Fresh wave of terrorism
As Pakistan is going through a worst period of political uncertainty and instability, terrorist groups appear to have taken the fullest advantage of the political vacuum by launching another wave of deadly attacks, martyring scores of security personnel. In a spate of incidents in North and South Waziristan tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the contiguous settled districts of Dera Ismail Khan and Bannu, dozens of Pakistani security personnel have been martyred in attacks claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). State forces in retaliation claim to have also killed dozens of terrorists.
The series of terrorist attacks in North, South Waziristan, Dera Ismail Khan and Bannu districts are critically disturbing and significant due to several reasons. The foremost aspect of the terrorist attacks is that it heralds the strong regrouping and revival of the the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This does not augur well for Pakistan and its citizens’ security. The TTP has been the deadliest terrorist group in the history of Pakistan, which has carried out unprecedented attacks since its formation in 2007, for more than a decade in the length and breadth of the country, particularly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), now merged into the province. Since the loathsome terrorist attack by the TTP on December 16, 2014, on a school in Peshawar, the capital of the province, that claimed the lives of more than 150 children and teachers, the security forces have been conducting operations against the group. The operations significantly disbanded and weakened the TTP and greatly curtailed its capacity to attack. However, the group has been making efforts to revive itself and regroup and the recent terrorist attacks in both Waziristans and other districts are the strong indication of its comeback.
The second most important aspect of the recent spate of terrorist attacks by the TTP is that they have come at a time when regime change was taking place in the country. The political and some non-political events associated with the no-trust vote against former Prime Minister Imran Khan and the resultant political chaos and instability in the country definitely emboldened the TTP to strike, because in the situation the attention of state authorities was divided. So, the top political parties, politicians and state institutions must understand the need of political stability to prevent anti-state elements taking advantage of it. In other words, if political instability continues in the country the biggest advantage of the situation would be taken by terrorist and militant groups, particularly the TTP.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif visited North Waziristan on April 22, where he was briefed by the military high command about the security situation. It was his first visit to any part of the country after assuming office. However, his elder brother, Nawaz Sharif, who remained the prime minister thrice, a record in Pakistan, seldom visited the tribal areas, particularly Waziristan. But ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan during his 45 months in power, from 2018 to April 2022, frequently visited the tribal districts. The civilian ownership and lead in the military operations and developmental initiatives in the border tribal districts of the province has been critically important. Noticeably, the coalition government (2008-2013) of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) and Awami National Party (ANP) did not take much interest in leading the war on terror from the front. It was evident from the fact that then Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Zardari did not visit the tribal districts even once.
Another very important aspect of the recent spate of terrorist attacks by the TTP in Waziristan, Dera Ismail Khan and Bannu districts is that Pakistani authorities have discovered or at least have claimed that the group launched them from their hideouts across the border in Afghanistan. It is important to note that since the return to power of the Afghan Taliban in August 2021, many commanders and fighters of the TTP, who were in detention in Afghanistan, were set free to the chagrin of Pakistan. Since then, a constant increase in TTP attacks has been witnessed in Pakistan. It is now an open secret that the TTP has the support of the Afghan Taliban, which have been quite close to Pakistani authorities. The Afghan Taliban regime may not have helped the TTP carry out the attacks inside Pakistan but at the same time it has not stopped it from launching the strikes. Islamabad has asked the Taliban regime to stop the TTP from using Afghan soil to organize attacks inside Pakistan but to no avail. In fact, TTP fighters have been instrumental in the Afghan Taliban’s victory against the Kabul regime of President Ashraf Ghani. Therefore, the TTP has been a benefactor of the Afghan Taliban, so the latter does not want to abandon the former. Finding no other solution, the Pakistani security forces reportedly launched airstrikes on alleged TTP hideouts and bases in Kunar and Khost provinces of Afghanistan on April 16. The international media, quoting Afghan officials, claimed that 47 Afghan civilians had been killed in the Pakistani strikes but did not substantiate the claim. Pakistani military authorities have so far not admitted any such strikes inside Afghanistan, but on April 17, the foreign ministry spokesman in Islamabad urged the Taliban authorities in Kabul to take “stern actions” against armed fighters launching attacks against Pakistan from Afghan soil. “Terrorists are using Afghan soil with impunity to carry out activities inside Pakistan,” a statement, which was unusually harsh, said. The statement aimed at sending a strong message to the Taliban regime. It is important to note that Pakistan claimed that since August, its 119 security personnel have been martyred on the border with Afghanistan in attacks by terrorists, mostly the TTP. Thus, the TTP attacks are even driving a wedge between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban regime and in this regard Afghan Taliban spokesman Zahihullah Mujahid warned that such Pakistani strikes inside Afghanistan might result in a war between the two sides which would destabilize the region. Against this backdrop, the TTP attacks and Pakistan’s response can result in some grave developments.
This is high time that government authorities and security forces come up with a comprehensive strategy and one believes that they must already be working on it. Consistency in stability and peace in Waziristan is critical to the overall security of the country. If we look at history of terrorism in Pakistan, it was the Waziristan region in 2004, wherefrom the first incidence of terrorism had started. Above all, South Waziristan was the birthplace of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the deadliest terrorist group of Pakistan history. Both Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud, the two most ferocious terrorist figures of Pakistan, belonged to South Waziristan. Military operations, including Rai-e-Nijat, Radd-ul-Fassad and Zarb-e-Azb, eliminated many terrorists and dismantled their networks. However, it is a fact that not all terrorists and their foot soldiers, who have been a part of the TTP or other terrorist or militant organizations, like Hafiz Gul Bahadur group of the Taliban, could not be killed or captured. So, they return to their normal life after the restoration of peace in Waziristan. In this situation, the governmental authorities should concentrate on the de-radicalization and re-integration of components of anti-terrorism strategies along with the developmental component. Any successful anti-terrorism strategy ought to be all-encompassing and holistic. This is what we have learnt from such strategies across the world. Unless militants and terrorists are demobilized, de-radicalized and re-integrated, they would continue to be a threat as they could regroup and resurge anytime. This is what appears to be happening in Waziristan.