2021, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has transformed into a formidable force
despite continuous pressure from the Pakistan Government. With strategic
mergers, expanded support, and novel tactics, the TTP intensified attacks on
Pakistan’s security forces and Chinese projects in Pakistan. The Afghan
Taliban’s rise further strengthened the TTP, providing sanctuary and support,
leading to an influx of fighters and suicide bombers. India faces regional
destabilisation risks, necessitating recalibrated military strategies to
protect her national interests. Balancing safeguarding interests and avoiding
instability demands a sophisticated geopolitical response. For India’s regional
stability, vigilance, strategic acumen, and prudent military measures are
crucial in navigating the complex dynamics between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and
the evolving terror landscape.
geopolitical landscape of Afghanistan and Pakistan, a remarkable transformation has
unfolded since 2021, witnessing Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) emerge as a
formidable force, resiliently countering transnational terror groups and
evading the Government of Pakistan’s relentless raids. The TTP has
significantly enhanced its operational prowess by employing strategic mergers,
bolstering its support base, and adopting novel tactics. Firmly entrenched
within Afghanistan, and now extending its influence into Pakistan, the TTP has
amplified its assault on Pakistani security forces and critical Chinese
infrastructure projects in Pakistan.
In July 2023, the 32nd report of the
Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team released a report to the UN
Security Council (UNSC) that focused on ‘ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaeda, and
associated individuals and entities’. The report highlights Afghanistan’s
ongoing significance as a global terrorism hotspot, hosting around 20 terrorist
groups. Notably, the Afghan Taliban’s rise to power has empowered the TTP,
allowing them to exploit their presence in Afghanistan to conduct operations
within Pakistan. The TTP’s objectives include regaining control of Pakistani
territory, focusing on high-value targets near the border and soft targets in
An intriguing development lies in the
visible patronage and alliance extended to the TTP by the Afghan Taliban.2 Initially, Pakistani authorities anticipated
that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan would constrain the TTP’s threat,
assuming that the Taliban would rein in their influence. Contrarily, the TTP
appears emboldened by the Taliban’s ascension to power, burgeoning in strength.
The Taliban leadership granted political asylum and unhindered mobility within
Afghanistan to senior TTP figures and fighters, previously incarcerated by the
Afghan Government, providing them a sanctuary to orchestrate their violent
campaign within Pakistan.3
The resurgence of the Afghan Taliban
regime attracted a significant influx of Pakistani militants, manifesting an
unwavering resolve to overthrow the Pakistani state. Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud,
the Emir of TTP, lauded the Taliban’s triumph and pledged allegiance to Emir
Haibatullah Akhundzada and unconditional support to the Afghan Taliban’s cause.
In tandem, the TTP asserted its demand for a semi-autonomous status for the
tribal belt, striving to implement Sharia law as its guiding principle.4 Compounding the situation is the deep-seated
commitment of several Afghan Taliban members to support the TTP’s jihad against
Pakistan, fuelled by tribal, ethnic, ideological, and personal affiliations
that took root during the decades of insurgency in Afghanistan. Scores of
Afghan Taliban fighters have volunteered to augment the TTP’s ranks, offering
themselves as suicide bombers and foot soldiers in their crusade against
In this rapidly evolving strategic
landscape, India finds itself at a critical juncture, compelled to recalibrate
its military calculations to safeguard its national interests. As the TTP’s
influence expands, so does the potential for destabilising the region. India’s
military must meticulously assess this evolving scenario, anticipating the
ramifications of a strengthened TTP and its affiliations with the Afghan
Taliban. The implications are manifold and demand a comprehensive strategic
response. India must proactively engage in sophisticated geopolitical
manoeuvres to mitigate risks while capitalising on opportunities that arise
amidst the TTP’s rise. The delicate balancing act requires astute military
decision-making, deftly treading the fine line between safeguarding Indian
interests and avoiding further regional destabilisation.
As the situation evolves, India must
monitor the fluid dynamics closely, ready to adapt its strategies to a rapidly
changing landscape. The resurgence of the TTP and its nexus with the Afghan
Taliban warrant India’s vigilance as it seeks to preserve stability and secure
its geopolitical standing in the region. Prudent military measures and strategic
acumen will play a pivotal role in defining India’s position amidst the
interlocking dynamics of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the ever-shifting terror
growth of TTP can be explained under five sub-categories, as follows:
n Merger and Expansion. Till July
2023, there were a total of 36 terror groups which had earlier split from core
TTP but have rejoined the group back. The TTP has strategically merged with
various militant groups, strengthening its ranks and operational capabilities.
The return of the Afghan Taliban in 2021, and their opposition to foreign
militants on Afghan soil, led to TTP volunteers returning to Pakistan, boosting
the group’s influence. The merger provided the TTP with battle-hardened
militants and expanded its geographical presence, particularly in southern
Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Additionally, regaining control of
north Waziristan further solidified the TTP’s position and support base.5
n Centralisation and Command Structure. To
address fragmentation issues, the TTP adopted a centralised command structure.
The central leadership retains control over appointments and established shadow
province leaders accountable to the
main cabinet. This hierarchical system allows for better
coordination and operational effectiveness, streamlining the TTP’s activities.
n Revisiting Objectives. The TTP
shifted its focus from regional and global ambitions to a local agenda,
exploiting grievances within Pakistan to legitimise its jihad. The TTP aimed to
gain sustained support for its war against the Pakistan Government by
localising its operations and limiting attacks on civilians. This shift was
influenced by the success of the Afghan Taliban, showing that limiting their
agenda could enhance their operations and chances of success.6
n Rise in Operational Activities. The
TTP’s reformation led to increased operational attacks, focusing on targeting
Pakistan’s security forces. The group acquired sophisticated weaponry after the
US withdrawal from Afghanistan, further bolstering its capabilities. Adopting a
centralised suicide bombing brigade allowed the TTP to expand its reach beyond
tribal areas, infiltrating major urban centres in Pakistan.
n Reformed Role of Media. The TTP’s media channel, Umar Media, has
become more prolific, with improved production quality. Utilising a
multilingual approach, the TTP’s propaganda targets various communities,
linking their anti-state war narrative with highlighting socio-political
grievances. By appealing to diverse audiences through regional languages, Umar
Media strengthens the TTP’s influence and garners support for its cause.7
TTP’s comprehensive reformation has made it a more formidable threat to
Pakistan’s security and stability. The group’s increased operational
activities,with focus on urban areas, indicate its ability to strike at the
heart of the country. Moreover, the TTP’s nexus with other terrorist
organisations, like Al Qaeda, and its alliances with various militant groups
pose risks to regional security.The TTP’s alignment with the Afghan Taliban,
and the latter’s takeover of Afghanistan, has provided the former with
sanctuary and freedom of movement, enabling it to intensify attacks within
Pakistan’s. This development raises concerns about Pakistan and Afghanistan’s
security challenges from transnational terrorist groups operating in the
Addressing the TTP threat requires a
multifaceted approach, including counter-terrorism efforts, intelligence
sharing, border security, and handling grievances within marginalised
communities. Cooperation between Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other regional
stakeholders is crucial to effectively combatting the TTP and its affiliated
Thus, the TTP’s comprehensive
reformation and growth since 2021 have
made it a significant security threat in the region. Its strategic mergers,
centralisation, revisited objectives, increased operational activities, and
sophisticated media propaganda contribute to its resilience and expansion.
Combating the TTP’s menace requires a coordinated and comprehensive approach to
ensure stability and security in the wider region.
of TTP’s Merger and Expansions
TTP’s restructuring and expansion significantly affects the regional stability
and future developments. On 30 Jan 2023, a devastating suicide attack at the
Peshawar police headquarters, claiming over 100 lives, marked the deadliest act
of terrorism in Pakistan since the 2014 Army Public School attack. While the
TTP tried to distance itself from the attack, doubts persist about the
sincerity of its new policies and internal support for them. Nevertheless,
despite such attacks, the TTP’s leadership remains committed to its reform
initiatives. This attack also underscores the role of the Afghan Taliban in the
conflict between the TTP and the Pakistani state. The Taliban’s interim foreign
minister denies the existence of terrorist sanctuaries in Afghanistan, but
tensions persist, with Pakistan accusing the TTP of planning attacks from
Afghan soil. The TTP’s current trajectory indicates a strategic shift under its
leader, Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, focusing on gaining territorial control over
the tribal belt adjacent to Afghanistan rather than seeking an Afghan
Taliban-style victory in Pakistan.
As the TTP continues to escalate
violence, particularly in urban areas, Pakistan’s military and intelligence
leadership may face domestic political pressure to reassess their approach.
Cross-border military action, including covert assassination attempts and drone
strikes, may be employed to exert pressure on the TTP. Pakistan could also
attempt to divide the TTP by offering incentives and targeting critical nodes
within the group to encourage moderates to distance themselves from hardline
Taliban’s Role and Decisions
role of the Afghan Taliban in mediating between Pakistan and the TTP is crucial
as the stalemate persists. The Taliban faces a delicate balancing act as they
seek international acceptance for their governance while upholding their alliance
with the TTP. Internal politics within the Taliban, including support for the
TTP from certain factions, influences the group’s approach to deal with the
TTP. The Taliban’s stand on the TTP’s demands will play a significant role in
mediation. While they generally support the TTP’s aspiration for a
Shariah-based order in Pakistan, specific negotiating points need
clarification. Some elements within the Taliban may have reservations about
accommodating the TTP’s demands due to concerns about potential risks and
challenges from anti-Taliban factions like ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K).
The Taliban’s decisions as a mediator
will have implications for regional stability and security. Their outreach to
India reflects efforts to diversify international partnerships, potentially
reducing their reliance on Pakistan. The growing aspiration of having closer
ties with India could be a driver for how the Taliban approaches managing
relations with the TTP.
Political Landscape and Leadership
upcoming general elections in Pakistan will influence the future role of the
Taliban as a mediator. The military’s negotiations with the TTP and potential
constitutional changes to facilitate a settlement may raise questions within
Pakistan’s political landscape. While political elites generally align with the
military’s priorities, some parties, like the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP),
may have reservations about a settlement with the TTP due to historical
grievances. Regarding Imran Khan, his stance on not resorting to military
action against the TTP or seeking assistance from the US may be an attempt to
appease both, the TTP and the Afghan Taliban. His criticism of the national
security policy aligns with the TTP’s view on Washington’s security cooperation
with Islamabad. However, such stances may also impact the government’s efforts
to develop a consensus on dealing with the TTP.
Thus, the TTP’s merger and expansion
have far-reaching consequences for regional stability. The role of the Afghan
Taliban as a mediator and Pakistan’s political landscape, and leadership
decisions, will shape the regional politics, stability, and security dynamics.
Options for India: A Fresh Approach
formulating any strategy, India must carefully assess whether affecting itself
with the TTP, primarily Pakistan’s domestic problem, aligns with its interests.
India must clearly define its aims and objectives if it decides to engage.
Considering the complexities of the situation and the key players involved,
India has several policy options to consider as elucidated below:
n Utilising Turbulence in Pakistan.
The prevailing turmoil in Pakistan could work in India’s favour as it allows
the country to focus on targeting the Pakistani establishment and its armed
forces, which are critical concerns for India.
n Weakening Pakistan’s Control. The
rise of the TTP weakens Pakistan Government’s control in areas where the group
holds sway, thus reducing the presence of Pakistan’s military.
n Slowing Development in Pakistan.
Continued instability may hinder Pakistan’s development projects, leading to
frustration and grievances among its citizens.
n Highlighting the Consequences of
Terrorism. India can leverage the TTP situation to emphasise the
self-destructive nature of breeding terrorism, especially in Pakistan.
n Terrorism Spillover. A rise in
terrorist activities in Pakistan could spill over across Indian borders,
particularly in Jammu and Kashmir, posing security threats.
n Enhanced Pakistan-China Collaboration.
Instability in Pakistan might lead to her increased dependency on China,
potentially enhancing collusive threat to India’s northern border.
n Impact on Financial Action Task Force
(FATF) Measures. Pakistan might exploit the TTP challenge to plead for
leniency from the FATF, affecting efforts to maintain pressure on the country.
n Blaming India. Pakistan may
continue to blame India for the TTP issue, complicating diplomatic efforts.
safeguard its interests and address the challenges, India should adopt a
multifaceted approach, such as:
n Strengthen Border Security. India
must closely monitor the borders in Jammu and Kashmir and respond firmly to any
aggression from Pakistan.
n Diplomatic Engagement. Establish
communication with the Afghan Taliban to influence the TTP to avoid targeting
India and its bordering states with Pakistan.
n Engaging with Pashtun Tahafuz Movement
(PTM) and Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). Initiate communication
channels with PTM and BLA members to maintain influence and control within the
n Cordial Relations with Afghan Taliban.
Foster positive relations with the Afghan Taliban and urge them to deny their
territory as a launchpad for Pakistani terror groups targeting India.
n Information Warfare. Amplify
tensions between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan over issues like the Durand
Line to divert Pakistan’s focus inward.
n Leveraging International Forums.
Continuously raise Pakistan’s association with terrorism in international
forums, including the UN, SAARC, ASEAN, BIMSTEC, BRICS, G20, and G7.
n Collaboration on Financial Flows.
Work with FATF and G20 to trace cross-border financial flows involving
n Sanctions and Asset Freeze. Impose
sanctions on Pakistan, close airspace for their trade, and through back-channel
diplomacy, try freezing assets abroad of Pakistani officials and politicians.
n Diplomatic Pressure. Urge friendly
countries and allies to boycott Made-in-Pakistan products and reduce dependence
on Pakistani labour.
n Diplomatic Bargaining. Use
diplomatic channels to pressure countries like Algeria, Mauritania, and Libya
to cut defence and civil deals with Pakistan.
the precarious situation in Pakistan with the rising TTP poses significant
challenges, it also presents opportunities for India if it adopts a realist
approach. A realistic assessment of the evolving geopolitical landscape can
enable India to craft a nuanced strategy that safeguards its national interests
and enhances its regional standing.
By closely monitoring the developments
in Afghanistan and Pakistan, India can identify potential areas of cooperation
and engagement with various stakeholders, including the Afghan Taliban, to
influence the TTP’s activities and deter any direct threats to Indian security.
Open communication and diplomatic channels can be utilised to convey India’s
concerns and interests while urging restraint and cooperation from the regional
While navigating the complexities of the
Afghanistan-Pakistan region demands prudence and foresight, India’s realist
approach can transform the precarious situation into an opportunity. By
calibrating its military, strategic, and geopolitical responses effectively,
India can safeguard its interests, promote regional stability, and strengthen
its position as a responsible and influential actor in the South Asian context.
Therefore, India’s approach should be calculated, measured, and adapted to
changing circumstances to protect its interests effectively.
1 32nd Analytical
Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team report, “ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida, and
associated individuals and entities,” UNSC, July 24, 2023,
(Accessed July 31, 2023)
2 Firdaous, Valle,
and Mehsud, “The resurrection of the TTP”, https://www.dawn.com/news/1763805,
(Accessed July 25, 2023)
3 ANI, “Pakistan’s
TTP problem rises following Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan: Report”,
20220131232749/, (Accessed July 25, 2023)
4 Iltaf Maisam,
“Islamic Emirate of Pakistan: How Victory in Afghanistan has inspired the TTP
to dream big”, https://kabulnow.com/ 2023/05/islamic-emirate-of-pak-how-victory-in-afghanistan-has-inspired-the-ttp-to-dream-big/,
(Accessed July 25, 2023)
5 Sayed Abdul,
Hamming Tore, “The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan After the Taliban’s Afghanistan
Takeover”, Combat Terrorism Center, https://ctc.westpoint.edu/the-tehrik-i-taliban-pakistan-after-the-talibans-afghanistan-takeover/,
(Accessed July 28, 2023)
6 Abbas Hassan,
“From FATA to the NWFP The Taliban Spread Their Grip in Pakistan”, CTC
Sentinel, vol. 1. no. 10. (September
(Accessed on July 31, 2023)
Abdul, “Analysis: Resurgence of Umar Media Boosts Pakistani Taliban Messaging”,
BBC Monitoring, https://monitoring.bbc.co.uk/ api/product-pdf/public/c2040oi5,
(Accessed July 28, 2023)
@Dr Soumya Awasthi is a Consultant at
the Tony Blair Institute. She works on Regional and Global Geopolitics in South
Asia, particularly on Afghanistan and Pakistan. She completed her PhD from
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her published works include two books
‘Compendium on Terror Groups’ (2022) and ‘Tracing Journey of India’s Defence
Budget and Its Future: An Analysis’ (2015).
of the United Service Institution of India, Vol. CLIII,
No. 633, July-September 2023.