After the terrorist attack in Pakistan: Government wants to ask Afghan Taliban for help

Jochen Hippler is a political scientist and peace researcher. Since May 2019 he has been Country Director of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation in Islamabad (Pakistan).

After the suicide attack on a mosque inside the police headquarters in Peshawar, Pakistan, the government wants to ask a leading Taliban representative in Afghanistan for support against further attacks.

Islamabad wants to ask the Taliban “to ensure that their soil is not used by terrorists against Pakistan,” Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s special adviser Faisal Karim Kundi said on Saturday. The government will therefore send delegations to the Iranian capital Tehran and the Afghan capital Kabul.

The attack was carried out on Monday during afternoon prayers at the mosque in the city of Peshawar, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, near the Afghan border. According to the police, 84 people were killed, almost all of them police officers. No one officially claimed responsibility for the attack. However, it is suspected that the so-called Pakistani Taliban are behind it.

In 2006, the Taliban’s Pakistani branch was officially established

In recent months there have been repeated attacks in Peshawar, particularly on security forces. Both the Islamic State (IS) jihadist militia and the insurgents of the Pakistani branch of the Taliban, which operates under the name Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), are active in the region.

The so-called Pakistani Taliban emerged in 2002 from former extremist groups in the border region with Afghanistan as a reaction to the Pakistani army’s invasion of the tribal areas there, which the US government had demanded as a contribution to the “war on terrorism”.

The battles against the Pakistani armed forces became the TTP’s first test and mobilization engine. Numerous other violent groups joined the TTP as a reaction to the US drone strikes and the worsening of the domestic political situation (eg the bloodbath in the “Red Mosque” in Islamabad in 2007), even if it never became a unified and centrally managed organization. The founding of the TTP was only officially announced in 2007.

In the last two decades, tens of thousands of people have been killed as a result of attacks and attacks by the TTP and groups closely associated with it, and in battles with the army. Despite repeated alarmism in Europe and the US, the Pakistani Taliban never became a serious military threat to the Pakistani state – even if they continued to undermine its legitimacy.

A police officer injured in the attack on the mosque in hospital.
A police officer injured in the attack on the mosque in hospital.

The Pakistani government and its military reacted to the threat in contradictory ways: partly with offers to negotiate, partly with military offensives. 2014 saw a turning point in politics: In December 2014, the TTP launched a terrorist attack on the “Army Public School” in Peshawar, killing 149 people (including 132 school children).

This attack led to a change in the political mood in society, politics and the military. A consensus emerged to act with all severity against the TTP. The pseudo-religious justification for their violence had lost credibility with the massacre of children, and the military took the attack on one of their facilities very seriously. Over the next few years, on the basis of the quickly adopted “National Action Plan against Terrorism”, which combined civilian and military measures, the TTP and violent attacks were pushed back further and further.


People died in terrorist attacks in January 2023 alone

While in 2000 there had been a total of 166 deaths from political violence, the death toll peaked in 2009 when more than 11,300 people were killed. Since then, the death toll has fallen significantly. In 2019 it was only 365. Overall, the level of violence fell from the level of a de facto civil war to that of violent gang crime.

Since then, the number of victims has been rising slowly, to 971 in 2022. And in January 2023 alone, around 180 people died as a result of political violence, more than half of them in the suicide attack on a mosque in Peshawar on January 30.

Three reasons for resurgence

There are three reasons why there was a renewed increase in violence. First, the government and military had brought the TTP to the brink of failure by 2019 – and then failed to solve the social and political problems that give terrorism a basis. After the largely successful expulsion of the TTP from their zones of influence, the government failed to expand functioning and legitimate state structures there, so that the population could hardly see any improvement.

Second, in November 2021, the government began a new round of negotiations with the – officially banned – TTP, giving it time and opportunity to regroup and rebuild. In the former tribal areas and in the Swat Valley in particular, the TTP was able to establish itself again and carry out attacks from there. This often happened against the resistance of the local population, who in demonstrations demanded government protection but hardly received it. Meanwhile, the TTP declared the negotiations failed because the government was not meeting its demands – and launched a new wave of attacks.

Third, the Taliban victory in Afghanistan in August 2021 has strengthened the TTP psychologically, politically and practically. Although the TTP (despite its name “Pakistani Taliban”) does not belong to the Afghan Taliban, it is ideologically and politically linked to them. They were able to withdraw to Afghanistan under pressure from the Pakistani army, and the Afghan Taliban urged Pakistan to negotiate with the TTP – through their mediation.

Today the TTP is more dangerous than it was just a few years ago. The main danger, however, does not lie in a seizure of power, but in a further delegitimization of the already fragile political system. And the government is letting things slide, seeming to rely on the military – which in turn has learned that while TTP terrorism can be contained militarily, the only way to defeat it is politically.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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