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Taliban success in Afghanistan fuels Pakistani Taliban revival

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

Police in 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 within the early morning from the steep mountains that tower over Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. 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 have been lifeless.

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 was just about 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 haven to that group, safety analysts stated the success of the Afghan Taliban has at a minimal emboldened its Pakistani counterpart and inspired it to completely embrace the identical playbook.

A string of lethal blasts and shootings has led to a second of soul-searching in Pakistan. Through the 20-year U.S.-led battle in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s management was continuously accused of harboring or tolerating Afghan Taliban leaders and fighters. It now seems to seek out itself on the reverse finish of a really related scenario.

The violence has horrified Pakistanis, whose recollections of the group’s first wave of insurgency greater than a decade in the past are nonetheless vivid. The Pakistani Taliban, often known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, has been searching for 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 throughout that first push, imposing sharia legislation in remoted valleys and staging lethal bombings. Pakistan may now be heading into a brand new such cycle of violence, residents within the northwestern a part of the nation worry.

Through the first half of this yr, militant assaults all through Pakistan went up 80 p.c, in response to 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, stated in an interview.

Stated Asif Durrani, Pakistan’s particular consultant on Afghanistan: “It’s not solely that TTP is taking shelter in Afghanistan, but additionally that some Afghans are becoming a member of their ranks.” 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 gives neither shelter nor oblique help for the TTP, and that no Afghans ought to struggle a jihad overseas with out the supreme chief’s specific orders.

However throughout the previous couple of years, the Pakistani Taliban has adopted the instance of its Afghan counterpart by placing out high-definition propaganda clips and naming shadow governors to recommend it’s making ready for the day when it should 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 latest 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 prognosis and public place on what the elemental driver of assaults is,” stated Asfandyar Mir, a senior professional at america Institute of Peace, including that “the goodwill that the [Afghan] Taliban loved is now gone.” Mir cited Pakistan’s deportation of 1.7 million Afghan refugees, which started final week, as probably the most severe end result to this point of Pakistan’s rising frustration.

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

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

“We misplaced so many mates that day,” stated Kashif Khan, whose brother — a police officer — was killed within the bombing. “Loss of life is a certainty for all people,” Khan stated. However to him and others in Peshawar, it has felt loads nearer in latest 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 enjoying outdoors.

Pakistan’s authorities partly 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 gadgets and different tools 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 duty 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,” stated Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Afghan authorities.

In non-public, the Afghan authorities says it has detained or relocated no less than some TTP fighters, in response to Pakistani officers. “We’ve been assured by the Afghan authorities that they won’t enable Afghan soil for use in opposition to Pakistan,” Durrani stated.

Pakistani officers stated they suppose the Afghan authorities’s reluctance to verify they’re cooperating with Pakistan could mirror the stress Afghan leaders face from some within the authorities who’re skeptical of Pakistan and see the Pakistani Taliban as an ideological counterpart.

However Pakistan’s deal with the Afghan authorities’s duty may understate the extent to which the TTP has itself developed lately, analysts say. It has overcome inner disarray and morphed right into a simpler group that’s “making an attempt to emulate the Afghan Taliban,” Mir stated.

From 2007 to 2014, the Pakistani Taliban and different teams had already made vital positive factors 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 significantly 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 method, earlier than its victory, of naming shadow governors that every oversee 5 – 6 regional deputies with duty for recruitment, financing and politics, in response to Khorasani, the TTP commander, who was the group’s shadow governor for Peshawar till final yr.

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

Many commanders have been rotated out of their house bases “to higher handle inner politics, decreasing the dangers of fragmentation and splintering,” stated 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 presupposed to be reassigned.

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

A whole bunch extra law enforcement officials 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 assaults on nonmilitary targets, saying its solely enemy is the Pakistani state — and never the Pakistani folks or america.

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 members of the safety forces: The 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 an area chamber of commerce, stated 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 then launched solely after a ransom fee. Now, he stated, “it looks as if issues are headed the identical route.”

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

Compounding the menace posed by the Pakistani Taliban, assaults have additionally been carried out in latest months by the regional Islamic State department, Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-Ok), prompting fears that the 2 teams may enter a lethal competitors for consideration and followers. Whereas ISIS-Ok 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-Ok, and it has fueled a want of ISIS-Ok to not solely undermine the Taliban, but additionally the Taliban’s allies,” stated Michael Kugelman, a South Asia analyst on the Wilson Middle, warning that it may create a cycle of violence “the place all sides is making an attempt to one-up the opposite.”

Spiritual minorities in Pakistan have been among the many first victims. Not less than two members of Peshawar’s Sikh neighborhood have been killed prior to now few months. Whereas ISIS-Ok asserted duty for a number of the latest assaults, suspicion has additionally fallen on TTP-linked teams.

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The town was house to 500 Sikh households 5 years in the past. As of late, 200 households are left, stated Balbeer Singh, a instructor in a Sikh spiritual faculty. Many households, together with his personal, are enthusiastic about leaving. Since final yr, “every day, the scenario has gotten worse,” he stated, sitting within the faculty that was as soon as bustling with college students. Outdoors the constructing, Pakistani police stood guard with rifles.

After each new killing or blast, the college is sort of empty for no less than every week, he stated. “We’re making an attempt our greatest to console our kids,” he stated, “however there are occasions when they’re simply not keen to depart their houses anymore.”

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

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