The recent wave of terrorism:
In the city of Peshawar, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province close to the Afghan border, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device inside a crowded mosque on January 30, killing at least 100 people and injuring more than 200 others. The assault, one of the worst to strike Pakistan in recent memory, took place deep within the Police Lines area, a high-security sector that houses the local police secretariat. A new wave of terrorism has been underway in Pakistan all over again.
Shortly after the incident, a commander with ties to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, claimed credit on Twitter. However, a TTP representative later denied any involvement in the attack. Regardless, the magnitude of the blast, which follows a steep increase in terrorist incidents in Pakistan in recent months, does not augur well for Pakistan’s government as they work to manage several challenges at home.
The most recent attack now emphasizes the requirement for thoroughly examining the nation’s counterterrorism policies and devising a joint action plan backed by all stakeholders. But it is uncertain if Pakistan’s leaders can successfully address the country’s escalating security concerns amid a backdrop of expanding socioeconomic instability and political polarisation.
Blame Games by our Politicians
When taken out of this environment, clear policies only contribute to the evolution of societal agreement, as they did following the APS attack. Any vague strategy conveys confusion at all levels. It weakens the counterterrorism apparatuses’ resolve, and the powerful among them find an easy way to place the load on the less capable parts, as is happening now. The government and opposition blame each other for the rise in terrorist occurrences in the country, and political groups frequently engage in skirmishes.
It’s interesting how they emphasize the importance of maintaining national cohesion in the face of terrorism right away. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif recently did this while speaking before the apex committee meeting in Peshawar. They nevertheless conclude by criticizing their political rivals. Imran Khan, the leader of the PTI, frequently attacks Islamabad’s current government.
Is TTP involved?
There is no doubt that the TTP and its affiliates have increased their targeting of police and law-enforcement officials in recent months as they have attempted to extend operational activities outside of the province. Even if the TTP, which has waged on-and-off insurgencies against the Pakistani state for almost 15 years, does choose to distance itself from this heinous attack, it is impossible to deny that the group and its affiliates have done so. Since November, the TTP has reportedly launched up to 100 assaults.
According to Pakistan’s top decision-makers, the TTP has reportedly benefited greatly from havens made accessible to them in neighboring Afghanistan since the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in 2021. The Afghan Taliban is reluctant to take action against the group because it sees the TTP as a helpful weapon against the Pakistani government. By providing shelter to the TTP, the Afghan Taliban can express its strategic independence from Pakistan’s security system. Furthermore, even if it was already limited before the Afghan Taliban took control of Kabul, Islamabad’s influence on them has decreased with time.
Pakistani authorities have therefore adopted a “carrot-and-stick” strategy. They have conducted many covert, intelligence-based operations within Afghanistan, targeting specific TTP commanders while also attempting to engage with the TTP in private meetings hosted by the Afghan Taliban.
While there have allegedly been tactical victories in these operations, including the killing of senior TTP commander Khalid Khorasani last year, the dual policy does not appear to have been as successful for Pakistan as it had hoped. The TTP abruptly broke a five-month truce in November as the Pakistan Army intensified counterterrorism operations in the border region. Additionally, the TTP claimed in its initial statement that the attack on the Peshawar Police Lines was vengeance for Khorasani’s murder.
Political turmoil is providing room for terrorism
Unfortunately, the resurgence of violence across Pakistan has exacerbated the country’s already gravely concerning socio-political and ethnic fault lines rather than inspiring a concerted effort to combat terrorism.
To pressure the ruling coalition in Islamabad to call for early elections, the provincial assemblies of Punjab and KP, Pakistan’s two largest provinces, both held by the opposition party of the former Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, were dissolved earlier in January. So, there is a potential threat that the TTP would attempt to take advantage of an untimely political void even though caretaker governments have since been sworn in to govern both provinces until elections can be held in the next 90 days.
Thus, the ongoing political tussle is providing room for terrorism to grow. The strategic targeting of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s civilian law-enforcement organizations by militant groups appears cunningly calculated in light of this vacuum; it is intended to highlight the provincial government’s state weaknesses and incapacity to combat violent militancy as well as to encourage the TTP and its affiliates to recruit terrorists.
An economic crisis has added to the political one that currently affects Pakistan. Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves fell to their lowest level since 2014 this month. A national power outage that hit Pakistani cities last month left the country’s weak economy in the dark. Pakistan’s cash-strapped officials are desperately hoping that the IMF will grant a loan of $1.1 billion. However, the current stagnation in negotiations with the international monetary institution does not augur well for Pakistan’s economy.
What we need is A Joint Action Plan!
It is evident that Pakistan desperately needs some degree of political stability to address a wide range of economic and security concerns successfully. To secure free and fair democratic transitions later this year, the political and military leaders of the nation must ultimately work closely together. This can be the foundation for legitimate political mandates that enable difficult economic, political, and security choices.
Without that stability, Pakistan’s economic problems might trigger significant societal discontent, further widening the window for more terrorist violence. The administration and opposition, however, do not share the same viewpoints, but they can build a consensus on this issue.
In recent press releases, security institutions have demonstrated their commitment to fighting terrorism but still need to devise a plan. It is challenging to develop a plan that reflects national resolve and is supported by the government and civil society. Creating or rebuilding a narrative this time will be less effective than creating a joint action plan. Otherwise, Pakistan will keep on moving towards more and more Chaos.
Abu Hurrairah Abbasi is a Research Intern at Arms Control and Disarmament Centre, Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad.