Tehrik-i-taliban Pakistan: Considerations after 3 years of the school attack in Peshawar

By Rachel Campos[1] and Priscila Lima Pereira[2]

 

On 16th December 2014, the Army Public School[3] in Peshawar Pakistan hit by a terror attack. The school, a place of learning, sharing knowledge and experience between students and teachers, became a battleground between terrorist and local law enforcement agencies. There were pain and misery all around – children shot point blank in the school auditorium, blood seeping underneath the carpet and sounds of panic everywhere. What was just another day in school turned out to be the last one for so many 12-16 years-old kids. Hundreds’ others were left with a traumatic experience that will give them nightmares for the rest of their lives. The barbaric attack was conducted by terrorist group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

The attack was planned by Saddam Jan[4], identified as the mastermind behind the attack. Pakistan is no stranger to terrorist attack as it has fostered terrorists for years and often uses them as part of its strategic depth policy. These mercenaries also kill to coerce favours from the establishment. But this attack was at the heart of the very establishment that nurtures terrorist groups in Pakistan – The Pakistan Army. The Army Public School students come from army families in Pakistan and this attack was to send the message to the army that their children are not safe anymore. At 10.30 AM, six men entered the school and started shooting randomly – brutally killing 144 children and teachers.

The survivors recollected that the terrorists went from classroom to classroom killing children and school staff.  The attack was planned in such a way that the terrorists had no intention of either – taking a hostage or going out alive of the school. They came on a suicide mission whose only purpose was to kill as many as possible before blowing themselves up. Mrs TahiraQazi, a 63-year woman and principal of the APS, was burnt alive in front of her students in a moment of heinous brutality.

In December 2017, the attack on APS will complete three years and after all this time facts are still coming out like the black economy that sustain the terrorist groups in Northwestern Pakistan. The Tehrik-i-Taliban previously to the attack in the school carried out at least 32 attacks in the country. Although many of its operations were dismantled its influence and religious ideology among the youth in the tribal areas still persists.

Source: BBC

 

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan

To analyze the terrorist attack on the APS it is necessary to understand the group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, its motive, ideology and influence in the north of the country.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or the Taliban Movement of Pakistan in its present form also known by its acronym TTP is active in Pakistan since 2007. Some of its operations were reported by US intelligence as early as 2002. TTP was first formed by veterans and ex-Mujahedeen combatants of the Afghanistan war. A number of these Mujahideen were foreigners who first fought with Americans during Soviet adventures and then fought against the American backed forces post 9/11 US intervention in the region. A number of these combatants held a senior position in Taliban government in Afghanistan and collaborated with Al-Qaeda. Once Taliban was uprooted, these militants cross over into Pakistan which has the porous border with Afghanistan around the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) region.

Image: DRI

It was in 2007 that TTP got a foothold in the tribal region after building local alliances and consolidating power by combining 13 other small militant groups in Northwestern Pakistan. After grouping, TTP was able to centralize its military power, political influence and started managing financial operations that would finance their offensive against the Pakistani Government[5]. According to the journalist Syed Irfan Ashraf[6] “To understand TTP power we need to understand the role of Jihad, local tribal politics, black money and history of the region”.

TTP was formed in alliance with the local tribal leaders – who not only provided shelter and later protection to them but also provided operational support. Most of these fleeing militants were foreigners who had little knowledge about the region but had resources to fight in the arid region. The two factors that contributed to the formation and consolidation of the group were – tribal dissatisfaction with the government of Pakistan and Pakistan’s army operation in the region under the American pressure which led to numerous loss of life on the tribal front.  According to Pakistan government – it is very difficult to monitor the Afghan-Pakistan border as – one it is not clearly defined and often tribes have members on both sides of the border and two it has a difficult terrain and it will require a vast amount of resources on part of Pakistan government.

Pakistan government actually don’t have a direct control over the FATA region and tried to convince the local population – Waziri to help the Pakistani Army. The negotiations failed as the government led by Army Dictator Pervez Musharaff, couldn’t able to convince the tribal leaders to help the military authorities. The operation was considered an attempt to subjugate the tribal region under the direct control of Islamabad and an attempt to take away the autonomous status of the region. The attempts to hand over the foreign militants failed completely.[7]

The inability of the Pakistani government to negotiate with the Waziri leaders was one of the main factors that contributed to the rise of TTP. Another critical factor that led to an alliance between TTP and the Tribal leader was the drone strikes by US Forces in the region. These strikes have tactical node from the Pakistan army and led to numerous death of Waziris as collateral damage.

After analyzing all the facts, even if there was no operation and no drone strikes – TTP or similar force would still have emerged in the region. The military operation and strategic drone strike just provided a reason to form an alliance.

The critical factor for the emergence of TTP is the power vacuum in the region and immigration of a militia that can help the local tribal leaders to consolidate their power in exchange of shelter and forwarding its own ideology. The militia was not a threat to local leaders but could be used by them for their interest in the exchange of certain facilities. The big failure of the Pakistan government was its inability to take the tribal leaders in confidence and build a trust mechanism where it can meet tribal leaders’ demands as well as military objectives. TTP alliance with local leaders led to the seeds of the Taliban in Waziristan and other parts of FATA. This alliance came with a version of Islam which was closer to Taliban and Al-Qaida.

The Taliban version of Islam, an ideology based on establishing a state based on sharia law, organized the unemployed youths of the region to take up arms. FATA has the highest rate of unemployment in Pakistan. According to numerous sources, the education rate in the FATA region is just 24% & one of the highest unemployment rate in the world[8].   The TTP ideology joined the fundamentalism of Taliban with the Pashtunwali code widely accepted by the Pashtuns. As per the theological narrative – the young soldiers dying for a divine cause are considered to be martyrs and goes straight to heaven.

Even after assuming power in the Northwestern Region, TTP lacked a central leadership because of the way it formed – it formed from numerous splinter groups whose goal is to take on the government of Pakistan. This urge to teach a lesson to Pakistan military establishment led to the terrorist attack on the Army Public School in 2014.

 

Why was APS the target?

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack on the APS. In a statement Muhammad Umar Khorasani, a TTP’s spokesman said that the school was chosen because the government was targeting their families. According to him – “The government is attacking our families and women and we want them to feel our pain in the same way”[9].

The school is located in Peshawar, the capital of the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). The province of KPK is one of the poorest and most troubled regions in Pakistan. TTP and Taliban ideology is against the modern education. In a movement to eradicate modern education in the region, it has destroyed more than 830 schools between 2009 and 2012. Malala Yousuf, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2014, was shot dead in this region for the simple crime of being a girl and going to school. TTP has targeted not only schools but also modern bazaars and other public places and government facilities. This has led to thousands of death because of bomb blasts and terrorist attacks.

What made APS an attractive target was that it is one of the best schools in the region to provide modern education and most of the pupils of the school are children of military establishment and elite of the region. Attacking the school would send the shockwave in the Pakistan military establishment and undermine its authority in the region.

The school attack in Peshawar was a revenge of the extremist organization against the government of Pakistan. The main target of the TTP was the Government of Pakistan and most of the attacks aimed at civilians to undermine the authority of the government and terrorize the local population. The militants of TTP planned the attack to kill as many children as they could at the APS. The reason for the barbaric attack was to seek revenge for the military operation led by the Pakistan Armed Forces in northwest Pakistan.

 

Post APS attack: Considerations

 Pakistan establishment has a shady history of not only combatting terrorist organization but also nurturing them for its own purpose. Pakistan calls it – “Good Taliban and Bad Taliban”. Good Taliban is the militias groups that serve its strategic interests and Bad Taliban are groups like TTP that openly try to undermine the established authority. This dual approach has led to numerous casualties and terrorist attacks on the Pakistani soil.

Pakistan is systematically combating the terror of radical groups operating in the tribal that it deems a threat to its existence but supply resources to a number of organizations that it supports. In this conflict the civilians are the main victims and the role of oppressor and oppressed is not always clearly defined. Both the government and militants can play the same role of oppressing the people and often at the same time. When the government launches drone attacks civilians are killed as collateral damage. TTP target is not only government officials but also civilians doing their normal daily chores.

In past, Pakistan failed on getting the support of the tribes in the Northwest of the country. Only after prolonged negotiations with tribal leaders & mindless killings by TTP, the tribal leaders allowed the military to enter the region. The Pakistan state needs to build a better relationship with the tribes to exhaust the room for groups like TTP. To build this trust it needs to start sharing greater economic resources, respect local autonomy and provide economic opportunities to the youth of the region.

The brutality of APS alerted both the government and the military establishment how fragile the region is. To bring peace to the regional government has to build institutions that can provide a political alternative to militia based justice. It should bring the tribal leaders to the table and build trust through power sharing and empowering the tribes to create opportunities for its youths.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article was originally published by Malala Review from the University of Sao Paulo

 

 

References:

[Article] ABBAS, Hassan. A Profile of Tehrik-I-Taliban Pakistan CTC Sentinel. West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center. Available at:  https://ctc.usma.edu/posts/a-profile-of-tehrik-i-taliban-pakistan. Accessed on: June 23, 2017.

[Newspaper article] ABBAS, Zafar. Pakistan’s undeclared war, 2004. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/3645114.stm . Accessed on: May 20, 2017.

[Newspaper article] ASHRAF, S. I. Militancy & black economy. Mar 22, 2009. Available at: https://www.dawn.com/news/451521. Accessed on: May 29, 2017.

[Article] BAJORIA, Jayshree. Pakistan’s New Generation of Terrorists. Council on Foreign Relations, 6 February 2008. Available at: https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/pakistans-new-generation-terrorists Accessed on: June 27, 2017.

[Newspaper article] CHAPMAN, B. My brother in the fight for education :MalalaYousafzai meets survivor of Peshawar school massacre. March 12, 2015. Avaliable at: http://www.itv.com/news/2015-03-12/malala-yousafzai-meets-survivor-of-peshawar-school-massacre/.  Accessed on: May 29, 2017.

[Article] GALL, Carlotta. KHAN, Ismail.SHAH, Pir Zubair.& SHAH, Taimoor. Pakistani and Afghan Taliban Unify in Face of U.S. Influx. New York Times. March 2009. Availble at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/27/world/asia/27taliban.html. Accessed on: June 23, 2017.

[Newspaper article] 141 people, mostly students killed by Taliban in Pakistan army school seizure. Dec 16, 2014.  Avaliable at: https://www.rt.com/news/214707-pakistan-school-hostage-taliban/. Accessed on: May 29, 2017.

[Essay] MARKEY, Daniel. A false choice in Pakistan. Foreign Affairs, july/august 2007. Available at:    https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/asia/2007-07-01/false-choice-pakistan . Accessed on: May 22, 2017.

[Newspaper article] Peshawar school massacre: What we know. Dec 17, 2014. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-30488503. Accessed on: May 29, 2017.

[Book] RASHID, Ahmed. Taliban: Militant islam, oil and fundamentalism in Central Asia. New York, Yale University Press, 2000.

[Newspaper article] Remembering lives lost in the Peshawar school attack, 2016. Availabe at: https://www.dawn.com/news/1223313/remembering-lives-lost-in-the-peshawar-school-attack Accessed on: May 18, 2017.

[Newspaper article] RETTER, E. Pakistan school massacre:  Taliban killed his brother and burned teacher alive but won’t defeat our son.  1 March 2015 Avaliable at: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/pakistan-school-massacre-taliban-killed-5255771 . Accessed on: May 29, 2017.

[Newspaper article] YUSUFZAI, Ashfaq. Mastermind of Peshawar school attack killed, 26 dec. 2016. Available at:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/11313678/Mastermind-of-Peshawar-school-attack-killed.html. Accessed on: June 27, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]Independent photographer in humanitarian and extreme situations.Since 2016 researching about Middle East conflicts and the Syrian war.Writing two books about the war in Pakistan in collaboration with Priscila Lima Pereira. E-mail: quelzita2008@gmail.com

[2]Law Degree by AEMS, Master’s Degree in Int. Relations by the Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA). Collaborating with the Universidad de Alicante, Spain, FCE-UBA, Argentina and Amity University, India. Articles published in Colombia, Spain, Argentina. The current work is a research in collaboration with Rachel Campos. http://lattes.cnpq.br/5527426533855202 E-mail: priscilalimapereira@hotmail.com

[3] APS (Army Public School) is one of the best schools in Pakistan. The school aims boys education exclusively and it follows the army educational system.

[4]Saddam Jan was one of the main leaders of TTP and the commander of one of the most militant Taliban factions operating in Pakistan the Tariq Gedaar group. Jan was identified as the mastermind of the attack to the APS under the order of Umar Mansoor (Tariq Gedaar’s main leader) including his participation in many other TTP attacks in Pakistan.

[5] It is important to framework that the main target of the TTP is the Government of Pakistan differently of the Pakistani Taliban that with the support of its ally the Afghan Taliban operates attacking international coalition and the Afghan Security Forces.

[6]ASHRAF, Syed Irfan. TTP turf war, 2014. Available at: https://www.dawn.com/news/451521 . Accessed on: May 20, 2017.

[7]ABBAS, Zafar. Pakistan’s undeclared war, 2004. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/3645114.stm . Accessed on: May 20, 2017.

 

[8]ASHRAF, Syed Irfan. TTP turf war, 2014. Available at: https://www.dawn.com/news/451521 . Accessed on: May 20, 2017.

[9]Massacre de inocentes no Paquistão mostra como não há limites para a barbárie, 2015. Availble at: http://www.comunicacaoecrise.com/site/index.php/artigos/738-massacre-de-inocentes-no-paquistao-mostra-como-nao-ha-mais-limites-para-a-barbarie . Accessed on: Jun 23, 2017.

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