The Tehrik-e-Taliban is making Pakistan's Punjab the centre of its activities. The outfit believes that the government frames most anti-Taliban policies with help from the bureaucracy which is dominated by officials from Punjab, says Tahir Ali
While Washington and Islamabad were involved in a seven-month-long tussle over reopening of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's supply line, it gave Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan an opportunity to reunite its men and formulate new strategies to launch a fresh offensive.
The incident of Salala check-post attracted international attention after a United States military helicopter killed 24 Pakistani soldiers there in November last year. The attack further strained the rollercoaster relations between the two countries. When US officials refused to issue a formal apology, Pakistan hit back by blocking the NATO supply route.
The long-awaited US apology finally ended the seven-month impasse but it gave the Taliban enough time to exploit the situation and reorganise their activities.
According to sources in the Taliban, the TTP focused its energy on expanding its activities to Punjab, making strategies to attack the NATO supply line and establishing good relations with other Taliban factions.
TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud himself chaired some meetings and discussed the current situation with his commanders. Mehsud also asked his men to help the Afghan Taliban in their fight against NATO forces.
According to sources, the TTP, with help from the Punjabi Taliban, has deployed their men in different areas of the country to attack NATO vehicles. After the supply line was resumed, TTP spokesperson Ihsanullah Ihsan told rediff.com, "We knew that the NATO supply line would be resumed sooner or later; that's why we have finalised our strategies. We will attack every container of the NATO going to Afghanistan via Pakistan."
In spite of nearly 90 per cent Taliban militants hailing from the region, the TTP has carried out most of its terror activities in the Pashtun heartland. After such attacks generated immense public resentment, the Taliban decided to avoid targeting the area.
A case in point is the recent attack on a police station at Bannu, when the TTP deliberately avoided any civilian casualties.
As per its new strategy, the TTP is making Punjab the centre of its activities. The outfit believes that the government frames most anti-Taliban policies with help from the bureaucracy dominated by officials from Punjab.
A tribesman who recently held a meeting with Mufti Waliur Rehman told rediff.com that the TTP's deputy chief had chalked out new strategies to avoid targets inside public places, especially in Pashtun-dominated areas.
"We are concerned about the miseries brought to the Pashtuns due to Taliban activities so we will try our best to avoid that. We are extending our activities to Punjab and other parts of the country where our actual enemies are. The policies come from Punjab so the policy makers should be targeted at their homes," Waliur Rehman was quoted as saying.
Once the NATO supply line was restored, the TTP started launching attacks against it inside Punjab. The first attack was on a Pakistani military encampment near Wazirabad, close to Chenab River in central Punjab, in which six soldiers were killed. The second Taliban attack, in a hostel building in a crowded area in Lahore, claimed nine lives.
The TTP has claimed responsibility for both the incidents.
Though the government has time and again claimed that the backbone of the TTP has been broken, the outfit is determined to make its presence felt.
"These attacks show that we are not weak and our men are present all around the country. It is also an answer to the claim of Rehman Malik (advisor to the prime minister) who claimed that the Taliban have been defeated completely," said TTP spokesperson Ihsanullah Ihsan.