By Tilak Devasher
Abevy of Pak leaders, including PM Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi have tried to project various Pak-based terrorist organisations, especially the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as affiliated to India. Aimed at an international audience, such accusations are, however, just a charade to mask Pakistan’s own failures and worse, complex links with them. Consider the following in the case of TTP.
Mullah Fazlullah, head of the TTP, before being killed, was actually a hero of the army. According to Pak media, on April 3, 2009, Fazlullah led the prayer at his home village, Mamdirai. Those who prayed behind him were Brigadier Tahir Mubeen, Syed Javed Hussain, the Commissioner of Malakand region, Khushhal Khan, the district coordination officer of Swat, and Danishwar Khan, Swat’s district police officer. Following the prayers, Fazlullah gave a threatening speech that was heard with respect by the key military and civil officials. This was at a time when the Swat police had registered at least 60 cases relating to suicide bombings, kidnappings, attacks on civilians, police and armed forces against Fazlullah.
Media reports also indicate that the then DG, ISI, Shuja Pasha, had in a letter to the TTP commander Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud in 2011, asked the TTP leadership to give up its armed struggle in return for financial and military support in every possible way. Additionally, Pasha invited Mehsud for a secret meeting to be arranged by Naseer-ud-din Haqqani, the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani network. He also referred to the TTP as a necessity for Pakistan and recalling the Mehsud involvement in Kashmir (in 1947), invited the TTP to join the Pakistan army in the “Ghazwa-e-Hind” war against India as a true and just jihad. Imran Khan, while in the Opposition, had written at least two letters to the then TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud, in 2011 and 2012, seeking permission to hold rallies in South Waziristan. This was the time when Khan was holding protests against US drone strikes. Incidentally, Mehsud carried an FBI reward of $5 million and a Pak government reward of Rs 50 million. Yet, Imran Khan had no hesitation in seeking Mehsud’s permission.
Moreover, in early 2014, in response to the then PM Nawaz Sharif’s offer of talks, the TTP nominated five political and religious leaders to mediate on their behalf. Imran Khan was the first person on the TTP list that included other ‘luminaries’ like Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, the father of the Taliban, and Maulana Abdul Aziz, of Lal Masjid ‘fame’.
More recently, media reports indicate that Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani network, was meeting and negotiating with the current TTP head Noor Wali Mehsud at the request of the Army chief Bajwa and ISI chief Faiz Hameed.
Then there is the curious case of Aamir Ali Chaudhury, a TTP operative, specialising as an electronics and explosives expert. The UN’s 1267 Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee had listed him on October 18, 2012 for being associated with the Al-Qaeda and the TTP. He was also linked with the bomb used in the failed May 2010 attack in Times Square, New York City, and proscribed by the US Department of Treasury.
Despite this record, it now emerges that in September 2020, Pakistan had sought the de-listing of Aamir Ali from the UN sanctions list.
In 2020, the former TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, ‘escaped’ from Pak army custody. The army, however, has given no explanation.
Given such damming evidence, the moot question is why would Pakistan resort to such charades and self-goals to blame India? There are possibly three reasons.
First, as a report of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) released on January 3 instant shows, Pakistan has been slipping on the terrorism front. According to it, there were a total of 146 terrorist attacks in 2020 that claimed 220 lives and injured 547. Of these attacks, the TTP perpetrated 67 or about 46 per cent of the total.
However, according to the TTP, it carried out 177 attacks in 2020, killing 200 and injuring 219, all of them being from the army/police/intelligence. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where Imran Khan’s party has been in power for the last seven years, witnessed the highest number of attacks. Quite clearly, the government has failed to tackle terrorism.
Second, the TTP’s operational strength has increased manifold after former splinter groups recently merged with it. Moreover, a recent UN report indicated that there were 6,000 to 6,500 TTP militants in Afghanistan. Pakistan is apprehensive that such a large number, when combined with the consolidation of the TTP, would be able to revive its operational capabilities and pose a very serious threat. This threat would also increase security concerns about the safety of Chinese projects and personnel. In the past, the TTP has warned China about retaliatory action for its persecution of the Uighurs.
These statistics clearly belie the Pak army’s claims that it had succeeded in wiping out terrorism. Hence, the desperation to look for a scapegoat. And no better scapegoat to find than India!
Thus, Pakistan has accelerated its efforts to project India as supporting the TTP. Such articulation is aimed at seeking an alibi for failing to control terrorism despite a large number of operations. It is also aimed at influencing the incoming Biden Administration to press the ‘pause’ button in the strategic relationship with India. It also aims to push India on the defensive during its non-permanent membership of the Security Council over the next two years. And finally, it is to convince the Chinese that India would be responsible for any attacks on its interests.
However, given Pakistan’s documented support to terrorism and links with various shades of terrorists, its patently false charges have not found resonance internationally that it had hoped for. Despite this, Pakistan will continue to score self-goals.(The writer is geo-political analyst and author of three books on Pakistan. He is Member, National Security Advisory Board, New Delhi. The contents of the article are personal and not necessarily be agreed by the newspaper. Editor)