The army top brass on Thursday hinted at a tougher approach against the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as it emphasised continuation of counter-terrorism operations in Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa and Balochistan.
Speaking at the 250th Corps Commanders’ Conference, a monthly feature at General Headquarters, Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa, according to ISPR, “directed formations to maintain operational readiness and efforts to counter terrorism particularly in KP & Balochistan must continue (sic)”.
A review of the security situation and flood relief operations being undertaken by the army topped the agenda of the meeting.
The ISPR press release on the conference did not give any details about the emphasis on counter-terrorism operations.
Operations against Baloch insurgents (in Balochistan), Gul Bahadur group (in KP) and some of other militant outfits have been continuing.
However, there has been a cessation of hostilities between security forces and TTP since Eidul Fitr – at least an unannounced one as far as Pakistani security forces are concerned.
At present, the two sides are observing a three-month ceasefire as their representatives hold peace talks.
Gen Bajwa’s assertion about the continuation of the kinetic operations in KP and Balochistan provinces comes in the backdrop of growing public resentment about the return of TTP fighters.
Many suspect that the TTP fighters were returning as part of the ongoing peace talks.
Earlier this month, the TTP militants were seen in Swat’s Matta area and at least one incident of their clash with law-enforcement agencies was reported.
Similarly, their presence has been noted in North and South Waziristan where an uptick in target killings and kidnappings has been witnessed.
This has led to anti-TTP protest in Swat and North Waziristan.
The timing of Gen Bajwa’s statement also coincides with stress in peace talks that have been taking place in Afghanistan. There is a growing trust deficit between the two sides, though neither wants to walk out of the talks.
It is widely suspected that the TTP has begun extending active support to Gul Bahadur group in its attacks on security forces. The group, however, does not formally acknowledge its role in these attacks.
The TTP has, meanwhile, blamed security forces for the killing of two of its militants in North Waziristan.
In a statement released earlier this week, the terrorist group had warned that its patience was running thin.
Disquiet among TTP ranks is also visible over the death of the group’s spokesman and senior commander Omar Khalid Khorasani in Afghanistan in a bomb blast.
At the same time, Taliban Interior Minister Sirajudddin Haqqani, who had been mediating TTP–Pakistan talks, is under tremendous pressure after the killing of Al Qaeda chief in a US drone attack in Kabul at the end of last month.
The COAS statement was, therefore, seen by security analysts as an attempt to correct perceptions among the people worried at home about the TTP comeback, while at the same time conveying a tough message to the terrorist group.
Gen Bajwa praised the army’s flood relief efforts and “directed Army Formations to render all possible support to the flood affectees”, the ISPR said, adding that the participants discussed the flood situation and ongoing relief and rescue operations.
“Expressing deep sorrow over loss of precious lives and extensive damage to infrastructure due to unprecedented rains and floods, forum resolved to spare no efforts for mitigating the sufferings of flood affectees,” the ISPR further said.
In a separate statement, the ISPR said: “All General Officers of Pakistan Army have donated one month pay for flood relief operations.”
Meanwhile, Twitterati noted the absence of Bahawalpur Corps Commander Gen Faiz Hamid from the meeting. He was not seen in the video clip of the meeting that was publicly shared by the ISPR.
Gen Hamid had recently been transferred from Peshawar to the Bhawalpur corps. As the commander in Peshawar, he was the lead negotiator in talks with the TTP.