Terrorism and election

Published April 9, 2023
The writer is a security analyst.
The writer is a security analyst.

THE ongoing political crisis in the country is turning ugly and chaotic. It is slowly undercutting any trust or hope people still repose in the state and its institutions. It has brought power elites to a stage where they are busy fabricating their respective narratives while playing with the Constitution, economy and security. Convening National Security Committee meetings whenever it faces a political or constitutional challenge has become the government’s habit. Such a practice can end up deepening the political crisis rather than finding ways to tackle national security challenges.

It gives the impression that the state institutions have already exhausted their constitutional and legal options, or need to learn skills to help them find alternatives in the constitutional and legal domains. The government continuously makes the security situation an excuse to delay elections in KP and Punjab. One can argue that the current security situation is better compared to that during the last three general elections.

A question always haunts public debates: what do the terrorists want? The answer is obvious: chaos. A review of the literature produced and propagated by the Islamist terrorist groups, mainly Al Qaeda, Islamic State-Khorasan and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, categorically reveals a strategy to remove the ‘puppet’ and ‘corrupt’ regimes through escalating chaos in society, either through violence or propaganda. When the power elites themselves are triggering chaos in the country, why wouldn’t the terrorists take the opportunity to escalate the crisis to another level? Fortunately, the TTP no longer has the capability to aggravate chaos to a level that causes an unprecedented delay in elections.

The TTP has been a major violent actor in the last 15 years in Pakistan and has seen many ups and downs. In 2014 and subsequent years, Pakistan’s security forces crushed its network and forced it to flee to Afghanistan. However, in recent years, the TTP has gained operational strength, and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has played a major role in empowering and emboldening the group. But there is a need to have a correct assessment of the actual strength of the terrorist group to evaluate the potential impact on the upcoming elections.

The TTP can’t aggravate chaos to a level that causes an unprecedented delay in polls.

If one looks at last month’s statistics, the TTP, through its Umar media, claimed it had perpetrated 42 attacks in Pakistan, including 39 in KP, and three in Balochistan, which led to 130 casualties among security forces, including 58 deaths. This is an exaggerated account, as reports by various think tanks, which monitor the security situation very minutely, reveal that the TTP was found involved in about 10 terrorist attacks in March. However, the TTP managed to perpetrate a few major, high-impact attacks in KP targeting the army and police officials.

Secondly, for several weeks now, the group has been employing a ‘hit-and-run’ attack strategy to target police stations and check-posts in various districts of KP. The second strategy has been ambush attacks targeting the vehicles and convoys of security and law-enforcement agencies. The police force is the first line of defence, which is why militants have been targeting them. The police in KP are also too ill-equipped to withstand a terrorist onslaught.

The TTP militants hit a high-value target martyring Brig Mustafa Kamal Barki, who had been a key person in countering the threat of terrorism and militancy in the Pak-Afghan bordering regions. Reportedly, he also remained part of the previous government’s negotiations with the TTP. No one claimed the attack. However, experts believe that the banned TTP could have been involved but may not claim it to avoid a reaction from the Afghan Taliban. The latter continue to deny the use of Afghan soil by different militant groups. After January’s Peshawar Police Lines attack, which killed a large number of people, mostly policemen, the attack in which the ISI brigadier was martyred was the most high-impact one.

Besides intensifying its attacks, the banned TTP is also successfully bringing more militant groups and commanders into its fold. At least four new groups reportedly announced their merger with the militant group in March 2023, taking the count of such mergers from July 2020 to 27.

As mentioned earlier, propaganda is a vital war front for the TTP. At this level, it is expanding its influence while effectively using social media platforms and expanding the outreach of its publications in various languages. Recently, it has started to publish an Urdu magazine for women, titled Khawateen ka Jihad (‘women’s jihad’), in which articles urge women to support armed ‘jihad’. These publications continuously highlight the chaos in Pakistan and its power elites’ inability to deal with the crisis. The TTP is projecting the Taliban regime in Afghanistan as a successful model and promises the same in Pakistan’s tribal and border districts.

Nevertheless, the security forces have been denting terrorists’ operational capabilities through continuing counterterrorism campaigns. In March, the security forces and police stepped up anti-militant operations and launched 12 operations compared to six in the month before. Similarly, compared to 29 in the month before, 34 militants were killed in these actions last month. On a diplomatic level, Pakistan is pursuing the Afghan Taliban hard to keep the TTP and other terrorist groups at bay.

The review indicates that the TTP threat is confined to certain regions; it has specific targets and tactics, and Pakistan’s security forces are successfully mitigating the challenge. The state is weak on one front, and that is propaganda. Projecting a weak enemy or ‘glorifying’, though inadvertently, the terrorists’ threat and activities always proves counterproductive. It strengthens the opponent’s narrative and creates the impression that state institutions in Pakistan cannot deal with the crisis.

State institutions should avoid politicising security affairs and find solutions to their political battles in the realm of the Constitution and political adjustments. The dynamics of security challenges are different and require serious consideration by the civilian and military leadership.

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2023

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