The Platform


Pakistan probably regrets its decision to provide a safe haven to some elements of the Taliban over the past two decades.

The resurgence of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), marked by a series of audacious attacks, is sounding alarm bells about rising instability within Pakistan. Particularly disconcerting is the TTP’s recent foray into Chitral, a district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that borders Afghanistan. This move suggests a deliberate attempt by the group to establish new safe havens—a tactic it mastered until 2014.

This new incarnation of TTP comes as Pakistan is already grappling with the Baloch insurgency, compounding the nation’s internal security dilemmas. Yet, this escalation hardly seems surprising, given that the Afghan Taliban—the ideological bedfellows of TTP—have recently assumed power in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban seem intent on following the playbook of their Afghan counterparts.

In the aftermath of the fall of Kabul, the TTP reaffirmed their loyalty to the Afghan Taliban, who in turn released hundreds of TTP operatives, including the group’s deputy leader, Faqir Mohammed, and former spokesperson, Muhammad Khalid Balti. Armed with more sophisticated weaponry and bolstered ranks, the TTP now turns its renewed focus towards undermining the Pakistani state.

Over the past two years, the TTP has undergone significant internal restructuring: it has solidified through mergers, enhanced its media outreach, and honed its operational tactics. Moving away from the haphazard violence against civilians, the group has adopted a centralized organizational structure with a localized strategic focus. These developments make the TTP an increasingly formidable adversary for an already beleaguered Pakistani establishment.

At the core of the TTP’s emboldened stance is its perception of the Pakistani state as a weakened adversary, riven by socioeconomic and political instabilities. This sentiment has been audibly echoed by the TTP’s chief, Noor Wali Mehsud, in recent public statements, casting doubt on the Pakistani government’s ability to broker any lasting peace.

What compounds the gravity of this situation is the myopia of Pakistan’s policymakers. Prior to the Afghan Taliban’s takeover, Islamabad propagated the notion that the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban operated in silos, and attributed the rising TTP threat to foreign intelligence agencies and the former Afghan government. Officials from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) even posited that the Afghan Taliban’s ascendancy would spell doom for the TTP. This assertion has spectacularly backfired, and Pakistan now finds itself caught in a cruel irony—its stability threatened by erstwhile allies and facilitated by elements within the new Afghan government.

In a bid to send a robust message, Pakistan has conducted sporadic cross-border strikes against TTP hideouts in Afghanistan’s eastern provinces of Kunar and Khost, presumably with the tacit approval of the Haqqani Network—a key player in the Afghan Taliban government. Yet, other influential factions within the Taliban, including Defense Minister Mullah Yaqoob, have publicly cautioned Pakistan against such incursions.

As Islamabad contemplates escalating its cross-border operations, it faces a complex geopolitical calculus. Such moves carry the perilous risk of straining relations with the Afghan Taliban, potentially catalyzing an undeclared war between the two countries. In this precarious situation, Pakistan finds itself in a lose-lose scenario where the stakes are far higher than they appear.

Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan remains the largest militant organization in the country. While it may not control vast territories as it once did, its capability to unleash a new wave of terror is not to be underestimated. As the group takes inspiration from the Afghan Taliban, its audacity grows with each passing day. The time is ripe for Pakistan’s national security apparatus to formulate a comprehensive strategy to combat this resurgent threat.

Manish Rai is a geopolitical analyst and columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region and the editor of geopolitical news agency ViewsAround (VA). He has done reporting from Jordon, Iran, and Afghanistan. His work has been quoted in the British Parliament.