The continuous raids carried out by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists against Pakistan Army in Zhob and other areas in Balochistan in the past one
week, leaving over a dozen soldiers killed, clearly indicates the failure of the army, especially the ISI, in preempting such attacks.
These attacks on Zhob are serious challenges to the army. Zhob is a crucial link in the Chinese-funded CPEC’s western route and an important military
outpost on the western border. The nature of attacks also presents a new threat–the TTP militants are better armed and informed. The Zhob attack was carried out by five highly trained and well-equipped terrorists. They carried night vision scopes and other latest gadgets as well as American weapons. A large number of weapons left behind by the US forces in Afghanistan is shared by TTP along with the Afghan Taliban. Their return attack in Zhob a few days later showed the deadly planning and intelligence the terrorists possessed.
Over 100 soldiers have been killed in attacks by TTP since November 2022 when it unilaterally called off a secret pact with the Pakistan Army and threatened to launch a major offensive against Pakistan. What has harmed the ISI most is the killing of at least three senior ISI officers this year. The army’s inability to persuade its protégé, the Afghan Taliban, to contain the TTP onslaught has further highlighted a major weakness on the part of the military leadership, especially the ISI. The army’s flip flop for the past few years on dealing with TTP has put the country’s security at great risk. Much of the responsibility should rest with the ISI chief, Lt. General Nadeem Anjum, appointed by former chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who might pull through till his retirement in the next few months.
His predecessor, Lt. General Faiz Hameed, had worked closely with the Taliban in its victory. He had also worked with the TTP during the Afghan campaign. The secret peace pact with the TTP was signed under his command and he had been pushing for negotiations with the militant group even when he was transferred to Peshawar as the Corps Commander. It is believed as part of the truce pact, several hardcore senior leaders of TTP were released from Pakistan prisons. In fact, TTP had increased its influence in Pakistan’s tribal areas when Hameed was the ISI chief and Peshawar Corps Commander. He was close to former Prime Minister Imran Khan and was said to be his favourite officer to take over as the new army chief. Khan’s fall, however, changed the equation.
Ever since the militant group had called off the truce pact in November last year, the attacks on the military have been consistent. But the TTP’s foray into Balochistan recently presents a new challenge for the army. Zhob was first attacked in December 2022, when the army launched an intelligence based operation, terrorists launched a counter offensive, killing one soldier in Zhob. One terrorist was killed in the exchange of fire.in May 2023 when head of Jamaat-i-islami, Sirajul Haq, was hit with a suicide bomber. Haq escaped the bombing. In July, there have been three attacks–on July 2, terrorists attacked checkposts of police and paramilitary forces on the Zhob-Dera Ismail Khan highway, killing three police men and a Frontier Corps officer. The second attack, the most serious, took place early morning on July 12 when a group of heavily armed militants from TTP intruded into the Frontier Corps regional headquarters in Zhob. The exchange of fire lasted several hours, leaving a dozen soldiers killed. The third attack took place on July 16 midnight, the same fortress in Zhob was attacked by militant groups and was repulsed by an alert military force.
Although General Munir has issued a stern warning to the Taliban in the last few days, the army is caught in a bind over the Taliban’s protection of TTP.
Munir had issued a similar warning a few months ago, even threatening to take the counter offensive home to Afghanistan. But the army had so far only been interested in negotiations either with the TTP or Afghan Taliban, a pointer to its refusal to accept the death of the traditional `strategic depth` policy. The same
army has been quick to dub TTP as agents of India but the reality of its own protege’s fosterling coming back to haunt them pose a difficult challenge to dismiss.