The TTP and the Pakistani State: How Not to Fight an Insurgency




After calling off its months-long ceasefire with the Pakistani state in November 2022, the TTP has launched an unprecedented wave of country-wide violence. The bulk of the violence, however, is concentrated in the settled and tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Emboldened by the Taliban’s capture of power in Afghanistan, the TTP sees a chance for itself in the politically polarised and economically impoverished Pakistan. While only a determined military offensive can halt the resurgent terror group, a long-term solution would have to be far more comprehensive.

Wave of Terror 

(Investigators collect evidence from the wreckage of a car at the site of a bomb explosion, in Islamabad on 23 December 2022, Pakistan. Image Source: Deccan Herald)

On 23 December, a suicide bomber travelling with a woman detonated his explosive-laden vehicle close to a residential area in Pakistan’s national capital, Islamabad. A police officer was killed and at least three police officers and seven passersby were wounded. The TTP claimed responsibility for the attack. This was the first suicide attack carried out by the terror group in Islamabad since 2014.    

The TTP’s violence is on a surge, especially since end-November, after the group called off the five months-long truce with the Pakistani state and directed its cadres to carry out widespread attacks. The ceasefire was in force since June 2022. The group is believed to have carried out 150 attacks in the first 11 months of 2022. Over 280 security force personnel lost their lives in the year. 

The violence has included several attacks in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan provinces. Prominently, it included an attack on 18 December that lasted for two days in a Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) police station in Bannu. It was brought to a close only after a major army operation[1], which ended in the death of 25 terrorists and four security force personnel. Earlier, the TTP terrorists, on 20 December, raided a police station in Wana. On 24 December, in the Dannuk Gogdan area of Turbat, armed terrorists attacked a vehicle of the Frontier Corps in which four soldiers were killed in the ensuing exchange of fire. In addition, TTP has carried out a string of grisly beheadings in Tank and Bannu, of security men and individuals, dubbing them as government ‘spies’.  

Breaking Free

(TTP’s area of Influence, Image Source: BBC) 

The TTP appears to have used the four-month truce period to regroup and beef up its potential, although the rationale for its reneging on the ceasefire pointed to the contrary. The statement issued by the group on 28 November pointed at the “military operations against mujahideen in different areas”, “particularly in the Lakki Marwat district” of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It said, “the army and intelligence agencies do not stop and continue the attacks, so now our retaliatory attacks will also start across the country.” 

With nearly 10,000 fighting cadres imbued with developments in Afghanistan, the TTP is experimenting with its violent potential and intends to replicate the Afghan Taliban’s ‘victory’. It has announced the establishment of a shadow cabinet, in a direct challenge to the Pakistan government. It has safe havens in Afghanistan, but the bulk of its strength is derived from the strongholds it has carved out in KP. In 2014, the Pakistan military’s operation forced it to relocate to Afghanistan. It is assessed that post-August 2021, many of its cadres moved back to Pakistan. The group remains unperturbed by the loss of cadres in its botched-up terror attacks. Its continued attacks demonstrate that it intends to use violence as a tool for recruitment as well as expansion. 

Whether it has broken free from the control that the Taliban had over it, however, is debatable. What is certain is that the Afghan Taliban is unwilling to coerce it beyond a point. The worsening Pakistan and Afghanistan relations provide the TTP a much larger playing field and its utility as a tool that the Afghan Taliban can use against Pakistan has certainly grown.  

Fighting the TTP

On 7 August, Abdul Wali (aka Omar Khalid Khorasani), one of the TTP’s most influential leaders, was killed in an explosion as he travelled in southeastern Afghanistan’s Paktika province. Khorasani, a founding member of the TTP, had a $3 million U.S. bounty on his head. It is unclear whether his vehicle hit a roadside bomb or came under a drone attack. Also killed along with him were two other TTP commanders—Mufti Hassan Swati, and Hafiz Dawlat Khan Orakzai. The TTP accused the Pakistani intelligence of carrying out the killing. Another senior TTP commander, intelligence chief Abdul Rashid (alias Uqabi Bajauri), was killed just hours earlier by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar Province. The four killings come just days after al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri’s assassination in Kabul.

Although the details remain murky and no one has claimed responsibility for the killings, the TTP’s charge carries some weight because of two reasons. All four commanders of the TTP including Khorasani were opposed to the group’s peace process with Islamabad. Secondly, Paktika province is believed to be controlled by the Haqqani network, an ally of Pakistani intelligence services. It is difficult to imagine any actor, other than one who is allied with the Haqqanis, carrying out the attack. However, if Islamabad did carry this out, with a view to eliminating the TTP commanders with an anti-peace outlook, it certainly didn’t serve the purpose. Khorasani’s death was too big an affront for the TTP to be ignored and may have influenced the group’s decision to rescind the truce.  Muhammad Khalid Khurasani, a TTP spokesman, said in a statement that the Bannu CTD  attack was in revenge for the killing of Khorasani.

Indeed, the Pakistani state has been at the receiving end of the TTP’s violence. The response, so far, has been mostly rhetorical.  Resolve to crush terrorism with an iron hand has been expressed by President, Prime Minister, the provincial government in KP, and the military. However, such cliched expressions have not been backed by a comprehensive plan to deal with the challenge. Worse still, contradictory and confusing statements and gross politicisation of CT are at the heart of the problem of the recurring resurgence of groups like the TTP.   

The Bannu attack has renewed focus on the implementation of the National Action Plan to end terrorism. NAP was first scripted in 2014 and was revised in 2021. The renewed attention on the NAP, however, could only be temporary. Time and again, the Pakistani state has gone into hibernation after a terror wave subsides, without bothering to fully dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in the country. In any event, apart from setting up military courts to swiftly execute jailed terrorists, the NAP’s vague declarations have remained mostly unimplemented. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has also spoken of increasing the capacity and efficiency of the provincial government, underlining the chronic incapacity among the personnel designated to deal with terror in KP.   

The CTD in KP came to attention in view of the recent TTP attack in Bannu, where detained terrorists seized the weapons from their interrogators and took them, hostage. A report by an intelligence agency pointed at a series of capacity gaps within the department that makes them ineligible and ineffective responders to terrorism in KP. The report revealed that CTD spends a whopping 96 percent of its Rupees 2.18 billion budget on pay and allowances, leaving a mere 4 percent for operations and zero allocation for procurement. The CTD in Bannu has a staff vacancy of nearly 33 percent, with 2135 staff posted against an allocated strength of 3161. They are recruited from the existing levies/ Khasadars, without any training and equipment as no training institutions exist in the province. Compared to CTDs of other provinces like Punjab, the availability of vehicles, reward money for eliminating terrorists, and terms of appointment of officers and personnel remain extremely poor. In view of these, It is unlikely that the CTD will be able to deliver on the expectations unless these deficiencies are addressed.       

For that to happen, both the central government and the provincial government in KP must work in unity. That remains another missing element, due to political polarisation between the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led coalition government in Islamabad and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government in KP. In a statement on 21 December, Prime Minister Sharif promised to equip KP’s CTD with the tools and facilities needed to fight militancy.[2] However, at the same time, Islamabad continues to blame the KP government for inaction that has resulted in the TTP’s resurgence. The PTI government in KP, on the other hand, puts the onus of fighting terrorism on the Central government since “the institutions fighting [against militants] fell within the jurisdiction of the federal government”.     

Passing on the Buck

The surge in violence has pushed Pakistan’s all-powerful military and civilian government into a huddle. On 31 December, a meeting of Pakistan’s principal decision-making forum on foreign policy and national security, the National Security Committee (NSC) was convened following a meeting between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Gen Asim Munir a day earlier. The surge in terrorism incidents also dominated the agenda of a corps commanders’ conference at the Army’s General Headquarters held on 29 December. The NSC meeting, which continued on 1 January 2023, declared that the “terrorists are the enemies of Pakistan”. It vowed to respond “with full force” to those who challenge the country. It issued a veiled warning to Afghanistan not to shelter the TTP.[3]

Experts have accused the Pakistani state of largely being reactive in responding to the TTP’s violence.[4] Worse still, both the military and the civilian government have been passing the buck to one another. A statement issued by the military, after the Corps Commander conference on 29 December, assured that the terrorist threat would be eliminated “as per the aspirations of the people of Pakistan”. This underlined the fact that the military wants the political leaders to take ownership of any future CT operation. On the other hand, the coalition government has been reluctant to take tough decisions and commit to any large-scale kinetic operation amidst economic turmoil and ahead of impending elections next year. However, amid growing violence, it has little option but to be guided by the military’s advice. The unchecked growth of terrorism can seriously affect the ruling coalition’s electoral prospects.     

Way Forward

For a long time, Islamabad perceived the Afghan Taliban as its ally in controlling the TTP  and ultimately pushing the group into a ceasefire. The Haqqani network did mediate between the two parties which led to the short-lived ceasefire. However, the rationale of such an alliance was beyond comprehension. Islamabad was relying on a terror group, which has acquired power through violence and would convince another to seek resolution of its grievances through peace. Such an expectation was bound to end in disappointment. 

Amid the Afghan Taliban’s tough posturing, Islamabad’s policy has changed into issuing threats of carrying out air raids on TTP facilities in Afghanistan.[5] However, those have attracted strong and disparaging reactions from the Taliban.[6] The continuing war of words between Islamabad and Kabul points to the culmination of the phase of anticipated cooperation between Kabul and Islamabad to rein in the TTP. It is time, therefore, for Islamabad to contain terrorism within the home, using its own capacities. The measures decided at the NSC meet seeking capacity upgradation are medium to long-term. In the short term, Pakistan has to try using a kinetic approach to dent the TTP’s violence potential. Given that the TTP is now deeply entrenched in KP, such an operation would be time-consuming, costly, and could involve grave human rights violations. The more difficult part would be to deal with the TTP’s safe haven in Afghanistan. Curiously, Islamabad probably has to follow the Indian approach in Kashmir, where New Delhi is currently dealing with a mix of indigenous and externally sponsored terrorism. Pakistan’s approach in this regard isn’t too different from what the Taliban are dishing out to Islamabad.   


[1] “25 militants killed in Bannu CTD operation: ISPR”, Express Tribune, 20 December 2022,

[2] “CT Strategy”, Editorial, Dawn, 22 December 2022,

[3] “NSC vows to crush terrorist groups with full force”, Dawn, 3 January 2023,

[4] Zahid Hussain, “Reviewing CT Strategy”, Dawn, 4 January 2023,  

[5] “Pakistan Has Authority to Act against TTP If Attacked: Minister”, Tolo News, 1 January 2023,

[6] “Taliban’s Afghan Defense Boss Calls Pakistani Accusation Provocative”, RFERL, 2 January 2023,

(Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray is Director of Mantraya. This analysis has been published as part of Mantraya’s ongoing “Mapping Terror & Insurgent Networks” and “Fragility, Conflict, and Peace Building” projects. All Mantraya publications are peer-reviewed.)