Pakistan’s Punjabi Taliban to Cease Internal Attacks, Continue Them in Afghanistan

Although their first press release announcing their change in plans earlier this month got little fanfare, now that they have followed it up with a video (fortunately, there are no beheadings in the video), the Punjabi Taliban’s decision to cease violent attacks within Pakistan is being hailed as a “Watershed Event“:

“We have decided to give up militancy in Pakistan. I’ve taken the decision in the best interests of Islam and the nation. I also appeal to all other armed groups to stop violent activities in Pakistan,” Asmatullah Muaweya, the chief of the Punjabi Taliban, said in a three-minute video message released to the media on Saturday. He added that his group would now focus on Dawah (Islamic preaching) for the “supremacy of Islam and protection of the system.”

“I’ve taken the decision after consulting religious scholars and tribal leaders,” said Muaweya whose group had been blamed for several deadly attacks in the country, especially in Punjab. He also called upon other militant groups to renounce violence and come to the negotiating table as the country was passing through a critical juncture.

Nearly lost in this fanfare about renouncing violence inside Pakistan is that we learned, even in the earlier announcement, that violence by the group inside Afghanistan would continue:

“We will confine our practical jihadist role to Afghanistan in view of deteriorating situation in the region and internal situation of Pakistani jihadist movement,” Punjabi Taliban chief Ismatullah Muawiya said in a pamphlet faxed to the media, without clarifying further.

That part of the change in plans was not overlooked by Afghanistan:

“Pakistani Charge d’Affaires Syed Muazzam Shah was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Sunday, and a strong protest was lodged over the declaration of war made by the Punjabi Taliban on the Afghan side of the Durand Line,” a Ministry’s statement said. The Dari-language statement was also emailed to The Express Tribune.

Abdul Samad Samad, head of political affairs in the Afghan foreign ministry, condemned the threats made by Muaweya, and described his remarks as “clear conspiracies against the stability and security of Afghanistan.”

“Such statements are against international laws and principles of good neighbourly relations,” the statement quoted the Afghan official as telling the Pakistani envoy.

The language gets even stronger from Afghanistan’s military:

In response to the assertions of the Punjabi Taliban, officials of the Afghan Ministry of Defense (MoD) have warned that any attacks on Afghanistan would face harsh response from the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

“We have a death message for those who want to attack Afghanistan,” MoD spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi said. “Afghanistan would be a cemetery for those who want to attack it.”

Further, Afghan politicians believe that they see the hand of ISI behind the move:

Afghan MPs have asserted that the proclamations made by Punjabi Taliban’s are another plan of Pakistan’s Inter-service Intelligence Services (ISI).

“This is another ISI stunt,” MP Rehana Azad said. “Pakistan has never wanted stability in Afghanistan.”

The Punjabi Taliban has not been the only branch to break away from Pakistan’s Taliban, also known as the TTP. There has been significant infighting in the TTP since the US killed its leader Hakimullah Mehsud just as he was about to begin peace talks with Pakistan. Today marks the split of an even larger group from the TTP that now claims to have the support of most TTP leaders:

The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) led by Mullah Fazlullah appear to have suffered a serious blow as the newly formed splinter group Jamatul Ahrar claims that it has the support of 70 to 80 per cent of TTP commanders and fighters. The group says they are not under TTP’s command any more.

Speaking to Dawn, Ehsanullah Ehsan, the spokesperson for the new group Jamatul Ahrar, claimed that they were administratively a separate group now. Responding to a query if they would follow the orders of the TTP Ameer, he said: “We, Jamatul Ahrar, have been administratively separated from them now.”

When questioned further about the control exercised by the Mullah Fazlullah-led Taliban, Ehsan said: “I’ll not comment on this question, however, I can claim about 70 to 80 per cent of the TTP, including Swat, is now part of TTP Jamatul Ahrar”.

This group, however, has announced that it will focus its actions on Pakistan first and has already claimed an attack inside Pakistan.

Returning to the Punjabi Taliban, Bill Roggio had this to say about a US drone strike back in July:

The remotely piloted Predators or Reapers are reported to have fired eight missiles at a compound in the village of Doga Mada Khel in the Datta Khel area of the tribal agency in the early morning of July 19, according to AFP.

Two commanders from the Punjabi Taliban, a grouping of jihadist groups from Pakistan’s Punjab province, are said to have been killed, but their names were not disclosed by Pakistani officials. The Punjabi Taliban, whose leader, Asmatullah Muawiya, also serves as an al Qaeda commander, has been agreeable to conducting peace talks with the Pakistani government.

Roggio continues, describing Datta Khel:

The Datta Khel area, where today’s strike took place, is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the top Taliban commander for North Waziristan. Bahadar provides shelter to senior al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from numerous Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups.

Datta Khel is a known hub of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. While Bahadar administers the region, the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and allied Central Asian jihadist groups are also based in the area. The Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, is known to operate a command center in Datta Khel. Some of al Qaeda’s top leaders have been killed in drone strikes in Datta Khel, including Mustafa Abu Yazid, a longtime al Qaeda leader and close confidant of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri; Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of the Shadow Army; and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a general in the Shadow Army.

But don’t look for any more high level terrorists to be killed in North Waziristan:

North Waziristan is in effect sealed off to outsiders, but many villagers believe that, as with previous operations, top militant commanders left the area before the bombings began. The offensive had been in the offing for several months as the Pakistani government’s attempts to engage the insurgents in peace talks collapsed, and even some military officials acknowledged that militants had time to flee.

“The fact of the matter is, the leadership at the moment is not present in the areas where we have carried out the operation. If they were, we would have apprehended them,” Maj. Gen. Zafarullah Khan, an army commander in the tribal region, told reporters last week at a briefing in a cantonment in Miram Shah.

Commanders said they had cleared militants out of Miram Shah, but many experts believe the most powerful insurgent leaders slipped across the border into Afghanistan, where they may be responsible for a recent increase in insurgent attacks coinciding with the country’s presidential election.

It seems very convenient for Pakistan’s military that the entrenched protesters in Islamabad calling for Nawaz Sharif to resign have taken headlines away from the military operation in North Waziristan and the attendant questions of what to do about the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced residents it has caused or whether the Haqqani Network and other groups had sufficient advance warning and/or help slipping away before the offensive began. Given these developments, Afghanistan’s allegations regarding the hand of ISI in the Punjabi Taliban’s move begin to take on more significance.

11 replies
  1. Don Bacon says:

    On a larger scale, it appears that the heretofore moribund Shanghai Cooperation Organization may take a more active role in the region as the US presence in Afghanistan, and Central Asia in general, fades.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken over the presidency of the organization. Putin has stressed that the expansion of SCO is of great importance. “Taking over the presidency, we believe that the process of expansion of SCO will take a real shape in the coming year. We will waste no effort to facilitate this.” Russia has been forced by the Ukraine situation to look away from Europe and toward Asia, where the growth is.

    There is talk that Iran, Pakistan and India will be admitted to the SCO next year. I look for Russia, along with China, to take a more active role to fill the vacuum left by the US. This might include a carving out and implementation of regional powers’ interests in Afghanistan to include Pakistan, Iran and India. Even the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project, killed by the US, might be resurrected.

    Pakistan’s main interest in Afghanistan is countering India’s involvement in Afghanistan, which drives ISI. Perhaps the SCO can address that concern.

    Shanghai Cooperation Organization, SCO
    member states
    –China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan
    Observer States
    –India, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan

    • TarheelDem says:

      That’s about as optimistic a sign as I’ve seen in this region lately. If the nations whose stability is most endangered by the continuation of ISI-India games in Afghanistan can exert their influence in a post-US Afghanistan through the SCO, politics might return to politics.

      From the point of view of the SCO, the important event is the withdrawal of US presence by year’s end. The advent of Iraq III on the horizon certainly puts pressure on the SCO not to allow similar excuses in Afghanistan.

      What threatens the US empire most is peace breaking out. Gorbachev understood that if not its full implications for Russia.

      At this point if the SCO makes the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline happen, it will be more like spiking the ball in the end zone than the actual attainment of a policy goal. In fact, over the long run it could turn into a Pyrric victory.

      • Don Bacon says:

        Right. Putin using SCO has a golden opportunity to “make hay” in Afghanistan which would benefit Russia in many ways: restoring Russian interests there, acting as a book-end to Central Asia, a poke in India’s (and US) eye, a closer relationship with Iran …etc. Apparently he is not going to allow the opportunity to pass. Putin plays chess while Obama plays checkers.
        One thought: perhaps there might be conditions placed upon India’s admission to SCO, conditions to limit India’s role in Afghanistan, so as to placate Pakistan’s ISI. That would be good. Pakistan’s biggest fear is to have its demon India on both flanks. One is quite enough.

        • TarheelDem says:

          Interesting point. One is quite enough indeed with the BJP in power. Could China-Russia-India-Pakistan concert possibly force US-Israel-UK-France nuke build-down? That random thought occurred to me relative to conditional SCO entry of India.

          Obama plays poker. You have to watch it carefully. Have to look at the hands that drop and what’s likely remaining. Hand-by-hand. No long-term strategy. But unfortunate things seem to happen to other actors politically. Weakness is dependency on the existing national security and intelligence community for information. And the dead weight of the Congressional GOP.

          My sense still is that if it is up to Obama alone the US is out of Afghanistan, come what may, in December of this year–possibily even beating the schedule like the military did in Iraq. The ISIS campaign gives the excuse to accelerate the move out of Afghanistan, which must do something interesting to the dynamics between the US and Iran when all of the objective pointers of national interest say that the US and Iran must come to agreement and restore normal diplomatic relations.

  2. bloopie2 says:

    Honestly, how is it possible to gain any traction in this spy-vs-spy or country-vs-country scenario? Can the US really say that a specific action it takes will have a given result that will endure? Or is everything so temporary and fluid that all this is moment to moment? How can there be a coherent ‘policy’ when all the players we are trying to manipulate are playing their own, more important, games? I really don’t think that anyone over there gives a s**t about what the US wants.

  3. ArizonaBumblebeeper says:

    One of the more intriguing questions re: Pakistan is the future of the Gwandar Port, which is located close to the Strait of Hormuz in Baluchistan, Pakistan on the Arabian Sea. Gwandar Port is considered to be one of the finest deep-water ports in all of Asia and is currently operated by the China Overseas Port Holding Company. Just three years ago there were rumors that the Chinese might station a military fleet at the port, which is close to Oman’s gas fields and Iranian and Saudi oil fields. At the time, the Chinese backed off and professed that would not happen. However, with the aggressive actions by the Americans in Ukraine and in the South China Sea, the Chinese military may be reevaluating that decision. I am sure the Russians would welcome this move since having a Chinese fleet at Gwandar Port would represent a major challenge to American interests in the region.

  4. Don Bacon says:

    Gwadar port, owned by China, has had a bright future for a long time, but it has been yet unrealized. A principal problem is that Gwadar is in the restless province of Balochistan, where the CIA has been active against Iran and China interests.
    When President Richard Nixon visited Pakistan in 1973, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto sought US help to construct a new port at Gwadar, and reportedly offered the US Navy use of the facility. He was unsuccessful, and Pakistan then turned to China for help. Work started in 2002, and China has invested $200 million, dispatching 450 personnel for the first phase of the job completed in 2006 and resulting in a deep-sea port.
    Gwadar: An unfulfilled dream — Feb 28, 2011
    Gwadar, a white elephant in Pakistan’s Balochistan province–Oct 6, 2011
    When complete, the port could be used by the Chinese Navy–Feb 17, 2013
    China, Pakistan Flesh Out New ‘Economic Corridor’–Feb 20, 2014
    However, in the absence of road or rail links from Gwadar port to the rest of the country, goods imported via Gwadar have to travel overland along the Mekran Coastal Highway to Karachi before being shipped north to the rest of the country, a route that defeats the very purpose in terms of cost and time that the Gwadar port was intended to fulfill.–Feb 19, 2013

  5. ArizonaBumblebeeper says:

    There is an interesting addendum to my previous comment re: Gwandar Port that I was not aware of earlier and could explain why the Chinese have not followed through on using the port for its naval fleet. Apparently, the Chinese have decided to make a major play for the Port of Sonadia on the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh. The Chinese had earlier agreed to make improvements amounting to $5 billion to the existing port facilities and had prepared a memorandum of understanding that would have allowed the Chinese Harbor Engineering Company to “design the facility”. This alarmed the United States and India because they thought the terms were a Trojan horse for the Chinese to design the facility to accommodate the Chinese naval fleet. Anyway, Bangladesh backed away from the deal at the last moment. The deal is still on the table, however, and China is offering assistance on other development projects to sweeten the pot for Bangladesh. Meanwhile, China is promoting having Bangladesh become a member of the newly formed BRICS Development Bank and is encouraging Bangladesh to anticipate that the bank will lend the country enough money to pay off its existing Extended Credit Facility Loan from the World Bank, which has terms that Bangladesh has chafed under. Meanwhile, the Americans are desperate to get use of the port for themselves since they want to station part of its naval fleet in this key gateway to Southeast Asia. The Bangladesh government recently announced it is eager to become a member of the BRICS Development Bank. Fasten your seat belts; the great game of the 21st Century is on.

    • TarheelDem says:

      Remind me what a bluewater naval fleet is useful for in the 21st century. And why other than symbol it matters. (This is not a naive question.)

Comments are closed.