Reports from January 9 indicated that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Chief Mullah Fazlullah ordered his militants to target Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif and his party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) or PML (N). Fazlullah said he is against the ruling party’s decision to lift the moratorium on the death penalty for convicted militants and use of military courts to try accused militants. On December 16, 2014, the TTP attacked the Peshawar school, killing 145 people. TTP, meanwhile, has also vowed to carry more attacks like this in recent weeks. TTP is also one of the main militant organizations against whom the Pakistan Army launched operations Zarb-e-Azb and Khyber 1 to target militants in the northwest tribal regions of Pakistan.
Furthermore, police in Islamabad have reportedly decided to register criminal cases against Jamia Hafsa (Shohada Foundation) and its students for inviting the Islamic State (IS) to avenge Operation Silence, which was carried out against the Lal Masjid mosque in 2007. The madrassa is located at the mosque complex in Islamabad. Around 100 people, including militants and security personnel, were killed in the mosque’s siege. The calls against the Pakistani state came from a video made by madrasa students. Police stated that the students’ calls violate sections 121/121-A 505(1) b/505(2) of the Pakistan Penal Code. Security agencies have already warned the government that Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz has links with known militant groups, and that given his anti-government rhetoric, his resurgence poses a security threat to law and order in Islamabad.
Meanwhile, reports indicate that Pakistani forces killed TTP’s Lahore commander on January 10. He was said to have been the mastermind of the November 2, 2014 Wagah border attack. He was killed along with his aides. Police and intelligence agencies conducted a joint raid on a house on Burki Road in Lahore. Police claimed that all three killed hailed from Bajaur, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). A cache of arms, explosives, suicide vests, detonators and militant literature was recovered.
The TTP call for action underscores the heightened and daily threat of militancy in Pakistan. Moreover, the call will likely be considered by Pakistan as TTP’s readiness to further escalate their militancy campaign against the Pakistani state. The TTP, for weeks, has threatened more significant attacks. These have largely been proclaimed as punitive measures for Pakistan’s military operations in the tribal northwest and the state’s increased nationwide counter militancy measures following the Peshawar attack. Such threats necessitated a bolstering of security throughout the country since December. Further warnings are therefore likely in the coming days, along with a possible intensification of attacks and counter militancy operations.
To that point, with President Obama’s upcoming visit to India, in addition to Secretary of State Kerry’s visit to Pakistan, Islamabad may feel it necessary to intensify counter militancy operations. The government wants to show it is acting aggressively against jihadist militancy. American aid is at stake. On the other hand, it should not be ruled out that the TTP may attempt a high-profile attack or assassination in the near term.
Moreover, TTP may now have an even greater incentive to carry out such an operation. Recent reports have indicated that a number of TTP fighters, including a former leader, have defected to join the Islamic State (IS). The TTP has for sometime been battling defections to other factions. An escalation could therefore be a strategy to prevent a further fracturing of the group. Also, TTP will likely seek to hit back hard for the killing of their Lahore commander.
In line with concerns of an escalation in jihadist violence, the legal charges against Jamia Hafsa could necessitate a further bolstering of counter militancy efforts in the capital. This is due to likely concerns that militants will retaliate, including by challenging security forces at the mosque. The possibility for such attacks will significantly increase should security forces aim to arrest any of the accused.