Pak planning major US-backed counter-offensive against TTP

Islamabad:  With the Pakistan Army and the renegade Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) now eyeballing each other, the country’s military is now planning a massive counter-offensive against the TTP.

A report in South China Morning Post (SCMP) suggests that Pakistan is likely to launch a major ground as well as air offensive targeting the hideouts of Pakistan Taliban militants in Afghanistan, risking a schism in ties with the neighbouring country.

On Monday, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership had issued a stern warning that “the full force of the state” would “take on all and any entities that resort to violence”.

This comes against the backdrop of increasing attacks by the TTP in Pakistan and then taking refuge in the long grass of its friendly affiliate next door, the Afghan Taliban.

Pakistan’s fragile economy waiting for a IMF bailout is already on its knees. Despite this, the civil-military leadership is planning this counter-offensive to drain the swamp as it were. There are clear indications that the US is backing this plan.

Neon signs to this new war on terror came last week when the Pakistani civil-military leadership met under the aegis of the National Security Committee (NSC), vowing to show “zero tolerance” for terrorism in the country.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chaired the NSC meeting, which was also attended by Bilawal Bhutto, who had advocated a new policy against the rebels. The Sharif government said that Pakistan reserves all rights to safeguard her people, indicating a tough response to the TTP-backed terror activities.

According to SCMP, the statement from Pakistan’s leadership is a clear indication that it is planning a major offensive, supported by an air campaign against TTP camps inside Afghanistan.

“There will be a large ground operations for sure. Intelligence-led strikes will be employed to drain the swamp,” Abdul Basit, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told SCMP.

He told This Week In Asia that air strikes and the use of drones in cross-border missions are quite likely.

“Some sorties inside the Afghanistan border region to soften terror hideouts before ground incursions are equally expected,” he said.

According to the Pakistan government, around 7,000 to 10,000 TTP militants – along with 25,000 of their family members – are based in Afghanistan.

The US angle in this new plot was validated when Bhutto confirmed that the US is willing to provide funds to Islamabad to help enhance its border security for preventing cross-border attacks from Afghanistan.

As part of the US budget for 2023, the Congress has approved tens of millions of dollars of funding to help Pakistan “with border security”, he was quoted as saying by Dawn.

Bhutto’s response to Dawn made it clear that while the US wanted good relations between the two South Asian neighbours, it appears keener to cooperate with Islamabad in combating terrorist attacks from Afghanistan.IANS

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