By Abdullah Khan
Over the past year, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has expanded its operational influence into Balochistan, posing a significant threat to Pakistan’s national security. The TTP’s strategic alliances with various Balochistan-based militant groups have enabled its rapid infiltration into the province. This op-ed sheds light on the worrisome implications of the TTP’s expansion in Balochistan and urges Pakistan’s authorities to take immediate action to address this growing menace.
The Rise of TTP in Balochistan:
Balochistan, a province already grappling with numerous challenges, now faces the expansion of the TTP within its borders. Traditionally associated with the Pashtun-dominated regions of Pakistan, the TTP has successfully attracted several smaller Balochistan-based militant groups to its cause. These groups, previously aligned with the Afghan Taliban against Western forces, have found a common cause with the TTP. This unholy alliance has strengthened the TTP’s operational capabilities in Balochistan. In June 2022 a group of former Taliban fighters led by Mullah Aslam Baloch from Noshki area of Balochistan joined TTP. In December another group from the Makran division of Balochistan led by Mazar Baloch pledged allegiance to Mufti Noor Wali, the head of TTP. In April 2023, a group from Kalat led by Akram Baloch and another group from Quetta led by Asim Balcoh announced their merger into TTP. Thus, within a year at least four groups joined TTP comprising mainly ethnic Baloch members.
New Wilayat in Balochistan:
A significant development in the TTP’s expansion is the establishment of a new Wilayat (administrative division) within Balochistan. The creation of this division, which includes the Kalat and Makran divisions, signifies the TTP’s organizational growth and its ambitions beyond the traditional strongholds of erstwhile FATA, KP, and Pashtun districts of Balochistan. By consolidating power in Balochistan, the TTP aims to further destabilize the already turbulent security landscape in the province. The maps of Makran, Kalat, and Zhob divisions show that TTP’s strong organizational structure is now present in more than 70 percent of the Balochistan province.
Kalat Division Map
Zhob Division Map
A Neglected Warning:
In its annual Security Assessment Report The Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS) had previously warned about the TTP’s intentions to expand its operations in non-Pashtun areas of Balochistan. Sadly, this warning went unheeded, and the consequences are now being felt. The TTP’s operational nexus with the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), as highlighted by the PICSS, has been largely overlooked by counterterrorism experts. This oversight has allowed the TTP to deepen its influence and complicate security dynamics in Balochistan.
Implications for Pakistan’s National Security:
The TTP’s encroachment into Balochistan poses a grave threat to Pakistan’s national security. The influx of religiously motivated Baloch fighters, who were once associated with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUIF) affiliated madrassas, has added a new dimension to the conflict. These fighters, who previously fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, have now redirected their loyalty to the TTP. This shift has grave implications for the stability and peace of Balochistan. Pakistan’s security apparatus perhaps overlooked these fighters who took part in the Afghan war during the last two decades.
The Al-Qaeda Connection:
Further complicating matters is the influence of Al-Qaeda’s Takfiri ideology on Taliban commanders in southern Afghanistan, which spills over into Balochistan. The growth of Al-Qaeda in the region has intensified the challenges faced by Pakistani authorities. Al-Qaeda’s idealogy got more acceptance in southern parts of Afghanistan than in eastern parts. Haqqanis who were operationally more aligned to the Al-Qaeda leadership but ideologically are less influenced due to their pragmatic approach in operations. Southern Afghanistan became more infested by Al-Qaeda’s ideology. Interestingly, AQIS is also mainly based in southern parts of Afghanistan. It already has a strong operational presence in Balochistan. Its strong ties with the TTP provide it a greater chance to become a bridge between the Kandahari faction of the Afghan Taliban.
On one hand, former Taliban fighters from Pakistani Balochistan are joining hands with TTP while on the other hand, Al-Qaeda’s influence in the southern parts of Afghanistan proves instrumental in creating a conducive environment for TTP in southern parts of the country.
With groups like ISIS (Daesh), Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan (TJP), and Jaish al-Adl also vying for influence, Balochistan has become a hotbed of militant activities that threaten the province’s security and Pakistan’s overall stability.
Addressing the Growing Threat:
The deteriorating security situation in Balochistan demands urgent attention from Pakistan’s national security apparatus. Immediate steps must be taken to disrupt the TTP’s expanding network and sever its ties with Balochistan-based militant groups. Counterterrorism operations should be intensified, focusing on intelligence gathering, border control, and dismantling the infrastructure that sustains these extremist elements.
Moreover, efforts to address the root causes of militancy, such as socio-economic disparities and political grievances, must be prioritized. This necessitates a comprehensive approach that combines security measures with investments in education, infrastructure, and job creation. Additionally, regional cooperation and intelligence sharing between Pakistan and Afghanistan are crucial in countering the cross-border movement of militants.
The TTP’s rapid infiltration into Balochistan, aided by its alliances with Balochistan-based militant groups, poses a severe threat to Pakistan’s national security. The establishment of the Wilayat administrative division within the province signifies the TTP’s ambitions to expand its operations beyond its traditional strongholds. It is imperative that Pakistan’s authorities act decisively to dismantle this growing menace, with a focus on intelligence-based operations, socio-economic development, and regional cooperation. Failure to address this threat promptly could lead to further destabilization and perpetuate the cycle of violence in Balochistan, endangering the stability of the entire region.