Operation needed with China seeking ‘answers’ from Pakistan for failing to protect Chinese investments, citizens in Pakistan

New Delhi: The Pakistan army is going to launch a military operation to flush and eliminate Tehreek-E-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) members even as the peace talks that were taking place between the two since the last year have now come to a stand-still and collapsed for all practical purposes.

This operation, which will be on the line with similar operations that have taken place in the past involving heavy artillery, attack helicopters, and aircraft, has become inevitable with China demanding “answers” from GHQ Rawalpindi on its failure to protect and secure Chinese investments and citizens in the country. These probing questions were raised with the Pakistan delegation led by Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif that was in Beijing last week.

As The Sunday Guardian has reported in the past, carrying out a military operation against the TTP was an option that was never off the table for GHQ, Rawalpindi, even when it started initiating talks with the TTP by using the Kabul-based Haqqani network as a mediator.

The threat of the Pakistan army carrying out an operation against the TTP was one of the arguments used by the Afghan Taliban to force the TTP commanders to sit down for the talks, despite the TTP cadre and commander not being too happy about it because Pakistan army tended to renege on its past commitments that it had promised during earlier talks.

Apart from the fact that the TTP has now walked out from talks after multiple violent incidents, the army has also come under severe pressure from Pakistan media and members of civil society to take action against the TTP after reports started coming in that the TTP has re-established its control in a certain part of the Af-Pak region which prompted local people to take to the street to demonstrate against what they have called the re-establishment of TTP’s rule.

Earlier last month, a school van came under attack in Mingora, Swat in which the driver died and a student was injured this led to an angry, spontaneous congregation of people on the street demanding action against the perpetrators, which the local police said were local criminals and not TTP cadres, a theory which was discarded by the protesting people.

The TTP, which has been engaged in Afghan Taliban brokered talks with the Pakistan army that was initiated late last year- continued to engage with the army till July this year- as was reported by the Sunday Guardian quoting TTP sources and its chief Noor Wali Mehsud who spoke to The Sunday Guardian twice in the last few months.

However, things started deteriorating after the assassination of senior TTP commanders and AL Qaeda chief Ayman Al Zawahiri. Mehsud later went underground in September fearing similar attacks, which TTP believes were masterminded by the Pakistan intelligence agency, the ISI.

Following this, while the “ceasefire” officially still stands, both sides have carried out multiple fatal assaults against each other since then. The United States too has made it clear that it was cooperating with Pakistan to eliminate the “threat” of TTP. On 18 October the US State department staff acknowledged this on record during a scheduled media interaction.

With its newfound bonhomie with the US Biden administration and an angry China demanding visible action, the Pakistan army believes that this is the perfect time to launch an all-out offensive against the TTP despite the inevitable hardship that any such operation will bring to the local people who are already suffering on account of the unprecedented floods that the country witnessed recently.

A senior TTP source, while speaking to the Sunday Guardian earlier last week, confirmed that no talks were taking place between the two now since July end while detailing the 43 attacks in the last two months (September, October) that the group has carried out targeting the Pakistan army.

According to him, the Pakistan army was already carrying out operations against the TTP since 2014 and hence it would not be correct to say that the army was going to launch a ‘new operation’ against them. The Afghan Taliban government, which till July was being described as a “puppet’ of Islamabad by certain quarters, Kabul-based sources say, is now taking “independent” decisions as far as the issue of TTP-Pakistan was concerned.

It has indicated that it will not be taking any coercive action against the TTP which the GHQ had asked it to, something which will come as a kind of relief for the TTP that is up against the formidable Pakistan army that is being backed by the lone global superpower (U.S) and the other entity that is working to displace it from that position. (China).

Since 2002, the Pakistan army, which has developed an incorrigible habit and a global image of nurturing, protecting, and arming groups and then going after the same group, once it has “used” them, has carried out several “anti-terror” operations at its convenience in the past.

This includes Operation Al Mizan (2002–2006), Operation Zalzala (2008), Operations Sher Dil, Rah-e-Haq, and Rah-e-Rast (2007–2009), and Operation Rah-e-Nijat (2009–2010). Then, after a short hiatus, it carried out Operation Zarb-e-Azb (2014) which was followed by Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad (2017), which it claimed was done to eliminate homegrown terror groups, specifically the TTP. However, these operations have come at a very large social and economic cost for the locals.

During Operation Rah-e-Nijat, during which it got support from US Intelligence agencies including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Pakistan Army and Air Force conducted operations in South Waziristan using armor units, main battle tanks, helicopter gunships, and fixed-wing aircraft. The operation involved One entire Corp (the 11th), and three divisions-the 7th, the 9th, and the 14th along with two Special Services Group battalions and two infantry brigades (that were deployed at the Eastern border with India). However, this huge military aggression led to the displacement of more than 10 lakh people. During Operation Zalzala, which was carried out in 2008, as per official records, the army destroyed over 4,000 houses in South Waziristan in one month alone.