Monday, May 20, 2024

Has the TTP formed its first ‘liberated zone’ inside Balochistan in Pakistan?

New Delhi, June 15: The Pakistani Taliban (TTP) announced the formation of its first ‘liberated zone’ – a new administrative district in the Balochistan areas of Kalat and Makran. The announcement adds that “Shaheen Baloch has been appointed as the governor of the new unit”.

According to The Khorasan Diary, the formation of the new unit follows at least four Baloch groups joining the TTP in Balochistan since 2022.

Earlier, the TTP only had Zhob as its province in Balochistan. With the addition of the latest province, the TTP has set up two provinces in the strife-torn Balochistan region of Pakistan – one each in north and south. This also means that the TTP has established its footprint in three Pakistani provinces of Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

Freelance journalist and researcher, Zia ur Rehman, tweeted that the TTP has split its organisation in Balochistan into two parts. The Baloch-populated areas have been made part of Kalat-Makran chapter, while Pashtun areas are part of Zhob chapter.

The past few months have seen the TTP forge new alliances with various militant groups in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan – both of which share a border with Afghanistan. After the formation of a Taliban government in Kabul in August 2021, there has been a rise in attacks by the TTP in Pakistan – destabilising the country as well as posing a significant challenge to the Pakistani security forces.

Also, contrary to Pakistan’s expectations, relations between Islamabad and Kabul have only slipped after the Taliban assumed power. Pakistan lost the narrative in Afghanistan with the Taliban towing an independent line in its foreign relations and domestic policy.

Besides its confused Afghanistan policy, Pakistan is also at a loss in dealing with the TTP.

It tried attacking TTP strongholds along the Durand Line – the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, in 2022 which led to considerable friction with Kabul after which Islamabad coaxed Kabul to intervene and rein in the TTP. With Kabul as a mediator, a ceasefire was brokered between the TTP and Islamabad which lasted from June 2022 to November 2022.

By the end of December 2022, the TTP had announced the formation of its government in various regions of Pakistan with a cabinet and ministers, directly challenging Pakistan’s autonomy. It also stepped up attacks against Pakistani security personnel killing hundreds in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

The Afghan-Pakistan border crossings of Torkham and Spin-Boldak also witnessed a series of attacks often leading to the closure of the border between the two nations, causing hardships to a landlocked Afghanistan.

The latest development – the TTP strengthening its presence in Balochistan, will cause a severe headache to Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif as well as the Pakistani Army which is bogged down in sustained fighting against nationalist fighters in Balochistan.

On the diplomatic front the Baloch fighters have caused repeated humiliation to Islamabad in front of the Chinese by targeting Beijing’s big investments, while the Pakistani security forces are demoralised due to daily attacks and the loss of two military helicopters in 2022, which the Baloch fighters claimed to have shot down.

With Baloch groups joining hands with the TTP, Islamabad will have to deal with the determined Baloch fighters as well as the weapon-rich TTP in an important province that sustains Pakistan through an endless supply of gas, gold, coal and other minerals.

For the politically unstable and economically weak nation, TTP expanding footprint in Balochistan can only bring more agony to Islamabad.

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