A surge in terrorist attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces has been observed over the last couple of months, raising fears of renewed insecurity in the two key provinces of Pakistan.
Tens of terrorist attacks by groups, like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-K) and Balochistan Liberation Army, in the last two months have shaken the law enforcement agencies of the country as since 2016, when the largest terrorist group of Pakistan’s history, the TTP, had been decisively defeated by the state after the group owned the gruesome and loathsome attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, in which around 150 schoolchildren were killed, it is one of the dangerous terrorism streaks in the country.
Most of the terrorist attacks since August 15, rather the start of the current year, have been carried out by the TTP, which is really concerning, keeping in view the previous destructive attacks by the group and its catastrophic potential. Statistically speaking, the TTP carried out around 95 attacks last year, killing 140 people, and 44 attacks in the first six months of this year, killing around 100 people. More importantly, the TTP has been carrying out terrorist attacks in its birthplace, Waziristan. Very disturbingly, some of the terrorist attacks have also been made by the IS-K, thus trying to take advantage of the situation in post-Taliban Afghanistan.
A key reason for the surge in violence in Pakistan in the last couple of months is quite vividly the takeover of Afghanistan by the Afghan Taliban on August 15. Since its emergence in 2007, the TTP has always been considered as the “ideological twin” of the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban appeared on the scene in 1994 and captured Afghanistan in September 1996. The TTP only held Swat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for around three months in 2009, but it was driven out of it in August that year through a military offensive. Despite carrying out deadly terrorist attacks for nearly a decade, the TTP could not hold large swathes of territory even in once its stronghold, the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), now known as Merged Tribal Districts (MTDs) of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as they were made part of the province in May 2018. From renewed terrorism, the TTP wanted to follow in the footsteps of its Afghan Taliban and establish its interpretation of Sharia in Pakistan.
Noticeably, as the Afghan Taliban made rapid progress in Afghanistan and started gaining control of various provinces from July onwards, the TTP jacked up its violence activities in Pakistan. For instance, from July until September this year the group carried out another 44 attacks, claiming 73 lives, mostly Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies. There could be no doubt about the argument that the Afghan Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has encouraged the TTP and resuscitated its hopes of one day controlling the entire MTDs at least. The obvious reason for the TTP emboldening is that they think that if the Afghan Taliban with the support of the TTP could defeat 300,000-strong Afghan Security Forces having the support of the most powerful superpower, the US, the Pakistani forces could also be subdued. However, it is important to note Pakistan has the most successful military campaigns against terrorism in the region.
Earlier this year, a new wave of terrorism had started in Waziristan, ringing alarm bells regarding the regrouping of the merchants of violence. The terrorist attacks since August 2021 testify this trend. Perhaps this was the reason that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) some days back decided to hold talks with the TTP. Some rounds of talks were held but so far they have remained inconclusive. Alarmingly, the TTP vociferously announced that it did not recognise Pakistan’s state Constitution. Consequently, the government’s initiative to hold talks with the TTP has been criticized far and wide.
In the wave of terrorism since early this year, the TTP violence has so far killed, as stated earlier, around 100 people. These include women too. For instance, on February 22, four women workers of a vocational training centre, run by a non-governmental organisation, were killed while travelling in a vehicle in Ipi village of Mir Ali of North Waziristan district. The four women, identified as Naheed Bibi, Irshad Bibi, Ayesha Bibi and Javeria Bibi, worked as handicraft trainers for a local NGO, Sabawoon. It is also very important to note that the terrorist attacks since the turn of the current year have taken place on the security forces in the areas of Ahmadzai Wazir and Mehsud tribes of South Waziristan district. These are the two largest and influential tribes of South Waziristan. This year, the situation in South Waziristan became so volatile that the district administration, on February 16, had to clamp a curfew in Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan tribal district, and surrounding areas for an indefinite period amid a search operation for the perpetrators of an attack on the security forces. The law-enforcement agencies have been carrying out a house-to-house operation in villages. According to media reports, local officials said the security forces had also raided a settlement of Afghan nationals in the northern parts of Wana town and recovered weapons and ammunition. Hundreds of Afghan families have been living in the area illegally. The government had closed registered and unregistered refugee camps in the erstwhile FATA in 2000 and the refugees were left on their own to relocate to the settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This is a clear proof that Afghan citizens in Pakistan are a grave security threat to the country and its inhabitants. In fact, we have been consistently analyzing in these pages and lines that Afghan refugees are a grave security problem for the country. A large number of them have been used as “tactical assets” by anti-Pakistan Afghan and India intelligence agencies to create conflicts and problems in Pakistan, particularly Pakhtun border areas.
Sustainable order and stability in Waziristan is critical for the overall security of the country. If we look into the history of terrorism in Pakistan, it was the Waziristan region in 2004 wherefrom the first incident of terrorism had started. In fact, it was the Azam Warsak area of South Waziristan where the first terrorist attack on Pakistani soldiers had been made in 2004. Since then, it has been an extremely volatile area where a lot of bloodshed has taken place. Above all, South Waziristan was the birthplace of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the deadliest terrorist group in Pakistan’s history. Both Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud, the two most ferocious terrorist figures of Pakistan, belonged to South Waziristan. Military operations, including Rahi-e-Nijat, Radd-ul-Fassad and Zarb-e-Azb, killed many terrorists and dismantled their networks. However, it is a fact that not all terrorists and foot soldiers, who have been part of the TTP or any other terrorist or militant organization, like the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group of Taliban, could be killed or captured. They returned to their normal life after the restoration of peace to Waziristan. In this situation, the authorities should have and still concentrate on the de-radicalization and re-integration components of anti-terrorism strategies along with the developmental component. The authorities have focused on the development aspect of the anti-terrorism strategy and in this regard several development projects have been carried out in both South and North Waziristan districts. However, what has been lacking on the government’s part is de-radicalization and re-integration of the former members of militant and terrorist groups. A successful anti-terrorism strategy is all-encompassing and holistic.