Never a stable moment in crisis-hit Pakistan! With the economy melting under the heat of debt sustainability anxieties, problems have been piling up (and staying unresolved) from unexpected areas. The political instability that reached unprecedented levels last year has become a systemic feature rather than a bug. There is no guarantee that natural disasters that struck last year – from the invisible heat wave that cooked the farmlands, to devastating floods that submerged a third of the country – won’t return this summer.

On top of all that has been bad and feeding off each other, now there is a full-blown security crisis that is making people worried by the day. The deadly, outrageous terrorist attack on a mosque in Peshawar earlier this week is the maximum-impact attack by TTP militants, who had been staging slow-burn of small-scale, low-intensity ambushes since the fall of Kabul to the Afghan Taliban back in August 2021.

While Pakistan’s state has faced and survived such terrorist scares before, it needs to be understood that circumstances are materially different, and much more difficult, this time around. Internally, year after year of poor governance, inadequate provision of utilities and public services, and horrible macroeconomic management seem to have severely weakened the already-frail public confidence in elected politicians tackling complex problems. Now capabilities of security apparatus are also being openly questioned.

Then there is an appalling lack of unity on a political narrative to tackle militancy. The subject has historically divided the elected more than the electors, but this time around, with dangerous levels of political infighting present in the system, there is simply no incentive for either the government to reach across the aisle or for the opposition to support the government at a difficult time. Instead, this latest, most-deadly terrorist event, has led both sides to trade blame, equivocate and confuse the public.

Externally, the terrorists enjoy several advantages this time around. Sharing the Afghan Taliban’s hardline ideology and enjoying unfeterred access to real-estate around the Pak-Afghan border post-US withdrawal, the TTP is said to be bigger in numbers, heavily armed (with leftover NATO weaponry, no less), and enjoying freedom of navigation without constant threat of US hellfire drones hovering above.

The Afghan Taliban, meanwhile, have turned out to be both incapable and complicit as this threat has intensified for Pakistan. It’s a security debacle to have the current Kabul regime, the chosen ones in the backyard, turn their back so soon. Even the pretense of helping Pakistan get out of this jam is gone now. That leaves Islamabad in a very uncomfortable situation to deal with this growing threat on its own.

By exclusively targeting police and security forces in areas from police stations to detention centers to mosques now, the TTP’s aim is to stoke fear, weaken the resolve of the frontline forces and demoralize the public at large. While Pakistan is too big and too diverse a country to be ever taken hostage by a group of murderous thugs, the seesawing security situation does not bode well for the country’s future, its economy or society. Will this time really be different and the terrorism threat rooted out for good?


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