FeaturedVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 10

Existential threats to Pakistan

A poor economy, terrorism and the ruling elite have led Pakistan to the verge of utter collapse. Many political, economic and security experts believe that Pakistan, like Sri Lanka, will default in the near future. Even after the country accepts the IMF’s conditions, revolutionary steps should be taken in the realms of the economy, politics, law, and administration to create stability in the country.

A sense of political, economic and social insecurity has already prevailed in the country. Inflation has risen to 30%, the SBP reserves have declined to around $4 billion, Pakistan’s foreign debt is about $100 billion, and $21 billion must be repaid to international lenders this year. Over 48 million people are undernourished, 80 million are illiterate, 90 million people lack access to healthcare, Pakistan ranks ninth out of the top 10 countries for the least amount of people having access to clean drinking water, and more than half of children between the ages of 5 and 16 are not in school.

In fact, Pakistan is collapsing. Dr Farrukh Saleem aptly writes: “The three things that take place in a ‘normal’ state are: politics, a security policy and an economic polity. We have become an ‘abnormal’ state in the sense that the only thing that takes place in our country is politics. We neither have a security policy nor an economic policy. A ‘normal’ state does two things: maintains order and undertakes development. We just choke on politics. A ‘normal’ state makes roadmaps. We just live on hopes of handouts-no roadmap. Hope is a “feeling of expectation for a particular thing to happen.” Desire is a “feeling of wanting something or wishing for something to happen.” For example, we are ‘hoping’ that Saudi Arabia will give us $3 billion. For example, it is our ‘desire’ that China and Saudi Arabia will give us $13 billion. A plan, on the other hand, is a “course of action that is carefully thought out and intended to achieve a specific goal.” A roadmap is a “plan that outlines the major milestones and key actions that need to be taken in order to achieve a specific goal.” Imagine, the future of 232,166,278 Pakistanis now depends on hopes and desires – no plan, no roadmap. Here are the four things that we would have to do: get back into the IMF programme; adopt ‘exchange rate realism’, debt restructuring and deep structural reforms-in that order. This is no rocket science but choking on politics is our top priority. Red alert: choking can be a life threatening emergency.”

In these gloomy and uncertain times, terrorism has come back to the country, with a 51 per cent increase in attacks since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. It should be noted that over 420 terrorist attacks have been recorded in Pakistan since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. The banned TTP took responsibility for 141 attacks despite announcing an indefinite ceasefire in June. The TTP ended the truce on November 28, 2022.

According to a National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) report, 84 terrorist incidents—including 48 martyrdoms—involving members of the army, paramilitary, police, and civilians occurred in Pakistan on average once every month in 2022. Additionally, on average 122 people suffer injuries every month. In 2022, there were 19 suicide attacks out of a total of 1007 incidents. The TTP, ISKP, and BSNG were responsible for these incidents. While Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad were not spared, KP and Balochistan saw the majority of these terrorist attacks.

On the other hand, the corrupt and callous ruling elite is still plundering the scarce resources of the country. It is blind to the people’s acute economic and social problems; it is blind to the massive protests against the TTP and the government in South Waziristan and Gwadar.

In January, thousands of locals staged a protest demonstration in South Waziristan’s Wana area against rising terrorism in the tribal areas. According to reports, demonstrators carrying white flags and beating traditional drums demanded the authorities restore peace in the area. Leaders belonging to different political parties, including the PML-N, PPP and AWP also participated in the protest. The protest came a day after security forces killed around 11 terrorists, including a militant commander and two suicide bombers, in an intelligence-based operation in Wana.

There should not be any doubt that the government has a confused policy to tackle the TTP. Rana Sanaullah, the federal interior minister, has already taken many U-turns regarding the TTP menace. In one TV programme, he stated that Pakistan could strike terrorist sanctuaries across the border in Afghanistan. Later, he declared that the country had no plans to attack Afghanistan. The Foreign Office also clarified that Pakistan did not have such a plan. Then, Sanaullah again asserted that the state would still be open to negotiations with the TTP provided it renounced violence. After the National Security Committee’s decision to not talk to any “terrorist or militant group”, Sanaullah changed his stance and emphasised the importance of pressuring the Afghan Taliban to abide by the 2020 Doha Agreement, which requires Afghanistan’s government to forbid militant groups from using its territory.

The state needs to clear up this confusion if it wants to eliminate terrorism in the country. It is a fact that this time, the terrorist organisations are better prepared since they had seized many of the advanced weapons left behind by the US soldiers in Afghanistan. Moreover, some regions of Pakistan, like the tribal regions in Punjab’s DG Khan and Rajanpur districts, as well as Balochistan’s areas, have become safe havens for these terror organisations because the areas are still working under an unbalanced administrative system where levies are in charge of maintaining law and order. To prevent terrorist organisations from using these territories as safe havens, the non-merged areas should be merged with their respective provinces. To rewrite the national internal security policy and create counter-narratives to the terrorists’ ideology, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) should be reactivated and redesigned. The media, including print, electronic, and social, should be used to create awareness, promote liberalism, and de-radicalize affected people. The NACTA shall be in charge of overseeing and carrying out the National Action Plan and media management. Pakistan cannot afford a full-fledged military operation against the terrorists in these economically testing times. Pakistan is choking, and time is running out.