The TTP tango

Relations between the United States and Pakistan continue tospiral downwards following the cross-border incident that resulted in the deathof 24 Pakistani troops along the border with Afghanistan last month. In fact, overthe past several months, Pakistan has, according to some accounts, engaged in aseries of actions that ought to worry U.S. decision makers. Far from ...

A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images
A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images
A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images

Relations between the United States and Pakistan continue tospiral downwards following the cross-border incident that resulted in the deathof 24 Pakistani troops along the border with Afghanistan last month. In fact, overthe past several months, Pakistan has, according to some accounts, engaged in aseries of actions that ought to worry U.S. decision makers. Far from shiftingits policy on providing support and sanctuary for externally focused militantgroups, Pakistani officials have potentially sought to strengthen their tieswith militants and have reportedly started negotiations with a key militantcommander Wali ur-Rehman,a Waziristan-based commander on the U.S. State Department's list of foreignterrorists, and MaulviFaqir Mohammad, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban in Bajaur Agency. Apeace deal with Rehman and other Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) would be atroublesome development, and was noted with some concern by White Housespokesperson Caitlin Hayden over the weekend, although TTPspokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan and Pakistan'spolitical leadership have both issued denials.

In November, reporting indicated that militants havedeclared a nation-wide ceasefirewith the Pakistani government while both sides talked, though again, the TTPand government both deniedthese claims. In past peace deals, the Pakistani government has allowedmilitant commanders to control Taliban "mini-states" in exchange forshifting their jihad across the border into Afghanistan. For Pakistan's seniorleadership, turning anti-state or "bad Taliban" into Afghanistan-focused or"good Taliban" would be a major achievement. For U.S. and coalition forces fightingto stabilize Afghanistan and rid the region of al-Qaeda and its affiliates, itcould be a nightmare.

It is widely believed that influential elements within Pakistan'ssecurity apparatus have unsuccessfully tried to convince the TTPto shift their focus to the fight in Afghanistan -- but their fortunes may be changing.These reported peace talks were a product of the All Parties Conference hostedby Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gailani earlier this fall, which wasconvened to address Pakistan's national security situation following recentU.S. allegations of direct, state-sponsored support for Afghan-focusedterrorist groups, such as the Haqqani network. The conference produced adeclaration seeking peace with militants throughout the tribal areas, evenreferring to militants as "ourown people" -- the same people that are largely responsible for over 200suicide attacks, killing at least 3,600 people since the beginningof 2008. Privately, the declaration reflects the military's long-heldbelief that even anti-state militants, such as the TTP, can be turned into proxies,a key component in the military's policy of state-sponsored exportation ofterror in neighboring territories, such as Afghanistan.

Relations between the United States and Pakistan continue tospiral downwards following the cross-border incident that resulted in the deathof 24 Pakistani troops along the border with Afghanistan last month. In fact, overthe past several months, Pakistan has, according to some accounts, engaged in aseries of actions that ought to worry U.S. decision makers. Far from shiftingits policy on providing support and sanctuary for externally focused militantgroups, Pakistani officials have potentially sought to strengthen their tieswith militants and have reportedly started negotiations with a key militantcommander Wali ur-Rehman,a Waziristan-based commander on the U.S. State Department’s list of foreignterrorists, and MaulviFaqir Mohammad, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban in Bajaur Agency. Apeace deal with Rehman and other Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) would be atroublesome development, and was noted with some concern by White Housespokesperson Caitlin Hayden over the weekend, although TTPspokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan and Pakistan’spolitical leadership have both issued denials.

In November, reporting indicated that militants havedeclared a nation-wide ceasefirewith the Pakistani government while both sides talked, though again, the TTPand government both deniedthese claims. In past peace deals, the Pakistani government has allowedmilitant commanders to control Taliban "mini-states" in exchange forshifting their jihad across the border into Afghanistan. For Pakistan’s seniorleadership, turning anti-state or "bad Taliban" into Afghanistan-focused or"good Taliban" would be a major achievement. For U.S. and coalition forces fightingto stabilize Afghanistan and rid the region of al-Qaeda and its affiliates, itcould be a nightmare.

It is widely believed that influential elements within Pakistan’ssecurity apparatus have unsuccessfully tried to convince the TTPto shift their focus to the fight in Afghanistan — but their fortunes may be changing.These reported peace talks were a product of the All Parties Conference hostedby Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gailani earlier this fall, which wasconvened to address Pakistan’s national security situation following recentU.S. allegations of direct, state-sponsored support for Afghan-focusedterrorist groups, such as the Haqqani network. The conference produced adeclaration seeking peace with militants throughout the tribal areas, evenreferring to militants as "ourown people" — the same people that are largely responsible for over 200suicide attacks, killing at least 3,600 people since the beginningof 2008. Privately, the declaration reflects the military’s long-heldbelief that even anti-state militants, such as the TTP, can be turned into proxies,a key component in the military’s policy of state-sponsored exportation ofterror in neighboring territories, such as Afghanistan.

The TTP is a loose confederation of militant organizations primarilyfocused on targeting the Pakistani state, with the shared goal of overthrowingthe government and imposing sharialaw. Anti-state activities in Pakistan’s Federally-Administered Tribal Areasregion have a long history, and as early as 2004, some militant groups begandescribing themselves as "PakistaniTaliban." In late 2007, several anti-state militant commanders formallyorganized themselves as the TTP under the leadership of South Waziristan-basedBaitullah Mehsud, launching a series of attacks and suicide bombings throughoutthe country. Rather than a single, unified entity, the TTP is a movementcomposed of independent commanders and their allied fighters. Consequently,factions within the TTP sometimes compete for resources and differ in theirprioritization of jihad against the Pakistani state or combating U.S. andcoalition forces in Afghanistan. In the ongoing peace talks, TTP militants aredemanding the cessation of Pakistani military operations against the TTP, therelease of jailed militants and compensation for civilian hardships duringmilitary operations in exchangefor their pledge to cease attacks against the Pakistani state.

The most troubling figure in the reported talks between thePakistani government and the TTP is Wali ur-Rehman — who is much morecommitted to the ongoingfight against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan than the fight againstthe Pakistani state. After the death of his cousin and former TTP leaderBaitullah Mehsud by a CIA drone strike in August 2009, Rehman remarked that the TTP and hisfighters in particular werecommitted to helping the fight in Afghanistan and consider U.S. President BarackObama their "No. 1 enemy." Rehman is a Mehsudtribesman leading the TTP in South Waziristan, a role he assumed afterBaitullah was killed. Unlike numerous other TTP commanders in Pakistan’s tribalregions, such as current TTP head Hakimullah Mehsud, Rehman is said to have wanted to end the TTP’s warwith the Pakistani government, saying it has destroyed the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan. At onepoint, Rehman was reportedly in secret negotiations with elements ofthe Pakistani government in Peshawar or Khyber. Rehman is reported to be afavorite of the reclusive Afghan Taliban chiefMullahMohammad Omar. For years, both Omar and thesenior leadership of the Afghanistan-focused Haqqaninetwork have urged the TTP to abandon their waragainst the Pakistani state and instead throw their weight behind the AfghanTaliban.

Even more troubling than Rehman’s links tothe Afghan Taliban is his relationship with al-Qaeda and his support for theirinternational agenda. In a September 2010 interview, Rehman explained how his TTPis in complete agreement with the ideology and agenda of al-Qaeda, claimingthat the TTP would expand their war effort during the nextdecade, presumably in close partnership with al-Qaeda. The following month, theUnited Nations placed Rehman on aninternational sanctions list, for "participating in the financing, planning,facilitating, preparing, or perpetrating activities of Al-Qaida. According tothe State Department, who has issued a five million dollar reward forinformation leading to Rehman’s capture, Rehman is directly linked to the suicide bombing thatkilled seven CIA employees at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost,Afghanistan in December 2009, and Faisal Shahzad’s failed bombing of TimesSquare by on May 1, 2010. None of this has discouraged Rehman from his agendaor support for al-Qaeda. After the death of Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011,Rehman threatened the West, saying, "soon youwill see attacks against America and NATO countries, and our first prioritiesin Europe will be France and Britain."

Should talks move forward, any eventual peace deal and thesubsequent reorientation of TTP fighters towards the fight against U.S. andcoalition forces in Afghanistan could prove problematic. The TTP has manytrained, hardened fighters which the Afghan Taliban would certainly welcome asforce multipliers — making the campaign to weaken them all the more difficult,especially as U.S. and coalition forces seek to draw down and transition thefight to the Afghans. Perhaps even more troubling than a growing partnershipbetween Afghanistan and Pakistan Taliban would be a newly established sanctuaryfor al-Qaeda and affiliated movements under the protection of Waliur Rehman inSouth Waziristan and other TTP commanders throughout Pakistan’s tribal areas. Ifthe Pakistani government continues to pursue peace with international al-Qaedaaffiliated jihadists such as Rehman, it could potentially negate or evenreverse much of the progress the United States has made against al-Qaeda overthe past several years in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Greater sanctuary andthe ability to communicate and transit the tribal areas under the protection oflocal enablers will allow the continued spread of al-Qaeda and its affiliatedmovements that will be difficult to contain.

Jeffrey Dressler is a senior analyst at the Institute forthe Study of War, where he studies security dynamics in Afghanistan andPakistan.

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