April 22, 2021
By Xari Jalil
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been flexing its muscles for a long time in Balochistan now. Historically speaking the TTP has tended to operate in tribal and border areas in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP). But since a decade, at least, the terrorist group has been expanding its footprints in the already troubled province of Balochistan, and through its militant activities, has made its presence even more apparent.
The attack on the Serena Hotel in Quetta on the evening of April 21, 2021, is a reminder of various other attacks carried out by the TTP in Balochistan over the years. Looking at the timeline, such incidents seem to be constantly unfolding.
While there were rumours that the attack this time was aimed at the Chinese Ambassador, Muhammad Amir Rana, Director of the Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) says that the TTP have always targetted the police personnel, and this time too that was what happened.
“There is a place right next to the parking lot in the hotel, where people often gather after Iftari,” he told Voicepk.net. “This is where the attack happened. The police would have also been sitting there.”
Rana says that Quetta had now become a stronghold of the TTP. “Quetta, Kalat, Mastung – these areas are now newer strongholds of the TTP,” he says. “Before that it used to be Waziristan, and Karachi. They have not just targetted the police now – they have been continuously doing so. Almost all the police attacks have been in this location and the surrounding areas and the target has mainly been police officers.”
Rana says that there was a security lapse, and points out that most of the hotel security centers around checking the car bonnet or the boot, whereas if the bomber was wearing a jacket explosive, it could be easily missed.
“Actually surveillance cameras with continuous monitoring, and sniffing dogs are important. It would not have stopped the bombing, probably, but the damage would have been minimal. As for the Chinese Ambassador’s presence that has made international media headlines – that was just a fluke for the TTP.”
The Serena Hotel is located near Jinnah Road where all the government offices are. But in this timeline, Voicepk.net looks at some of the main incidents that have taken place across Balochistan, over the years, highlighting the strengthening presence of TTP.
These incidents are not counting the ones where militants of the TTP have been arrested or killed in encounters in the province. Many such incidents have also taken place. For example in 2015, it was reported by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) a suspected TTP militant, involved in the attack on a Levies Thana in Zhob District of Balochistan, was killed in an exchange of fire with Security Forces.
In January 2015, the Federal Minister of Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had announced that action had been launched against the TTP, its supporters and sympathisers and that it had been decided in the National Action Plan (NAP) that TTP operatives, their supporters, masterminds and financiers would be identified across the country.
This was in January. By the end of the year, the TTP itself had announced that it had carried out 73 target killings, 12 ambush attacks, 10 raids, 19 IED attacks, five suicide attacks, and 17 missile attacks.
But the fact remains that despite repeated statements that talk about controlling militant groups, Balochistan continues to suffer far more than other regions.
Over time it has also emerged that the TTP has been working opportunistically with drug traffickers, and smugglers especially benefitting from the cross border movement from Afghanistan. Law enforcement agencies have informed the media at various times that the TTP is provided weapons through porous border points with the help of cartels.
According to news reports the TTP resurgence can also be seen in Pak-Afghan border areas including Zhob, Loralai, Chaman and Qila Saifullah.
But apart from TTP, Balochistan is also home to Chinese projects in Gwadar and a centre point of Sino-Pak relations. In May 2014, Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had vowed to strengthen counter-terrorism communication.
There is also the fact that a Safe City Project was approved for Quetta in 2012, but its execution is yet to be seen. In this political climate, a sensitive provincial capital without a CCTV surveillance system does not seem to make sense.