August 2023 witnessed an alarming 83% surge in militant attacks across Pakistan, marking the highest monthly tally since November 2014. These attacks resulted in 112 fatalities and 87 injuries, primarily targeting security forces and civilians. Balochistan and the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) bore the brunt of this violence. The emergence of a potent terror triad comprising the TTP, Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), and the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) underscores the gravity of the situation. Pakistan’s precarious handling of terrorist elements, alongside regional complexities, exacerbates the security crisis. Urgent policy reforms, counterterrorism cooperation, and border management are imperative to address this mounting threat.
A sharp increase in militant attacks across Pakistan has been recorded in the month of August, 2023 with an 83% rise in August when compared with July, according to a report compiled by Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS). This, according to the report, is the highest number recorded in any single month since November, 2014. These attacks have resulted in 112 deaths and 87 injuries, mostly targeting security forces personnel and civilians.
According to the report, Balochistan and area comprising the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) were most affected by militant violence in August compared to July. It added that Balochistan witnessed a 65% increase in militant attacks from 17 in July to 28 in August while the erstwhile FATA witnessed a 106% increase in attacks from 18 in July to 37 in August. KP, excluding its tribal districts, also saw a significant increase in militant attacks, from 15 in July to 29 in August, an 83% rise. The deaths and injuries also increased by 188% and 73% respectively. The province was mainly targeted by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its splinter groups, who claimed responsibility for several attacks. The province of Sindh witnessed a slight increase in militant attacks, from three in July to five in August. The deaths also increased from one to four. However, province of Punjab remained relatively peaceful, with no militant attack reported in August. The only attack reported in July was a low-intensity blast near a police station in Lahore, which caused one injury.
Reportedly, in the previous year: 2022, up to 512 terrorist acts (on an average 43 attacks per month) were carried out in Pakistan, targeting both security personnel and civilians. The attacks caused 980 fatalities and 750 injuries. Among them, at least 283 security personnel lost their lives in 2022, with 40 fatalities in December 2022 alone.
Pakistan’s political and economic troubles are tangled with its erratic treatment of terrorists by the state agencies. For decades, Pakistan has permitted some terrorist groups to operate freely while cracking down on others. Lately, terrorism, militancy, and foreign sanctions resulting from terrorist financing, have in turn made it tough for Pakistan to receive financial investment and humanitarian assistance. More grievously, sympathy for jihadis among the common populace and within law enforcement and intelligence, along with indecision by members of the political class, has allowed domestic militant groups to operate with some liberty.
Additionally, a report titled, “Pakistan’s Afghan Perspective and Policy Options”, launched by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in the month of June, 2023, warns that the emerging trends of terrorism will only add to Pakistan’s persistent security challenge in terms of Taliban militancy in KP and the erstwhile tribal areas, Baloch nationalist insurgency in Balochistan, ethno-nationalist violence in Sindh, as well as growing religious extremism and radicalism. “Protracted over a longer period of time, such an environment of insecurity, militancy, and violence can pose serious threats to political and economic stability as well,” it states.
As predicted in the early months of the year, terror attacks in Pakistan peaked in 2013, averaging just under four attacks a day, with nearly 2700 total fatalities; the latest trends suggest that 2023 may be worse. The prime factor behind this dangerous trend in terror activities is a new terror triad, comprising TTP, Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), the regional chapter of ISIS.
One of the reasons is the unilateral cancellation of a year-old ceasefire on 28 November 2022 by the TTP, which blamed the government for breaching commitments and criticized Pakistani security forces for their actions in the provinces of KP and Balochistan that border Afghanistan. Faced with an aggressive crackdown since early 2021, the now-defunct TTP has predictably retreated to safe havens in Afghanistan, especially after the Afghan Taliban returned to power on August 15, 2021. The TTP leadership, including the chief Noor Wali Mehsud, currently enjoys shelter and hospitality in Afghanistan. For years, the TTP has waged war on Pakistan, its people, and state agencies, describing the conflict as Ghazwa-e-Hind (Battle of India), forecasted as a forerunner to the end times by the Prophet Mohammed. In the last year, most terrorist strikes concentrated in Greater Bannu, adjacent to Waziristan, Bajaur, and Kurram districts in KP. These districts directly border Afghan provinces of Kunar, Paktia, Nangarhar, and Paktika, serving as a springboard for terrorist missions into the Pakistani mainland.
According to the annual Global Terrorism Index (GTI), released by Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), BLA was responsible for 36% or a third of terror-related deaths in Pakistan, a ninefold increase from the year prior, making it “the fastest-growing terrorist group in the world.” The GTI noted that the BLA had overtaken the TTP. The report thus stated, “BLA’s lethality rate increased to its highest level, with attacks by the group killing 7.7 people per attack in 2022, compared to 1.5 people per attack in 2021. Of the 233 deaths attributed to BLA in 2022, 95% were of military personnel.” BLA alleged that China, under the patronage of Pakistan and its army, has been plundering the natural resources of Balochistan for many years and that Beijing was permitting violence by the Pakistan Army. The BLA has also targeted Chinese nationals on numerous occasions and has warned Beijing not to enter into development deals in Balochistan with the Pakistani government. On August 13, the Majeed Brigade of BLA attacked a convoy of Chinese engineers in Pakistan’s Balochistan. Earlier, in April 2022, a female BLA suicide bomber killed three Chinese teachers in Karachi.
Unfortunately, on July 30, ISKP executed a suicide attack at an election rally for the Pakistani political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F), resulting in the deaths of at least 54 people, including a regional JUI-F leader. The attack took place in Bajaur District, KP. This incident highlights that ISKP’s networks in Pakistan remain willing and capable of carrying out mass-casualty attacks on civilian targets. The terror organization primarily operates in Afghanistan, where it engages in a fierce insurgency against the Taliban. Additionally, it operates in Pakistan’s KP and Balochistan regions, and to a lesser extent, in Punjab provinces. ISKP has also significantly intensified its anti-China propaganda campaign in recent months, with the publication of hundreds of posts specifically targeting China and its regional interests.
To fight this danger, Pakistan should revise its anti-terror policy and especially Afghan policy. It needs to engage the Afghan Taliban in bilateral dialogue on the issue of the TTP, counterterrorism, joint border security management, and refugees. Pakistan should frame a strategy for developing bilateral understanding with Kabul on a joint border coordination and control mechanism.
In conclusion, the escalation of terrorist incidents in Pakistan presents a formidable national security challenge that demands immediate attention and decisive action. The multifaceted nature of these threats requires a holistic and integrated approach, not only to safeguard the lives of its citizens but also to ensure long-term political and economic stability in the region. Failure to act decisively could have far-reaching consequences, making it paramount for Pakistan to take proactive measures to address this imminent danger.
*As of today, the Geo-Politik editorial team has decided to open its platform to guest writers and their opinions, in order to further expand the opportunities for a public debate. The articles and op-ed that are going to published upon invitation will reflect the opinion of the author, not necessarily that one of the Geo-Politik editorial team. this contribution has been written by Dr Maheep, a leading analyst of India’s Foreign Affairs. He has been in teaching and research of International Relations and Global Politics for over a decade.