The U.S. State Department’s 2021 Country Reports on Terrorism has warned that the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) “aims to push the government of Pakistan out of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa” and establish sharia through a terrorist campaign against the military and state. According to the report, the TTP uses the tribal belt along the Pak-Afghan border to train and deploy its operatives and draws ideological guidance from Al Qaeda, elements of which partly rely on the TTP for safe havens in Pashtun-dominated areas of the region. It also names other major terrorist groups targeting Pakistan, including the Balochistan Liberation Army and the Islamic State-Khorasan group. The deadly grouping goes a long toward explaining Pakistan’s apparent helplessness in tackling resurgent terrorism following the Afghan Taliban’s return to power in Kabul.
The TTP draws inspiration from the Afghan Taliban, which emerged in Afghanistan in the early 1990s and ruled over most of the country from 1996 through 2001. Initially comprised of locals who had been educated in madrassas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, they gathered strength during a civil war triggered by the collapse of Soviet-backed Afghan government in 1992. Shortly after assuming power, the Taliban imposed a strict interpretation of the Quran and jurisprudence, meting out merciless punishments to political opponents, women, and minorities.
The TTP, an alliance of militant networks formed in 2007, aims for the same in Pakistan; the group has publicly stated that its ultimate aim is the imposition of an Islamic caliphate in Pakistan that would require the overthrow of the Pakistani government. It wants to achieve this through militant attacks on law enforcement agencies, using the erstwhile tribal areas as a launchpad for strikes in the rest of the country.
In a bid to prevent the militants from retrenching, police and Army have launched targeted counter-terrorism operations in restive areas. Last month, hours after heavily-armed militants of the TTP attacked a police station in Mianwali, the Punjab Police initiated an operation in the district’s hilly areas amidst panic over the extremists’ incursion into Pakistan’s heartland. The rapid response is justified: Pakistan’s capacity to secure its western border is already under challenge from external elements in cooperation with local allies, but the threat will only get more complicated and daunting if it finds roots in central KP and Punjab.