Pakistani Taliban's propensity for attacking soft targets indicates diminished capability and divisions within group

Omar Hamid - IHS Jane's Intelligence Review
19 January 2016

Pakistani troops and rescue workers gather at the main gate of Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, following a militant assault on 20 January 2016 Source: PA
Key Points

Although the TTP remains capable of mounting assaults, as evidenced by the university attack, its capacity to attack more challenging targets such as security forces' installations - especially outside Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - has reduced significantly.

The TTP leadership is likely to launch similar attacks against soft targets to maintain the group's relevance, but deep splits within the group undermine its ability to regain its previous strength.
At least four armed militants wearing suicide vests attacked Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa today (20 January 2016), killing at least 21 people, mostly students and university staff.

University officials claimed that the attackers used the cover of thick morning fog to infiltrate the university through nearby farmland. At the time of writing, the military claimed that all of the attackers had been killed following intense gun battles, although a residual clearing operation is ongoing.

The attack was subsequently claimed on social media - and on calls to international media outlets - by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander Khalifa Omar Mansoor, who justified the assault as a response to ongoing military counter-insurgency operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Mansoor went on to warn that other cadet colleges, universities, and educational institutions would be targeted in further attacks. Mansoor is also widely believed to be the mastermind of the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar, and it is highly likely that he organised the current attack on the university to mark the one-year anniversary of the APS incident.

The 2014 APS attack was in many ways a watershed moment in Pakistan's history with militancy. The national outrage that followed the attack, in which 150 - mostly schoolchildren - were killed, gave the military an unprecedented mandate to intensify its counter-terrorism efforts and even expand them beyond just targeting the TTP, to include security forces' actions against militant wings of political parties in Karachi as well as sectarian groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) in Punjab province.