• Charged environment in Punjab may lead to instability in country, defence ministry told SC
• Claimed several threat alerts received against senior leaders of different political parties
• Report says 72 cross-border incidents since January led to martyrdom of several soldiers

ISLAMABAD: Cross-border terrorism, instability in the country, threats from the TTP, IS fighters returning to Pakistan from several countries, the ill-designs of the Indian spy agency RAW and even an all-out war with the neighbouring country — the defence ministry report submitted to the Supreme Court on Tuesday feared all kinds of threats in the way of holding elections at present.

The report, filed in the top court along with an application to withdraw its election-date order, feared a spike in terrorism threats if elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies were held before polls in other assemblies.

The report, seen by Dawn, noted that elections in Punjab would fuel fault lines in Pakistan and might encourage India’s foreign intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) to take benefit of ethnic issues, water disputes, and other issues.

A charged environment in Punjab might lead to instability in the country, the report said, highlighting that there were several threat alerts rec­ei­ved against senior leaders of different political parties, mostly in Punjab.

In case terrorist alerts are materialised, it may cause chaos and further deepen the existing political polarisation, which could lead to instability and breakdown like what happened after the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the report said.

Against the backdrop of the highly charged political environment in Punjab and other parts of the country in general as well as the element of violence recently introduced in the politics, the possibility of clashes among the political workers of different political parties had risen exponentially and could

complicate law and order situation and might be conducive for terrorists, it said.

The report explained that the security situation over the last few years had necessitated the concurrent deployment of many armed forces troops on both the eastern and western borders of the country.

Besides, despite a ceasefire understanding in place, India continued to challenge Pakistan’s response capacity through frequent violations along the Line of Control (LOC) and international borders.

Moreover, the report said that along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, elements like the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) persistently attempted infiltration, and several exchanges of fire with the interim Afghan government elements had taken place.

It highlighted 72 cross-border incidents since January in which many Pakistani soldiers were martyred and many of them injured.

Likewise, the cross-border movement and attacks against the security forces by militant organisations in Balochistan, utilising territory of neighbouring countries, were constant challenges along the Pakistan-Iran border, with eight cross-border incidents since January involving the martyrdom of nine soldiers.

Referring to Punjab, the report said a fresh wave of terrorism had emerged in the province, with some 150 threat warnings received from January 2022 to April 2023. Of them, 78 threats had been averted through counterterrorism or intelligence-based operations, but eight had been materialised, it said.

It said sleeper cells of terrorist elements were active in Punjab, especially south Punjab, and even in Islamabad, as evident from the high-profile attacks, the report said.

Besides, several militants belonging to the self-styled Islamic State (IS) group and other outfits were also returning to Pakistan from Syria, Yemen and the Middle East, it said.

The report feared that Pakistan would continue to be a victim of the “global great game”, where India enjoyed primacy.

Pakistan was not only threatened due to insecurity because of external aggression but also by internal instability, it said, adding that both were interlinked “since the internal chaos invites external aggression”.

Moreover, India would continue with strategic coercion, including through terrorism in Pakistan, and exploit any opportunity at operational and tactic levels for limited military action to all-out war, the report feared.

The terrorist threat has also increased as compared to 2018 and 2021, as the environment in Afghanistan had worsened after August 2021 and with the withdrawal of US forces, 1,500 terrorists had been released from jails and the latest military equipment was available to the TTP fighter, which had made the threat more potent.

In 2021-22, Pakistan opted for reconciliation with the TTP to minimise terrorism, but the strategy failed and led to an increase in terrorism incidents in KP, Balochistan and Punjab. Besides, the TTP was re-grouping in Afghanistan, posing a greater threat to Pakistan, the report said, adding that Afghanistan continued to offer ungovernable spaces to terrorist groups.

The report, however, hoped that the recent understanding among China, Pakistan, Iran and Afgha­nistan to counter terrorism would produce better results in six to eight months.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2023

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