As if the brazen and pitiless carnage of the Shias in Quetta and Karachi in the beginning of this year was not an apt enough reminder of the diabolic shadow of Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) looming large over Pakistan’s polity, the ongoing operation by Pakistan Army in Tirah Valley serves to poignantly underscore the high price it is extracting from the state and people of Pakistan.

The remote valley in the Khyber Agency straddles routes to Orakzai and Kurram Agency. Its difficult terrain that lends itself to guerrilla tactics presents extreme difficulties for operations directed to flush out hardened terrorists, who have taken refuge in its expanse to evade Pak Army’s operations in the adjoining areas. The intensity of the operations can be gauged from the fact that even as well over 100 terrorists have been eliminated in the opening phase of the ongoing operations, 23 khakis have laid down their lives to prevail over the fanatically indoctrinated, well entrenched terrorists.

The army’s unflinching sense of sacrifice and duty, manifested by a high number of shahadats of its officers and jawans explains the love and respect of the masses it commands. Even as the national attention is entirely riveted over the issues related to the forthcoming elections, the army is yet again silently and steadfastly demonstrating its iron-clad resolve to defeat the insidious threats to the nation at a most critical juncture of its history.

The size and scale of the military operations on Tirah amply serve to justify as to why the internal dimension tops the threats that endanger the national security; bringing into focus the menace of the TTP factor, which has to be uprooted if the nation has to find any long-term respite from the scourge of terrorism.

There was no TTP in existence in Pakistan when the daisycutters began to rain down on Tora Bora mountains in a desperate and no-holds-barred US bid to eliminate al-Qaeda leadership in the winters of 2001. There were, of course, Afghan Taliban sympathisers in the Fata region, who with the passage of time and with the expanding zone of operations of US troops in Afghanistan, began to coalesce and network together. As the Pak Army began to operate in the lawless region during the period 2002-04, to hunt down ‘foreign’ terrorists, who had escaped from Afghanistan and based themselves most noticeably in North and South Waziristan, the TTP menace got organised and took shape. With 5,000 terrorists of all hues on its rolls, and Baitullah Mehsud at its head, the organisation assumed a distinct form in 2007, assuming an identity separate from that of Afghan Taliban under Mullah Omer. While the Taliban were fighting USA’s presence in Afghanistan, the TTP turned its guns on Pakistan. When Mehsud was killed in a drone strike in 2009, his cousin and deputy, Hakimullah Mehsud took over the reins and his vicious nature injected further venom into the TTP operations.

Within a short span of its existence, the TTP emerged as a serious internal security threat for Pakistan. Attacks on the security forces operating in Fata region increased and suicide bombings (56 in 2007) and targeted killings became rampant; extracting a bloody toll on the country. The TTP’s bigotry and wretchedness to impose its will on the settled areas became manifest with its virtual takeover of Swat in 2007 where its putsch led by Fazlullah drove out all sectors of the civil administration, closed all schools and let loose a reign of terror, dishing out death sentences and lashing to all and sundry who dared to infringe the writ of his decrees. It was a determined operation by the Pak Army that wrested normality back to this picturesque vale, while Fazlullah rolled up his camp for the safety of sanctuaries in Afghanistan from where his terrorists continue to launch strikes from across the border.

The TTP has become an umbrella under whose control various terrorists and extremist groups are joining ranks and fusing their own disruptive ideologies, while finding common ground to create disruption and mayhem in Pakistan. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a terrorism related data base, from January 2009 to September 2012, a total of 8,953 civilians were killed in terrorist violence compared to around 1,600 civilian deaths from 2003 to 2006.

Despite all the death and destruction that it has caused, a high mark has already been reached and passed and the TTP’s fortunes are tumbling. The Pak Army’s resolute operations have shrunk the liberty of action enjoyed by the terror network in Fata leading to serious leadership, administrative and financial crises. In a fortuitous development a national consensus has evolved, which seeks the defeat of this dreaded band of terrorists and their poisonous agenda. So the offer to hold talks by the terrorist organisation, in February this year, got no response from the government. The message is clear: there can be no negotiations with terrorists, unless they renounce terrorism and lay down arms. The army’s sacrifices have gone a long way in recovering the once desperate situation and the nation is proud of its valiant sons.

    The writer is a freelance columnist.