Pakistan must review its counter-terrorism strategy to deal with its militant threat
The latest wave of terrorism has now struck the nation’s capital, highlighting the resurgence of the outlawed militant network operating from across the border. One police officer was killed and several others were injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up in Islamabad on Thursday. The outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility for the attack. The incident sends a grim reminder of the spreading terrorist threat reaching the country’s seat of power. It’s a nightmare situation for the country in the face of growing political instability.
There has been a marked escalation in terrorist attacks since the banned group announced an end to a tenuous ceasefire last month with target killings, suicide bombings and attacks on security installations becoming a daily affair in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province. While the former tribal regions of Bajaur, North and South Waziristan have been the worst hit, the terrorists have also extended their activities to the adjoining districts.
In the past three months alone, the TTP has claimed at least 141 attacks in the troubled province that borders Afghanistan. Law enforcement agencies have been the main target of the terror group which seems to be operating with impunity; a crumbling provincial administration unable to stop the TTP onslaught.
According to an official report, close to 100 policemen have been killed in terror attacks carried out by the TTP in KP this year alone. Last week several spectacular attacks wrecked havoc in the troubled province. Four policemen were killed when terrorists laid siege to a police station in the southern KP district of Lakki Marwat. The same day, militants detained at a facility run by KP police’s Counter Terrorism Department in Bannu took control of the compound and held security personnel hostage.
It took more than two days for the security forces to clear the facility. 25 terrorists and three security personnel were killed in the operation. A day later, an intelligence officer was gunned down in Peshawar while a suicide attack in North Waziristan claimed the lives of a soldier and two civilians. Meanwhile, dozens of armed militants stormed a police station in South Waziristan’s Wana town and escaped after looting arms and ammunition.
Such audacious attacks targeting the security installations demonstrate that the militants are better organized and equipped than before.
Such audacious attacks targeting the security installations demonstrate that the militants are better organized and equipped than they were earlier. In a statement, the banned group claimed that a vast part of the former tribal areas was under its control. It also claimed that a large number of TTP militants are present in the region along with their leadership. The group has denied that the militants are using Afghan soil for their activities.
Pakistani security officials have rejected the TTP claim of the group having taken control of the former tribal districts and insist that the militants are operating from their sanctuaries in Afghanistan. While rejecting the allegation, the Afghan Taliban administration has asked Pakistan to deal its internal problem itself.
Notwithstanding the Afghan Taliban administration’s stance, it is evident that thousands of TTP militants are still being sheltered by the conservative Islamic regime. Clearly, the return of Taliban rule has emboldened the TTP and other transnational militant groups operating out of Afghanistan. Once split into several factions, the TTP has been reunited and equipped apparently with the support of the Afghan Taliban.
It's an undeniable fact that the militants and their leadership who had taken refuge in Afghanistan after fleeing military operations in Pakistan’s former tribal areas had close links with Afghan Taliban. Many militants who were released from Afghan jails after the American exit also helped reorganize the TTP in Afghanistan.
Unsurprisingly, there has been an exponential rise in terrorist activities in Pakistan since the return of Taliban rule in Afghanistan last year. Instead of taking action against the militants, the Taliban asked Pakistan to address the TTP’s so-called “grievances” and offered to mediate talks.
Pakistan had begun peace talks with the outlawed TTP network on the insistence of the Afghan Taliban regime in June this year, that had allowed the militants greater space to reorganize. The recent upsurge in militant activities are proof of this. The revival of TTP now presents very serious security challenges to Pakistan.
The resurgence of violent militancy also raises questions about our counter terrorism strategy. The latest wave of terrorism has laid bare the absence of a coherent policy to deal with this existential threat. We are witnessing the unraveling of security agencies in the face of audacious terrorist attacks that killed scores of security officials and civilians in the last few months. Pakistan needs to review its national security policy to deal with the growing militant threat.
— Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former scholar at Woodrow Wilson Centre and a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and at the Stimson Center in DC. He is author of Frontline Pakistan: The struggle with Militant Islam and The Scorpion’s tail: The relentless rise of Islamic militants in Pakistan. Frontline Pakistan was the book of the year (2007) by the WSJ. His latest book ‘No-Win War’ was published this year.