After the successful military offensive some time back by the Pakistani security forces against terrorist outfits of all hues and the consequent stability in the country, violence has made a strong comeback in the last couple of months, which is indeed a very alarming development.
The most latest of the terrorist attacks was made at the strategic port city of Gwadar in which at least seven persons were killed, including security forces personnel. The Gwadar terrorist attack on the five-star Pearl Continental hotel was claimed by outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). Terrorists from the BLA made their way into the hotel by killing a guard and tried to take hostage guests staying there, including foreigners, particularly Chinese. However, due to prompt action by Pakistan security forces personnel, the BLA terrorists could not take anyone hostage. Surprisingly, the fight between the security forces and the terrorists continued for 22 long hours, which due to the sensitive nature of the operation is understandable.
Another terrorist attack took place on May 8 in Pakistan’s cultural capital, which is also the capital of the largest province, the Punjab. The terrorist attack, claimed by Hizb-ul-Ahrar (HuA), a splinter outfit of the proscribed umbrella terrorist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), was targeted at the Elite Force of the Punjab Police deputed at the most-frequented Sufi shrine, Data Darbar. At least 12 persons, mostly police officials, were martyred.
On April 18, 14 security forces personnel were off-loaded from a passenger bus and ruthlessly killed by terrorists on the Makran Coastal Highway, linking the port city of Karachi with another seaport, Gwadar. Importantly, Pakistan officially said that the terrorists, who made the attack, came from Iran.
Just a couple of days before the coastal highway attack, on April 16 in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, police killed five terrorists after a 17 hour-long operation in the Hayatabad locality where the terrorists had rented a house and filled it up to the brim with explosives and arms. The attackers belonged to the TTP. One policeman and a soldier of the Pakistan Army also embraced martyrdom in the operation. Before the terrorist attacks, on April 13, at least 20 persons, mostly belonging to the minority Shiite community of Hazara, were killed in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province. The attack was claimed by both Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Islamic State regional chapter, Daesh-e-Khurassan.
The terrorist attacks reveal many important aspects, which are extremely important to throw light upon. The foremost aspect of the recent terrorist attacks in the country is that they were carried out in the entire Pakistan. It means that the terrorist organizations of different hues are still quite strong and can challenge the country’s security apparatus. More significantly, the terrorists have been able to target three of the four provincial capitals of Pakistan, which is quite alarming. It does not mean that there have been loopholes in the security, as terrorists can strike even in the tightest security cordons across the world.
The second most important aspect of the terrorist attacks in the country is that the terrorist outfits have not been completely mopped up and they have shown an ability to regroup and strike. This is typical of terrorist outfits; however, the Pakistani intelligence agencies have to increase their efforts to counter the nefarious designs of the terrorists.
The third dimension of the terrorist strikes made recently across the country has been that groups, like the TTP, Hizb-ul-Ahrar, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Daesh and BLA, have announced their comeback. Apparently, there does not seem any alliance among the terrorist outfits, but it is obvious that some kind of coordination or at least delinked cooperation has been there. In other words, all the terrorist outfits have been trying to strike one after the other. This is to make the maximum impact of the terrorist attacks. Although, an apparent alliance may not be there, yet it is quite possible that in order to achieve their respective designs they may join hands. At least some of these groups, particularly HuA, LeJ and IS, are quite likely to join hands. It is important to note that these groups have a common target that is Shiites and Barelvis, the believers in Sufi Islam.
The fourth noteworthy aspect of the recent terrorist attacks in the country is that most of them were made in Balochistan, particularly Gwadar and the surrounding region. This has raised many eyebrows, particularly when one looks at the terrorist attacks in the context of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The more than 2000 kilometres long CPEC, which would link the landlocked western regions of China with the seacoast of Pakistan, originates in Gwadar. The seaport of Gwadar is already being developed by China. The CPEC and the development of Gwadar, as a strategic seaport of Pakistan have many enemies. The US has not been looking at the CPEC and the handing over of the Gwadar seaport operational control to China by Pakistan with favour. The US considers the CPEC as an important part of China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), which aims at economically integrating Eurasia and making China the centre stage of the cross-continental economic consolidation. Washington thinks that the BRI is an imitative by China to challenge its global economic dominance. India’s opposition to the CPEC and China’s control of Gwadar seaport is well-known as it thinks it would give Pakistan the much-needed economic space and China strategic advantage in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean vis-a-vis Delhi.
Baloch separatist outfits, like the BLA, have also been quite against the CPEC and Chinese presence in Gwadar and Balochistan. Therefore, the separatist groups, with the support of states, which are against the CPEC and Gwadar, are trying to stop them becoming a hub of regional economic activity. Consequently, the Baloch separatist organizations have been targeting Chinese engineers and technicians, who have been working on Gwadar and other important infrastructure development projects. Keeping in view the importance of Gwadar and the CPEC for Pakistan development, the country’s security forces came up with extensive plans to provide security to Chinese and Pakistani engineers and workers. Now the separatist groups seem to have changed their strategy and started targeting security forces personnel in Gwadar and elsewhere in Balochistan.
The recent terrorist attacks are not the last and their perpetrators would continue to make such attacks. Now, the biggest question is how, we as a country, would be able to fail their nefarious designs.