Proxy terrorism and a campaign against Pakistan's security forces

Proxy terrorism and a campaign against Pakistan's security forces

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Eleven coal miners were brutally killed in the Machh area of Balochistan last Sunday-- not an unusual incident in a province long known for an insurgency. Also, a region that is conspicuous for its lack of socio-economic development but endeared for having the so-called jewel of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)—Gwadar Port.

The massacre, claimed by Daesh, captured headlines and sent the country into prolonged mourning because of the sectarian and ethnic tilt.  Those who had been killed belonged to the Hazara Shia community, and this was not the first attack on them.  After every year or two, they stage sit-ins with the coffins of their loved ones who have been killed in one militant attack or the other.

It was a long drawn-out negotiation between the government and mourners before the deceased were eventually laid to rest on Saturday. For outsiders, the government seemed to lack empathy for not conceding to the protestors’ demands that they would only negotiate directly with PM Imran Khan.

But the reality is that Pakistan is confronted with challenges much higher than meets the eye. On the targets are Pakistan’s fault-lines to ignite sectarian/ethnic sentiments and its security forces to send a message that Pakistan’s military is fighting on a weak pitch.

Proxy terrorism is the new trend levelled against Pakistan’s geo-political interests. India and its allies, the TTP, the BLA, and the regional variants of Daesh are on a campaign to kill Pakistani soldiers and defame them.

Durdana Najam

One perspective in which this strategy can be understood is the hybrid warfare narrative. But then, every age has had its hybrid warfare methodology played out against varying rivals. There is however, another perspective more likely to present an opportunity to make sense of this strategy: The changing dynamic of the region and the formation of new alliances in the context of the US-Afghanistan peace deal, the development of the CPEC and Pakistan’s paradigm shift from a country accommodating militant franchises to building a society intolerant to blackmailing on religious grounds.

This new perspective has changed the trends in militancy in such areas as militant motivation, tactics and targets.

Proxy terrorism is the new trend levelled against Pakistan’s geo-political interests. India and its allies, the TTP, the BLA, and the regional variants of Daesh are on a campaign to kill Pakistani soldiers and defame them.

The aim is to undo the trust of Pakistani citizens in its armed forces and create a fissure between them.  Any damage to Pakistan’s armed forces has the potential to damage the CPEC and influence Afghanistan’s political landscape marked unequivocally by an overwhelming presence of the Taliban—India’s nemesis.

Two reports should be of eminent interest in this regard: the United Nations 26th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions and the Indian Chronicles.

According to the UN monitoring report, between 6,000 and 6,500, anti-Pakistan terrorists are based in Afghanistan.  They mostly belong to the TTP, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), and the Daesh Khorasan Province. These outfits are reported to have been targeting Pakistan’s security forces mainly in ethnic Baloch areas and erstwhile FATA.  The Pakistan Security Report-2020, published by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies-- further corroborates these findings.  It states that out of 95 militant attacks perpetrated in 2020, 84 or 58 percent were targeted at the security forces and law-enforcement agencies, killing 133 of their personnel. 

Khyber Pakhtunkhawa was the recipient of the highest number of attacks—79—out of which 50 were targeted only at security forces, mostly in North Waziristan.  Apart from these terrorist attacks, 125 cross-border attacks from India and Afghanistan were also reported last year.

As for the Indian Chronicle, exposed by the EU DisinfoLab, India has been using over 700 fake platforms and personals to defame Pakistan on issues of money laundering, militancy, infringement of minorities' rights, unrest in Gilgit-Baltistan, and for keeping the Durand volatile.  In most of these areas, Pakistan's armed forces are mandated to handle issues and maintain law and order.  Altogether, the entire attempt has been to defile security forces.

In this spectrum of events, Pakistan, at times, has to make difficult choices in the national and strategic interest—such as the PM’s visit to Quetta before the burial.

However, the overriding question is: What is the level of preparedness of the Pakistan armed forces to face this existential threat?  Acute observers recognize that because of the enormity of the challenges imposed by proxy terrorism, no one country is capable of facing it alone.

In the case of Pakistan, which lacks political cohesion, and internal security, the challenge grows manifold. Our survival in the foreseeable future depends largely on China and on the readiness of the political leadership to do clean politics so that the armed forces are free to do the job they are meant to do: defend Pakistan on its borders.

- Durdana Najam is an oped writer based in Lahore. She writes on security and policy issues. She can be reached at [email protected]

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