Insurgent groups against Pakistan, China step up attacks amid Taliban offensive in Afghanistan: Report

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Beijing, Jul 5 (PTI) As the Taliban stepped up attacks to gain control over Afghanistan in the wake of the withdrawal of the US troops, militant groups opposed to Pakistan and China have also increased their assaults, according to a media report.

Amid the chaos, previously defeated insurgent groups with bones to pick against both Pakistan and China are once more on the rise, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has been waging an insurgency against Pakistan for several years, has become active in Pakistan’s tribal areas as well as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province with efforts to take control of several areas.

The TTP headed by Noor Wali Mehsud, who is close to Taliban, has strategically redeployed its forces along vulnerable stretches of the porous border with Pakistan, the report said.

A parallel uptick in attacks on Pakistani security forces by Baloch separatists, many of them using roadside bombs they learned to make from the TTP, has raised concerns that the two insurgent groups could use shared logistical networks to expand the range of their attacks, it said.

Unlike the TTP, the four Baloch rebel groups operating under the umbrella of the Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar are violently opposed to China’s operation of Gwadar port and other projects in Balochistan under the USD 60 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the report said.

The CPEC connects China’s Xinjiang province with Gwadar port.

During the recent fighting in eastern and southern districts of Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban has been supported by the TTP insurgents who fled there in 2015 to escape Pakistani military's counteroffensive on their strongholds in tribal areas along the border.

According to a UN monitoring report in June, some 5,000 TTP militants are currently based in Afghanistan.

The militant group, which has waged a bloody eight-year insurgency against Pakistan claiming more than 70,000 lives and crippled its economy, was initially splintered after its defeat in Pakistan’s northwest tribal areas but united under Mehsud.

On June 14, Mehsud unveiled a new command structure for the TTP, appointing shadow governors for the tribal districts and other areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the report said.

From its bases in Afghanistan, the TTP has since 2019 ramped up bombings against security forces, targeted shootings of prominent civilians, and the extortion of money from businessmen and contractors in at least four tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the report said, quoting two lawmakers, local journalists and civil society activists.

Mir Kalam Wazir, an independent member of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly, said the splinter factions operating underground in South Waziristan joined hands October last and resurfaced under the TTP banner.

'There are confirmed reports that TTP militants in South Waziristan have started extorting government contractors,' Wazir said.

'They have not only been seen patrolling in certain areas of South Waziristan, but also knocking at the doors of local people to arrange them meals,' he said.

Wazir told the Post that targeted killing had 'become a routine matter' in the adjoining district of North Waziristan, which he represents in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly.

The TTP has extended its cross-border terrorism campaign to areas of restive western Balochistan province this year, where the Chinese operated port of Gwadar is located.

The outfit claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing in May on a luxury hotel in Quetta, the province’s administrative headquarters, where China’s ambassador to Pakistan Nong Rong was staying at the time. The envoy was not in the hotel at the time of the attack.

The TTP subsequently denied he was the target, saying it was directed at Pakistani officials.

Mindful of its commitments to the US, China and Russia not to allow areas of Afghanistan under its control to be used as launch pads for overseas terror attacks, the Taliban has imposed some restrictions on the TTP, barring it from including foreign fighters in its ranks, the UN said in its monitoring report.

However, the TTP formally protested when the Taliban asked it to register all its fighters and refused to comply, according to the Post.

If Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts to avert a civil war in Afghanistan and normalise relations with India fail, it could find itself sandwiched between hostile forces on both its lengthy flanks, the report said.

'A two-front situation has long been Pakistan’s security nightmare,” said Maleeha Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, the UN and Britain.

'Pakistan’s security concerns have increased with Afghanistan at an inflection point and the growing danger of its descent into chaos. It will have to focus its undivided attention on the western border while trying to manage tensions with India,' she said.

Ahmad Karim Kundi, a member of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly who represents Dera Ismail Khan - a city near the troubled South Waziristan, said the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan would invariably boost the morale of the TTP and fuel a resurgence of terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

'Especially if they capture Afghanistan through the barrel of gun, it would have an inspirational impact on the TTP and they would also try to capture certain areas in Pakistan to establish their self-interpreted version of governance,” said Kundi.

'Ultimately, not only Pakistan but all the regional stakeholders including China would be on the receiving end,' he warned. PTI KJV ZH ZH

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