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Taliban success in Afghanistan fuels Pakistani Taliban revival

Pakistani officers, who thought that the Pakistani Taliban now not posed a critical menace, have been surprised by the violence

Police n Peshawar, Pakistan, collect Sept. 28 to pay tribute to these killed in a January assault on a mosque contained in the police compound. (Saiyna Bashir for The Washington Submit)

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The attackers descended from the steep mountains that tower over Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan within the early morning hours. Gunfire echoed within the valleys as Pakistani Taliban fighters stormed Pakistani army posts. By the point the combating stopped hours later, 4 troopers and 12 militants had been useless.

The Sept. 6 assault, described by officers in Pakistan as a cross-border assault from Afghanistan, surprised a Pakistani management that had thought the Pakistani Taliban to be nearly eradicated.

However the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan two years in the past has energized the Pakistani militant group. And whereas the Afghan authorities denies allegations that it’s offering havens to that group, safety analysts mentioned the success of the Afghan Taliban has at a minimal emboldened its Pakistani counterparts and inspired them to totally embrace the identical playbook.

The string of lethal blasts and shootings has led to a second of soul-searching in Pakistan. Throughout the 20-year U.S.-led battle in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s management was often accused of harboring or tolerating Afghan Taliban leaders and fighters. It now seems to search out itself on the reverse finish of a really comparable state of affairs.

The violence has horrified Pakistanis, whose reminiscences of the group’s first wave of insurgency greater than a decade in the past are nonetheless vivid. The Pakistani Taliban, also called Tehrik-e-Taliban, or TTP, has been in search of to oust the nation’s institution and put in place a conservative Islamic authorized and political system, just like the one now in energy in Afghanistan.

Working as a gaggle distinct from the Afghan Taliban, the TTP had made deep inroads into the nation on the time, imposing sharia regulation in remoted valleys and staging lethal bombings. Pakistan might now be heading into a brand new such cycle of violence, residents within the northwestern a part of the nation worry.

Throughout the first half of this yr, militant assaults all through Pakistan went up 80 p.c, in line with the Pakistan Institute for Battle and Safety Research, with the Pakistani Taliban suspected of being behind most of them.

“Persons are becoming a member of our ranks in a means we’ve by no means seen earlier than,” one of many group’s commanders, Omar Mukarram Khorasani, mentioned in an interview.

“It’s not solely that TTP is taking shelter in Afghanistan, but additionally that some Afghans are becoming a member of their ranks,” mentioned Asif Durrani, Pakistan’s particular consultant on Afghanistan. Fourteen of 24 main terrorist assaults carried out this yr in Pakistan have been by Afghan nationals, Pakistani officers say.

The Taliban-run authorities in Afghanistan has vehemently denied the Pakistani assertions, saying it neither offers shelter nor oblique assist for the TTP, and that no Afghans ought to struggle a jihad overseas with out the supreme chief’s express orders.

However throughout the previous couple of years, the Pakistani Taliban has adopted the instance of its Afghan counterparts by placing out high-definition propaganda clips and naming shadow governors to counsel it’s getting ready for the day it would seize energy in Pakistan. Final weekend, a gaggle linked to the TTP carried out a brazen assault on a Pakistani air drive base deep contained in the nation, damaging a number of plane.

Pakistan’s management in current months has begun to publicly accuse the Afghan authorities of not doing sufficient to rein within the group.

It marks “a shift in their very own analysis and public place on what the elemental driver of assaults is,” mentioned Asfandyar Mir, a senior knowledgeable at the USA Institute of Peace, including that “the goodwill that the [Afghan] Taliban loved is now gone.” Mir cited Pakistan’s deliberate deportation of 1.7 million Afghan refugees, which started final week, as probably the most critical consequence to this point of Pakistan’s rising frustration.

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In Peshawar, considered one of Asia’s oldest buying and selling cities and a halfway level between Kabul and Islamabad for hundreds of years, the Pakistani Taliban’s rising footprint didn’t go unnoticed throughout the previous two years.

However it took a strong blast at a mosque inside a Peshawar police compound in January for officers right here to turn out to be alarmed. Eighty-seven folks had been killed within the bombing, which Pakistani officers suspected was orchestrated by the TTP.

“We misplaced so many mates that day,” mentioned Kashif Khan, whose brother — a police officer — was killed within the bombing. “Demise is a certainty for all people,” Khan mentioned. However to him and others in Peshawar, it has felt so much nearer in current months.

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Extortion makes an attempt blamed on the TTP have pressured enterprise leaders to maneuver their households to safer elements of the nation. In some communities, youngsters have stopped taking part in exterior.

Pakistan’s authorities partially faults the rushed U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan for the rise in assaults, arguing that the Pakistani Taliban was capable of seize weapons, night-vision units and different gear within the aftermath.

The Taliban-run Afghan authorities rejects these claims, saying that its actions within the wake of the takeover prevented weapons from being looted. It has additionally rejected accountability for the Sept. 6 assault, saying it didn’t originate in Afghanistan. “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan doesn’t enable any such teams to make use of Afghan territory,” mentioned Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban-run authorities.

In non-public, the Afghan authorities says it has detained or relocated a minimum of some TTP fighters, in line with Pakistani officers. “Now we have been assured by the Afghan authorities that they won’t enable Afghan soil for use towards Pakistan,” Durrani mentioned.

Pakistani officers mentioned they assume that the Afghan authorities’s reluctance to substantiate that they’re cooperating with them might mirror the stress Afghan leaders face from others within the authorities who’re skeptical of Pakistan and see the Pakistani Taliban as ideological counterparts.

However Pakistan’s give attention to the Afghan authorities’s accountability may understate the extent to which the TTP has itself developed lately, analysts say. It has overcome inside disarray and morphed right into a simpler group that’s “attempting to emulate the Afghan Taliban,” Mir mentioned.

Between 2007 and 2014, the Pakistani Taliban and different teams had already made vital good points in northwestern Pakistan. The 2014 Peshawar faculty bloodbath — when six of its gunmen killed 140 folks — was a turning level. A sustained Pakistani army marketing campaign fragmented the group and introduced it near dissolution.

Within the years since, and notably throughout the previous three years, the group’s new chief, Noor Wali Mehsud, has restructured the Pakistani Taliban. He has imitated the Afghan Taliban’s strategy, earlier than victory, of naming shadow governors that every oversee 5 – 6 regional deputies with accountability for recruitment, financing and politics, in line with Khorasani, the TTP commander, who was the group’s shadow governor for Peshawar till final yr.

“The previous system alongside tribal traces didn’t work,” he mentioned. “So, we utilized the Afghan system.”

Many commanders had been rotated out of their residence bases “to raised handle inside politics, decreasing the dangers of fragmentation and splintering,” mentioned Mir, the analyst. In its more and more skilled magazines and propaganda movies, the group contrasted rosy descriptions of life in Afghanistan with frustration over Pakistan’s financial downturn and surging inflation.

As combating intensified lately, Ibad Ullah, 18, repeatedly urged his father, a police officer in Peshawar, to switch to a special city. The Jan. 30 blast killed him simply as he was saying goodbye to his colleagues, hours earlier than he was alleged to be reassigned.

“He had simply known as my mother to have fun having picked up his switch papers,” he recalled.

Tons of extra cops and troopers have been killed this yr. However not like the primary wave of TTP violence that started in 2007, when its fighters killed American officers and Pakistani civilians indiscriminately, the group now not claims accountability for assaults on nonmilitary targets, saying its solely enemy is the Pakistani state — and never the Pakistani folks or the USA.

A devastating toll in Peshawar

Those that have been hit hardest by the resurgent militancy say the group’s assurances can’t be trusted. In Peshawar, the impact has been devastating for civilians and for members of the safety forces: tThe rise within the variety of lethal blasts has been accompanied by a surge in extortion makes an attempt and different crimes that officers blame on the Pakistani Taliban.

Fawad Ishaq, the president of a neighborhood chamber of commerce, mentioned most enterprise house owners in and round Peshawar have been victims of extortion schemes throughout the previous three years. On the peak of the primary wave of TTP violence in 2008, his youthful brother was kidnapped and launched solely after a ransom fee. Now, he mentioned, “it looks like issues are headed the identical path.”

Funding on this a part of northwestern Pakistan — lengthy a hub for the textile, concrete and sugar industries — has plummeted, Ishaq mentioned. He additionally blamed the Pakistani authorities, saying it has solely halfheartedly responded to the rising insecurity.

Compounding the menace posed by the Pakistani Taliban, the regional Islamic State department, Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-Okay), has additionally carried out assaults right here in current months, prompting fears that each teams might enter a lethal competitors for consideration and followers. Whereas ISIS-Okay is an ideological rival of the Taliban, they each draw on the identical pool of potential recruits.

“The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan sharpened the rivalry between the Taliban and ISIS-Okay, and it has fueled a need of ISIS-Okay to not solely undermine the Taliban, but additionally the Taliban’s allies,” mentioned Michael Kugelman, a South Asia analyst on the Wilson Middle, warning that it might create a cycle of violence “the place both sides is attempting to one-up the opposite.”

Spiritual minorities in Pakistan have been among the many first victims. At the very least two members of Peshawar’s Sikh neighborhood had been killed within the few previous months. Whereas ISIS-Okay claimed accountability for a number of the current assaults, suspicion has additionally fallen on TTP-linked teams.

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Town was residence to 500 Sikh households 5 years in the past. Nowadays, 200 households are left, mentioned Balbeer Singh, a trainer in a Sikh spiritual faculty. Many households, together with his personal, are fascinated with leaving. Since final yr, “every day, the state of affairs has gotten worse,” he mentioned, sitting within the faculty that was as soon as bustling with college students. Exterior the constructing, Pakistani police stood guard with rifles.

After each new killing or blast, the college is sort of empty for a minimum of per week, he mentioned. “We’re attempting our greatest to console our youngsters,” he mentioned, “however there are occasions when they’re simply not keen to go away their houses anymore.”

Noack reported from Islamabad. Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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