The TTP’s “Minor Ops”

Spearhead Analysis – 20.01.2014

By Shemrez Nauman Afzal
Research Advisor and Consultant (Security and Governance)
Spearhead Research – Pakistan

The TTP's "Minor Ops"The TTP carries out operations that it often does not claim, but these are still acts of terror that fulfill the TTP’s agenda and help them achieve their goal(s) in terms of what they want to do to – these activities are also part of the war that Pakistan is fighting, whether it is Pakistan’s war or not. And Pakistan is destined to win, no matter what the odds…

In a four-part documentary on the Pakistan Army, seasoned journalist Wajahat S. Khan revealed that in conditions of war, the Army conducts “minor operations” or “minor ops” in addition to “major operations” that are designed to achieve specific military and strategic targets. Such “minor ops” can be carried out at the platoon-level and the battalion-level, and can be implemented in addition to – or in sync with – major operation being undertaken by the Army in time of war. The main purpose of the “minor ops” is the harassment of the enemy’s rear echelons and the disruption of its supply lines, its lines of communication, and the morale of enemy troops deployed at the frontlines against main elements of the Pakistan Army. Regular infantry forces as well as motorized troops and special forces can undertake these “minor ops” to keep the enemy imbalanced at the platoon-level, battalion-level and regiment-level while the Army – as a unified combatant command (or Corps supported by an Air Force or Navy element/component of requisite size) or as a theater-level force – designs, plans, implements and executes “major operations” with specific targets and timeframes and objectives. A main difference between “major ops” and “minor ops” is that the former can be assigned a codename, while the latter is a technique or martial undertaking for which all military and paramilitary units are being given training under the Azm-e-Nau doctrinal recalibration of the Pakistan Army.

While the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has yet to exhibit the kind of unity that the Afghan Taliban have – insofar as the latter have a supreme leader in the form of Mullah Omar, whether or not they are spread into three distinct “shura’s” or councils; and insofar as the latter have launched the so-called “Operation Badar” against international troops for the past few years, keeping a note of their activities and successes against NATO-ISAF and U.S. troops on a daily basis so as to announce them to the international media and provide confirmation for their attacks (or attacks authorized or supported by them) – it is obvious that the TTP and the various militant groups that operate under its umbrella are extremely dangerous and extremely diverse in terms of their area(s) of operation, of expertise, their methods of financing their activities and gathering recruits, and even their ideological inclinations, affinities and subsequent targets, whether in terms of persons or institutions. It is this hotchpotch mixture that makes the TTP an unfathomable force to be reckoned with, since many outlawed militant groups owe allegiance to the umbrella organization, but have varied levels of authority under which they operate and to which they submit as far as the ideological collinearity of the militant group and the umbrella organization is concerned. For instance, the notion of imposing Sharia law may be shared by a majority of the militant groups under the TTP umbrella, but in terms of targets, some groups may target Shia’s while others may not; similarly, some groups may target Ahmadi’s while others may not; and in the same fashion, many of these groups would target “non-Muslims”, particularly those from the West or those supporting the U.S. or NATO in Afghanistan.

The same kind of ambiguity prevails in the TTP when it comes to the operational strength of various groups operating under the umbrella – ranging from 500 to 3000 militants (smaller groups to larger groups, according to details made available to the public by the Interior Minister in his speeches) – and their methods of financing their operations (if not recruitment) – some groups may engage in the drug trade, while others may not; some groups may acquire operational finances using localized methods like extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom, while others may not; some groups may even be acquiring finances through anti-Pakistan entities and foreign intelligence agencies, either directly or through the upper echelons of the TTP umbrella group’s heirarchy or central “shura”. In the latest series of appointments (selections/elections) that took place after Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed in a U.S. drone strike, two main “shura’s” or consulting groups of the TTP emerged: one based in North Waziristan, the traditional base of the tribal groups that form the core of the TTP militants, and the other based in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, where many TTP elements have relocated (under the protection of the Afghan Taliban’s shadow government, or under that of the Afghan intelligence agencies) to operate in Pakistan with impunity and to exercise a degree of independence from the main, traditional core of the TTP in Pakistan (i.e. in North Waziristan in FATA). According to Pakistani cleric Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, the selection of Mullah Fazlullah as the new chief of the TTP was enforced by the Kunar shura, as Fazlullah relocated to that Afghan province after being ousted by the Pakistan Army from Swat: Fazlullah does not belong to the Pashtun tribal groups (the Mehsud tribes or the Wazir tribes) that form the core of the TTP’s militias and leadership, and Fazlullah continued to carry out attacks in Swat and Malakand division after relocating to the Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan that border Pakistan’s FATA areas. Many defence and strategic analysts wonder how Fazlullah will be able to lead the TTP, which is traditionally run by either the Mehsud’s or the Wazir’s, when he is allegedly “as unwelcome in the FATA areas controlled by the TTP as the Pakistan Army is”.

Needless to say, these ambiguities only cause problems of identification and analysis for Pakistan’s security researchers: they do not cause any hindrances in the TTP’s operations and acts of terror throughout Pakistan, whether they are carried out in urban, rural or tribal areas; whether they are carried out against a single person, or a group of persons, or an institution. There are certain acts of terror which – after they have taken place – are “adopted” or “acknowledged” by the TTP or one of the militant groups under their umbrella, which takes responsibility for the act of terror; there are still other acts of terror, sabotage, subterfuge, and systematic planning of mass panic on a citywide scale that may or may not be undertaken by groups under the TTP umbrella, that may or may not be authorized or initiated by the TTP’s ruling council or “shura”, or the leadership of militant groups under its umbrella, and most importantly, that may or may not be claimed by the TTP or the groups that fall under its umbrella. It is these terror activities that can be labelled as the TTP’s “minor ops”: the most important common characteristic among them is that while it would be an act of terror carried out on Pakistani soil and designed to target Pakistani citizens and/or insitutions, it is not necessary that the TTP or one of its groups takes responsibility for the act. Terrorist attacks carried out against foreign entities like embassies or offices or delegations are readily acknowledged by the TTP or other terror organizations, who claim responsibility for those acts within 24 hours of the successful undertaking of such acts – if an act of terror fails, or if terrorist activity is foiled, the TTP or its groups rarely take responsibility for being involved, while security agencies are quick to ascertain linkages and lines of communication between captured terrorists (and/or foiled terrorist attempts) and the TTP, and/or its allied groups. Therefore, successful acts of terror carried out on Pakistani soil that are not claimed or acknowledged by the TTP may well fall into the category of the TTP’s “minor ops”. To that end, the mayhem that erupted after the 2013 Muharram processions in Rawalpindi, and a few days later in Hangu, may well be considered the TTP’s “minor ops” that were designed to disrupt the normal functioning of these cities and settlements, to the extent that the Pakistan Army had to be deployed to bring the situation under control, and in some parts, curfews were also imposed to restrain enraged persons and groups, and to prevent destruction and damage of public as well as private property.

TTP/Taliban’s “major ops” are the attacks that the groups and operatives under its umbrella carry out on a daily basis, from assassinations to suicide attacks to bombings to placement of mines and IEDs which target major political, security and social personalities. Acts of financial terror, such as kidnapping-for-ransom and payments to TTP affiliates for security and protection, fall between the designation of “major ops” and “minor ops”. Still, the TTP has failed to launch – or announce the launching of – a major, concerted operation against the Pakistani state and security apparatus in the manner that the Afghan Taliban have launched “Operation Badar” for the past many months in the run up to the exit of international troops from Afghanistan. The TTP’s “major ops” to support Afghan Taliban and thereby acquire “strategic depth” in Afghan areas controlled by Taliban are;

(1) To disrupt NATO supply (which is now being done by PTI, and the only organization that thanked PTI for doing it was TTP – and now, the U.S. has legislated aid to Pakistan and put conditions on it by linking it to the opening of the supply routes from Afghanistan to the Arabian Sea) – this was one of the main policies around which the TTP coalesced, as acknowledged by the now-slain journalist and author Syed Saleem Shahzad;

(2) Attacks on pro-West organizations and entities, including military entities and aid groups such as polio workers and international support groups, in order to degrade the government and reduce its writ in critical areas (urban, rural and tribal) so as to pressure it to an extent that the law of the land is replaced with “sharia law” – or the extent that the TTP installs “sharia law” itself, which is actually a militia dictatorship controlled by the TTP and not necessarily in accordance with accepted Islamic law(s);

(3) Accepting major acts of terror that degrade the security situation as well as the morale of the security forces, the people of Pakistan, and most importantly, the economic entities on which Pakistan’s economic stability and recovery is contingent – to the extent that Pakistan is unable to finance or acquire funding for counter-terrorism operations, activities and planning.

These “major ops” are designed to convert the TTP from a terror group or umbrella group of Islamic fundamentalist militias and extremist organizations into the kind of potent military force that the Afghan Taliban is in its own country. While the TTP conducts activities in the Afghan Taliban’s “backyard” (i.e. Pakistan, Afghanistan’s most important neighboring country), they do so in order to curry favor with the Afghan Taliban and to support and facilitate their actions against international forces in Afghanistan – even though the Afghan Taliban sometimes denounce the actions of the TTP and openly declare that they have no links with the TTP. Nevertheless, the TTP considers Afghan Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar as its “ultimate amir”, superior to its own leader or “amir” – but it is uncertain, even questionable, as to whether they would follow a direct order from Mullah Omar or not. As such, even the Afghan Taliban have limited control over the TTP, whereas anti-Pakistan organizations (and states, for that matter) would have a greater influence over the TTP – and its targets, both declared and specific – through their financial resources, means of access, and provisions of safe haven and major supplies of war materials (from communications equipment of all kinds to weapons of all kinds). Acts of terror that are or could be “minor ops” are;

(1) Acts of financial terror such as kidnapping-for-ransom, which are criminal activities carried out by local groups or entities that may or may not be closely affiliated with the TTP and may or may not provide funding for TTP terror activities in their area of operations;

(2) Acts of sectarian terror and inter-faith violence which are sometimes claimed by the TTP – such as bomb blasts which have high casualty rates, or calculated and cold-blooded assassinations of Shi’a personalities or groups in major cities or in Baluchistan, as has been happening with the Hazara community – or other acts of violence that threaten the pluralist fabric of Pakistani society and can be blamed on extremist elements within Pakistani society or those who follow a radical “takfiri” mindset that is closely akin to the ideology of Al Qaeda and the TTP;

(3) Using financial and transportation operatives to engage in the drug trade to achieve two goals: establish a steady flow of financial resources for ready use in a local area of operation (which are provided by the hapless youth of Pakistan who are the future of this country but who are extremely susceptible to the lack of opportunities and the enticement of drug addiction regardless of its massive negative effects and multidimensional ramifications on the self, the family, the social network and on the society in general), and also to maintain a steady line of supply through which not only narcotics, but weapons such as guns, grenades, bombs and bomb-making equipment can be shifted from no-go areas to major cities, where they can be assembled or where plans can be devised to be executed at a certain point in time with a specific target in sight;

(4) Acts of psychological warfare that lead to a situation of mayhem and chaos on the streets of Pakistan’s cities, or are covered by Pakistan’s media in such a way that the audience is forced to become worried and concerned (to say the very least) about developments on the ground, about what may happen in the immediate future, and most importantly, whether the state is able to deal with the situation and restore normalcy or not.

To provide a clearer picture, a more recent example can be given: the assassination of Karachi CID chief Chaudhry Aslam was a TTP “major op” in which the police officer was specifically targeted, and martyred in an attack which caused untold mayhem and destruction – the officer’s vehicle blew up and was found 20 feet away from the spot where it was hit with a blast. At the same time, the courageous act of Pakistani youngster Aitezaz Hasan deterring a suicide bomber from carrying out his (the bomber’s) mission and giving his own life as the ultimate sacrifice is an act that may have stopped a “major op” or “minor op” of the TTP. But the TTP has not taken responsibility of the suicide bombing that could only martyr Aitezaz, since they could not achieve their operational target and were foiled in their attempt by a young Pakistani student who knew that it was better to live for something than to die for nothing.

There are many other activities that are being considered as the TTP’s “minor ops” by the nation’s elite intelligence agencies and security forces – while their quantum and effects are being understood and calibrated, their mention in a publicly accessible article may be deemed detrimental to national security. However, the people of Pakistan must know that in addition to scaring the nation, the TTP is also bent on demoralizing the nation, so that the TTP achieves their objectives through an outright winning of the “hearts and minds” if not an overwhelming military victory of the kind the Afghan Taliban achieved in 1994. The main difference(s) between the TTP’s “major” and “minor” ops are that they rarely take the responsibility (or blame, rather) for the latter, and that they are most likely not linked to the elements which carry out attacks or activities which fall under the latter category. The TTP are also known to claim a terrorist attack after it has been “successfully” carried out – if it has been foiled, or if its operatives are caught or killed, the TTP remains mum. This is how the TTP carries out its propaganda of showing the Pakistani people that it has a 100% success rate – and therefore, Allah is on their side because they are on the “just path”. This is the exact kind of propaganda for which conservative Pakistanis fall for; principally because of the fact that Pakistan’s evolving social fabric and differentiated educational system (Western-oriented expensive education, Urdu-medium state-run educational programs, and cost-free madrassa education services including boarding and lodging for students) has created three divergent societies living together in the same country, where the elite are predisposed to hate the Taliban and their regressive ideology, while the strictly conservative and religiously indoctrinated (and in some cases, pushed to the edges of religious extremism and Islamic literalism) are more inclined to agree with the TTP methodology – it is the urban and rural middle class, the silent majority, which gets caught in the middle, and without proper guidance, complete knowledge and unbiased information, they are forced to remain on the fences and the sidelines rather than do their national duty and pick up the cause of national consolidation through counter-terrorism, social reconciliation and strengthening human security. The fact that Pakistan’s national identity has been degraded to the level that Pakistan is now a country in search of a nation, is a separate debate altogether.

Keeping in mind the sensitivity of this issue and the fact that it is being discussed in the public domain for the first time after lengthy interviews and discussions with counter-terrorism experts in the Pakistan Army, provincial police services, bureaucracy, and research institutes, another important facet has come to light through the workings of intelligence agencies who are toiling day and night to keep the TTP at bay, to deter it from degrading the fabric of the Pakistani state and society, and in effect, to defeat the TTP by giving it “a taste of its own medicine” and defeating it using its own tactics and methodology: what are the ways and means to identify and more importantly counter the TTP’s “minor ops” at the policy level, at the security implementation level, and at the public awareness and social response level.

Urban counter-insurgent and counter-terrorism tactics with effective, empowered, well-trained and well-equipped police forces in the lead, supported by paramilitary and Army along with surveillance equipment like helicopters and drones are on the cards, such as the newly formed counter-terror force in the Punjab, which is being trained along the lines of the Punjab Police’s Elite Force and the Quick Response Force (QRF) of the country’s paramilitary units. However, it remains the jurisdiction of the politicians – the political leaders and important social personalities to whom people of all walks of life listen, pay attention to, follow, and act upon – to develop a public awareness strategy that is the equivalent of an anti-terror or counter-terror social response: such as “Say No To Terrorism”, but with a tight-knit and educated dimension dealing with counter-extremism, counter-radicalization, promotion of tolerance and pluralism, and emphasis on social harmony – especially between different religious, racial, linguistic, ethnic, and other social groups. The thought process of the average Pakistani must be shifted from a ready differentiation between “us/me” and “the other”, to a complete understanding and protection of “us” and what it means and stands for – and the defiance, opposition, countering, and complete elimination of the real other (the terrorist, the extremist, the intolerant ones and those who spread intolerance, the anti-state elements and the enemies of Pakistan within and outside) from not only their existence in society, but also from their existence in the hearts and minds of the Pakistani people at home and abroad. Instead, Pakistan’s religious leaders are bent on calling terrorists “martyrs” and committing the heinous, treasonous act of degrading the ultimate sacrifice of the martyrdom of our brave soldiers and police officers – and instead of offering unconditional apologies, as are done in modern societies by decent and humane people who respect anyone who has died, long-winded and incomprehensible “clarifications” are offered and intolerable statements are not taken back. Such is the confusion that the people of Pakistan suffer from, and such is the caliber of the so-called “leaders” of different segments of Pakistani society who divide instead of unite the nation. And there are even those – people with even more following among the public – who say that while we have lost 40,000 countrymen and 10,000 soldiers, it is still not our war. Any Pakistani with a morsel of self-respect and dignity would reject this notion and remember the words of Field Marshal Ayub Khan when he goaded the enemy of 1965 by exclaiming that they did not know what nation they had awoken by their cowardly attacks. It is the destiny of Pakistan to avenge the martyrdoms of those who have fallen at the hands of our enemies, foreign and domestic. The terrorists will not be let off the hook so easy, whether it is the path of negotiations or the path of all out war that we – our people or our leaders, civilian or military – choose, or whatever path they – our enemies – choose.

Counter-extremism must be understood, developed, formalized, practiced and implemented as a sociopolitical platform for clerics (ulema) as well as religious leaders of other communities to unite and to bring the people under a banner of national tolerance and pluralism, particularly to protect religious (inter-faith) and sectarian (intra-faith) minorities. The examples of Benazir Bhutto, of Salmaan Taseer, of Shahbaz Bhatti, of Sifwat Ghayur, of Malik Saad, of Allama Sarfaraz Ahmad Naeemi, of Bashir Bilour, and most recently of Chaudhry Aslam and Aitezaz Hasan, should serve as shining examples of martyrs who chose to live and die like lions instead of cowering in fear of the danger that terrorists pose from all directions. The list of martyrs from the armed forces, the paramilitary forces, and the police forces (some of whom have been mentioned above) is endless and would take an entire article in itself to even summarize or eulogize. These examples should serve to unite the armed forces, the security forces, and the public, insofar as they are facing the same threat from the same people, and that the terrorists draw no distinction: if they are targeting us for being Pakistanis, then why do we divide ourselves and forget our Pakistani identity while countering this existential threat in a coherent and effective manner?

The incumbent government’s “priority” of negotiating with the TTP even though Hakeemullah Mehsud had a “no-maybe” response to the Pakistan government’s “talk” and military’s “fight” doctrine – now Mullah Fazlullah has a “no-yes” response to both, but the government and the military seem adamant on continuing their previous doctrines without contradicting the other. The only way this can possible achieve the result of peace and stability in Pakistan is if it can widen the gulf between Fazlullah’s leadership circle and the main cadres of the TTP consisting of the Mehsud and Wazir tribals, who are “not comfortable” with Fazlullah even being in the Waziristans, and who are thought to be angry with their new “amir” (leader) for not being able to avenge the death of Hakeemullah Mehsud. Mullah Fazlullah’s ascendancy from a non-descript anti-state element to the head of the most dreaded terror network in Pakistan must also be seen in the light of the U.S. forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, the current deadlock over the U.S.-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement, and most importantly, the fact that the TTP’s Kunar shura (as opposed to the TTP’s Miranshah shura) got to implement the final decision about the successor of Hakeemullah Mehsud.

Rest assured, the country’s security forces – the Armed Forces, paramilitaries, police forces, and intelligence agencies; those at the frontlines of the War on Terror, the war that is Pakistan’s war, whether it was forced on us or not – are dealing with all forms of threats posed by the TTP. The existential as well as the evolving threats are being understood, and dealt with. The national leadership – the executive and the legislature – must do its part, in order to strengthen these forces of the state, and empower the judiciary to ensure the rule of law, so that no criminal should aspire to be promoted to a terrorist. The country’s jail system should be transformed from breeding grounds or nurseries for terrorist networking into rehabilitative institutions where criminals and terrorists are actually reformed and turned into positive elements who contribute to the welfare and betterment of Pakistani society. And the people of Pakistan must play their role, always, during day and night, to fight terrorism – the ideology of terror and the act of terror – and to counter extremism and radicalism and intolerance. It is the people of Pakistan who are the deciding factor in who will win this war for the survival of Pakistan, for the soul of Pakistan: and it is the people of Pakistan who will win this war, eventually, no matter what. Each Pakistani must serve as a guiding light against the forces of darkness and extremism, because each person is the shining star that serves as the beacon for the nation’s bright destiny (as Allama Iqbal said).

The nation-state of Pakistan – the people and the country – have survived many tests of nature and of the enemy. It is our destiny to prevail and overcome, no matter what the odds, no matter how much the suffering. By understanding the enemy better, we understand ourselves and learn of strengths we never knew we have.

Many years from now, in the barren hills of the Waziristans and in the streets of Karachi, in the fields of Swat and in the passes of the Khyber agency, when the people of Pakistan have finally become Pakistanis and have defeated the TTP like the Sri Lankans defeated the Tamil “Tigers”, there will be monuments to the bravery of those who sacrificed while the nation was confused, at odds, and demoralized. There will be poems and elegies for the martyrs; there will be tears of sorrow for those who have left us, and tears of joy for the future they would have gifted us. Pakistan is a country of brave men and women, humans with the hearts of lions and the will to move mountains – it is only a divine test that the nation has lost its way and has become subjected to psychological warfare and degenerative propaganda. Once the veils are lifted and the illusions scattered away, it is inevitable that the nation will rise to crush all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Many days after that day arrives, years after the TTP’s “major ops” and “minor ops” are foiled and reduced to ineffectiveness, there will be song and celebration. There will be poems and elegies. For our martyrs, our brave soldiers and civilians who will have saved the nation and earned immortality, there will be a saying akin to that for Leonidas and his 300 who saved Greece from the hordes of Xerxes at Thermopylae. Each speck of the dust of Pakistan will scream to this generation and future generations of Pakistanis: “go tell our countrymen, passerby; for Pakistan, we live and die”…