THE sense of déjà-vu is unmistakable. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is in the grip of an unfolding nightmare, one that the country had hoped to never witness again after the military operations in the area some years ago.
On Wednesday, four security personnel were martyred in KP’s Bajaur district when a roadside bomb exploded near the Afghan border. That same morning, a sepoy fell in the line of duty during an exchange of gunfire with militants at a check post in Hangu district, also in KP.
These are but the latest in a spate of militant attacks in the province, mostly in the tribal districts contiguous with Afghanistan, that have taken place since August when the Afghan Taliban came to power in the neighbouring country. Several security personnel have also been martyred during intelligence-based operations undertaken to neutralise terrorists before they attack.
The numbers speak for themselves. Following a near constant decline since 2016, the year 2021 has witnessed a precipitous rise in violence-related fatalities in KP. In fact, there was an increase of 73pc in such fatalities between just the second and third quarter of 2021, with security personnel comprising the largest proportion of victims — a significant shift in the pattern of militancy where earlier the civilians bore the brunt.
Of the nine terrorist attacks reported in September, eight were claimed by the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban reportedly remain in control of the areas bordering Pakistan that have provided a sanctuary for the TTP and from where it is launching attacks. It is obvious that Afghanistan’s new regime, contrary to its international commitments, continues to be reluctant for ideological and strategic reasons to exert pressure on transnational terrorist outfits to cease their operations inside Pakistan.
The issue, which has the potential to adversely affect relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, may well be on the agenda during Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s current visit to Kabul. The Afghan Taliban have instead asked the PTI government to hold talks with the TTP, something that Prime Minister Imran Khan in an interview with a Turkish TV channel claimed had commenced in Afghanistan, saying that “political dialogue is the way ahead”. Earlier, the president and the foreign minister had also mentioned the possibility of an amnesty for TTP elements “not involved in criminal activities” and willing to renounce violence.
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However, aside from the questionable morality of granting amnesty to extremists that have all either directly or indirectly participated in murderous campaigns against the Pakistani people, the TTP is clearly on another trajectory, one that has nothing to do with peace. It seems determined to intensify its onslaught against the security forces, and may in fact see conciliatory messages from the government as evidence of weakness. We are witnessing the beginning of what could be another extended cycle of violence if the situation in Afghanistan remains fluid.
Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2021