For the last couple of months terrorists have again been increasingly successful in targeting citizens and security services of Pakistan. Most of the attacks have alternated between Parachinar in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and rural Balochistan, though Quetta has not remained unscathed either. The most recent terrorist attack seems to have reiterated the fact that even Lahore, the heart of Punjab and hometown to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, is also unsafe.
And this, despite the successes of Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad. Have terrorists suddenly multiplied or have our counter-terrorist operations weakened?
Neither really; but things are becoming more complicated. The time when the “Taliban” had a monolithic structure on both sides of the Durand Line and functioned under one Emir, Mullah Mohammed Omar, is long gone.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan under Baitullah Mehsud broke away from Omar in 2007 and, thereafter, Afghan Taliban began to splinter. Similarly, Mehsud’s death triggered the splintering of the 13 groups which swore allegiance to him. Since then, the Islamic State has also penetrated Pakistan and, though it has not gained the strength it has in Afghanistan, it has laid claim to some attacks. Numerous other groups, such as Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, have also emerged.
Increasingly, these are like Hydra-headed monsters; you chop off one head and another grows in its stead. There does not seem to be any credible increase in the total number of terrorists but there is definitely an increase in the numbers of terrorist groups.
Since counter-terrorist operations are entirely dependent on intelligence, this increase in terrorist groups has multiplied the problems of intelligence agencies. Consequently, our counter-terrorist operations, particularly urban operations, have become increasingly challenging.
Furthermore, being intelligence-dependent, not all successful counter-terrorist operations can be made public and even those that are public are seldom headline news while terrorist attacks will invariably be the stuff for headlines; that is what the public sees.
Paucity of space compels me to refrain from discussing some strategic efforts that our government has failed to make. Suffice it to say that the National Action Plan has been most prominent by the absence of any development. Far from complementing the efforts of the security forces, all development in insurgency-ridden areas has been left to the military, from communication infrastructure and health facilities to education institutes; even economic development is in the hands of the military.
If there is an insurgency in Pakistan, which there is, it is also due to the rampant socio-economic and political injustice that the entire length and breadth of this country suffers from. It is only the confidence that comes from guaranteed injustice that corruption thrives. And dissatisfied peoples resort to the use of force, through an insurgency, only if there is neither expectation nor hope of relief through non-violent means. The ruling elite needs to address this problem before terrorism can be entirely uprooted from Pakistan.
This failure is repeatedly exploited by terrorist and insurgent organisations. All insurgencies have two prongs to their activities. One prong is guerrilla warfare to counter which we need counter-guerrilla operations — a task for the military to handle; the other is urban terrorism, for which we need counter-terrorist operations, a policing function in which the military does assist.
While both counter-guerrilla operations and counter-terrorist operations have generally been successful, political expediency has frequently resulted in renewed terrorist attacks every now and then. Even captured terrorists are escaping from jails as we saw recently in Karachi. Without systemic justice, the good have no incentive; and the evil have no fear.
This was originally published in the Herald's August 2017 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.