Pakistan claims that it is undertaking extensive military operations to eradicate the networks of militant groups from its land. However, the reality is quite different, as it is evident from continuing terrorist attacks, mainly in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and sporadically in Karachi and Punjab, with a 40% increase in 2021 terrorist violence in Pakistan, compared with 2020.
Since the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan. security analysts and region’s experts around the world have expressed concerns and warning about the possible fallout of the situation. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a militant Pakistani Taliban group, has escalated terrorist attacks in the country since the Afghan Talibans took power in Kabul, and Islamabad’s interior minister has indicated that the trend may continue in the coming months. The country’s emerging militant landscape, mainly in the context of the events across the Western border, and its lack of preparation to deal with the issue have exacerbated the disconnect between Islamabad domestic counter-terrorism policy and the escalating violence. While there has been an uptick in violence across Pakistan, the Balochistan province has seen a major surge of targeted terror attacks on security check posts and camps located at sensitive districts. In the first week of February, twin attacks by separatists on Pakistani military outposts in the volatile southwestern Balochistan province triggered intense firefights that killed seven Pakistani soldiers. The Balochistan Nationalist Army (BNA), a merged organisation of the United Baloch Army (UBA) and the Balochistan Republican Army (BRA) established about a month ago, is fast becoming a major opponent to Pakistan’s security forces operating in the province. It is targeting important security check posts and camps of the Pakistani armed forces, claiming lives of soldiers and showcasing its capability of carrying out parallel targeted attacks.
The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August has emboldened the TTP, which has stepped up attacks in Pakistan, especially after the cease-fire agreed with the central government expired at the end of 2021. As a matter of example, terrorists from inside Afghanistan opened fire on Pakistani troops across the international border in the Kurram district, for which the TTP claimed responsibility in a Twitter post. The TTP is not only a major actor of violence in Pakistan, but it is also a facilitator of the regional operations of Al Qaeda and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Al Qaeda has maintained its ties with the Afghan Taliban and has reportedly also helped the TTP recover and regroup in recent years. In April 2021 the CNN claimed, based on its interviews with two Al Qaeda operatives, that the group would step up its operations in the region after the US exit from Afghanistan. The comeback would be possible by relying on Al Qaeda’s partnership with the Afghani and Pakistani Taliban.
Pakistan doesn’t lack the imagination to envision the emerging threats and challenges but hardly changes its conduct, which has created a disconnect between policy and practice. The FATF, the global anti-terrorist financing and anti-money laundering watchdog, during its plenary session in October 2021 had decided to retain Pakistan on the Grey List. Despite warnings by the international watchdog since 2018, Pakistan is far from following the FATF’s instructions in this regard. The UN-designated groups Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Jamaat- ud-Dawah (JuD) involved in radicalisation and terrorism are roaming around freely in the country. These groups remain undeterred in their pursuit of spreading hatred in the name of religion and using terrorism as a tool to achieve their nefarious designs.
Instead of devising a proactive strategy to mitigate the impending risks, Pakistan chose to rely on the absurd thinking and appeasement of the militants. The militant Islamic State group’s so-called Khorasan chapter has also become active in Pakistan, where it carried out multiple attacks in 2021 on Hazara Shias, alleged Afghan Taliban members and associated religious scholars, as well as political leaders/workers in Balochistan and KP. Several of its associates were arrested from parts of Sindh and Punjab in multiple search operations conducted by law enforcement during the year.
The TTP itself and Pakistan’s tendency to negotiate with it are encouraging other terrorist groups to nurture and grow, with notable examples. In January this year a Briton of Pakistani origin, Malik Faisal Akram, brandished a weapon at Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in the suburb of Dallas, Texas with the aim of getting his ‘sister’ al-Qaeda linked neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui freed from a sentence of 86 years. Islamabad has repeatedly demanded Washington free Siddiqui, a cause celebre in Pakistan and its extremist circles. Another ethnic Pakistani, Muhammad Gohir Khan, was caught in 2021 by British police for the attempted murder of a courageous Pakistani blogger, Ahmed Waqass Goraya, who lived in Rotterdam and had received several threats in the past. Meanwhile, a known supporter of militant groups and terror entities, Masood Khan, has been appointed as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States. These attacks in the West are only a symptom of a much larger malaise, evident in the newest report that Pakistan still is home to some 15 militant groups, 12 of whom are designated international terrorist entities.
A recent US Congressional report predicts the resurgence of regional terrorism after the victory of the Taliban. That, however, is a rather limited conclusion. As a commentator put it in a think-tank report, for far too long the Pakistani leadership and officialdom have been allowed to get away with brazenly promoting terrorists and terrorism. The Netherlands-based think tank European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) in a paper clearly stated that “the deceptive moral and diplomatic support that Pakistan claims to be extending has proved mainly to be convenient terminology for pushing a violent terrorist narrative. It is about time that anyone who speaks in favour of terrorism, even if it is an official immaculately suited and booted in Western attire and suavely speaking a Western language, is made to face the consequences.” These persisting factors and dynamics of religious extremism and radicalism, which feed into terrorism, will keep compounding the terrorism challenge of which Pakistan has become the epicenter.