Questions Surround Pakistani Taliban’s Inroads into Balochistan: Organizational Expansion or Propaganda Stunt?

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 14

TTP-aligned militants via Dawn

On June 14, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) split its organizational structure in the restive Balochistan province into Qalat-Makran and Zhob Wilayat (units) with Shaheen Baloch and Maulvi Norullah as their respective emirs. The Qalat-Makran Wilayah is in Balochistan’s Baloch-dominated areas, while the Zhob Wilayah is in the Pashtun-majority districts (The Khorasan Diary, June 5). The TTP’s announcement came on the heels of two jihadist factions, the Akram Baloch and Aslam Baloch, pledging their allegiances to TTP chief Nur Wali Mehsud in April. Before this, the TTP claimed that Mazar Baloch’s faction from Makran Division also joined their organization in December 2022 (Al-Umar Media, December 23, 2022). Meanwhile, Ustaz Aslam Baloch’s jihadist faction from Noshki was the first jihadist group to join the TTP’s bandwagon in June 2022 (Arab News, January 27). [1]

The TTP’s presence in Balochistan is not new, but in the past the group was confined to the province’s Pashtun areas. However, the group’s recent inroads are in the Baloch-dominant zones. For instance, Makran Division is considered the hotbed of Baloch separatists, with the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) and the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) being particularly active in the division. Makran Division is comprised of three districts: Gwadar, Kech, and Panjgur. Compared with Kech and Gwadar, Panjgur district had a limited presence of pro-Taliban elements in the past, but is now also witnessing the TTP’s ingress (BBC Urdu, December 25, 2022).

Despite a history of religiously inspired militancy by anti-Shia Sunni militant groups, Balochistan’s conflict landscape is dominated by two decades of ethno-separatist insurgency. Hence, the TTP’s forays into Balochistan have potential long-term implications on the overall trajectory and makeup of the Baloch conflict. Ostensibly, the TTP’s decision to divide its organizational structure into two units—coupled with the obtaining of oaths of allegiance from four militant groups—highlights the TTP’s growth and expanding jihadist ideological influence in Balochistan. Against this backdrop, this article examines the TTP’s presence in Balochistan, the Baloch ethno-separatists’ reactions to recent developments, and possible factors motivating the TTP to expand its organizational structure in the province of Balochistan.

The TTP’s Footprint in Balochistan

The TTP’s interest in Balochistan is neither random nor opportunistic, but is rather well thought-out. Under its new organizational structure, the TTP has placed Balochistan’s Pashtun areas under its so-called Zhob Wilayah and Baloch areas under Qalat-Makran Wilayah (Voice of America Urdu, December 23, 2022; The Khorasan Diary, June 5). In the TTP’s organizational restructuring, maintaining some semblance of a presence in Balochistan became an imperative. Arguably, the group is keen to showcase that it will remain present both in Pashtun and Baloch areas of Balochistan, will not leave the jihadist space open for Islamic State in Pakistan Province (ISPP), and will win the sympathies of the Baloch masses.

Besides securing oaths of allegiance from four militant groups in Balochistan, [2] the TTP has been consistently publishing statements on different challenges that Balochistan is facing, such as enforced disappearances (Balochs extrajudicially detained by Pakistani security agencies), people dying of waterborne diseases in Dera Bugti District, the killing of nine Baloch insurgents during a military operation in Ziarat in July 2022, as well as the April 2022 killing of a truck driver by the security forces in Chaghi District (Dawn, April 18, 2022). During that same month, the TTP also issued a nasheed (a type of song or vocalized hymn) in Baloch with Urdu subtitles, showing footage of various issues confronting Balochistan (Al-Umar Media, December 29, 2022).

In February, the TTP also issued a statement on the Barkhan tragedy where a Baloch leader, Abdul Rehman Khetran, brutally murdered a mother and her two sons who were captives in his private jail. The incident sparked province-wide protests demanding Khetran’s arrest and justice for the victims (Express Tribune, February 23). The TTP cashed in on this victimhood narrative to win public sympathy for their cause (Umar Media, February 21). Likewise, the March issue of the TTP’s flagship Urdu-language propaganda magazine Mujallah Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan carried an article from its former deputy leader, Sheikh Khalid Haqqani, called “A Message for Balochistan’s Beleaguered Masses” (Mujallah Tehreek-e-Talban Pakistan, March). In doing so, the TTP is dangling out a carrot to Baloch separatists, with the aims of making common cause against the Pakistani state. In a January interview, TTP leader Nur Wali Mehsud went further, referring to the Baloch separatists as “brothers” (The Khorasan Diary, January 27).

The TTP has intermittently carried out attacks in Balochistan as well, which indicates that TTP inroads and pro-Baloch statements are not simply rhetoric or propaganda. For instance, after calling off its June 2022 ceasefire with the Pakistani state, the TTP targeted police personnel protecting a polio vaccination team in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan (Express Tribune, November 30, 2022). Similarly, the group killed six security personnel in Chaman District near the border with Iran in December (The Hindu, December 25, 2022). Thus, the TTP has already established a footprint in the province, albeit in a limited manner, under its new structure.

Baloch Separatists’ Reaction to TTP’s Ingress

Although Baloch separatists deny any links with the TTP, they have said little regarding the latter’s infiltration into their backyard. Their muted response to the TTP’s efforts to expand in their homeland can be for three possible reasons:

  • First, intermittent attacks and propaganda statements notwithstanding, the TTP’s presence in Balochistan is arguably symbolic and the Baloch insurgents see the TTP as a nuisance rather than a challenge or threat;
  • Second, Baloch insurgents do not want to weaken themselves by opening a front against the TTP, thereby distracting them from fighting the state; and
  • Third, the Baloch insurgents may silently welcome the TTP’s expansion in Balochistan, seeing it as a positive development (Dawn, December 27, 2022).

Nevertheless, although no official and organizational nexus exists between the TTP and Baloch separatist organizations, extant tactical cooperation at the individual level cannot be ignored. Reportedly, these tactical linkages evolved during the 2015-2020 period when both the TTP and Baloch separatists coexisted in their respective hideouts in Afghanistan. The Baloch separatists adopted suicide terrorism from the TTP, which trained the former in its Afghan training centers (Radio Free Europe, May 18, 2021).

Moreover, despite the fact that Baloch separatists are secular and the TTP is religiously motivated, they do not criticize each other. In fact, the TTP continually offers an olive branch to Baloch separatists to entreat them to join together with the jihadists against the state. [3] To win the sympathies of low-rank Baloch militants, the TTP has been attacking individuals belonging to state-supported death squads, who have been involved in the controversial “kill-and-dump” policy against Balochs in the province. For instance, the TTP assassinated an informant for the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Kuchkal District in November 2022 (Al-Umar Media, November 25, 2022). Similarly, the TTP claimed to have killed two operatives of the Military Intelligence (MI), Muhammad Waris and Altaf Hussain, in Quetta on January 4 (Al-Umar Media, January 4).

Therefore, if the TTP’s footprint in Balochistan places more stress on the Pakistani state’s counter-insurgency apparatus without challenging the Baloch separatists’ position, the Baloch separatists will welcome it, albeit tacitly. Another dimension of tolerating TTP inroads in Balochistan could be linked to the presence of ISPP. The TTP and ISPP have been archenemies since the latter branched out of the former to join Islamic State (IS). If the TTP’s presence weakens ISPP’s influence in Balochistan, it will also be advantageous for Baloch separatists.

The TTP’s Interest in Balochistan

The TTP’s interest in Balochistan may be motivated by a number of factors. First, the TTP aims to compete with ISPP and does not want to leave a vacuum in Balochistan’s jihadist space for the former to exploit. Prior to ISPP’s emergence, anti-Shia militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jandullah dominated Balochistan’s jihadist landscape. LeJ’s elimination from Balochistan as a result of Pakistani military operations and the absorption of some of its remaining factions into ISPP paved the way for the latter’s ascendance. Apparently, the TTP has a working relationship with Jaish-ul-Adal and it will try to reclaim the jihadist space in Balochistan from ISPP with these like-minded groups’ assistance. (BBC Urdu, December 25, 2022).

Second, having a footprint in Balochistan presents a significant propaganda opportunity for the TTP. After introducing the Qalat-Makran Wilayah for the Baloch majority areas, having some semblance of presence in the province has become imperative for the group. Likewise, issuing statements reflecting ethnic grievances of the Baloch masses are important for optics, and help to win the sympathies of Baloch youth—and improve recruitment. Sporadic attacks, sympathetic statements, and intermittent pledges of allegiance by local groups give legitimacy to the TTP’s otherwise fairly tenuous claims of a standing presence in Balochistan.

Third, having a foothold in Balochistan provides the TTP with an alternative sanctuary in Pakistan as well. This can be a useful insurance policy for the TTP during difficult times. Presently, the TTP’s top leadership is operating from the safety of the Taliban’s protective umbrella in Afghanistan. If the Afghan Talban reconsiders its policy of providing refuge to the TTP, the group can move some of its fighters and assets to Balochistan, which makes up 44 percent of Pakistan’s landmass, with a low population density and rich mineral reserves. The province not only offers ample hideouts to the TTP, but money-making opportunities as well.


The TTP’s encroachment into Balochistan is not merely a propaganda stunt, but represents the changing nature of asymmetrical conflicts in Pakistan on one hand and organizational expansion and restructuring of the group on the other hand. This development is likely to result in increasing levels of violence in the province, disturbing an already volatile security situation. It could also trigger turf wars between rival jihadist groups for recruits, resources, and hideouts. The TTP is constantly issuing sympathetic statements to win over the loyalties of lower cadres of Baloch militants. Baloch separatists’ silence on the TTP’s encroachment into the province might deprive them of their foot soldiers while a violent reaction might force them to open a front against the TTP—the latter option would be to the Pakistani state’s advantage.



[1] The TTP’s organizational restructuring in Pakistan is the mirror image of the Taliban’s insurgency in Afghanistan, which involved shadow governors, ministries, and military zones. Thus far, the TTP has announced 12 administrative units in Pakistan, including seven in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, two each in Punjab and Balochistan, and one in Gilgit-Baltistan. Likewise, the TTP has also divided Pakistan into two military zones—the north and the south. The group has also announced seven shadow ministries in Pakistan, such as information and broadcasting, welfare, political affairs, defense, accountability, education and finance.

[2] It bears mention that the four groups which have joined the TTP from Balochistan are not Baloch separatists, notwithstanding their Baloch ethnicity. These groups are religiously inspired militants who are either remnants of Iran-focused groups—which until recently were supported by certain sections of the Pakistani establishment—or aligned with the Afghan Taliban to fight US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. Now, they have forged a common cause with the TTP against the Pakistani state.

[3] It is important to note that Baloch separatists in private conversations deny any links with the TTP. However, the open-source circumstantial evidence strengthens the case that some form of tactical cooperation exists between Baloch separatists and the TTP.