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Pakistan faces perfect storm as militants launch multiple attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa border province

TTP leader Noor Wali Mehsud has declared war on Pakistan and warned the United States not to interfere

With its economy already in the doldrums, Pakistan is confronting a perfect storm after militants launched multiple attacks in the strategic Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan.

Over the last week, the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) or Pakistan Taliban has launched a blitz of hybrid attacks, combining suicide bombings and hostage-taking, without giving up classic guerrilla warfare tactics.

The hostage-taking in Bannu, which ended the late evening on Tuesday was the boldest move by the TTP in recent weeks. On December 18, the TTP seized control of the Counter-Terrorism Department’s (CTD) compound inside the cantonment area taking several security personnel hostages.

After negotiations failed, the Army’s Special Service Group (SSG) stormed the facility, killing 25 hostage takers, who have been instructed by the TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud not to surrender.

In an earlier statement on Tuesday, Pakistan’s defence minister Khawaja Asif told the National Assembly that 10-15 soldiers had been injured and two were killed after the SSG launched its operation.

TTP has launched another major attack in the Bannu district, which shares borders with two other important districts—North Waziristan and South Waziristan. Both North Waziristan and South Waziristan share a border with Afghanistan, where the TTP has established sanctuaries, under the overt or covert patronage of the Afghan Taliban.

Consequently, militants from North and South Waziristan funnel into Bannu district, which has become one of the hotbeds of TTP’s attacks.

Unsurprisingly, on December 6, a soldier from Pakistan’s Frontier Constabulary was beheaded in Janikhel town of Bannu district. In tune with tribal traditions of AfPak, his head was allegedly hung from a tree, with a message from militants that the man was a Pakistani spy. With beheadings common, the TTP, on Tuesday claimed to have beheaded two people in Tank District in the Dera Ismail Khan Division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The latest surge in TTP attacks follows an earlier spate of strikes which forced Pakistani police personnel to vacate Raghzai and Khan Kot police stations close to the Pak-Afghan border. The withdrawal provided the militants with an open space to roam around the area, the Pakistani daily Dawn reported.

Pursuing classic guerrilla tactics, the TTP has targeted police stations, following which the attackers have sped with weapons.

On Tuesday, about 50 people from the terror group attacked a police station in Wana, the largest town of South Waziristan District. After blowing up the front gate, the militants overpowered around 20 policemen and took away weapons including Ak-47 assault rifles.

Subsequently, they attacked another police station in the Achni area near Peshawar, the provincial capital.

The surge in attacks have a wider geopolitical impact, with the United States, ousted by the Afghan Taliban in August 2021, offering support to Pakistan against the TTP. Referring to the Bannu event, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in response to a question that,

“We have partnered with our Pakistani friends to take on, to help them take on this challenge. We stand ready to assist, whether with this unfolding situation or more broadly. But this is a situation for which we’d have to refer you to Pakistani authorities.”

Fearing that an Islamabad-Washington collaboration can tilt the scales against it, the TTP has warned the US to stay away from its war with Pakistan.

The terror surge has further deepened investor sentiment in Pakistan, and has brought the country close to defaulting on its loans. Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have dipped below $7 billion, raising fears that Islamabad may default on its debt repayment of over $30 billion this fiscal year. Besides the fear of political instability following the impending dissolution of assemblies in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is further undermining investor confidence.

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