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The Rise, Fall, and Resurgence of the Tehreek-e-Taliban in Pakistan

If the Taliban refuse to outrightly condemn TTP activities against its long-time benefactor neighbor state, it is unlikely that the Pakistan government will continue to extend diplomatic support to Afghan Taliban, as it wrestles to consolidate its control in Afghanistan.

Cover Image for The Rise, Fall, and Resurgence of the Tehreek-e-Taliban in Pakistan
Tehreek-e-TalibanPhoto Credit: Getty Images
Article byHamna Tariq
March 1, 2022

“We have yet to take revenge for the deaths of hundreds of innocent tribal women and children in Pakistani air strikes. It's just the beginning, we have taken revenge for one, we have to take revenge for hundreds.” Shahidullah Shahid, Tehreek-e-Taliban Spokesperson. June 9, 2014.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the largest militant organization in Pakistan, has conducted scores of deadly attacks across the country since 2007. The attacks initially concentrated near the heavily contested Afghanistan-Pakistan border, mainly in Waziristan and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province. However, in late 2007, they spread to the densely populated urban centers of Pakistan. A near-decade reign of TTP terror, from 2007 to 2014, wrecked the military, economic, and political infrastructure of the state. The eventual fall of TTP as a result of invasive military operations generated a false sense of calm that slowly disintegrated in 2021 when TTP resurfaced largely as a result of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, wreaking havoc across the country once again.

The TTP, founded by a shura of 40 senior Taliban leaders from across Pakistan, espouses a Deobandi ideology; an ideology teaching a return to core Islamic values and promoting the purification of Islam. It has allied with Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban at different points in history, but it takes ideological inspiration from Al-Qaeda. Although an internationally designated terrorist organization, influence and reach has remained predominantly confinedto Pakistan and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, despite limited attempts to attack Europe and the U.S.

The Reign of Urban Terror and Eventual Fall of TTP

Initial TTP attacks were concentrated in and around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. However, starting in late 2007 and early 2008, TTP began to venture into the economic and political hubs of the country, essentially weakening the core infrastructure of the state. TTP attacks across the nation from 2007 to 2014 stunned the international community. Although the TTP conducted these operations against the Pakistani military and government, its decision to display indiscriminate violence against innocent civilians illustrates the callousness of its leadership. From suicide bombing the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad, killing more than 50 civilians, including foreign citizens, in 2008, to ambushing Pakistan’s largest international airport, killing scores of civilians and permanently damaging the state’s international security standings, in 2014—more than 18,000 civilians lost their lives in terrorist attacks during the 2007-2014 reign of terror.

With no end to TTP’s violence in sight, the Pakistani political and military establishment partnered to finally and permanently defeat the terrorist institution. On June 15, 2014, in the aftermath of the deadly assault on Karachi’s international airport, the Pakistan Armed Forces began its biggest operation against the militants yet – Zarb-e-Azb (sharp strike). The operation, partially funded by the United States, forcedhundreds of TTP leaders to flee Pakistan’s northern regions into Afghanistan. However, once TTP fled across the border, it found itself housed and motivated by the Afghan Taliban. A shameful lack of coordination between the Afghan and Pakistani governments allowed the TTP to find safe havens in Afghanistan. Although Zarb-e-Azb was initially touted as a success, killing 3500 militants over two-years, it failed to deter subsequent waves of terrorism.

In February 2017, Pakistan launched another operation titled Radd-ul-Fasaad (elimination of strife) to disarm and eliminate terrorist sleeper cells across the country. Consequently, the attacks reduced in frequency in major urban centers of Pakistan but continued in Quetta, Peshawar, and other mid-sized cities near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. As the TTP slowly began to disintegrate, several TTP factions pledged allegiance to the Taliban, some prominent leaders such as Ehsanullah Ehsan surrendered himself to the government, and some died in the 2018 drone strikes. There was a general belief that if the Pakistani army couldn’t bring an end to the TTP, it would naturally die out.

The Resurgence of the TTP (2021-Present)

Recently, new leadership under Noor Wali Mehsud has catapulted TTP back to its former position. In 2021, the TTP claimed 282 attacks, killing more than 500 law enforcement officials – an 84% jump from 2020. It claimed 42 attacks in January 2022 alone. TTP’s media wing “Umar Media” created a new website in January 2020 and has promoted the ‘globalization of Jihad’ to Kashmir and India. This globalization of Jihad has also directly impacted China-Pakistan relations. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through several traditional strongholds of the TTP. On August 12, 2021, the TTP conducted a suicide blast in a bus carrying Chinese engineers in KPK, killing 13 people, including nine Chinese nationals. Frequent attacks against Chinese workers could discontinue Pakistan’s largest economic undertaking and significantly weaken its already brittle economic infrastructure.

Considering the swift resurgence of the TTP, the Pakistani government offered to agree to a one-month ceasefire with the terrorist outfit under the facilitation of the Afghan Taliban in November 2021. However, the TTP unilaterally ended the ceasefire in December 2021, citing concerns that the government had not released TTP prisoners as promised and had continued its raids and arrests against TTP fighters. After the failure of negotiations, many criticized the government for attempting to mediate an unmendable dispute without providing a counter-narrative to the group’s ideology and demands.


The Pakistani military and political establishment need to go far beyond kinetic measures to contain the TTP. Yet, negotiating with TTP has not borne any fruit since its inception. Its fragmented structure and internal competition could make any peace agreement void. Instead of negotiating, the Pakistani government should invest in stifling the revival of TTP by pouring resources into deradicalization and reintegration efforts. Carefully targeted Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs in tribal regions could help gauge the causes of radicalization. Providing basic necessities and improving the standard of living in tribal areas could also help frustrated populations disengage from radicalistic propaganda.KPK remains the poorest province in Pakistan, with limited access to health care and education facilities. Reinvigorating the region directly addresses the deep-rooted woes of emerging militants. Apart from poverty alleviation, governance reforms that allow marginalized tribal communities to voice their concerns and engage in peaceful protest prevent militants from taking arms to make a political statement.

The US withdrawal of Afghanistan has not only empowered suppressed TTP vigor, galvanizing the organization into a formidable threat once again, but has increased its operational freedom and mobility in the country. Although the TTP has publicly reiterated its pledge to the Afghan Taliban, the latter has remained tight-lipped on its stance towards its Pakistan-based ideological partner. If the Taliban refuse to outrightly condemn TTP activities against its long-time benefactor neighbor state, it is unlikely that the Pakistan government will continue to extend diplomatic support to Afghan Taliban, as it wrestles to consolidate its control in Afghanistan.

DISCLAIMER: All views expressed are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent that of the IWAB platform.