Last month, the Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP) claimed responsibility for a brazen siege of the Karachi Police Office (KPO), indicating further its operational capacity to hit urban centers in Pakistan. This was the second hostage situation by the TTP since it announced the end of a temporary ceasefire with the Government of Pakistan. The TTP, in targeting security forces in the heart of Karachi, reminds one and all of the wave of terror the group inflicted on Pakistan some years ago, before it was flushed out of the country through military operations in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Operating out of its safe havens in Afghanistan, the TTP, since 2020, has whipped up attacks on Pakistani security forces and installations. However, since its resurgence, the TTP has entered into rounds of negotiations with the Government of Pakistan, only to restart terrorist activities and become stronger than ever. Therefore, as of today, the TTP is once again posing a formidable security challenge to Pakistan, a country that is already in the grips of many a political and economic crisis. The TTP’s revival, it must be stressed, speaks to how ineffective recent efforts to engage with it were. This failure was duly acknowledged by Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, right after a grotesque attack jolted the Pakistani city of Peshawar.Indeed, if past parleys with the group are anything to go by, it should be clear that the TTP has just used them to gain strength and legitimacy. Thus, giving negotiations another go would just not cut it for Pakistan, not least because it cannot afford to give a breather to this proscribed group, one that wants to defy and challenge the state at all costs. The question then is this: How should Pakistan tackle its inveterate TTP problem? With talks having proven to be ineffective tools to convince the TTP to renounce violence, Pakistan ought to take a number of steps, two of which merit further deliberations.
First, the Government of Pakistan should, once and for all, decide to not engage in any dialogue with the TTP. As aforementioned, all previous attempts to chart a modus vivendi with the TTP have only gone on to bolster the stature of that group. Hence, if today, Pakistan again offers an olive branch to the TTP, it will come across as the weaker party, and, in the process, accept that group’s strength. To this end, government officials should avoid giving mixed signals about how the state wants to deal with the TTP. Taking talks out of this equation is important, not least because doing so would signal to the TTP Pakistan’s unwillingness to give it a breathing space. Also, engaging the TTP in dialogue, especially at a time when it is staging a comeback, will be a great development for the group, one that will give it more time to tie loose ends. Further, negotiations with the TTP are primed to fail from the get-go simply because the group does not accept the writ of the state of Pakistan. Therefore, any ceasefire that may be reached after rounds of discussions will be short-lived and only go on to undermine Pakistan’s fight against the TTP. All this suggests that there is little to be gained from any future dialogue with the TTP. If anything, it would speak to Pakistan’s inconsistent policy vis-à-vis terrorism, something which would make for bad optics.
Second, before the TTP becomes a bigger headache, Pakistan must look to fully implement the National Action Plan (NAP). This will entail carrying out targeted military operations in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with a view to destroying whatever infrastructure and assets the TTP has on Pakistani territory. Also, as per the agenda items of NAP, strict action has to be taken against the online propagation of terrorism. Therefore, it is important for the government to decapitate the TTP’s communications scaffold, which, in and of itself, is a big force multiplier. However, the most critical element of any action against the TTP is to deal with the group’s sanctuaries in Afghanistan. While Pakistan should continue lending its support to Afghanistan as that country tries to navigate multiple crises, it must not let Afghan territory be used against its interests. Hence, it is imperative for Pakistan to center its engagements with the Afghan Taliban on the issue of continued TTP presence in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban, it must be noted, have been found wanting in taking actions against the TTP. If anything, one of the reasons why Pakistan had agreed to negotiate with the TTP is the Afghan Taliban’s insistence on taking this route. Given the results, Pakistan cannot afford to rely on the half-hearted efforts taken by the Afghan Taliban. And if the TTP continues to use its safe havens in Afghanistan to mount attacks on Pakistan, the latter will have to give up its defensive approach and adopt an offensive one. Indeed, if points of origin of terror-related violence are hit and eliminated, Pakistan will make counterterrorism gains going forward. That said, taking the fight into Afghan territory should be made part of a broader strategy to deal with the TTP. Incentivizing and enabling the Afghan Taliban to take on the TTP should always be part of Pakistan’s policy toolkit. Therefore, it is reasonable to argue that Pakistan must focus on neutralizing whatever remains of the TTP threat through an effective strategy that encompasses the adequate application of force.
In sum, while the TTP threatens to wreak havoc in Pakistan like it did in the past, it remains vulnerable to concerted actions from Pakistan. Therefore, for its part, the Government of Pakistan must do away with dilly-dallying in dealing with the TTP. Taking a consistent course of action as part of a comprehensive strategy will help Pakistan deal with its TTP conundrum.
 “TTP Attackers Killed in Late-Night Raid on Karachi Police Office,” February 18, 2023, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2023/02/18/ttp-attackers-killed-in-late-night-attack-on-karachi-police-office/.
 Anwar Iqbal, “TTP Still Active with up to 5,000 Fighters: UN,” DAWN.COM, 07:27:27+05:00, https://www.dawn.com/news/1674089.
 Salman Rafi Sheikh, “Taliban’s Mirror Image TTP Raising Hell in Pakistan,” Asia Times, December 22, 2021, https://asiatimes.com/2021/12/talibans-mirror-image-ttp-raising-hell-in-pakistan/.
 “After Peshawar Attack, Pak Interior Minister Sanaullah Admits TTP Resettlement Policy Proved Ineffective,” ANI News, January 31, 2023, https://www.aninews.in/news/world/asia/after-peshawar-attack-pak-interior-minister-sanaullah-admits-ttp-resettlement-policy-proved-ineffective20230131154656/.
 Evolving Geopolitics: Impact on Pakistan, 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBhIxkolk2Y.
 Ejaz Haider, “Pakistan Needs a Proactive Afghanistan Policy,” The Friday Times – Naya Daur (blog), July 1, 2021, https://www.thefridaytimes.com/2021/07/02/pakistan-needs-a-proactive-afghanistan-policy/.