Seventeen-year old Israr was asleep when his cell phone rang.
The teenager was tired and it was already 2 a.m. The guard had worked all day. The other side of the line was his brother who said to Israr that two men entered their house and dragged their dad outside. They then shot him.
“He told me to rush home home,” Israr recalls.
I met Israr at Orakzai in Pakistan’s tribal district. Orakzai, like the Afghan provinces to the north, is home to an overwhelmingly Pashtun community.
A branch of Islamic State Khorasan Province, an extremist organization known as Islamic State Khorasan Province or IS-K claimed the responsibility for the killing three days after Israr was murdered by his father.
IS-K claimed that Israr’s father was a Pakistani military informant. This claim was rejected by Israr.
My father had just opened a shop at Orakzai. He was willing to help his family, particularly those who had been displaced by war,” Israr stated.
“He had no enemies. “He was one of the older people in the region.”
Taliban and IS-K in Afghanistan are engaged in a brutal war for pre-eminence.
The picture in Pakistan is murkier.
The father of Israr was not the only victim to the attack. A second man was also shot to death in Orakzai on the same day. He had been accused of being an “informant”. IS-K was also responsible for this attack.
Orakzai belongs to seven tribes, including Mohmand and Khyber, Kurrams, North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Kurrams, Mohmand, Khyber and Kurrams. These areas were previously under British colonial law.
They were only merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in May 2018, and made into districts. This brought them under the Pakistani civil umbrella.
According to the data from Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based research organization, there has been an increase in violence.
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the “ideological twin”, of the Afghan Taliban is the main culprit. TTP wants Pakistan to be able to emulate its Afghan counterparts.
PIPS data shows that the TTP was responsible for 95 terrorist attacks, 140 deaths, and 44 attacks within the first six months.
TTP’s activity increased as the Afghan Taliban gained control over various provinces in Afghanistan. Between July and September, 44 more attacks were carried out by the TTP, killing 73 people. The majority of those killed were law enforcement officers from Pakistan.
Beyond the violence and intimidation, tension has simmered in the region for several months.
Residents claim they received calls demanding money from Pakistani and Afghan numbers. Ahmed is an Afghan social worker, and a businessman hailing from Bajaur. According to him, he received calls from various numbers during July and August.
These men will claim they are from the Taliban and ask for money.
Ahmed claimed that “they were asking for money to extort”. “And they continued to send me WhatsApp messages and voice notes, even though I refused, informing me that they were threatening my family and me with harm if they didn’t get my money.”
Ahmed claimed that he reached out to the district administration, and provided evidence both for civilian and military authorities.
“I repeated it to them, but they told me that I wasn’t the only one receiving the calls. Many others here have also received similar threats.
“They said that security can’t be provided for all and advised me to take preventative measures and put in security cameras.
Baitullah mehsud, a South Waziristan resident at the time of 2007 founded TTP. This militant organization was created in the wake of a Pakistani military operation to clear Islamabad’s Lal Masjid mosque. It belonged to an extreme preacher. Once considered to be close to Pakistan’s intelligence agency the ISI, he was later removed.
Assistant professor at West Point’s US Military Academy in West Point Dr Amira Jadoon claims that there are links between Pakistani Taliban and Afghan Taliban. These connections date back to the 9/11 attacks and fall of Taliban government in Afghanistan.
According to analysts, the leaders of the Pakistani Taliban fought with the Afghan Taliban after their invasion. They provided food, shelter and financial assistance to the Afghan Taliban living in Pakistani tribal areas. In return, they also pledged allegiance.
After its founding, however, the TTP began a war against Pakistani security forces and civilians. TTP leaders were pushed to Afghanistan by the Pakistani Army, which has been there since 2015. They are conducting “low-intensity warfare” against Pakistan.
TTP’s visibility grew as more people saw the Afghan Taliban marching on Kabul last July.
Noor Wali Mehsud the Pakistani Taliban chief, stated to CNN that Afghanistan’s win would prove to be a victory for all Muslims. Also, he warned Pakistan.
“Our fight is in Pakistan, where we’re at war with Pakistani security force,” he stated.
“We hope to seize control over Pakistan’s border region tribal and give them independence.”
Abdul Basit, a Singaporean terrorism scholar believes that the defeat of the Afghan Taliban “definitely empowered” the TTP.
He stated that Pakistan felt the same way about America’s defeat in Afghanistan.
“Plus they’ve been inflaming ethnic tensions, playing up local grievances… The TTP is essentially trying to exploit Pashtun victimhood.”
However, Pakistan’s retired General Nasir Janjua has said that the TTP were a “receding phenomenon”.
The TTP is losing its popularity with the people. He said that the Americans have no longer been in Afghanistan and their narrative of fighting Pakistan for having sided with them has lost its appeal.
Their struggle to survive is reflected in their increased violence.
The ISPR, the Pakistani military’s public relations division, played down attacks in increasing numbers by TTP and its affiliated militants within the tribal area.
Terrorist groups were largely defeated. “However, there are isolated instances,” said a spokesperson for the BBC.
It’s common knowledge that Pakistani officials have a strong historical relationship with Afghan Taliban. They are encouraging the rest of the world to recognize their new government in Afghanistan.
However, it also faced a violent battle against Pakistani Taliban during the last decade. It resulted in thousands civilian deaths and the death of security forces across the country.
The strategy has been called Pakistan’s “good-and-bad Taliban” strategy. In this scenario, the Afghan Taliban can be seen as a good force while the Pakistani Taliban is seen as a threat.
Multiple military operations were launched to eradicate the terrorists in the tribal areas, resulting in hundreds of thousands of refugees.
The Pakistani government also attempted to reach a deal with different factions of the Pakistan Taliban over the years.
The presence of IS-K within the tribal area is a further headache for Pakistani authorities.
IS-K has also argued with Taliban in Afghanistan. They accuse IS-K of abandoning Jihad to negotiate a Doha-based settlement last year. IS-K views the Taliban as “apostates” who are legitimate targets.
IS is now a significant security threat to the new Afghan Taliban government. This challenge has been shared by the Taliban leadership and Western intelligence agencies.
Abdul Sayed from Sweden, an independent researcher about jihadism, stated, “IS-K is divided with the TTP [Pakistani Taliban] and they consider them to have misguided Muslims and are agents of Iran, Pakistan, and other regional forces.”
Experts believe the lowest-ranking cadre of IS-K and TTP in Pakistan are the same people who can be fluid about their loyalty and work often for both organizations.
According to Dr Jadoon IS-K is more focused than TTP.
She said that IS-K is seeking territorial control for the pursuit of a caliphate. It sees itself to be the only legitimate leader in the global ummah, which means Muslims.
People who live among militants are often faced with difficult decisions.
An ex-military leader, who was fighting the TTP with the Pakistani army a few decades ago, told me that his whole family needed to move from Mohmand (a tribal district bordering Afghanistan) where he lived.
Shehzad (not his real name) said, “My father was killed, my cousin was murdered, our families homes were destroyed.”
One of our soldiers lost his hands. Another lost both legs. Some don’t even have one. He said that none of us wanted leave the village, but what can we do when there is no other option?
Ahmed, a Bajaur businessman, painted an equally bleak picture.
It often makes me think of leaving home to take my family with it. However, then where do I go? He said, “How do I leave my house?”
Israr was the Orakzai young man who spoke out more.
We had to flee our homes when war broke out 14 years ago. “My parents came back two years ago, and now my mother is widowed,” he stated.
“The government told us the peace had returned to the area, and we should travel back. But where is that peace?