TTP Back to Haunt Pakistan

September 25, 2023

By Manish Rai

The recent bold attacks by the Pakistani Taliban, also known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, wreaking havoc paints an alarming picture of rising instability across Pakistan. Especially the TTP's recent incursion into Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa bordering Afghanistan is very concerning. Because it may be the attempt by the group to carve out safe sanctuaries for itself by controlling the territory which it used to do till 2014. This new avatar of TTP has complicated the internal security scenario for Pakistan as the country is also fighting the Baloch insurgency. But this hasn’t come as a surprise since the Afghan Taliban ideological sibling of TTP has taken over Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban has begun a trajectory to emulate its allies in Afghanistan. TTP renewed its pledge of allegiance to the Afghan Taliban after the fall of Kabul. Also, the Afghan Taliban freed hundreds of TTP operatives, including the group’s deputy leader, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad and former spokesperson Mufti Khalid Bulti who were detained by Afghan authorities. Also, with the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan, the TTP has obtained new more sophisticated weapons and relocated fighters from Afghanistan to Pakistan. And the outfit is now turning its focus back to its war against the Pakistani state.

Over the past two years, the group has gone through a series of mergers, strengthened its media and operational activities, moved away from the indiscriminate targeting of civilians in suicide attacks, implemented a range of new internal policies centralizing its organizational structure, and unifocal on a localized strategy. With now a solid organizational foundation and its eyes set on the Pakistani state. TTP appears all set to pose a formidable challenge to the Pakistani establishment. Another source of the TTP’s aggressive stance is the perceived weakness of its opponent, i.e., the Pakistani State, which has been experiencing high levels of socioeconomic and political instability. Mired in their own set of domestic problems, the Pakistani government and military officials come across as beleaguered. Desperate for a peace deal and ceasefire with TTP. This perception is evident from the tones taken by the TTP’s chief, Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, in his recent public statements.

TTP becoming a major security challenge is also because of Pakistan’s policy makers short sightedness. Prior to the Afghan Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the government in Pakistan promoted the narrative that the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban were not interconnected. Also, blamed the growing threat from the TTP on foreign intelligence agencies supported through the former Afghan government. Pakistani officials especially from ISI claimed the Taliban’s recent accession to power would force the TTP to retreat from Afghan territory and eventually face a certain organizational death. Certainly, this didn’t happen on the contrary the Pakistani Taliban problem mutated into a reverse insurgency, tactically supported by elements within the Afghan Taliban government who ironically owe their own victory up to certain degree to Pakistan. This epiphenomenon has turned the tables against Islamabad, a cruel irony in which Pakistan’s stability is threatened by its own allies while also betrayed by old friends in the Taliban government. This has created tensions between Islamabad and Kabul. In the past Pakistan has tried sending a strong message to the Taliban government by conducting sporadic cross-border strikes against TTP hideouts in Afghanistan, in eastern Kunar and Khost provinces. Those strikes likely had the blessings of Haqqani network Pakistan’s all-weather friend and a governing partner in the Afghan Taliban’s government. But other powerful factions in the southern Taliban have strongly objected to these attacks. This includes the Taliban’s defense minister, Mawlawi Mohammad Yaqoob, who publicly warned Pakistan against such operations.

The Pakistani army has also explored the idea of expanded cross-border operations against the TTP inside Afghanistan. But such operations carry a greater risk of making Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban government yet more unmanageable. The Afghan Taliban could use the TTP as its proxy against Pakistan, meaning that the two countries could enter an unannounced war. For now, Islamabad faces a lose-lose scenario against the TTP in which its loss will be bigger than the Pakistani Taliban. Wholesale anti-TTP operations will not only strain its limited resources but also open a bloody Pandora’s box. It’s a matter of fact that still, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is the largest militant organization in Pakistan. They may not be able to control large swaths of territory in tribal areas as they used to do till 2014. But certainly, it can launch a new wave of terrorist attacks across Pakistan if not checked in time. It will be right to say that the Pakistani Taliban is rising from the ashes and no longer wants to lie low and keep a low profile. It’s getting bolder with each passing day. Also, they see Afghan Taliban as a role model and aspire to adopt their pathway which TTP thinks will lead it to success one day. It is high time that Pakistan’s national security apparatus takes the threat of TTP seriously and comes up with a concrete strategy to tackle it.

(Author is a columnist for Middle-East and Af-Pak region and Editor of the geo-political news agency ViewsAround can be reached at

Syria’s Idlib Another Hub For Jihadists

August 28, 2023

By Manish Rai

There is a growing perception among the people that these are the last days of the Islamic State and the United States and its allies war on terror has almost ended in Syria. But still, in one corner of Syria, Jihadists enjoy a safe haven and are even thriving. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), formerly known as al-Nusra Front, once an al-Qaeda branch in Syria has totally consolidated its hold on Idlib province and literally operates as the de-facto state in the tiny statelet it created. HTS subscribes to the Salafist school of thought which is the same as al-Qaeda’s. The group imposed strict Islamic rule in areas it controls and is accused of grave human rights abuses including torture, forced disappearance, rape and other sexual violence, and killing in detention. Also, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham hosts many foreign fighters including Arabs, Turks, Chechens, Uzbeks, and from China’s Xinjiang province. Moreover, the group’s attitude toward heterodox minorities like the Druze, Christians, and Alawites never changed. It will be right to say that HTS in Idlib province acts as a facilitator and provides an ecosystem for the jihadist forces to operate and regroup. But unfortunately, the policymakers in the West remain solely focused on defeating ISIS and have ignored HTS and its acolytes.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in the past tried to showcase through various mergers with other groups that it has ended its affiliation with al-Qaeda but definitely, these mergers did not indicate an ideological split with al-Qaeda. But it was indeed part of a strategy to increase the group’s appeal within Syria. On the ground in Syria, various smaller outfits proclaiming loyalty to al-Qaeda, including some HTS defectors. They came together and formed a group called Hurras al-Din (HD) also known as al-Qaeda in Syria. It was officially announced in late February 2018, although it existed sometime before that. It’s the official branch of al-Qaeda in Syria and operates primarily in Idlib province. It will be erroneous to presume that Hurras al-Din somehow exists in isolation from HTS. Given HTS’ dominance of the Idlib Hurras al-Din cannot exist in isolation, nor can it undertake operations without HTS’ knowledge. In fact, Hurras al-Din previously had multiple meetings with HTS. These meetings were in regard to a dispute over weapons in HTS custody that Hurras al-Din claims belong to it, and HTS suggestions to form a larger military council. Currently, as well Hurras al-Din still maintains a constant line of communication with HTS. Previously in some credible media reports, there have been claims that certain frontline points manned by members of Hurras al-Din are supervised by HTS which is allegedly responsible for providing them with the logistics. Another major concern is that at present, there are thousands of fighters who after being defeated on other fronts by Syrian government forces were allowed to move to Idlib. These fighters include those associated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State while a significant number of them are prone to be radical Islamists. These fighters based in Idlib are seen as a very attractive source of recruitment by Jihadist outfits.

The controversial HTS leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani is listed as a specially designated global terrorist by the United States. And a reward of $10 million for information leading to his arrest is still in place. Most of the leaders of ISIS also find refuge in Idlib. And it is evident from the fact that many of its senior and mid-level leaders were killed in the special operations of either the US or Turkey in Idlib including its founder leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October 2019. Tahrir al-Sham claims to be cracking down on both al-Qaeda and Islamic State cells in its territory. But this claim seems to be a hollow one in fact it seems remnants of ISIS are now regrouping in Idlib. As per the US Commission on International Religious Freedom report released in November 2022. HTS remains a potent source of Salafi-Jihadism that restricts the religious freedom of non-conforming Sunni Muslims and threatens the property, safety, and existence of religious minority groups such as Alawites, Christians, and Druze.

Idlib under Hayat Tahrir al-Sham remains a ticking time bomb that arguably poses a greater long-term threat to the region and Syria’s stability. Now after one phase of the war on global jihad is over, another phase should start with the sole focus to finish off HTS. The West’s own ability to tackle and contain Jihadist elements in northwest Syria is rather limited. This is because the West is excluded from the de-escalation framework in the region agreed between Turkey and Russia and is thus barred, among others, from using the airspace to launch precision strikes against the group. But still, if the United States and its allies have to coordinate with Turkey and Russia in this regard it should be done without any hesitation. Because Tahrir al-Sham and its jihadi extremist network still pose one of the greatest long-term challenges for the US and other Western countries which are trying to eradicate extremists from Syria. Amid the confusion of Syria’s kaleidoscopic and multi-sided conflict, one thing remains certain that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham must be isolated, marginalized, and defeated before a stable peace can emerge in Syria.

(Author is a columnist for Middle-East and Af-Pak region and Editor of the geo-political news agency ViewsAround can be reached at