Commander Noor Wali Mehsud, the head of Pakistan's most formidable terrorist network, Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, recently threatened to assassinate Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the leaders of Pakistan's coalition government.
Sharif heads the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), the larger party in the coalition. Zardari runs the smaller partner, the Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP).
By late 2022, Pakistani Taliban troop concentrations were seen massing in the country's northwest region of Waziristan. During December 1-15, they launched 30 attacks on police, soldiers and intelligence officers. An analyst at the Pakistan Centre of Research and Security Studies remarked that due to the Taliban attacks, December 2022 was the bloodiest month in a decade.
Pakistan's National Counterterrorism Authority criticized fruitless peace talks as having given the Taliban the opportunity to regroup and infiltrate from their remote rural redoubts to points closer to urban centers.
The Pakistani Taliban's most recent terrorist attack on the police was launched perpetrated by a suicide bomber on January 30 at a mosque inside a defense facility in Peshawar -- the capital of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. The blast killed at least 100 people, mostly policemen, who had gathered for evening prayers.
In November, negotiations with the Taliban initiated by the previous government, under Prime Minister Imran Khan, collapsed. When the Taliban ended its ceasefire, substantive details of the talks were leaked to the Pakistani media, revealed the startling concessions that the government appeared about to make to the Taliban.
It appears that the government was prepared to grant many of the Taliban's demands: to release hundreds of terrorist prisoners, withdraw tens of thousands of soldiers from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, and to institute shari'a law in the province's Malakand region. The alleged concessions that the Pakistan government was willing to proffer in exchange for a pledge by the Taliban to halt additional attacks on state authorities and soldiers ignited considerable pushback from Pakistanis. This was true especially in the northwest Swat District, where citizens suffered under terrorists from 2003 through 2014. According to a report from August 2022:
"For many, [the Taliban's] reappearance heralds a return of the TTP's oppressive control when targeted assassinations, bomb attacks, extortion, and harassment dominated daily life...."
Protests in Swat, a prime center of Pakistan's tourist industry, were also ignited by the reappearance of Taliban operatives who had engaged in past extortion rackets against local businesses.
"[M]embers of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) knocked on his door last month. The militants have returned to the province amid a stalled peace deal with Islamabad in drawn-out negotiations that began late last year.
"'Ignore this at your peril,' Khan says of a key message in the threatening WhatsApp texts he received last month. It demanded that he pay more than $100,000 in extortion money or prepare to be attacked."
When the Taliban pushed for even more concessions, the government refused to allow Taliban prisoners to be released and pardoned if they agreed to permanently lay down their weapons.
In the months leading up to the April 2022 peace talks, the surprisingly resilient Pakistani Army had effectively defeated the Taliban. When most of the Taliban terrorists then moved across the border into Afghanistan, the Pakistan government increased pressure on Afghanistan's Taliban regime -- comfortably entrenched in Kabul since the Biden Administration's disastrous pullout in the summer of 2021 -- no longer to give sanctuary to the Pakistani Taliban, their ethnic Pushtun cousins.
The Afghan regime has so far resisted the pleas of Pakistan's government. While Pakistan wields significant influence in Afghanistan due to Pakistan's high level support for the Afghan Taliban's 20-year war against NATO coalition troops, the Afghan regime in Kabul is not cooperating with Pakistani authorities to restrain activities of the Pakistani Taliban.
US National Security Advisor Ned Price laughably urged Afghan Taliban leaders to live up to their pledge not to permit Afghanistan's territory to be used as a launching pad to threaten other countries. Good luck with that.
Dr. Asfandyar Mir, and expert in South Asian terrorism, suggested that the Afghan Taliban's grant of asylum and patronage to the Pakistani Taliban will continue despite outside pressure.
Pakistani analysts and journalists predict that the Pakistani Taliban is becoming the most potent threat to the state.
Renowned Pakistani journalist and researcher Saleem Mehsud predicts that Pakistan faces a bleak year ahead in 2023.
The Taliban goal of installing an Islamist shari'a regime in Pakistan may have rendered any future negotiations between the parties meaningless.
Abdul Saeed, a South Asia terrorism specialist at West Point, remarked that there is little chance of a renewal of peace talks in the foreseeable future. He also claims that the Pakistani Taliban has emerged as the most powerful anti-state actor in the country and is now comparable to the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan.
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.