As the death toll in the June 24 terrorist attacks in Parachinar has crossed the hundred mark, new questions have surfaced regarding the security and stability in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The attacks in Parachinar, the headquarters of Kurram tribal district of FATA, took place just before Eid-ul-Fitr bringing ineffable miseries to a large number of inhabitants of the town, who lost their near and dear ones. The attacks in Parachinar, which came in the shape of twin suicide attacks was extremely deadly. It appears that Parachinar town, mostly inhabited by members of the Shiite sect, is once again becoming a target of attacks by terrorist organizations. It may be mentioned that on March 31 a suicide attack killed at least 22 people in Parachinar town. Kurram Agency remained a target of terrorist attacks by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for many years; however, the area remained peaceful for some years after peace deals between Shiite and Sunni community leaders, all of whom vowed not to give any leverage to TTP terrorists.
The recent terrorist attacks in Kurram Agency, have raised question marks on the claims by the Pakistani authorities of having completely secured the tribal region. Because the operation Zarb-e-Azb, followed by the ongoing operation Radul Fasad have broken the back of the TTP, whereas the once foreign mentor of the TTP, al Qaeda, is no longer operational in the region. More importantly the June 24 terrorist attacks responsibility has not been unequivocally claimed by any terrorist organization. Whereas, the March 31 attack was owned by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), a splinter group of the TTP. It is also important to note that JuA joined hands with Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan. Recently, United States and Afghan authorities claimed that IS, which had become quite active in a Afghanistan, has relocated its base to the Tora Bora mountain heights in a remote part of the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. Noticeably, the Tora Bora heights are located on the border of Kurram Agency close to Parachinar. Therefore, it is not difficult to figure out that the terrorist attacks in Kurram Agency have been the handiwork of the IS-JuA collusion. This is, indeed, a very dangerous development.
We have been continually pointing towards this danger and also mentioning that the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), has been constantly trying to use IS to create problems for Pakistan. However, it has been due to the effective measures by Pakistani authorities that IS could not create problems in Pakistan on a large scale. However, after pushing IS to Tora Bora by Afghan security forces, the NDS aims to create security issues for Pakistan and the Parachinar attacks are the result of this strategy.
Here it is important to note that Pakistani security forces completed placing barbed wire on around 400 kilometers of the 2,600 kilometers long border with Afghanistan. So far, the barbed wire fencing has been completed in northern Mohmand and Bajaur tribal agencies of FATA while the fence has not been erected in Kurram Agency as yet. Resultantly, terrorist attacks in Bajaur and Mohmand agencies have reduced dramatically, while there has been an increase in attacks in the Kurram Agency, where the porous border facilitated the cross border movement of terrorists. Through this situation, the importance of fencing the Pakistan-Afghanistan border can be rightly understood. Therefore, Pakistani authorities must continue fencing the border without any halt. Fortunately, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa has had vowed on several occasions to complete the fencing of the entire border. This would be the single most important measure to counter terrorism in Pakistan.
From the above facts and their analysis we, in a nutshell, can say that despite the successful Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, Operation Khyber II in the Khyber and the ongoing Operation Radul Fasad, FATA is far from secure. Unless FATA is not fully secure, terrorists and militants cannot be prevented from making a comeback. The tribal areas of Pakistan have been instrumental in the militancy and terrorism of groups like the TTP, al Qaeda in Pakistan (AQIP) and many other local, national and international outfits and unless the region is fully secured, groups like IS and its affiliate JuA could wreak havoc by making use of the territory in the tribal areas.
The foremost reasons for the rise of the TTP and disparate groups of militants and insurgents in FATA and acquiring hideouts by several global and regional militant organizations like al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban in the region have been the political, administrative and governance vacuum in these areas straddling Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. This vacuum, in turn, was the upshot of the indeterminate political-legal status of FATA. This can be gauged from the fact that the Constitution of Pakistan recognized the FATA as an integral part of the country, but at the same time the law of the land is not enforceable there. This is something of a weird situation. There has been little attention from successive governments to address this anomaly. The recently recommended FATA reforms are generally expected to solve the issue of the indeterminate political and constitutional status of FATA. However, one does not think so. By giving a practical shape to the reforms, which primarily call for merging FATA into KP province, the problem would get worse. Even KP would become insecure and the situation may not be able to be negotiated by the country’s political and military leadership.
The continual military operations against the extremists and terrorists in FATA by Pakistani security forces dislodged, the base of the former in one district after another. Both North and South Waziristan proved to the toughest nuts to crack. Although South Waziristan, the base of Mehsudtribe dominated TTP, was cleared after an offensive was launched in 2009, but the NWA became the redoubt of almost all militants and terrorists once spread across the FATA. In June 2014, Pakistan decided to launch an offensive Zarb-e-Azb in the NWA. This operation has been very successful and by now most of the district has been secured and extremists and terrorists are on the run.
But clearing FATA, including the NWA, is only half the task. The other half, which is rather more important, is how to fully secure FATA in the postoperations period, so as to prevent the region from being used by terrorists and militants as launching pads for attacks and activities in mainland Pakistan. Because failing to conclusively secure FATA may result in a resurrection of the militant and terrorist networks there, once the Army operations end.