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Pakistan Terrorism Redux and Failed Response

Pakistan is going through terrorism redux ascribed to several factors, one of the main ones being sanctuaries now available to groups as the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Baloch insurgents in Afghanistan with the so called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) or the Taliban having usurped power n Kabul.

Importantly terrorist groups have been able to launch attacks on security forces posts in Balochistan and Khyber Pakthoonwa (KP), indicating new capability for strikes while number of incidents of bombs and IEDs have also increased in the past fortnight. The geographic spread of incidents is across the wider insurgent belt from KP in the North to Balochistan.

Unlike some incidents in the past, focus of attacks has been security forces rather than civilians. The boldness with which the attacks were launched and the large number of fatalities suffered by security forces is an indication that the forces have been caught napping.

Against the spike of incidents, the response of the State demonstrates singular disorientation in terms of lack of unity of purpose, identification of the level and origin of threat and poor coordination. Praising the soldiers and killed in the incidents while ignoring the lack of effectiveness in response and a stark failure of intelligence is also underlined.

Details of Incidents and Response

In the most significant recent incident, in Balochistan Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) announced on February 05 that a clearance operation was launched after terrorists attacked security forces camps in the province's Panjgur and Naushki areas on February 02.

20 terrorists were killed during operations and nine security personnel lost their lives. Of these nine terrorists were killed in Naushki and four security personnel, including an officer, were killed in the exchange of fire.

In Panjgur, eight terrorists were killed while five soldiers, including a junior commissioned officer lost their lives with six injured during follow-up operations. These were conducted over a period of three days from February 03 to 05.

On February 05, the ISPR claimed that three terrorists, including two high-value targets, linked to the attacks were killed in Kech district's Balgatar area

The attacks in Naushki and Panjgur were claimed by the banned militant outfit Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the ISPR claimed that communications of the group with handlers in Afghanistan and India were intercepted.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid on February 05 claimed that terrorist incidents are likely to increase. Rashid was the one who had initiated talks with the TTP, which failed as the group’s demands for the release of leaders held in prisons was refused by the Pak authorities. "I do not want to comment on the talks here. The Taliban have intervened but the incidents that occurred in the past week could increase. They could rise [further]," he said

A grenade attack at a Levies checkpost in the border town of Chaman in Balochistan on February 04 saw six including two Levies personnel injured in the incident.

In Khyber Pakhtoonwa, five Pakistani soldiers were killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Kurram district as terrorists fired from inside Afghanistan, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) reported on February 06.

"Terrorists from inside Afghanistan, across the international border, opened fire on Pakistani troops in Kurram district," the statement said, adding that Pakistani troops responded in a "befitting manner". "As per intelligence reports, due to fire of [our] own troops, terrorists suffered heavy causalities," the statement said in an attack that was claimed by the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

"Pakistan strongly condemns the use of Afghan soil by terrorists for activities against Pakistan and expects that [the] interim Afghan government will not allow conduct of such activities against Pakistan in future," the ISPR statement said.

On the same day, in an intelligence-based operation (IBO) near Dial road in Tank, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa a suicide bomber was killed as per the ISPR. A day prior the ISPR reported that security forces nabbed a TTP terrorist identified as Allah Noor in South Waziristan.

In the Makeen area of South Waziristan, law enforcement personnel recovered M-16 rifles and ammunition including the arrest of four individuals who were transporting weapons and ammunition to Dara Adam Khel.

On January 25-26, ten soldiers were killed in a terrorist attack on a security forces' checkpost in the province's Kech district while only one terrorist was killed and several injured.

On January 28, three Levies Force personnel along with a Bugti clan elder were killed in twin bomb blasts in the Sui area of Dera Bugti.

On Jan 30, 17 people, including two policemen, were injured in a grenade attack in Dera Allahyar town of Jaffarabad district as per the Dawn News report.

Political Response

Opposition parties on February 03 expressed serious concern over the rising incidents of terrorism in the country and termed these the result of the non-implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government.

Asif Ali Zardari said that the adverse effects of NAP’s non-implementation were emerging. “We need to eradicate nurseries of terrorists. The ones who are attacking soldiers are enemies of the country and the nation. The soldiers are the proud sons of the nation,” said Mr Zardari.

The NAP drawn after the APS Peshawar attack on 16 December 2014 in which 149, including 132 school children’s and 17 staff members, were killed led to a national resolution to eliminate terror. Consequently, a series of counter-terrorist operations followed. This brought down terrorist violence in Pakistan in 2019 and 2020, but there was a spike in 2021 and thereafter.

The China Factor

The rise in terrorist incidents comes even as China has pledged an increase in investment in the country under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor during the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to attend the Winter Olympics.

The possibility of review of the investments may come about in case terror is not restrained as last year, Chinese personnel suffered casualties during a attack on a hydropower project in northern KP leading to Pakistan amongst other factors having to pay compensation.

What Next?

For containment of terrorism the NAP is a model which needs implementation but there are political differences apart from the counter terrorism establishment now having drafted another policy of responding to countering violent extremism.

The National Security Policy is another document which has added to the confusion as the same has not been formulated through a consensual approach.

In the immediate time frame, continued security forces operations to target the hides in KP and Balochistan can be anticipated.

Seeking the Afghan Taliban to deny sanctuaries to TTP and Baloch insurgents is a demand that will require to be followed up forcefully, however the ability of the IEA to control territory is seriously in doubt, thus operational planning may have to be based on continued ability of the groups to carry out attacks from bases in Afghanistan.

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