Pakistan Security Situation with Surge in Terrorist Incidents
The state of Pakistan, since its emergence, has a stronger challenge to its security from internal factors as compared to external factors, which is evident from the fact that the first insurgency broke out in Balochistan just after one year of Independence in 1948. Pakistan faces multi-faceted terrorism that cannot be compared with any other country in the world. Ethnic terrorism, which led to the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971, resurfaced again during the 80s in the form of riots between Mohajir and Sindhi or Pashtun. Although it has been brought under control after decades of security operations and with the mainstreaming of ethnic political parties, ethnic terrorism in the form of Baloch sub-Nationalism continued in the province of Balochistan at regular intervals and mainly revolved around the issues of exploitation of resources and increased manifold after the emergence of Gwadar port.
Pakistan remained under Sectarian terrorism for decades after the Iranian revolution, and it’s an extended version of rivalries between Arab Gulf states and Iran. However, Talibanization and Jihadi terrorism, which emerged in the post 9/11 scenario, is the most serious threat to Pakistan’s security. Since 2007, the Pakistani Army has carried out military operations in the FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to break the power of the Pakistani Taliban and affiliated organizations.
After the years of military operations, a consistent decline in militant attacks was observed from the year 2015 till 2019. However, this downward trend from 2015 has not continued, and in 2020, an upward trend of violence has been observed in the country. However, despite an increase in attacks, the number of casualties dropped in 2020 compared with 2019. The downward trend had started in 2015 due to Operation Zarb-e-Azb and National Action Plan, and average militant attacks had dropped to 13 attacks per month in 2019, which has now gone up again to 15.5 attacks per month. In 2014, the average number of militant attacks per month was 134.
The year 2020 saw a remarkable reduction in suicide attacks as the year witnessed only four suicidal attacks compared with 10 such incidents in 2019. The number of IEDs also dropped from 84 to 64. However, raids and ambushes with guns (physical militant assaults) increased from 28 to 38. A 100 percent increase was observed in Target Killing incidents as the year 2020 witnessed 48 such attacks compared with 24 in 2019. Kidnapping for ransom was one of the major sources of revenue for militants, which was almost completely choked in previous years; however, an upward trend was observed in such incidents during the year 2020. It may be pertinent to mention that attack on Pakistan Stock Exchange was the most high-profile incident of the year in Karachi on June 29, 2020.
Religious Terrorist Organizations
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, is the largest banned religious terrorist organization with its splinter groups. The group was founded in 2007 in North Waziristan of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan and drew its ideological views from Al-Qaida. TTP has conducted the highest number of suicidal attacks in Pakistan and claimed responsibility for most of the terrorist incidents in Pakistan. After years of military operations against TTP, they now mostly operate from Kunar, Nuristan, Paktika, Gardaiz, Nangarhar, and Paktia in Afghanistan and launch cross-border attacks inside Pakistan. The TTP finances its activities through extortion, kidnapping for ransom, and financial aid from hostile intelligence agencies.
Sectarian Terrorist Organizations.
Sunni sectarian terrorist organizations mainly comprise Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Sipahe Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), and Jayesh-e-Muhammad (JeM) and their splinter groups. SSP was formed in 1985 by Deobandi cleric Haq Nawaz Jhangvi who was assassinated in 1990 and was replaced by Maulana Azam Tariq. The organization is understood to have close ties with the Jihadi organization Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and the TTP and be a part of the Punjabi Taliban network. Its principal objective is to fight Shia influence in Pakistan. They are involved in various terrorist activities against the Shia sect in Pakistan. It is also widely understood that SSP thrives on considerable financial and logistic backing from Saudi donors to curb Iran’s influence on Pakistan’s Shia population. In 1996, militants of SSP led by Riaz Basra, Akram Lahori, and Malik Ishaq broke away from SSP and formed another organization named Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). It may be noted that LeJ is not a political party but a purely militant/ terrorist organization.
Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP) is a Shia terrorist organization whose aim is to protect the Shia community and target hostile Sunni Deobandi organizations such as SSP and LeJ. SMP is a radical offshoot of a mainstream Shia political party, the Tehrik-e-Jaferia Pakistan. The origin of SMP is unclear, but it was probably founded around 1993 by Maulana Mureed Abbas Yazdani. SMP has been involved in terrorist attacks against Sunni clerics and is widely believed to be supported by Iran to counter Saudi influence in Deobandi clerics of Pakistan.
Ethnic Terrorist Organizations
Baloch Terrorist Organizations
Major Baloch terrorist organizations are Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), Balochistan Republican Army (BRA), Balochistan Liberation Front(BLF), United Baloch Army (UBA), and Lashkar-e-Balochistan. Their main objective is an independent Balochistan, free of Pakistani and Iranian rule. Presently, the most active terrorist organization is BLF which is also the main threat against CPEC and Gwadar. It may be noted that, unlike other militant organizations, its fighters are not tribesmen but middle-class youth. Therefore, this militant organization is more active and destructive in conducting terrorist attacks against Chinese Nationals, Punjabi laborers, and security forces.
Mohajir Terrorist Organization
Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) has been accused of different terrorist activities in Karachi, mostly target killings against LEAs and other ethnic groups. As per intelligence agencies and police sources, MQM Sector and Unit In-charges have been actively involved in terrorist activities and basically formed the militant wing of MQM. Presently, MQM London is more actively involved in terrorist activities, while other factions focus more on political activities in Karachi. However, the main source of finance of MQM remained extortion money and funding from hostile intelligence agencies.
Sindhi Terrorist Organization
The Sindhudesh Liberation Army (SLA) is a Sindhi terrorist organization that became publicly known in 2010 after claiming a bomb blast on railway tracks. On August 5, 2020, the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA), a Group Allied with SLA, claimed responsibility for a grenade attack on a rally organized by the Jamaat-i-Islami in Karachi injured about 40 people. Sindhi terrorist organizations have increased their terrorist activities in the last few months after a gap of a few years.
Military Operations Against Terrorist Organizations
Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched on 15 June 2014 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the FATA. The purpose of the operation was to target the militants in North Waziristan. As a result, most of the North Waziristan agency has been cleared of militants, except a few pockets and possibly, sleeper cells. Subsequently, the operation was extended to complete Pakistan. After the launching of Zarb-e-Azb, 2015 was the first year with reduced levels of violence in Pakistan.
Operation Radd-Ul-Fasaad was launched on 22 February 2017, after a series of attacks conducted by JuA in the country at the beginning of 2017. This operation is not confined to one area but is spread across the country. The operation is aimed at eliminating the threat of terrorism and at consolidating the gains of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. It is further aimed at ensuring the security of Pakistan’s borders with fencing of the Pak-Afghan border. The Punjab Rangers were given for the first time the special powers to operate in Lahore and different parts of the province of Punjab. Radd-Ul-Fasaad focuses on “Intelligence-Based operations with coordinated raids,” mostly conducted by Rangers and civilian LEAs.
Role of Hostile Intelligence Agencies
An analysis of the terror events conducted by militant organizations in Pakistan indicates a high level of tactical awareness and training. The placement of explosives, use of IEDs, siting of weapons, and choice of ambush sites and getaway plans point to the perpetrators having had prior military training. Access to sophisticated weapons and communication means indicating foreign funding and support as well with Indian consulates along with the Pak- Afghan border and the presence of terrorists of TTP and Baloch militant organizations and Pak-Afghan border point towards close nexus of RAW operatives and these organizations. There are few, if any, ideological participants in the militant groups. Investigations have revealed that all are paid, leaders included. Moreover, such a large militant network cannot survive without the substantial financial support of external actors.
Analysis of Security Situation
The security situation in Pakistan is complex and influenced by internal factors such as religious extremism, sectarian and ethnic fault lines, and external factors such as hostile intelligence agencies supporting terrorist organizations and unfriendly diplomatic relations with India and Afghanistan.
The surge in terrorist incidents observed in 2020 is expected to continue in 2021 if the national response is not strengthened. Diplomatic relations with neighboring countries are not improved, even though successes of Operation Zarb-e Azb and Operation Rad ul Fasad have ensured the prevention of haven of TTP and its affiliate religious terrorist organizations from tribal regions, and after the completion of fencing of Pak-Afghan border, their capabilities to launch cross border attack will also decrease. However, it may be noted that the decrease in suicidal attacks over the period of years indicates not only a change in the manifestation of terrorist attacks but also point towards a shift of the leading role in terrorism from religious terrorist organizations to ethnic terrorist organizations. The same upward trend of violence continues in 2021, with ethnicity-based terrorist incidents increasing day by day. Thus, indicating that future surge in terrorist incidents will be more centric towards Karachi and Balochistan province. MQM London is striving hard to re-open its unit and sector offices based on their militant wings. MQM London, with the support of hostile intelligence agencies and nexus with other ethnic militant organizations of Baloch and Sind, will try to destabilize Karachi. As such, Karachi being the financial hub of Pakistan, had been the target of hostile intelligence agencies. With the strengthening of ethnic terrorist organizations, it is expected that Karachi may witness an increase in terrorist incidents during the year 2021. In addition, the failure of the Pakistan Government to provide jobs to the people of South Balochistan will keep strengthening Baloch sub-Nationalist subversive themes, and more youths will keep on joining BLF. Thus Southern Balochistan is likely to witness an increased number of terrorist incidents. The main notable development in the province is SindhuDesh Revolutionary Army’s (SRA) increased attacks and wider presence.
Nevertheless, Pakistan’s relations with neighboring countries do have an impact on the security situation. TTP and Balch Sub-nationalist militant organizations in Afghanistan shall continue to worsen Pakistan’s security situation. Thus, religious terrorist organizations will continue to threaten and make an all-out effort to launch a few suicidal attacks in metropolitan cities to show their effectiveness to hostile intelligence agencies and paymasters. Furthermore, due to the announcement of TTP reunification with Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) and Hizbul Ahrar in September 2020, border regions of North Waziristan have started witnessing a relative increase in terrorist incidents.
Sectarian violence across Pakistan continues to be a threat to the security situation in Pakistan. Due to Sectarian organizations and ideological sympathizers across Pakistan will continue to target Shias, especially Hazaras of Quetta and Barelvi/ Sufis. Moreover, LeJ and TTP nexus may also attempt to launch suicidal attacks against Shia targets across the country, especially Hazaras.
A National Response
Operations against Militant Organizations with more focus on Ethnic Organizations
The security situation analysis clearly indicates that Karachi may become the epicenter of a surge in terrorism incidents in Pakistan with more attacks by ethnic militant organizations. Thus IBOs against these ethnic organizations, their sympathizers, and facilitators should dismantle their support and bases in Karachi and contain them. As far as Southern Balochistan is concerned, targeted operations against Ferrari (escaped convict camps derived from the Urdu word Ferrar) camps and dismantling them, especially at Makran Division, will eradicate bases to these Baloch militant organizations, thus minimizing attacks against Chinese, Punjabi Labours and LEAs. Moreover, IBOs should be conducted against their sympathizers present in different cities to dismantle their support in urban areas, thus making it difficult to conduct terrorist activities in cities. Moreover, MQM London and other factions of MQM must not be allowed to open Unit and Sector offices which are their bases for their terrorist activities. Sindhudesh Liberation Army has increased its terrorist activities in the last few months after a gap of a few years. Sindhi Sub-Nationalist terrorist organizations nexus with criminals/ dacoits of Kacha(riverine forest areas of the Indus river) area must be averted. Otherwise, they will have a strong base in the Kacha area, which will enable them to increase their terrorist activities across Sindh Province with more focus in Karachi.
Operations against Jehadi and Sectarian organizations should continue to eradicate their safe-havens in tribal areas. Moreover, IBOs should be conducted against Jehadi and Sectarian organizations to break their nexus in cities and dismantle their support network in different cities.
Terrorism Financing of Militant Organizations
Militant organizations require millions of Rupees to pay salaries to their soldiers and leadership, which is impossible without funding from criminal activities like extortion and kidnapping for ransom and foreign funding from hostile intelligence agencies. Thus, Financial Crime professionals must be hired in LEAs who can identify the terrorism funding techniques and lodge legal proceedings on Terrorism financing (TF). Money is a terrorist organization’s lifeblood, so If LEAs are successful in prosecuting these terrorists on TF cases, it will not only have adverse effects on their terrorist activities. Still, it will also assist Pakistan in coming out of the FATF grey list.
Completion of Fencing along Pak-Afghan Border
Fencing along the Pak-Aghan border has yielded a positive impact on Pakistan’s security situation, so it should be expedited and completed immediately to stop cross-border terrorism from the militant organizations operating from Afghanistan. In addition, fencing at Pak-Afghan borders will decrease TTP capability to launch terrorist attacks in Pakistani territory and harm Baloch militant organizations to conduct terrorist activities in Balochistan.
Provision of Jobs to youth Particularly of Southern Balochistan
Unemployment is the main cause of youth joining ethnic militant organizations as it substantiates the subversive theme that Punjab province is looting small province resources. Thus, CPEC will only be successful if youth from Makran divisions are provided ample job opportunities. Therefore, the provincial Government must open technical training institutions for Baloch youth in Makran Division and provide the technical skills required for these projects. Furthermore, the Government must bind Chinese/ local companies to hire local youths for these projects.
Media Coverage of Terrorist Incidents
Militant organizations are being paid for media coverage of terrorist incidents by hostile intelligence agencies, so controlled media coverage will reduce their funding, thus decreasing terrorist incidents. Moreover, it will also reduce the demoralizing impact on the people of Pakistan. Therefore, PEMRA must play a more proactive role and allow only controlled coverage of these terrorist attacks.
Diplomatic Relations with Afghanistan and India
Pakistan must not stop diplomatic efforts to improve relations with Afghanistan and India while using friends like Saudi Arabia and China. Improved relations with neighboring countries will definitely have a positive impact on Pakistan’s security situation.
Pakistan security institutions must exercise all possible steps to reverse the surge of terrorist incidents, continuing from 2020. However, if the situation is not handled appropriately now, the surging trend may continue, and the security situation may deteriorate further. Thus all stakeholders must realize the severity of the situation and take all possible steps to stop this trend.