Pakistan is grappling with a resurgence of terrorism, and regrettably, a viable strategy to eradicate this threat is lacking. Consequently, a sense of helplessness, profound despair, and anxiety has enveloped the Pakistani populace, already burdened by severe economic woes, political instability, and societal disunity. After a brief respite, instances of terrorism have surged dramatically in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
A staggering total of 665 terrorist incidents, including 15 suicide bombings, have been recorded in the KP between June 18, 2022, and June 18, 2023. While the majority of these occurrences took place in North Waziristan and DI Khan. Peshawar witnessed 56 incidents, encompassing 19 firearm attacks, 25 grenade assaults, 8 IED explosions, 2 suicide bombings, and 2 rocket strikes. The outlook for putting an end to this threat appears grim.
Tragically, a devastating event in Bajaur claimed the lives of at least 60 individuals, including the JUI-F Khar tehsil head, the general secretary of Nawagai, tehsil and district information secretaries, as well as numerous innocent civilians and children. This tragic incident, categorized as a suicide bombing by the police, marks the fourth such attack in the province in July. While the preceding three suicide assaults in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa seemed to target security personnel and are likely attributed to the TTP, the Bajaur attack has been claimed by the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), a faction of the Islamic State entrenched in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
According to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s IGP Hayat Khan, the presence of ISKP in the Bajaur region has posed a longstanding threat. Remarkably, despite warnings, local leadership persisted in organizing the JUI-F rally, despite denial of permission by local authorities. The JUI-F has faced censure from the ISKP due to its affiliations with both the Pakistani government and the Afghan Taliban. This incident unequivocally underscores the perilous existence of ISKP within Pakistan, a predicament that gravely imperils the nation’s stability and tranquility.
This attack serves as a stark testament to Pakistan’s exposure to a multitude of extremist terrorist factions, including but not limited to TTP, ISKP, and Al-Qaeda, all with ambitions to establish Sharia rule in the region. The 2021 Country Reports on Terrorism by the United States underscored that the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is engaged in a militant campaign against the military and the state, seeking to expel the Pakistani government from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and enforce Sharia law. Capitalizing on the tribal regions along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the TTP employs this area for training and deploying its operatives.
Furthermore, Al-Qaeda extends intellectual support to the TTP, with some AQ members seeking sanctuary within TTP’s domain in the Pashtun regions adjoining the Afghan-Pakistan border. This arrangement grants the TTP access to both AQ’s global terrorist network and its members’ operational expertise. The report also identifies other notable terrorist organizations such as the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and the militant Islamic State-Khorasan group (IS-K), all exhibiting substantial interest in launching operations within Pakistan. Regrettably, Pakistan’s promise to prohibit armed militias from functioning within its borders did not prevent attackers from utilizing Pakistani territory to launch assaults in 2021. The Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) are cited in the report as responsible for these attacks.
According to the report, Pakistan took certain measures in 2021 to counter terror financing and curtail some militant groups, particularly those with a focus on India. However, the authorities’ actions were deemed insufficient to dismantle these groups entirely.
The UN committee’s report further indicates that the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is regrouping within Pakistan. The report highlights that the TTP, a wanted and banned organization, is seeking refuge under the shelter of the notorious Al-Qaeda. The official statement presented to the UN Security Council emphasizes that this militia poses a significant threat to the entire region and validates Pakistan’s concerns.
Additionally, the UN report underscores that the TTP’s resurgence is posing challenges even for the Afghan Taliban. The report from the UN Security Council reveals that the Afghan Taliban’s association with the TTP, which they view as part of their “emirate,” could escalate into a regional threat. This suggests that the TTP might provide a haven for militants aiming to evade the crackdown initiated by the Afghan Taliban.
These reports distinctly highlight Pakistan’s confrontation with an existential threat emanating from these terrorist groups. Addressing this challenge necessitates a steadfast commitment to eradicating terrorism, supported by a multifaceted strategy.
Dr. Syed Akhtar Ali Shah aptly emphasizes that the Bajaur incident is not an isolated occurrence but emblematic of a deeper crisis. This crisis, he contends, is rooted in a governance deficit. Despite having a Constitution, laws, policies, and frameworks, the state struggles to enforce its authority. The presence of private militias and armed guards, operating as protectors of feudal lords or members of militant outfits, is evident from Karachi to Khyber and even within Islamabad. The absence of the rule of law has led to Pakistan being perceived as a fragile or failing state on the global stage. To rectify this, a new national policy should be devised, anchored in constitutional supremacy, democracy, economic stability, non-alignment, amicable relations with neighboring countries, zero tolerance for violent non-state actors, and above all, adherence to the rule of law.
In order to address these challenges, the government must formulate a comprehensive counter-terrorism policy and foster intelligence cooperation with Afghanistan. While the Afghan Taliban disavowed the Bajaur explosion, Pakistan needs unequivocal and complete cooperation from the Afghan people in its counterterrorism efforts. The National Action Plan should be rigorously implemented across the nation. Countering the Islamic State (IS) requires thwarting its propaganda dissemination on social media and other platforms. This necessitates a comprehensive plan to regulate websites that promote online recruitment and propaganda, involving the military, intelligence agencies, and law enforcement bodies. Collaborations with digital firms can aid in monitoring and preventing radicalization. Furthermore, law enforcement agencies and security forces must be adequately trained and equipped to avert intelligence failures.
Pakistan cannot afford to repeat past intelligence failures. A multifaceted strategy is imperative to combat terrorism effectively. The lessons from nations like Syria and Iraq underscore that unchecked IS activity can rapidly spread. Consequently, concerted efforts are essential to eradicate the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) promptly.