Terrorism Redux in Pakistan
The Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021, twenty years after their ouster by U.S. troops. During their war against the US led coalition forces, Pakistan remained under immense US & international pressure for allegedly abetting the Afghan Taliban. Nonetheless, it was ultimately Pakistan that played the key role in bringing peace back to Afghanistan by facilitating all the stakeholders to sit on the dialogue table. Therefore, the Government and people of Pakistan had attached high hopes that after return of the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan instead of a proxy government, they would prevail upon the terrorist’s organisations operating against Pakistan from Afghanistan’s soil and help Pakistan to completely eliminate the scourge of terrorism. However, to Pakistan’s dismay, not much has changed and at present Pakistan is experiencing a redux of terrorism despite twenty years long and successful war against terrorism. Needless to mention that it came at the cost of almost 80,000 human casualties, and economic losses of $126.79 billion since 9/11 attacks, accepting and bearing millions of Afghan refugees; besides, enduring immeasurable socio-psycho damages and miseries suffered by mass immigration from war torn region along Pakistan-Afghanistan international borders.
The first week of December 2022 saw a number of important happenings i.e. Pakistan Minister of state for foreign affairs visited Afghanistan, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, “The United States is committed to using its full set of counterterrorism tools to counter the threat posed by terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, including al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as part of our relentless efforts to ensure that terrorists do not use Afghanistan as a platform for international terrorism.” And soon after that the compound of Embassy of Pakistan in Kabul came under attack on Friday December 2, 2022 targeting Head of Mission. Subsequently, the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson said, “…TTP is a threat to Pakistan, there is no denying that fact… We have received assurances of sustained counter-terrorism action against TTP and other terrorist organizations and we hope that the promises, which have been made will be respected.”
Since 2001, the Pakistan military has launched a series of military offensives against terrorist groups in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The offensive brought peace in those areas and the rest of the country. Many terrorists belonging to various terrorist groups were killed. However, some militants managed to flee to Afghanistan. From Afghanistan, those militants continue to launch attacks on Pakistan military posts and even civilians located near the border in connivance with Indian RAW, Afghan NDS and troops. In 2019, the United States Department of Defense claimed that about 3,000 to 5,000 terrorists belonging to TTP are in Afghanistan. Pakistan officials repeatedly informed the world that India and Afghanistan were supporting terrorism in Pakistan; a fresh dossier shared with diplomats on 14 December 2022. In 2017, Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah admitted that Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had a foothold in Afghanistan. In 2013, the United States conducted a raid on an Afghan convoy that was taking Latif Mehsud to Kabul. Afghan President's spokesperson, Aimal Faizi, told reporters that the National Directorate of Security (NDS) was working with Latif as a conduit for funding to TTP. Some of the funding for TTP might have come from NDS on behalf of Indian RAW. In 2016, Latif Mehsud gave a public video confession during which he claimed that Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies were responsible for supporting the TTP and other militant groups against Pakistan. The NDS officials have openly admitted to their involvement with Tehreek-e-Taliban as was the case with the Indian national security advisor and some other BJP ministers who openly claimed that they would turn Balochistan and KP areas akin to Indian occupied Kashmir for Pakistan. The arrest of Indian RAW serving officer Kulbahasn Yadev and confessions by him and his hauled up terrorists network operating from Iran for years laid bare Indian multi-pronged attack on Pakistan and connivance of the neighbouring countries.
The revival of terrorism in Pakistan poses a significant threat to the people of Pakistan. The current wave of terrorism is believed to have started in 2000 and peaked during 2009. Since then, it has drastically declined as a result of military operations conducted by the Pakistan Army. According to South Asian Terrorism Portal Index (SATP), terrorism in Pakistan had declined by 89% in 2017 since 2009. Balochistan alone accounted for 48.29 per cent of Pakistan’s total terrorism-linked fatalities (664 fatalities) in 2021. In 2012, the Pakistani leadership sat down to sort out solutions for dealing with the menace of terrorism and in 2013, political parties unanimously reached a resolution on Monday 9, September 2013, at the All Parties Conference (APC), stating that negotiation with the militants should be pursued as their first option to counter terrorism. With the terrorists attacks continuing in late 2013 the political/military leadership in Pakistan initiated a military operation against terrorists, which was named “Operation Zarb-e-Azb”; a joint military offensive against various militant groups, including the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jundallah, al-Qaeda, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the so called Haqqani network. The operation was launched by the Pakistan Armed Forces on 15 June 2014 in North Waziristan (part of the erstwhile FATA and along the Afghan border) as a renewed effort against militancy in the wake of the 8 June attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, for which the TTP and the IMU claimed responsibility. It has been described as turning point in Pakistan war on terrorism. The operation was successful and Pakistan experienced sharp decline in terrorism since the launch of the operation. Nevertheless, it was well established that as long as Pakistan- Afghanistan border was not sealed by fencing and regular monitoring by surveillance radars, armed drones, troops/ posts on ground backed up by attack helicopters and air force, the flood gates would remain open for the terrorists, drugs, weapons and human smuggling cartels. Therefore a plan that was conceived in 2003 for fencing of the borders was successfully completed at a colossal economic cost and invaluable sacrifices by the Pakistan Army and para- military troops.
Afghanistan has always been safe 'sanctuary' for Tehreek-e-Taliban. Mullah Fazlullah and his followers have been living in Afghanistan since 2009 in Kunar and Nuristan province of Afghanistan. However, the U.S. military/ ISAF never targeted him. Many other militants groups like Lashkar-e-Islam and other factions of Tehrik-i-Taliban were also allowed to live in Afghanistan. Now once again TTP and all other groups are being launched by NDS and RAW with specific targeting of the Pakistan Army, law enforcement agencies, Chinese and other foreigners working on development projects in Pakistan with evil eyes on the CPEC and other development projects….who would want that….obviously Pakistan arch foe and her multiple hired guns and proxies like TTP, BLA, BRA etc. Kabul’s consistent refusal to accept the Durand Line as the international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which has triggered the recent clashes between their security forces, remains a key driver of tensions, undermining trust and provoking enmity. Moreover, the new Afghan rulers are grappling with numerous governance challenges in terms of international recognition, humanitarian aid, basic healthcare, women’s education, and infrastructure development, as well as countering the terrorism threat from ISIS-Khorasan Province (ISKP). The Afghan Taliban’s military victory in Afghanistan has had an inspirational effect on those who seek to impose their narrow minded version of sharia law in Pakistan.
Nevertheless, more than anything else, it is the weak inner front due to worst political polarisation, economic instability and chaos in Pakistan, which is encouraging the foes and frenemies alike to exploit the situation by breathing a new life in the same old proxies and sleeper cells. Good spies know that in chaos lies opportunity. While onus of putting own house in order and handling the political and diplomatic front shall remain with the incumbent political government; once again Pakistan Army and other Armed Forces and para military forces have to strike back on the re-rising threat of terrorism with an iron fist. It is well within the capability of the Armed Forces to eliminate the scourge of terrorism once and for all provided that is fully backed up by the government and the people of Pakistan disregarding misplaced monetary, ethnic, factional, tribal, ancestral or religious affinities and hidden interests of the powerful elite. I have always considered Government indulging in dialogue with terrorists and ceasefire as a sign of weakness and kid gloves treatment, which does not behove well for a nuclear armed country with the most powerful and battle hardened Army. The example of Turkey going after PKK terrorists beyond borders despite international pressure should serve us as a good pointer. The cowardly attack by indirect fire in Chaman Balochistan on Sunday December 11, 2022, killing seven innocent civilians and wounding dozens by Afghan security forces again call for fierce retaliation to silence the dirty hired guns of mercenaries instead of showing mercy. Besides, we need to fathom as to why Afghanistan is unable to create the similar troubles and blackmail the other border sharing countries like Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. The return of refugees and cleansing of our society of all illegal aliens including Afghans with fake or bought CNIC and passports must be a top most priority for the ministry of interior and all national intelligence agencies.
It has been well established that Pakistan is likely to remain a target of Hybrid or 5th generation warfare. As long as the ruling elite continues to use/ misuse the extremist groups for shortsighted gains, any meaningful top-down strategy is least likely to get fully realised despite comprehensive National Internal Security Policy 2014-18(NISP),which is already overdue for updating in view of the last announced National Security Policy(NSP 2022: A Consensus Document?). The Government of Pakistan needs to capitalise on the successes gained by the Pakistan Armed Forces, law enforcers and Intelligence Agencies by rendering supreme sacrifices by civilians and men in uniform alike without further delay through a comprehensive approach under direct supervision of National Security Committee and through a holistic approach as adopted by other developed countries (A Holistic Approach to Counter Extremism). It is surely the sacred blood of martyrs that has cleansed and safeguarded our country against so many internal ills afflicting our society and external conspiracies and acts of war and terror. Nevertheless, minimizing the loss of extremely precious lives of our troops and civilians by even better intelligence, enhanced counter intelligence and application of a swift military retaliatory capability at the bases of terrorists is the moot point for penning down this paper (Cross Border Terrorism: Enough is Enough). Pakistan Zindabad!
1st January, 2023