The escalation in militant attacks could derail Pakistan’s looming electoral process
It has been one of the worst years for Pakistani security forces confronting growing militant threats, while attacks have become almost a daily affair.
More than 1,100 people, including 386 security personnel, lost their lives to militant violence in the first nine months of the year. The period saw a 19 percent increase in militant attacks compared to 2022. Such a huge number of fatalities is the highest in the past eight years.
It is indeed a grave situation in the run up to the parliamentary elections some eight weeks away. The polling is scheduled for February 8, 2024. There has been a marked increase in suicide bombings and insurgent raids particularly in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces. The federal caretaker Home Minister has warned of militant attack threats on election rallies in the two provinces, which have suffered 92 percent of all fatalities since the beginning of the year.
While a reinvigorated Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has reportedly been involved in most of the militant attacks, more worrisome is the growing presence and activities of the Daesh-Khorasan group. Several recent militant raids have been traced to the group heightening Pakistan’s security challenges. Some recent raids on security installations indicate their growing capacity to carry out high profile operations in high security areas.
Last month a group of militants targeted an air force training base in central Pakistan’s Mianwali area. According to an official statement, three grounded aircraft and a fuel tanker were damaged in the attack. Nine TTP militants were killed in the gun battle with security forces. The assault in the high security zone shows that the group has extended its operation to Punjab.
With the interim Taliban administration refusing to take action against TTP sanctuaries on its soil, security challenges for Pakistan have exacerbated. While there has been a significant rise in cross-border raids in the former tribal regions, incidents of militant violence have also escalated this year, taking a huge toll on Pakistani security forces. The militants have virtually declared a war on the Pakistani state.
The situation now raises questions regarding our counter-terrorism strategy, which appears to be faltering as militants of all stripes continue to operate and thrive.
What is most alarming are reports of the Afghan Taliban also joining the TTP in some of the attacks inside Pakistan. There has been alleged evidence of their involvement in the raid on the security post in Zhob district of Balochistan earlier this year. It was among the most lethal attacks in recent years.
This and other allegations led to Islamabad’s decision to expel unregistered Afghan refugees from the country. More than 300,000 Afghans have since left the country but there are still a million undocumented refugees left. While such arbitrary actions may have affected Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan, there is no evidence that it has helped contain militant violence. In fact, there has been tangible escalation in militancy in the country.
What is more worrying is that there has been a marked rise in Daesh-Khorasan activities in KP and Balochistan. In the past months, the terror group has claimed several attacks in both provinces. One of the worst militant attacks took place when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a religious congregation in Balochistan’s Mastung district in October this year, which killed more than 60 people.
It was one of the bloodiest days of the current year-- a year that has already recorded the highest number of casualties among security forces in the past eight years. The attack carried the hallmark of Daesh-Khorasan. The group also claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed at least 54 people at a political rally held by the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI) in July this year in Bajaur district which borders Afghanistan. The former tribal region has long been a sanctuary for militants, including TTP and Daesh.
There have also been reports of an emerging nexus between some TTP factions and Daesh-Khorasan, as well as a tactical alliance between some Baloch separatist groups and Daesh-Khorasan, too. A coalition of various militant groups renders the situation more complex and challenging for security agencies.
The situation now raises questions regarding our counter-terrorism strategy, which appears to be faltering as militants of all stripes continue to operate and thrive. This latest wave of violence highlights the inability of Pakistan’s security agencies to deal with rising militant threats.
As political instability and uncertainty grow in the country, and as the economy declines, militants are poised to benefit from a situation that is on the cusp of anarchy. The latest wave of militancy has once again exposed the lack of a cohesive policy. There is an urgent need for an effective and sustainable counterterrorism strategy that can eliminate militant elements threatening the country’s security and electoral process.
– 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. Twitter: @hidhussain