Operation Chitral: Pakistan’s TTP Threat
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 25 Sep , 2023

On September 6th 2023, Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) launched an extensive operation in Chitral district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).The operation commenced on the day, when Pakistan was celebrating its National Defence Day.The large scale operation was initiated from many villages in Chitral.

Amidst the attack, the spokesperson of TTP, Muhammad Khurasani released a statement through Umar media. He requested the people of Chitral to remain calm and stressed that the operation was targeted specifically towards “usurping and oppressive security agencies” in Chitral.

A video surfaced of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) leader, Noor Wali Mehsud  directing orders over a wireless walkie talkie to militants  who were participating in the attack on a Pakistani security check post on the Afghan border with Chitral District. Mehsud blatantly claimed that upon the insistence of his friends , he oversaw the complete Operation in its entirety.

According to various reports, over 100 TTP fighters were mobilized, attacking various check posts of Pakistan. It is evident the motivation for such an Operation on part of the TTP was to gain control of the territory and exemplify its efforts in boosting insurgency against Pakistan in KP.

The Operation commenced from Bumerit area, after which the TTP   took control of a number of villages of Chitral.

Massive assault was carried out on the Army, especially on its two posts, in Chitral district. Based on the updates reported by the TTP, two missile attacks were launched at Army Cantonment in Arsun area of Chitral. On basis of the reports emerging during the operation, it was evident that “heavy operations” were deployed on all Pakistani security institutions.The Pakistan Army resorted to shelling and heavy artillery in various areas from gunship helicopters which were being employed to evacuate its  personnel.

According  to a statement released by Muhammad Khurasani, the areas of Chitral, including Garam Chashma, Arimbu, Shashi Koh, Bomburit, Janjirat Koh, Darosh, Ashrit Dara and Arnoi Janshal were affected by the operation.

Following the recent Chitral operation, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) released the statement that four Pakistan troops were killed, while “12 terrorists were sent to hell”.

The Pakistani media have talked about  Pakistan’s military success at thwarting the TTP led operation, but the question one would beg to be ask is,  if the military was monitoring the movement of the TTP near Afghanistan border, as mentioned by deputy commissioner Ali , then why would the Chitral operation pool in such a momentum? It appears, statements made were to save face despite the  obvious failure to first curb the nature of threat when it was initiated.

Since 2007, TTP controlled areas in the north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. But by 2014, Pakistan conducted several operations to sanitize the area, which may have caused some fighters to abscond to Afghanistan.

TTP is well acquainted with Chitral’s topographical and geographical terrain. Thus the choice for utilizing Chitral as a battle ground against Pakistan may have been seen as an advantageous option to TTP.Chitral borders Eastern Afghanistan along the provinces of Kunar, Nuristan, and Badakhshan. It is separated from China and Tajikistan,  by the Wakhan Corridor and this gives the region a strategic importance. Hence, its no surprise that “The TTP wants to carve out a new safe haven that could serve its objectives,” said Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud, director of news at Khorasan Diary.This can be anticipated in regards to areas in Balochistan province as well.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) movement has become venturesome with Afghan Taliban’s return to power in  Afghanistan in 2021.Pakistan consistently  accuses its neighbour of harbouring as well as allowing militants to operate on its soil against Pakistan. Afghanistan has denied the charges.

The Chitral attack has been dismissed by the Pakistani officials calling it an isolated incident, given the regular cross-border skirmishes between militant groups and Pakistani security forces.

It is imperative to mention, the Chitral operation on September 6th 2023 isn’t the first time that the area faced the brunt of TTP and Pakistan Military engagement.

On 28 August 2011, several Taliban fighters from Afghanistan attacked Pakistani paramilitary check post in Arandu in Chitral. Like the recent attack, the operation conducted by the Taliban consisted of over hundred Taliban fighters. The cross-border attack consumed several lives as the death toll  increased to 32–36. It was apparent that there was a strong affiliation with the Pakistani Taliban.

On July 2016, militants infiltrated the Sheikhan Deh area of the Bumburet Valley, while, a girls’ school in the Ursoon area of Chitral’s Drosh Village was set on fire by Afghanistan-based TTP.

So it would be delusional to claim the Chitral attack as an “isolated incident”. 

The Torkham border, an important economic border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan was also closed on September 6 2023. This happened soon after the Pakistan and Afghan security forces exchanged fire over an illegal construction of a post along the border.

Pakistan accused Afghanistan of illegal encroachment on its territory while the Afghan interim government,contested Pakistan’s claims by stating that the Pakistan border forces pulled fire on  Afghan authorities who were repairing an old post on the Afghan territory.

After the talks between Afghan interim Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi  and a senior Pakistani diplomat in Kabul, the border was re opened after 9 days. Interesting enough , Afghan interior minister and head of the Haqqani Network, Sirajuddin Haqqani also contacted the Pakistani authorities to reopen the border.

Despite the assurances from Afghan Taliban, the US special envoy on Afghanistan Tom West stated that TTP has not only flourished under the Afghan Taliban but also the actions taken by the Afghan Taliban to eliminate groups like Isis, has incidentally given a leverage to TTP to act more effectively as a threat to regional security.

Unlike the dispensation of the previous army command, the current administration has undertaken a hardline approach in regards to TTP. Pakistan is no longer open to reconciliatory  talks with the TTP.

Regardless  of Pakistan’s new stance, the increasing casualties in case of militancy is causing a stir. The deteriorating relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan will be a major cause of concern for Pakistan due the staunch support to the TTP from the Afghan Taliban cadre. Not to mention, the easy procurement of weapons by the militants due to the modern weapons left behind by the NATO forces and former Afghan forces is concerning.

With Pakistan’s depraved and instable political and economic circumstances, it is expected that the militants will take advantage of the situation and as a result Pakistan’s security forces may be stretched thin due to the expansion in their military operations.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Aparna Rawal

is an Independent Researcher and Analyst specialing in Af/Pak region and Counter Terrorism.

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