To follow up on the initial success of the NW operation, those in charge will have to frame a comprehensive strategy that takes these concerns into consideration.