Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Pakistan’s offshoot of the hard-line Islamist group has ramped up attacks on its side of the border, leaving Islamabad scrambling to reach a peace deal.
Active in the remote tribal areas of Pakistan, experts say the militant group has been emboldened by the Taliban’s successful ousting of world superpower the United States from Afghanistan.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — a separate movement that shares a common history with the Afghan Taliban — plunged the country into a period of horrific violence after forming in 2007.
Also made up mostly of ethnic Pashtuns, it carried out hundreds of suicide bomb attacks and kidnappings across the country, seizing control of border regions and imposing a radical version of Islamic law in the territory where it held sway.
It was a TTP gunman who opened fire on schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai in her native Swat Valley before she won the Nobel Peace Prize.
The group was also linked to the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
But it wasn’t until a gun massacre of nearly 150 children at a Peshawar school in 2014 that the military finally crushed the movement and forced its fighters to retreat into Afghanistan. Now, nearly a decade later and with the Afghan Taliban back in control in Kabul, Pakistan is trying to quell a TTP comeback.
“The (fighters) feel more comfortable after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, they can now move freely in Afghanistan,” a TTP fighter told AFP on condition of anonymity. “They have no fear of US drone strikes. And they can meet and communicate easily.”
The TTP claimed 32 attacks in August, 37 in September, and 24 in October — the highest monthly totals for at least five years, according to their own published data.
Across all of 2020, when the United States first pledged to start withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, it claimed 149 assaults — three times more than in 2019. The renewed confidence became apparent in October when the group’s leader Noor Wali Mehsud came out of hiding and was photographed shaking hands with residents and speaking in public — something unimaginable just a few months ago.
More than a dozen Islamist factions have since July 2020 rallied under his leadership.
In an attempt to improve the TTP’s image and distinguish them from the Islamic State’s extremism, Mehsud has largely taken the group in a new direction — sparing civilians and ordering attacks only on security and law enforcement officials. Recent attacks have been far less deadly than the mass casualty bombings that once terrorized the country.
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