Terrorism 2.0

Keeping in view the resurgence of terrorism in Pakistan, there is a dire need to employ result-oriented counterterrorism and counter-narrative strategies to eradicate the menace.

By Ali Hassan Bangwar | May 2023

The history of Pakistan has been plagued by various issues and challenges, and the year 2022 opened the floodgates of new problems. Unprecedented political chaos, economic meltdown, and devastating floods made the country the centre of a polycrisis, a cluster of related risks with compounding effects.

However, the resurgence of terrorism has been aggravating the grinding challenges of the country. The last quarter of the previous year laid bare the monster of terrorism and its resurgence. The year ended with the deadliest month, with 973 fatalities, including 282 police and military personnel. The on-going resurgence is being attributed to an emerging terror triad comprising the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the ethnic Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), and the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), the regional splinter of ISIS or Daesh.

Although Pakistan has faced innumerable terrorist attacks in the past two decades, the year 2013 witnessed the highest number of terrorist activities, with about 2,700 fatalities of civilians and security personnel. A decade later, the spectre of militancy is raising serious concerns among the state stakeholders and the public. In the past three months, the country has reported over 340 casualties in about 200 terrorist activities.

Various reports suggest around a 50 per cent increase in militant activities in the country over the past months. Security experts warn of a surge in terrorist activities in the foreseeable future as the country is beset with an unprecedented economic meltdown and political instability. Therefore, a repeat of 2013 is expected. The terror surge has been undoing the hard-earned gains achieved in the aftermath of the Army Public School Attack in December 2014.

What are the underlying factors behind the terror resurgence in Pakistan? Who is to be blamed for the reversing of the hard-earned peace dividends the country had earned after over a decade of efforts and sacrifices? Are policy failures and strategic miscalculations to blame? Is the unfolding great power competition contributing to this? Do ethnic and separatist groups share the blame? A comprehensive analysis of the causes of terror resurgence will pave the way towards pragmatic counterterrorism policymaking.

Although there have been many long-term causes of terrorism in the country, the unilateral denunciation of the months-long ceasefire by the TTP in November last year is the immediate factor behind it. The TTP blames Islamabad for betraying the commitments of the ceasefire and criticizes the operations across the two provinces bordering Afghanistan. The demands that the TTP has always put to Pakistani authorities include undoing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) merger in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), withdrawal of security forces from the tribal regions, and release of detained militants - something Islamabad can never accept. Following the call-off of the ceasefire, TTP militants started carrying out terrorist activities across the country in general and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in particular.

Moreover, the Taliban-TTP covert nexus is another cause of terror resurgence in Pakistan. In the aftermath of large-scale counterterrorism and counter-militancy operations by Pakistani forces in the past years, TTP fighters had taken refuge in the lawless areas of Afghanistan. However, they lacked a strategic, financial, and operational support base and failed to carry out wide-scale cross-border aggression for years. It was only after the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul that enabled the TTP to flex muscles against Pakistan.

Repeated official denials notwithstanding, the Taliban offers covert operational and strategic support to TTP. The head of Noor Wali Mehsud, among other leaders, lives in Afghanistan under Taliban protection. The freedom and shelter of the TTP’s leadership in Kabul testify to this bonhomie. The ethnic, ideological, and strategic commonality between the Taliban and TTP defines the former’s support later.

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