ISLAMABAD: Provincial counterterrorism departments (CTDs) lack clarity on militant groups’ dynamics, connections and operational strategies, apart from facing issues related to coordination, funding and intelligence gathering.

While CTDs have established their own specialised intelligence units and analysis wings to study militant behaviour, they often lack skills to process data effectively and remain largely dependent on premier intelligence agencies.

These were some of the key findings of the research report, ‘Pakistan’s Evolving Militant Landscape: State Responses and Policy Options’, released by Islamabad-based think tank Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) on Tuesday.

The report says that funding issues plague CTDs except in Punjab, whose counterterrorism department has adequate funding.

It recommends Pakistan establish a robust implementation mechanism for national extremism and security policies, including the revised National Action Plan (NAP).

The study says Pakistan should pursue critical shifts in foreign policy, prioritising peace with neighbouring countries like Afghanistan and India. Talking about the security problems, it says that the deteriorating bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, coupled with a lack of meaningful state-to-state engagement, pose significant challenges for the former in addressing terrorist violence and border insecurity.

The report points out that the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) issue has emerged as a major source of tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The data suggests that Pakistan’s decision to repatriate illegal Afghan refugees was influenced by the Afghan Taliban’s apparent indifference towards TTP attacks within Pakistan.

“Ultimately, resolving bilateral challenges hinges on Pakistan’s sustained engagement with the Taliban-led interim government in Kabul,” the report said, adding that the civilian government must take ownership of the Afghan policy, with input from both parliament and security agencies.

The research notes that there was a need for a multi-dimensional and all-inclusive approach to address the complexities of Pakistan’s extremism challenge.

To deal with the problem of unrest in Balochistan, the report recommends that there is a need to reduce the appeal of insurgent ideology and causes among the Baloch people, and that can be done by winning the hearts and minds of the people.

As the Baloch insurgents and even the TTP tend to exploit the issue of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the province to win public support and recruits, the government needs to evolve a plan or policy to manage this particular issue amicably and in accordance with the law so that people do not fall for militants’ narratives.

Since August 2021, Pakistan has experienced a significant surge in terrorist attacks and consequent casualties, says one of the findings. Terrorist violence has been rapidly increasing and intensifying in various parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan provinces, with several major attacks also reported in Punjab and Karachi, says another finding.

“Experts believe that Pakistan’s counterterrorism and extremism frameworks are outdated, failing to address evolving threats. Despite successful operations from 2009 to 2019, violence reduction led to complacency, allowing radicalisation to persist and threats to mutate,” it added.

The report says no one has yet claimed responsibility for the heinous attack resulting in the tragic deaths of five Chinese nationals and their Pakistani driver in the Besham area of Shangla on March 26, 2024.

The report went on to say that firstly, in the wake of recent tensions sparked by Pakistani airstrikes against TTP and affiliates’ hideouts in Afghanistan, it was widely anticipated that the TTP would retaliate with a major, high-profile attack within Pakistan. Indeed, targeting Chinese nationals in Pakistan invariably elevates the profile of an attack and thrusts the issue into the international spotlight, thus bringing more pressure on Pakistan.

Secondly, the TTP’s denial lacks credibility, given its recent pattern of avoiding claims for attacks perpetrated by itself or its affiliates, including Tehrik-e-Jihad Pakistan, Ansar al-Jihad, and the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group.

Thirdly, the entire area where the attack occurred (Kohistan and Swat) falls under the influence of the TTP and its affiliates, making it challenging for other groups to operate and organise logistics for such a significant attack. Finally, the TTP remains a key ally of anti-China groups such as TIP and Uyghurs, further underscoring its potential involvement.

However, it may never claim such attacks due to possible pressure from the Afghan Taliban government, which may not be able to annoy China because of the diplomatic and economic support the latter has been extending to Afghanistan.

The second scenario involves the potential involvement of IS-K, which has been actively seeking to solidify its presence and operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and beyond in recent times, the PIPS report added.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2024

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