Pakistan: Swat: Return of the TTP
On October 10, 2022, the son of a local peace committee member was shot dead by unidentified terrorists in the Waliabad area of Swat District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
In a separate incident, on the same day, unidentified terrorists attacked a school van in the Charbagh area of Swat District, killing the driver and injuring two students.
On October 9, 2022, the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) foiled a terrorist attack and killed two Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists during an encounter in the Rahimabad area of Swat District. Four Security Force (SF) personnel were also injured during the encounter. The CTD team recovered hand grenades, weapons, and ammunition from the encounter scene.
It is useful to mention, here, that exactly 10 years ago, on October 9, 2012, Nobel laureate and Child rights activist Malala Yousufzai was attacked in Swat, while she was returning home from school. Yousufzai was grievously injured, but survived the attack.
On September 23, 2022, CTD killed Adil Zaib, a wanted TTP militant in the Charbagh area of Swat District.
Significantly, most of the Punjabi settler killings were recorded in South Balochistan, which accounts for 157 killings out of the total of 187, (principally in Bolan, Kech, Gwadar, Panjgur, Khuzdar, Sibi and Lasbela Districts); and 30 in North Balochistan (mostly in Nushki, Quetta and Mustang Districts). The overwhelming concentration of such killings in the South is because of the presence and dominance of Baloch insurgent groups in this region, while the North is dominated by ethnic Pashtun Islamist extremist formations such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), who engage principally in sectarian killings.
On September 13, 2022, a peace committee member and two of his Police guards were among five people killed, while several others sustained injuries, in a remote-controlled blast at the Kot Katai village of the Brai Bandi area of the Kabal tehsil (revenue unit) in Swat District. The peace committee member, identified as Idrees Khan, was the target of blast. A TTP statement later claimed,
We killed the leader of the peace committee Idress Khan in the area of Brai Bandi in the district of Swat with a bomb. Khan was involved in killing Taliban and torturing mujahedeen and their families in safe houses. The mujahedeen were pursuing him for almost 13 years.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, there was a total of six incidents of killing, in which 12 persons, including seven civilians and five terrorists, were killed in Swat District in the current year (data till October 16, 2022).. In the corresponding period of 2021, three persons, including two civilians and a terrorist, were killed in a single incident. No further killing was reported in the remaining period of 2021. Four persons (one civilian and three terrorists) were killed in 2020 and one person (civilian) was killed in 2019. 12 persons (including 11 troopers and a terrorist) were killed in 2018, the last time fatalities reached double digit in a year.
In Swat, which is roughly 240 kilometers (150 miles) from the capital, Islamabad, Fazal Hayat alias, Maulana Fazlullah alias Mullah Radio, started a radio broadcast in 2004 that carried him into people’s homes and, eventually, won him a wide and violent following. He was the leader of the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi. He later joined the TTP and also became its chief. By late October 2007, Fazlullah had established a "parallel government" in 59 villages in Swat Valley, establishing ‘Islamic courts’ to enforce Sharia law. In early 2009 the group temporarily gained control of about 70 per cent of Swat. Thus, Swat was a major TTP stronghold between 2007 and 2009. In these three years, according to the SATP database, a total of 4,167 persons, including 775 civilians, 422 SF personnel, 2,826 terrorists, and 144 in the ‘not specified’ category, were killed. A high of 402 civilian fatalities was recorded in 2008. SF and terrorist fatalities were highest in 2009, at 177 and 1,742, respectively.
Prior to 2007, between March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on conflict in Pakistan, and 2006, seven persons, including five civilians and two terrorists had been killed in the district.
In 2009, the Pakistani military drove the armed group’s fighters out, and the terrorists took shelter along the border in Afghanistan. At least two million people were displaced from the area in 2009, when the Pakistan Army initiated Operation Rah-e-Rast (path to truth) in a bid to clear the area of terrorists.
After the Operation, violence declined. Between 2010 and 2022 (till October 14), a total of 475 persons, including 142 civilians, 37 SF personnel, 294 terrorists, and two in the not specified category, were killed. Since 2010, civilian fatalities have gone into double figures thrice – in 2010, 2013 and 2014.
The number of civilians killed in Swat in 2022 is highest in a year since 2015, when nine civilians were killed.
An October 12, 2022, report suggested that the TTP has re-emerged in the restive areas of Swat, as militants detained Police personnel and an Army officer after the law enforcement officials launched an operation to capture TTP militants.
Earlier, an August 12, 2022, report noted that TTP militants had established a check-post at Balasoor Top, besides roaming about freely in other areas of the Matta tehsil (revenue unit) of Swat
The local residents said the TTP militants were not only at Balasoor Top, but were also present in large numbers in the mountainous areas of Matta tehsil, including Bar Shor, Koz Shor, Namal, Gat Peuchar and other areas. Importantly, the Geo News correspondent in Swat, Mehboob Ali, claimed that at least 200-250 TTP militants were in the area.
Interestingly, on August 14, Pakistan military’s media wing, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), issued a statement, admitting that the presence of a “small number of armed men on a few mountain-tops between Swat and Dir has been observed”, located far away from populated areas. The ISPR also stated, “Apparently, these individuals sneaked in from Afghanistan to resettle in their native areas”, adding that a “close watch was being maintained on their limited presence and movement in mountains.” However, the military had earlier dismissed what it termed a “misperception about alleged presence of a large number of proscribed organisation TTP’s armed members in Swat Valley”.
Predictably, the Afghan Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in August 2021 has significantly bolstered the TTP terrorists who had taken shelter in Afghanistan, to restore operations in Pakistan. The TTP leadership, along with its foot soldiers, find safe haven in Afghanistan without any constraints.
According to the Thirtieth report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2610 (2021) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities, released in July 2022,
Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) constitutes the largest component of foreign terrorist fighters in Afghanistan (between 3,000 and 4,000). One Member State reported that current TTP leader Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud has united the group, which is now more cohesive, presenting a greater threat in the region.
These terrorists are now making comeback in Swat and other areas of Pakistan. Despite ongoing talks with the Government, mediated by the Afghan Taliban, they are engaged in violence, and the talks have failed to yield any positive result so far.
Meanwhile, people are furious over the government's inaction, believing that their leaders were either supporting TTP, or are afraid of them, which perhaps explains why the government has not taken any effective action.
On October 11, 2022, thousands of people took to the streets at Nishat Chowk in Mingora, Swat, for a second day, to protest a surge in suspected militant attacks in Swat Valley, fearing that violence could disrupt years of peace, development, and tourist activities. Mingora echoed with slogans of “No more terrorism” and “We demand peace from the state”. Ahmed Shah, spokesperson for the Swat Qaumi Jirga, a representative body of residents, said more than 15,000 people had attended the protest, the sixth in the past two months. Moreover, as reported on October 11, 2022, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) declared that Swat's residents were right to hold the security forces responsible for failing to enforce the writ of the state:
It was callous and short-sighted to have downplayed the threat from militants, given residents' growing protests and calls for security. While the perpetrators must be brought to book promptly, the state must also stop ceding space to extremists – a lesson it has consistently failed to learn at the expense of its people.
Also, a sizeable campaign against re-Talibanization in ongoing on social media, with trending of #swatrejectsmilitancy, #PashtunLivesMatter and #swatforpeace, where many are accusing the government for not highlighting the popular anti-militancy movement. People from various walks of life are coming out openly on various platforms, to reject terrorism and militancy in Swat.
Meanwhile, KP government spokesperson Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, claimed that militant groups opposed to the talks were active against the government in the province. Further, as he stated on October 11, 2022, that TTP was not behind every incident of terrorism and must not be linked to all of them. He claimed during the peace talks, it had been agreed that TTP would claim responsibility for any act of violence executed by the group.
The situation in Swat and in other parts of KP has demonstrated the inability or lack of political will of the Pakistani government to protect its own citizens from the terrorists, with whom it is engaged in negotiations. Moreover, it also highlights the weakness if the negotiation process, which appears to be moving inexorably to failure, with the TTP leadership displaying complete intransigence on its core objectives.