Resurgence of Terrorism in Pakistan

Pakistan has suffered very badly from the menace of terrorism in last four decades. It has cooperated with international community in its efforts to counter this threat at regional and global levels. Threat of terrorism has continuously increased during three decades: 1980s and 2001 -2022.

During 1980s, Pakistan had supported the US against Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan and, ultimately, Soviet forces were forced to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989.

During the US / NATO invasion of Afghanistan from 2001 to 2021, Pakistan was threatened and coerced to join them. Pakistan was declared a non-NATO ally and a frontline state forcing Pakistan to provide its airbases and airspace for military operations and logistic support. During these two decades, the US and NATO forces gained enormous ingress into Pakistan’s security establishment under the garb of sharing intelligence about terrorists and improving Pakistan’s counter terrorism capabilities.

However, from Pakistan’s perspective, such cooperation had disastrous consequence and the country had to suffer a lot.

During the US – NATO occupation of Afghanistan, Pakistan had faced worst kind of terrorism due to emergence and rise of Tehrik i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliates and splinter groups. Besides loss of over 200 billion US $ to its economy and enormous destruction of communication infrastructure, Pakistan lost around 70,000 to 80,000 lives due to terrorist activities. More than 400 drone attacks were also conducted by US / NATO forces and hundreds of thousands people were internally displaced due to threat posed by terrorists and counter terrorist operations conducted by the security forces.

In fact, the sacrifices made by Pakistan and its forces are enormous, which have never been appreciated and acknowledged. Contrary to that, after its military withdrawal from Afghanistan, in August 2021, the US has repeatedly accused Pakistan for its military and political failure in Afghanistan TTP draws ideological inspiration and moral support from Afghan Taliban. Pakistan has conducted large scale counter terrorism operations in erstwhile Tribal areas.

Due to these operations, many TTP elements had escaped to Afghanistan from where they had been undertaking terrorist activities inside Pakistan. In order to deny freedom of movement and ability to strike inside its territory, Pakistan has constructed a border fence all along Pakistan – Afghanistan border (almost 2500 kms) at an erroneous financial cost.

Numerous intelligence based operations have also been conducted by Pakistan security forces and law enforcement agencies to eliminate the terrorist threat. Despite all such efforts, TTP and other terrorist elements have succeeded in breaching the security arrangements and have undertaken many terrorist activities causing numerous causalities.

Terrorists’ extended reach has caused havoc in many urban centers, including Peshawar, Karachi, Lahore and Quetta. Among such activities, two terrorist attacks were extremely devastating. An attack at Army Public School in Peshawar, in December 2016, caused death of more than 150 young students and teachers. After this heinous and barbaric attack, Army had conducted large scale operations against TTP and many terrorist outfits / networks were destroyed. The other shocking and shattering attack has been carried out recently, on 30 January 2023, at a Police Headquarters’ Mosque in Peshawar.

The attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who managed to breach the security arrangements by entering the complex warning a Police uniform. He exploded a very powerful bomb when people had just started offering the mid-day Prayers. The explosion was of such intensity that Mosque’s roof collapsed causing death of more than 100 Police personnel and their relatives. More than 150 people offering their prayers were also injured. Prior to that this attack, TTP and other terrorist groups had carried out number of raids and attacks in other cities and towns as well.

The nation had not yet fully recovered from the shock of Peshawar Mosque attack that the terrorist managed to launch another attack at the Karachi Police Office. Though, the terrorist were killed yet it is extremely worrisome that, this time again, they breached all security arrangements or these arrangements were too porous and inadequate. These horrible acts of terrorism have initiated a new wave of fear and consternation among members of law enforcing agencies and common citizens alike adding to prevailing sense of insecurity, uncertainty and anxiety. Though, Government agencies have claimed for an early breakthrough in identifying the terrorists yet no concert information has been shared with the public and media.

After the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, it was suspected that TTP activists would return to Pakistan and, supported by their sympathizers and sleeping cells, they may once again indulge in terrorist activities. Efforts were made to persuade Taliban Government to control cross-border movement of TTP ranks and files and to ensure that Afghan soil is not used for any terrorist activity against Pakistan. Despite necessary precautionary measures, many TTP activists have managed to reach back to their strong holds in Pakistan, basically due to porous nature of border and facilitation of many sympathizers along the border belt.

The horrific terrorist attack at Army Public School at Peshawar, in 2016, had generated many shock waves in Pakistan which lead to consensus against all terrorists, including TTP. As a result of All Parties Conference, a National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) was established and a very elaborate National Action Plan was chalked out for comprehensive action against the menace of terrorism. Unfortunately, due to political polarization and uncertainty and shifting priorities, the National Action Plan was never implemented in its true letter and spirit and NACTA also remained ineffective.

The suicidal terrorist attacks at Peshawar Mosques and at Karachi Police Office have highlighted the urgency to counter ever-growing terrorist threat in a more serious, focused and aggressively robust manner. The Government, which is facing perpetual political instability and worsening economic conditions, has once again reiterated its resolve to take comprehensive measures to eradicate terrorist threat.

All Parties Conference that was announced with lot of zeal and fervor has yet to take place. With dissolution of two provincial assemblies, i.e. Punjab and KPK, and ongoing political conflict and legal battle among the Federal Government, the Caretaker Governments, Election Commission of Pakistan and the Opposition – Pakistan Tehreek i Insaf (PTI), concrete and concerted campaign against terrorism seems an uphill task. Resurgence of Terrorists in Pakistan have raised many questions about seriousness and ability of concerned authorities to eradicate rout causes of terrorism in the country.

Whereas Pakistan would like seek necessary support from international community to counter terrorism that has regional and global dimensions, an increased and unchecked access provided to other nations will have negative impact on Pakistan. However, China’s concerns about security of CPEC projects and safety of Chinese engineers and worker are really genuine. Many incidents of terrorism, which were aimed at harming Chinese citizens, had its linkages with foreign sponsored, trained and funded terrorists.

Therefore, China and Pakistan must enhance their cooperation and should coordinate their efforts to counter terrorism in the region. China and Pakistan should also evolve a new Security arrangement under SCO’s Regional Security Framework for Central and South Asia. Besides keeping an eagle’s eye on the activities of hostile agencies, Afghanistan should also be influenced to ensure that all anti-Pakistan elements are affectively neutralized and eliminated.