For Pakistan, A Chance To Turn Pakistani Taliban Into Allies


As relations between the U.S. and Pakistan continue to spiral downwards, Pakistan may be looking to build a new friendship instead of repairing an old one. In late September outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told Congress the Haqqani terrorist network was a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI. Since the Admiral’s remarks, Pakistan has engaged in a series of actions specifically designed to worry U.S. decisionmakers who are pursuing punitive action against state elements for their support of Afghanistan-focused terrorist groups. These actions have ranged from senior Pakistani officials warning of a full break in relations to a timely embrace of China as Pakistan’s all-weather friend.1 

While much of the Pakistanis’ immediate response to the Admiral’s comments has been posturing, more troublesome developments may be brewing—a grand peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban (the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP) and its ultimate redirection towards Afghanistan. For Pakistan’s senior leadership, turning anti-state or “bad Taliban” into Afghanistan-focused or “good Taliban” would be a major achievement. For U.S. and coalition forces fighting to stabilize Afghanistan, it could have serious consequences.

The TTP is a loose confederation of militant organizations almost exclusively focused on targeting the Pakistani state, with the shared goal of overthrowing the government and imposing sharia law. Anti-state activities in Pakistan’s Federally-Administered Tribal Areas region have a long history, and as early as 2004, some militant groups began describing themselves as “Pakistani Taliban.” In late 2007, several anti-state militant commanders formally organized themselves as the TTP under the leadership of South Waziristan-based Baitullah Mehsud. Rather than a single, unified entity, the TTP is a movement composed of independent commanders and their allied fighters. Consequently, factions within the TTP sometimes compete for resources and differ in their prioritization of jihad against the Pakistani state or combating U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s senior military leaders have unsuccessfully tried to convince the TTP to shift their focus to the fight in Afghanistan—but that may be changing.