Pakistan’s militants has been weakened, not defeated

By Pramod Raj Sedhain.

 

 

 

Pakistani military proactive operation in North Waziristan has gained a notable achievement for counter terrorism (CT) efforts. Militant groups have no longer been able to hold large swaths of territory in tribal areas. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militant groups have been less dangerous than ever. Defeating militant groups rely on several hideouts in restive mountainous areas in the tribal agency of North Waziristan. Current military success has shown enthusiastic signs for difficult fight against terrorism.

Following the Taliban faction attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi on 8 June 2014, the Pakistan Army launched on “Zarb-e-Azb operation” against militants groups on 15 June, 2014. Since then, the army set operation objective to flush out all foreign and local militants hiding in North Waziristan achieved notable CT gain. “Seek, Destroy, Clear, Hold” military strategy of operation significantly improved the country security situation as well as decreased terrorist violence across the country.

Defeating TTP group has still survived components such as shelter, safe haven, training ground, logistics, manpower, finances, and other key enablers that allow the networks remain alive. Despite large part of hideouts being cleared by army, militant groups still remain operational in new pockets. They have the ability to attack soft targets and intimidating civilians.

TTP and other militants still have some terrorist capabilities, operational command and control, hideouts, caves and tunnels in Northern Waziristan but their significant part of the operational capabilities have been broken. TTP is now less attractive and is gradually losing its organization but degrading group remains a formidable challenge to Pakistan. However, this does not much pose previous level of threat.

During the operation, the Pakistani army destroyed large part of militant hideouts, a deadly militant’s stronghold has been cleared, thwarted a number of terrorist plots, neutralized terrorists offensive capabilities, reduced their ability to assaults on major cities behind their hideouts, hundreds of suspected terrorists apprehended, cleared militant’s sanctuaries in tribal area. Figures also suggest significant reduction of number of terror attacks. Military claimed to have broken the backbone of the terrorists in tribal areas.

Combating terrorism in North Waziristan is essential to overall Pakistani security. Without securing the Pak-Afghan mountainous border from militant’s hideouts, security forces cannot prevent further terrorist attacks. Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas has been a key concern since U.S. began global war on terror in 2001 which became key CT frontline since one decade.

After series of losing the ground, the group’s cultivation of recruitment TTP could pose transnational security threat. They are still active in Afghanistan as well as small militant groups have been engaged in Syrian conflict along with Al-Qaeda-linked groups. Their connection with global terrorist network proves that they have destructive terrorism capabilities. Different TTP splinter factions do not have much strength but has been insisting on sectarian violent. Dominance of sectarian violent groups cannot neutralize without a strong security means.

TTP was founded on December 14, 1007 with the unification of 13 different militant groups in South Waziristan under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud. He was a little-known militant leader, which the West assumed local scope and did not seen rapidly rise on capabilities. After Pakistani security forces stormed on Lal Masjid mosque in Islamabad on July 2007, radical group took to violence opportunity.

Since the formation of the TTP, the Pakistani terrorism dynamics changed very rapidly. TTP started vicious suicide bombing campaigns in Pakistani cities, offensive against security forces in tribal areas, expanded their recruitment and training camps in South Waziristan, succeeded in capturing large swathes of territory including Swat valley and Bajaur.

Despite its nature of tribally-motivated local group, TTP emerged as a transnational security threat. TTP’s growing capabilities was an alarming sign for the U.S., which has continued its engagement to limit its transnational terrorism capabilities. America began targeted drone strikes against group leaders and killed founder leader Mehsud by covert drone strike in August 2009. Pakistani army formally launched ‘Operation Rah-e-Nijat’ offensive against TTP in South Waziristan on November 2009 which ended on March 30, 2010 by recapturing the previous TTP captured areas. TTP fled to North Waziristan and reorganized its capacities.

TTP has not only a domestic threat in Pakistan but also a global threat. Suicide attacks in Camp Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan in December 30, 2009, attempted terrorist attack in Times Square, New York in May 1, 2010 was directly linked with TTP. Many deadly terrorist attacks including 2002 Bali bombings and 2004 Madrid bombing’s alleged mastermind allegedly traveled from Pakistan to Spain after meeting with senior Al-Qaeda leadership in 2003 to finalize the terrorist plot.

2005 London terrorist bombings also suspected that there has been a connection with the Pakistani tribal areas. Al-Qaeda operative Rashid Rauf a Britain and Pakistan dual citizen who was arrested over 2006 Trans Atlantic aircraft plot escaped from Pakistani custody in December 2007 was eventually killed by CIA’s drone attack in November 2008. U.S. citizen Bryant Neal Vinas also received Al-Qaeda terrorist training from Pakistan tribal areas who was captured by Pakistani forces in 2008 and handed-over to the U.S. These are some examples of how dangerous dozens of plots and attacks were traced in militant-controlled Pakistani tribal belt.

The U.S. covert war has been a remarkable achievement when it comes to the most serious active threat in Pakistan tribal areas. After a US drone strike killed TTP Hakimullah Mehsud in 2013, TTP strength declined significantly. After the death of a ruthless, charming and charismatic leader, the group’s operational capabilities decreased significantly due to internal fighting and split over various functioning. Since then, they have not been able to gain any significant military success except for numerous terror attacks across the country.

Challenge ahead

Current gain is tactical rather than strategic in long term perspective. This has provided big confidence for security forces. Pakistan has not yet achieved its full CT objectives. Significant reduction of violence has seen positive progress but still needs to carefully watch over militant group’s future potential ability to conduct attacks. Isolated and weaker militant groups’ ability could be stronger in a very short period of time. Militant groups will be able to easily expand their capabilities, territory, manpower, and money for operation if Pakistan fails to continue sustained and consistent clean-up operations in the tribal areas. Vulnerabilities will remain without more concrete steps to gain clear goals to eradicate terrorism. Pakistan must form a new security mechanism in tribal belts to improve sustainable security situation and regulating porous border to check any potential new wave of terrorism in future.  

Current achievement would not be enough for security measures. The motive has to be to defeat terrorism in tribal areas which still requires effective ideological battle, some sort of reconciliation, improvement of socio-economic conditions, awareness campaign, moderate education, etc. Theoretically, Pakistan can achieve their CT objectives which depend on sincere desire of military and political leaders. Despite facing series of setbacks, TTP has still been able to operate low intensity terrorist attacks, operational media propaganda mechanism, hideout and training areas. Current achievement will only be temporary if the government failed to provide effective service or performance in the tribal areas. TTP could be unified again to expand its networks as well as to pursue its terrorist goals.

Military pressure alone cannot crush terrorists in the long run. It requires effective social and political programs. Pakistan must be aware of potential threat of militant group’s re-emergence or growing sectarian nature of violence. TTP and its splinter groups’ vicious terror network are still intact which has been able to strike beyond their hideouts. If Pakistan failed to provide opportunity for local people, standard administrative control over tribal area, secure social justice and schooling the religious intolerance in school present gain will be remain unpredictable.  

Pakistan is slowly winning the war against terrorists. However, it is not yet a safer place. Root out militant groups still needs broader counter-terrorism strategy. If Pakistan army fails to reinforce its presence in tribal areas, they could reemerge some day or the other. We can only say that current Pakistani military achievement is significant but still not enough. A long way to go, indeed.

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