Over two decades ago, the world witnessed a series of airline hijackings and suicide attacks in 2001, an event that brought nations together in mourning for the loss of over 2,500 lives. These coordinated Islamist suicide terrorist attacks, perpetrated by Al-Qaeda, shook the United States to its core, known as the September 11 attacks or the 9/11 attacks, targeting the World Trade Center and New York City.
The mastermind behind these attacks was Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who operated from Afghanistan at the time. The attacks were orchestrated by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an active member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Bin Laden was subsequently killed by an American special operations unit in northern Pakistan in 2011.
The TTP Challenge in Pakistan Pakistan serves as a home to several prominent and deadly terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaeda, Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP or Pakistani Taliban), Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Among these, the TTP is the largest militant group in Pakistan, operating within the broader Pakistani Taliban umbrella.
The TTP’s attack on Peshawar in January, resulting in the deaths of over 100 worshippers in a police compound mosque, marked one of the deadliest assaults in the history of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Just 15 days later, the TTP targeted the office of Sindh province’s police chief in Karachi, claiming five lives.
As Pakistan grapples with a severe economic crisis, the aftermath of devastating floods last autumn, and ongoing political instability, the growing threat posed by the TTP presents yet another formidable challenge for the nation.
Pakistan contends that the TTP’s central command is situated in Afghanistan, and the group’s attacks within Pakistan intensified following the Afghan Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in August 2021. With the Afghan Taliban’s ideological allies in power and the withdrawal of US and NATO forces, the Pakistani Taliban have found it easier to conduct operations along the porous border separating the two countries, as reported by the International Crisis Group in March this year.
Pakistan demanded that the Afghan Taliban expel or restrict the movements of Pakistani insurgents, but the Afghan Taliban urged Islamabad to negotiate a peace deal with the TTP, offering their mediation. These talks collapsed in November 2022.
Pakistan’s Complex Alliances A report by Dawn, published on September 11, 2023, sheds light on Pakistan’s security establishment’s relationship with its long-standing ally, the Haqqani Network. The Haqqanis are an insurgent group operating in southeastern Afghanistan and the northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan.
According to the report, Pakistan has strategic interests in Afghanistan and has been accused of disregarding the presence of the Taliban within its borders. The Taliban, in turn, have relied on safe havens, financial support, and fighters primarily from Pakistan and neighboring countries like Iran.
Antonio Giustozzi, a Research Fellow at the London School of Economics, noted in his book ‘The Taliban At War’ that the Haqqani Network has been recruiting Pakistani fighters directly. As of 2015, approximately 10% of the ‘Miranshah Shura’s’ forces were Pakistani, drawn mainly from other jihadist groups like TTP, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, creating both combat units and supply chains.
Recent cross-border infiltration incidents and operational strikes by terrorist networks from Afghanistan have raised concerns about the Afghan Taliban’s direct involvement in these attacks.
The report acknowledges that the extent of perceived bitterness in relations between the Haqqanis and the Pakistani establishment remains unclear, with no official indication of any dispute. Intriguingly, the TTP has close ties with the Haqqanis, who oversaw the negotiation process between the Pakistani government and the TTP.
Why the ISI-Affiliated Haqqani Network Struggles to Act “The Haqqanis find themselves in a difficult position. Despite their long-standing relationship with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence dating back to the NATO occupation days, they are struggling to fulfill their commitment to control the TTP, made during General Faiz Hameed’s visit in early September 2021,” says Lt. Gen. Abhay Krishna (Retd), former Army Commander of South Western, Eastern, and Central Commands.
“The Yaqoob faction in Kandahar currently wields significant executive power. This faction views the rising presence of Daesh/ISIS in the northern Tajik bordering areas as the primary threat to the regime’s future,” added Lt. Gen. Krishna.
Echoing the Dawn report, the Army Veteran explained, “The Haqqanis played a pivotal role in mediating negotiations between the TTP and the establishment led by General Qamar Javed Bajwa, so the two groups share a close relationship. Haqqanis’ on-ground cadre also prefer not to engage in conflict with their TTP counterparts.”
A Dilemma for the Haqqanis Highlighting the Afghan Taliban’s concerns about Daesh (Islamic State or ISIS) potentially turning against them, Lt. Gen. Krishna said, “Since Noor Wali Mehsud’s resurgence, over 30 local factions from Swat and Waziristan have pledged allegiance to him. If the Afghan Taliban take action against their Deobandi brethren, there’s a high likelihood that Daesh, which already regards the Afghan Taliban as a ‘munafiq’ government, may form an alliance with the TTP against them.”
“Furthermore, Baloch and Sindhi armed revolutionary (secular) organizations are currently receiving training alongside the TTP,” he added.
“The Haqqanis face a difficult choice. If they fail to take action against the TTP, they risk the wrath of the Pakistani establishment. This could lead to another military operation by the Pakistan military, similar to the one carried out in Khost and Kunar in April 2022, possibly in Badakhshan and Nuristan or even the closure of the Torkham border. In any scenario, it appears to be a lose-lose situation for them,” Lt. Gen. Krishna concluded.