Islamabad, Pakistan – The armed group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has warned the country’s main ruling parties against “concrete action” against their top government leaders for “declaring war” against it.

A statement released by the TTP — also known as the Pakistani Taliban for its ideological affinity with the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan — on Wednesday explicitly mentioned Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

Sharif is the chairman of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which along with Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) are the main coalition partners in the government.

“TTP has not taken any action against political parties for a long time,” TTP spokesman Muhammad Khorasani said in the statement shared with Al Jazeera on WhatsApp.

“[But] if these two parties remain steadfast in their position … then measures will be taken against the leaders of these parties. People should avoid going near them,” it said.

“[Our] targeted are the Pakistani security forces acting against the interests of the country at the wishes of the West,” it added.

The TTP statement also included a warning to Pakistan’s religion-based political parties, urging them not to be part of actions against the group.

“The TTP policy does not include attacking your parties, but we request that you avoid engaging in any activity against us,” it said.

The TTP threat came two days after Pakistan’s highest security body, the National Security Committee (NSC), announced its determination to practice “zero tolerance for terrorism” in Pakistan and “reaffirmed its determination to take on all entities that resort to violence”.

The NSC, which includes Sharif and newly appointed military chief General Asim Munir, held a two-day meeting on December 30 and January 2 to assess the security situation in Pakistan.

The NSC meeting marked the end of a tumultuous 2022 which saw at least 150 attacks by the TTP across the country, killing dozens of people.

The TTP says it is fighting to enforce its strict interpretation of Islamic law and undo the merger of Pakistan’s tribal areas with the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

In November, the armed group terminated unilaterally signed a ceasefire agreement brokered by the Afghan Taliban with the Pakistani government and ordered its fighters to carry out more attacks. Islamabad repeatedly accuses the Taliban of this protecting TTP leadership on Afghan soil – an allegation denied by Kabul.

In its statement on Wednesday, the TTP accused Pakistan’s governing coalition of working on behalf of the United States. It said Prime Minister Sharif was “trying to please America by declaring war” against the TTP.

“Unfortunately, it is not clear how the current government has fallen under the spell of the United States of America,” he said.

On Tuesday, the US expressed support for Pakistan’s NSC statement, saying it “has the right to defend itself against terrorism”.

At a press conference on Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price was asked if Pakistan could launch military operations in Afghanistan to eliminate the TTP.

Price said the Afghan Taliban should do that keep the commitment they ensured that the use of Afghan soil as a launching pad for international attacks was not allowed. “These are some of the commitments that the Taliban have so far been unable or unwilling to honor,” he said.

However, the Afghan Taliban has consistently rejected the allegations. In a statement on Tuesday, the spokesman said “the territory of Afghanistan is not being used against Pakistan or any other country,” calling the repeated allegations “baseless and provocative.”

The TTP statement said Foreign Minister Bhutto Zardari is “trying to quench the thirst for his mother by declaring America his mother”

Bhutto Zardari’s mother, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was allegedly killed by TTP men during an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi in 2007, the year the armed group rose to prominence.

Five men believed to have links to former TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud were arrested for the murder. In 2017, the men were acquitted due to lack of evidence, but remain in jail on other charges.

The following year, current TTP leader Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud acknowledged in his book British Raj to American Imperialism that the group carried out the attack on Bhutto because she had promised to target the group if elected.

Abdul Basit, a research fellow at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told Al Jazeera that the latest TTP threat to Pakistan’s political leaders in an election year reminded him of a similar situation a decade ago.

“It’s déjà vu again. In a strange turn of events a decade later, 2023 is reminiscent of 2013 when TTP spared Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and PMLN election campaigns for supporting the peace talks and targeted other political parties,” he said .

Basit said Bhutto Zardari was singled out by the TTP because of his stance against violence in Pakistan.

“Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s mother was targeted for not mincing words in taking action against the group, and now her son has been singled out because he also chooses to follow in his mother’s footsteps.” he said.



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