Since the Afghan Taliban reclaimed power in Kabul, there has been a gradual increase in insecurity in Pakistan, with a rise of terrorist acts. 2022 witnessed 27 percent more terrorist acts as compared to 2021, and the lethality continued to intensify, as is evident from the Police Lines mosque suicide bombing in Peshawar. Thanks largely to that attack, January 2023 was also one of the bloodiest months on record for Pakistan, with 134 people killed and 254 injured in at least 44 terrorists incidents across the country. Across the border in Afghanistan, attacks have also targeted Pakistan’s interests, including an attack on Pakistan’s mission in Kabul in December 2022.
The Afghanistan-Pakistan border has been the main theater of vulnerability. The frequent terrorist attacks during the last two years, especially in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces, indicate the resurgence of terrorism. However, a decline in violence incidents was observed in Punjab and Sindh, farther from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Policymakers and security establishment are aware of rising insecurity in the country being posed by banned outfits such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), Baloch Nationalist Army (BNA), Sindhudesh People’s Army (SPA), and Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP).
As the spate of terrorist violence increased across Pakistan, elements from the TTP, BLA, and ISKP have played a major role. Their resurgence has much to do with the evolving situation in Afghanistan, from where most of these groups draw their strength, in addition to using the landlocked country as a retreat ground. This has proven to be one of the most dangerous aspects for Pakistan.
After the return of the Afghan Taliban to power in Kabul, a section of government in Pakistan hoped to engage the TTP in talks. That proved to be unfavorable. A lack of appropriate political will to implement the National Action Plan (NAP) in letter and spirit has acted as a spanner in the works, and emboldened anti-state elements to operate with impunity. These factors have encouraged the TTP to regroup and intensify terrorism in the country.
Moreover, the reluctance of the Afghan Taliban to stop the TTP and other elements from using their soil for attacks on Pakistan has resulted in more mayhem and bloodshed. The TTP, ideologically associated with the Afghan Taliban, is finding a sort of legitimacy in its fight against Pakistan. Ultimately, the group is being fortified and is finding supporters along with facilitators for their nefarious designs inside Pakistan. The reemergence and regrouping of the TTP in KP, particularly in Swat, Malakand Division, has caused a wave of unrest among the locals. There are mass protests in settled and tribal areas against the intrusion of these foreign elements once again into the country.
In addition to the TTP, the Khorasan branch of the Islamic State and Baloch insurgent groups, such as BLA and others, further intensified terrorist activities during 2022. The same year also saw the emergence of the BNA and SPA as new terrorist organizations in Balochistan and Sindh; these groups went on to claim responsibility for terrorist activities in Lahore and Karachi, respectively. It is believed that Sindhi insurgent groups have developed a nexus at the tactical level with the Baloch elements targeting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
In 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. In comparison to 2021 (850 causalities), there was a 14.47 percent rise in fatalities in 2022 in Pakistan.
Most of the casualties have been in KP and Balochistan, KP accounts for 64 percent of all terrorist activity in Pakistan, followed by 26 percent in Balochistan, 5.8 percent in Sindh and 2.8 percent in Punjab. The overall level of violence has exponentially increased in KP, with a 59 percent increase in fatalities in 2022 (633 fatalities, as compared to 399 in 2021). Balochistan faced 254 deaths, along with 218 injuries in terrorist incidents. In Sindh, 57 people lost their lives and 58 people were injured; 28 people were killed and 27 injured in Punjab.
In fact, the Annual Security Report 2022 prepared by Center for Research and Security Studies indicates that there was a decline in violent incidents in Punjab and Sindh in 2022, even as violence rose in KP and Balochistan. Punjab recorded a 61 percent drop in violence, followed by a 50 percent reduction in Sindh.
Despite the drop of violence in these provinces, Pakistan faced 512 terrorist incidents in 2022 – marking the first time since 2017 that the country recorded more than 300 militant attacks. Four sectarian-related terrorist acts were also reported in 2022, which resulted in 72 fatalities and 213 injuries as compared to just two such incidents in 2021.
Most of the attacks were carried out by the TTP, ISKP, and BLA. These banned outfits have been plotting, planning and operating cross-border terrorist activities with greater freedom in Afghanistan where they enjoy sanctuaries along with facilitation.
Terrorism trends over the two years indicate that terrorist activity will continue to target security forces, particularly the army and police. KP and Balochistan would continue to be under the target of the banned terror outfits, which may become a looming threat for the major metropolitan cities of Pakistan.
To combat this threat, Pakistan should revise its Afghan policy and engage the Afghan Taliban in bilateral dialogue on the issue of the TTP, counterterrorism, joint border security management, and refugees. Pakistan should formulate a policy for developing bilateral understanding with Kabul on a joint border coordination and control mechanism.
At home, capacity building of the law-enforcement agencies needs to be enhanced to avert possible terrorist threats. The National Counter Violent Extremism Policy (NCVE) has been approved by the government with the aim to prevent radicalization among the people. There is a need to translate the NCVE into implementable and measurable goals, in order to stem extremism in Pakistan. Equally, the implementation of the NAP should be ensured and reviewed. The NAP can be successful, if all measures are effectively adopted by all concerned with transparency and accountability.
The decision taken during the meeting of the Central Apex Committee – which calls for establishing a Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa forensic laboratory, safe city projects, and capacity building of the law-enforcement agencies of KP – should be implemented in letter and spirit. The police department should adopt modern techniques of violence and crime mapping and data analytics to predict, prevent, and detect terrorism and crime. Visual data would help in formulating strategies to prevent terrorism and crime.