The savage terror attack at a hotel in Kabul has elicited strong outrage from India, one of major development partners of Afghanistan.In a sharply-worded statement, India has strongly condemned the attack and voiced grave concern at the spread of terror by the “internationally proscribed Haqqani Network” that is enjoying safe haven in the neighbourhood without naming Pakistan, which has called for greater cooperation in combatting terror.

It was 14 hours of terror that kept Afghan security forces and Norwegian troops engaged in a fierce encounter with gunmen who attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul on January 21. With Taliban claiming responsibility, this is a major attack against the international community after the March 2014 similar attack on another hotel in Kabul that left 9 people dead.Among the 18 people reported to have been killed, 14 were foreigners including 2 Venezuelan pilots of the privately owned airline KamAir, six Ukrainians and one Kazakh national. By the time the last of the six attackers were gunned down and 150 people rescued, six security forces were left severely wounded. Among the victims was Mufti Ahmad Farzan, a member of the High Peace Council, who was engaged in reconciliation efforts with the Taliban.

In recent times there has been a spurt in terror attacks in Afghanistan that continue to hinder the peace process. Just a few days ago Taliban militants stormed a village in the northern province of Balkh, searching and killing police officers. In another attack in Herat at least 8 civilians lost their lives when a roadside mine went off.

In a statement Afghan interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish said that information obtained so far reveals that the attackers may have already been inside the hotel before the attack was launched. In their statement the Taliban confirmed that the attack, originally planned for last week, was postponed due to a wedding on the premises that would have led to heavy civilian casualties.



After months of threats and warnings to Pakistan for failing to act against terror groups like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, the US administration has finally acted and suspended around USD 1.15 billion security assistance to its long-time ally. This follows President Donald Trump’s tweet on the New Year to hold up $255 million in foreign military aid to Islamabad.The suspension of US aid to Pakistan is a vindication of the long-standing stance of India, which has repeatedly argued that the US aid has been diverted by Pakistan to support and nurture terrorism in the region. “Today we can confirm that we are suspending national security assistance only, to Pakistan at this time until the Pakistani government takes decisive action against groups, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. We consider them to be destabilising the region and also targeting US personnel. The US will suspend that kind of security assistance to Pakistan,” State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters.

The suspension includes foreign military financing (FMF) and the coalition support fund (CSF). While civilian aid assistance will not be blocked, no military equipment or security-related fund transfer will be made. However, exceptions could be made in case of critical US national security priorities.”At this stage all Fiscal Year 17 CSF have been suspended, so that’s the entire amount of USD 900 million,” Department of Defense Spokesperson Lt Col Mike Andrews said.

On the question of cutting off the aid to Pakistan, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said: “I prefer not to address that right now because it’s obviously still being formulated as policy. But I’ll give my advice on it to the president. I also agree on some confidentiality there”.

“People have long asked, why don’t you do more about Pakistan, and I think this sort of answers that question. Obviously, Pakistan is important, an important relationship to the US, because together we can work hard to combat terrorism. Perhaps no other country has suffered more from terrorism than Pakistan and many other countries in that part of the region… They understand that, but still they aren’t taking the steps that they need to take in order to fight terrorism,” Spokesperson for the US State Department Heather Nauert said.

Pakistan could hit back by denying crucial access routes to Afghanistan, which would lead to further deterioration of bilateral ties. There have already been protests against Mr Trump’s aggressive attacks on twitter and the Pakistan establishment has accused the US of grossly distorting facts.


pakistan-taliban1Much has been written about Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is accused of the savage attack on the Peshawar school children on December 16, 2014. But only a few of the writings have attempted to examine a critical question — Why does TTP target the Pakistani state and its army? A coherent answer to this question would call for an objective assessment of the nature and character of this group.

Such an assessment has become all the more important in view of the Peshawar attack. The TTP does pose a serious threat to the state of Pakistan, in ways not appreciated fully even after the Peshawar attack. A failure to assess the nature of the threat posed by TTP to Pakistan could have serious consequences for India and the region as a whole.

A starting point could be the genesis of TTP. Three events in essence shaped the group’s ideology, character and formation in December 2007. First and foremost was the Afghan Jihad where many of the tribal leaders and men were recruited as ‘mujahideen’, funded and armed by the Saudi-US combine and trained by Pakistan Army. The Afghan battlefield also brought the tribal leaders close to foreign fighters, notably the Arabs, many of whom later became part of al Qaeda. Second was the events following the al Qaeda attack on the US in September 2001. In the US counter-offensive launched in Afghanistan, a large number of al Qaeda and Taliban men and leaders fled to Pakistan and many of them found easy refuge in the tribal areas, thanks to their close relations with the Haqqani Network, various tribal leaders and Pakistan Army.

The third, perhaps the most relevant in the present context, was the series of military offensives launched by Pakistan Army in the tribal areas since 2002 and the launching of Drone attacks by the US in 2004.

Both the military offensives carried out by Pakistan Army and the US Drone attacks have killed several thousand in the tribal areas dominated by Pashtun communities. There is no record of the deaths in any of these offensives. Some estimates suggest that over 3000 people have died in the US Drone attacks with only a small percentage identified as terrorists. A large number of the dead, and injured, remain anonymous and a significant percentage of this anonymous figure were civilians—men, women and children.

There is no figure to match the Pakistan Army military actions in the area since 2002. What is known is the intensity of these offensives—the military used gunships, combat jets and field artillery to kill, to destroy and raze villages after villages in the area. The quantum of destruction could be gauged from the number of people displaced due to these operations. In 2008, the UN reported close to eight million displaced persons—men, women and children forced to flee their homes and take refuge in tents put up by distant places. The latest military operation, Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which began in June 2014, has already displaced close to one million people.

It would be amiss not to mention the Lal Masjid episode of July 2007 when the army launched a short but a bloody attack on the mosque in Islamabad to neutralise a group of students and clerics who were demanding an imposition of sharia in the country and had taken to the streets. A few hundred students and others had died in the offensive (the army estimated a little over a hundred while the other estimates put the figure at over 300), many of them were from the erstwhile North West Frontier Province and the tribal areas.

It is against this backdrop that several tribal groups, till then fighting against the foreign forces in Afghanistan, decided to come together under an umbrella group called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). It was not a splinter group of Afghan Taliban nor was directly associated with al Qaeda. It had no connection with the Haqqani Network either. But the evolution of violent armed groups in the region post-2001 has been so complex and opaque it would be deceptive to believe that TTP has had no association with any of these groups.

This complex nature of violence is reflected in TTP’s survival against compelling odds and Pakistan’s struggles to contain the group. TTP is not a big group with its cadre strength between 5000 and 30000 (different estimates), a large number of them have been killed in Pak military offensives and Drone attacks since 2002; much of its top leadership has been killed in Drone attacks and it gets no support from any state agency, be it in Pakistan or outside. The group not only faces the might of Pakistan Army and the state but also several terrorist groups, patronised by Pakistan Army, like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), which have been used to counter them. The group, despite these challenges, managed to attack the Karachi airport early this year and carry out a suicide bombing at Wagah in November this year.

Pakistan Army’s struggles to contain the group could be gauged from the series of military offensives it had launched in the past to destroy TTP but with little success. Apart from occasional ceasefires, TTP has consistently attacked military assets in different provinces, including Punjab. TTP had also kidnapped soldiers from the army as well as the paramilitary force, Frontier Corps, and beheaded a few of them.

One of the key reasons for TTP’s survival has been Pakistan’s policy of using terrorist groups as instruments of state policy. In this context, Pakistan Army’s protection of the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban as ‘ strategic assets’ has helped TTP to retain its sanctuary and its attack capabilities. The areas dominated by the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban have provided TTP with ‘strategic depth’. Whenever the Pakistan military stepped up its offensive in the tribal areas, TTP found it convenient to move into the Taliban-controlled areas. There is substantial evidence that the Haqqani Network has also helped TTP to survive the military onslaught which, in any case, has been selective and hence ineffective. For instance, before launching the current operation, the Haqqanis were alerted and moved to safer locations.

Another important reason for TTP’s survival has been its vast network of supporters in other parts of Pakistan, particularly Karachi which is considered to be the city with the largest number of Pashtuns. TTP has drawn its cadres and much of its financial resources from Karachi where it has a stake in the booming business of kidnapping for ransom. Likewise, TTP also has a working relationship with extremist groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) which are also active in the criminal world in Karachi and other major cities of Pakistan. The LJ, based in Punjab, incidentally openly campaigned for Nawaz Sharif during the 2013 general elections.

It is fairly apparent that TTP benefits in many other ways from its association with al Qaeda and the Taliban. This becomes apparent from Pakistan’s noticeable failure to persuade the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban to keep TTP in check or help the army to destroy the group. This failure could also indicate the limited leverage the army has on its ‘proxy’ groups, which are emboldened by the impending departure of the foreign forces from Afghanistan. Both Haqqanis and Afghan Taliban, like TTP, are Pashtun groups.

What Pakistan today faces in TTP is a hybrid group, a mixture of virulent insurgency and terrorism, fuelled by its association with al Qaeda. The Peshawar attack has added another dimension—the brutality of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi) 

Courtesy: ORF

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