UNQUESTIONABLY, Pakistan is more stable and secure than it was at the turn of the decade.
The gains in the long fight against militancy have been significant and ought to prove durable. Yet, an analysis of terrorism data suggests that the threat of militancy and terrorism is far from over, and, indeed, may be morphing into a new and possibly more prolonged phase of violence.
The Pakistan Security Report 2018, compiled by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, is a useful aggregator of terrorism data in the country.
The latest report reveals that while violence, as measured in the number of suicide attacks (though not numbers killed or injured in such attacks) was lower in 2018 as compared to 2017, there has been persistent terrorist violence in the country in recent years.
According to the report, there were 26 suicide attacks in 2014 and 19 in 2018 and a similar number of suicide attacks in the intervening years. The number of suicide attacks is admittedly a single metric, but it is a significant one in terms of how peaceful a country is perceived to be.
The PIPS report also suggests that while the core TTP may have been decimated, splinter groups (including local affiliates of IS) continue to pose a significant problem. The Pakistani state appears to be aware of the problem, but it stresses the role of Afghanistan in the continued existence of anti-Pakistan militant groups.
To protect Pakistan against attacks organised or launched from across the border in Afghanistan, the Pakistani state has demanded that the Afghan government take measures to shut down militant sanctuaries along the border with Pakistan, and has also taken up border fencing and border management issues.
While such measures may be important, militancy has survived and morphed inside Pakistan because of local facilitation and recruitment networks. On those issues, the Pakistani state has not said much publicly. While counterterrorism operations certainly appear to be continuing, the more wide-ranging National Action Plan is still seemingly of secondary interest to the civil and military leaderships.
Unhappily, the public discourse on terrorism in Pakistan is superficial and polarising.
The undeniable successes and the enormous sacrifices of civil and military security personnel are rightly acknowledged and praised. Pakistan owes them a great debt of gratitude. But successes and sacrifices ought not to become a shield against greater public insight and informed critiques.
The country must never be allowed to return to its darkest years at the turn of the decade. Too much was lost and too many citizens suffered in part because of policy mistakes and miscalculations.
The evolving threat of militancy and terrorism in Pakistan and the region must be carefully analysed, and a response methodically crafted. If institutions work together in a true spirit of cooperation, further successes are surely well within reach.
Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2019