Pak Taliban Tightening Its Grip On Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Peshawar: The return of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and its rapidly mounting control spells disaster for Pakistan.

Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistan security expert at the University of London, sees little interest within the Pakistani military in stemming the rising Taliban tide along the country’s western borders with Afghanistan, RFE/RL reported.

She says that unlike the early rounds of Pakistan’s domestic war on terrorism, Islamabad is unlikely to receive Western financial support, particularly generous funding from the United States.

“Now, with no money on the table, the Pakistani military is unwilling to fight the Taliban, which is leading to extortion in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” she said.

Siddiqa says the return of the TTP to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and its rapidly mounting control spells disaster for Pakistan.

“What will start in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will not end in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It will extend all over the country,” she emphasised, RFE/RL reported.

Although not reported in the media, the TTP’s extortion is now so extensive across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that on September 20 the group issued a statement calling on people to not pay extortion in several northern districts of the province.

“If anyone asks you for a shakedown in the name of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, please contact us so we can unmask them,” the statement said, offering a number for contacting the group, RFE/RL reported.

Despite the alarming increase in Taliban extortion demands, the issue is yet to attract national attention.

Last month, Pakistan’s powerful military described the return of TTP militants as a “misperception” that is “grossly exaggerated and misleading”. It has promised to deal with the group with “full force if required.”

But opposition politicians in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are not convinced. Lawmaker Sardar Hussain Babak, a prominent leader of the secular Awami National Party, says the Taliban is tightening its grip on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“Every well-off individual in this province, including me, is receiving threatening phone calls [from the Taliban] demanding extortion money,” he told lawmakers last week.

“We have repeatedly demanded action from the government but have not seen any political will,” he said, RFE/RL reported.

Since June, dozens of noisy protests and sit-ins across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have pressed Pakistani authorities to protect them from Taliban militants returning to the province.

The Pakistani military, however, says it is committed to protecting the country from militants.

“The Pakistan Army is determined to defend Pakistan’s borders against the menace of terrorism,” the military’s media office said.