Terrorism by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has gained momentum—as clear from the recent attack on the joint civil-military airport in Peshawar that houses the Bacha Khan International Airport and the Pakistan Air Force and Army aviation bases. This attack and subsequent acts of terrorism in Khyber PakhtunKhwa province and elsewhere in the country are latest expressions of this renewed terrorist campaign, which has caused enormous human loss.
The airport attack did consume the precious lives of a few security personnel and civilians—even if all the terrorists were eventually killed in successful security operations. Within a couple of days, a suicide bombing in a busy market in Jamrud, Khyber Agency, left 17 people dead, and another 40 wounded. Since then, Taliban have targeted an army recruitment centre in Risalpur and women engaged in polio vaccination campaign in Karachi. They have managed to kill KPK’s senior minister Bashir Bilor, along with scores of innocent people attending his political rally.
If TTP is engaged in wanton terrorism, killing and maiming civilians, on the one hand; it specifically targets strategic installations and security services, on the other. For instance, the TTP spokesman, while claiming responsibility for the airport attack, stated clearly that the main mission of the ten TTP members who attacked the airport was to destroy the military airbases. This is part of the pattern we have seen in TTP’s earlier terrorist missions at Mehran naval base and Kamra air base.
Seen in this backdrop, for the state authorities in Pakistan, the challenge from the sort of reckless and targeting terrorism that TTP represents is far from over. This simply means that the country’s security agencies have no other option but to build upon whatever successes they have so far achieved in counter-terrorism campaign. Since 2009, following a successful security operation in Swat and South Waziristan, there has been relative peace in the two regions, especially in the Swat valley.
This could only happen due to an effective counter-insurgency campaign. The security forces need to continue this campaign even further, including parts of the tribal areas where local and foreign terrorists hide, regroup and then strike civilian and security targets in settled areas of KPK and in the rest of the country. Press reports confirm that some Uzbeks—most probably, members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan—and other foreign terrorists hailing from the Russian Federation were also involved in the airport attack. North Waziristan is known have hosted foreign terrorists, including IMU leaders and members, for a long time.
Even if it makes sense, for realistic and strategic reasons, not to open a military front against the Haqqani Network, Pakistani security establishment needs to find a way to eliminate the remnants of IMU, and those belonging to TTP and other groups using this region as a safe haven to conduct domestic terrorism. Thus, even while the human rights concerns voiced recently by the Amnesty International must be duly considered in our overall counter-insurgency effort, there is simply no escape from widening the scope of its military component.
Reconciling the forces of insurgency is an option that must never be overlooked. However, we should not confuse the comparative relevance of this issue in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Unlike Afghanistan, Pakistan is an established state and has not been at war for the past over three decades. The principal reason why there is insurgency and terrorism in Afghanistan is because Taliban represent the majority Pashtun Afghan population, and feel that they are marginalized in the present security, political and economic structure of the country.
This is not the case with Pakistan, where the goals and motivations of the forces of insurgency and terrorism, the TTP in particular, are more ambiguous than specific—ranging from the demand from Sharia rule in Swat to the withdrawal of Pakistani support to the US in the War on Terror in Afghanistan and the tribal region. Given that, the primary question of what to negotiate with the forces of insurgency and terrorism will continue to be major challenge for Pakistan.
One way of isolating Taliban groups fuelling terrorism inside Pakistan is to support the reconciliation effort in Afghanistan. That Pakistan has already made credible moves for the purpose is encouraging. Having significantly improved its relations with the Afghan and US governments in the past few months, Pakistan is now in a better position to facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process with America’s help and under Afghan government leadership.
In the domestic context, TTP’s attacks on civilian targets and strategic sites bring to fore the weaknesses inherent in Pakistani counter-terrorism security mechanisms. There is greater need for public vigilance and human intelligence. The security services need to prevent and preempt TTP terrorism. The government’s counter-terrorism approach so far has been reactionary. The security forces come into operation only after the attack has actually occurred.
Even if in most instances the counter-efforts are successful, as has been the case in the attacks on Peshawar airport, Kamra air base and Mehran naval base, in killing the militants, the damage done in both human and material terms is generally massive and irrecoverable. For instance, the country suffers gravely in terms of our national image abroad.
Pakistan is in dire need of recovering its international standing as a stable country, and its entire quest for social harmony and economic progress rests on such a politically stable state. The country cannot dillydally anymore on the counter-terrorism issue. It must pursue counter-terrorism’s military leg forcefully, while playing whatever role we can to facilitate Afghan reconciliation.
Peace in Afghanistan is must for peace in Pakistan’s borderlands with the war-torn country. If a viable process aimed to achieve such peace begins and moves forwards, then South Asia can at least be freed from a decade-old enigma: that of acting as a principal source for the horrific phenomenon of international terrorism.
This commentary can be accessed at weeklypulse.org