Why has counter-terrorism consistently floundered in Afghanistan-Pakistan?

Why has counter-terrorism consistently floundered in Afghanistan-Pakistan?

Short Url

The brutal terror attack in Zhob last week which led to the loss of lives of nine security personnel, has sent waves of shock and anger across Pakistan. The terrorists targeted the cantonment area of Zhob – a division in northern Balochistan province bordering in the north with the Afghan province of Nimroz. The Pakistan Army launched swift clearance operations and one such operation in the Sui area led to the loss of another three security personnel. The attack is among the fiercest this year.

Pakistan’s reaction to the incident came in a toughly worded statement toward Afghanistan after the Chief of Army Staff’s visit to the Quetta Garrison, where he expressed the Armed Forces’ serious concern on the safe havens and liberty of action available to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Afghanistan. He said he expected the interim Afghan government to not allow the use of its soil to perpetrate terror against any country and that the concern about the involvement of Afghan nationals in terrorism in Pakistan needed to be addressed. Such attacks he said, were intolerable and would elicit an effective response from Pakistan. The Defense Minister also tweeted along the same lines.

According to the information and analyzes following the Zhob incident, several trends are evident.

First, the data of counter-terrorism related research indicates the incidence of terrorism in Pakistan during the first six months of 2023 has been high and incessant. According to a report by Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) while the overall fatalities in Pakistan decreased compared to the same period last year, Balochistan witnessed a surge of 41 percent in casualties.

Secondly, Pakistan’s security and intelligence institutions’ assessments in past years has continued to point toward groups or individuals using Afghan soil to launch cross-border terrorism in Pakistan, but after Zhob, Pakistan’s reaction is much stronger than in the past. Although the Afghan reaction has not come yet, it is likely that tensions with the Afghan interim government could aggravate.

Thirdly, the Zhob attack was claimed by Tehreek-e-Jihad (TJP). Later some TTP circles contended that it was the work of the TTP. Some experts are hinting that TJP has emerged as a new sub-group from within the TTP to claim high profile terror incidents against the Pakistan Army or its installations, particularly in Balochistan so that TTP doesn’t have to take direct responsibility. The footprints of the TJP endorse this assertion.

It is difficult to eliminate terrorism through an exclusively security-based approach. Internally, a paradigm shift is required.

Mansoor Khan

Fourthly, while in the past TTP has been more active in carrying out terrorist activities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Zhob incident confirms that it has now added Balochistan in its targets either directly or through its proxies. In the coming months, there may be an increase in collaboration among militant entities like Daesh, TTP, TJP, ETIM and IMU, all of who have shelters on Afghan soil.

This is an alarming situation for Pakistan. The key question remains why, despite going through a continuous counter-terrorism campaign for almost two decades, Pakistan’s counter-terrorism conundrum is unresolved even now and continues to exacerbate. While it’s a complex question, the most prudent explanation is that it is difficult to eliminate terrorism through an exclusively security-based approach. Internally, a paradigm shift in the political, economic and social approaches is required, and externally it calls for looking at the larger picture, addressing relations with neighbors and regional countries and undertaking a transformation toward the economy and connectivity. The strategies of the past have become redundant, and more of the same will not produce desired results.

For stability in Pakistan, relations with Afghanistan are pivotal. Afghanistan has been a battleground for the last 50 years, at times for superpower rivalry and other times entangled by regional proxies. Global and regional terrorist entities have found permanent hiding places there. The international community has also not done its bit for durable peace in Afghanistan.

In 2021 too, the focus remained on the exit of foreign forces without a political settlement. To make things worse, the country has been pushed into isolation and sanctions. The external interventions in Afghanistan in the past half century have ruined the fabric of Pakistan-Afghanistan fraternal relations. The border areas inhabited by the same people on both sides has become a permanent avenue of cross-border terrorism. While terrorism cannot be condoned, operations inside Afghanistan, drone warfare or kinetic operations have not delivered and will not deliver unless this is part of a collaborative approach involving the support of Afghan authorities and the Afghan people.

The solution lies in a multi-pronged approach combining military operations against terrorists on Pakistani soil and undertaking border management without disrupting the movement of common people or their trade through border crossing points. These efforts should be complemented by a more active effort to involve regional countries in engagement with Afghanistan, to find ways of addressing the unfair economic sanctions affecting the nation. This should be followed by incentives of connectivity in infrastructure, energy and trade/transit. China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Turkiye, Iran, Central Asia and other interested countries should be engaged in partnerships for promoting economic integration. The US, EU and other international powers will have to be brought on board as well.

Only this approach can lead to the leverage as well as the pressure that can then be used to get the Afghan interim government to embrace inclusivity, implement human rights standards including unhindered education for girls, opportunities for women to work and to be part of a regional and international counter-terrorism framework aimed at clearing its soil of all global and regional terror groups. This will be vital for the success of Pakistan’s efforts in combating militant groups.

- Mansoor Ahmad Khan is Pakistan's former ambassador to Afghanistan. Former ambassador of Pakistan to Austria & PR to UN Vienna. Ex Chairman UN CND. Twitter @ambmansoorkhan

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view