Rising terrorism

Published November 12, 2023
The writer is a former foreign secretary of Pakistan and chairman of Sanober Institute Islamabad.
The writer is a former foreign secretary of Pakistan and chairman of Sanober Institute Islamabad.

SINCE the dawn of this century, terrorism has been the principal threat to the people of Pakistan. By 2015, Pakistani law-enforcement authorities had succeeded in crushing terrorist forces, through military operations in Swat, South Waziristan and North Waziristan. A National Action Plan was adopted in 2015 to flush out the remaining terrorist holdouts through intel-based operations. The strategy worked well till 2019, with few terrorist incidents.

However, since 2020, the terrorists have become active again. This year alone, there have been dozens of terrorist attacks, mostly against the security establishment. This upsurge has put at risk the success Pakistan had achieved against terrorism. With the TTP having launched a full-fledged war against Pakistan’s people, we need to introspect over what went wrong, and what can remedy deteriorating law and order.

Since the Taliban takeover of Kabul in 2021, there has been a 60 per cent increase in terrorist incidents in Pakistan. This is not to suggest that the Taliban government is responsible. However, the TTP continues to have space in Afghanistan to plan and carry out attacks in Pakistan. Ostensibly, the objective is to dislodge the government of Pakistan from the Pakhtun tribal belt in former Fata, and enforce the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia.

Pakistanis are often puzzled why our western neighbour is working against us after all we did for the liberation of Afghans from Soviet occupation and the humanitarian support rendered during the US-led ‘war on terror’. Pakistan hosted millions of Afghan refugees, many of whom were undocumented for decades, with some suspected of unlawful activities.

We need to introspect over what went wrong.

Regrettably, Indian-sponsored terrorism is the other dynamic underlying heightened terrorist activity in Pakistan. Last year, the government announced that a dossier containing details and evidence of New Delhi’s role in a deadly 2021 car bombing in Lahore had been prepared which was to be shared with the UN. In 2020, Pakistan had unveiled a dossier documenting evidence of how New Delhi had used terrorism to destabilise Pakistan. From Kashmir Singh (apprehended in 1973) to Surjeet Singh (1982) and Sarabjit Singh (1990), India used a series of intelligence agents to organise and bankroll terrorism in Pakistan. India has also used the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) between 2002 and 2012 to create civil unrest in Balochistan. In 2016, Kulbhushan Jadhav, a serving Indian officer, was apprehended in Balochistan, carrying a passport bearing the name of Hussain Mubarak Patel. He confessed to committing terrorism and spying for Indian intelligence.

Some domestic factors have also contributed to the rise of terrorism here, including vertical inequalities (gap between rich and poor) and horizontal inequities (gap between the various regions of Pakistan). Poverty levels have risen sharply, which makes it easy for detractors to recruit potential terrorists.

Identifying reasons for the rise of terrorism in Pakistan is easy. The real challenge is how to address them. The first policy option is to stay closely engaged with the Taliban government on issues of effective border management, the rights of those living on both sides of the border, bilateral and transit trade, the return of undocumented refugees, and the need to shrink the space given to the TTP. Unilateral actions on any of these issues should be the last option.

Meanwhile, it is clear that the Modi government does not want to normalise ties with Pakistan. Any initiative by Pakistan at this time is not lik­ely to be reciprocated. After the 2024 elections, there might be some space for diplomacy to lower tensions and India’s hostility towards Pakistan. Mean­while, Pakis­tan needs to effectively counter India’s propaganda of ‘cross-border terrorism’, and also watch closely the growing Indian interest in regaining lost space in Afghanistan.

Addressing the root causes of poverty, social inequalities and underdevelopment in Balochistan is a pressing need. The recent demonstration by the people of Gwadar for their rights and basic facilities is a case in point. Balochistan is central to CPEC and overall national development. The people of Balochistan must have full ownership of the development programmes in their province. Setting up effective local governments is the answer to meeting the demands of local population and countering BLA propaganda.

Political instability, living beyond means, resurgence of terrorism, bad governance, unemployed youth, extremist outfits, and a mindset of ‘might is right’ are an explosive mix. No wonder, our people feel despondent. Their hopes and belief in Pakistan can be revived by creating a justice system that ensures equal rights for every citizen.

The writer is a former foreign secretary of Pakistan and chairman of Sanober Institute Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2023

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