Pakistan’s long standing affliction of religious extremist terrorism is far from over. In Khar, Bajaur, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), on July 30, 2023, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) workers convention, killing more than 44 people and wounding over 150.

The death toll, given the condition of the seriously wounded, some of whom have been transferred to Peshawar by helicopter, seems likely to rise. Though there has been no claim of responsibility so far, the finger of suspicion points towards Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), which in 2022 admitted being behind attacks on JUI-F religious scholars, having accused the party of Maulana Fazlur Rehman of hypocrisy for being an Islamic group but supporting successive hostile governments and the military.

Given that Pakistan is poised on the cusp of general elections, the Bajaur atrocity has naturally raised concerns about security during the election campaign. Reportedly, the suicide bomber was seated in the front row of the meeting, which boggles the mind whether there was even a rudimentary level of security checking of the participants. Clearly, either it was conspicuously absent or had so many holes that the perpetrator could easily worm his way into the venue and take his strategic seat in the front row.

This amounts to the state’s failure as well as the convention organisers’, particularly since IS-K death threats were reportedly in the air in the area.

In fact, in the light of such threats, and IS-K’s attacks in the recent past, the local administration initially refused permission for the meeting, but the JUI-F insisted. In the last few days alone, one attack took place in Hayatabad, two in Khyber, followed by this fourth suicide attack in KP. The first three of these attacks targeted security personnel, while the fourth targeted a political rally for the first time.

Lest we think the wave of attacks by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on the other hand have abated, one policeman was killed and another wounded while one terrorist was killed in an attack in Mardan on July 30, 2023. On the same day, a police post was assaulted in Khyber but the attack was repulsed without any casualties. These are part of the pattern of a number of terrorist attacks in KP’s various districts during the last few weeks.

The Afghan Taliban government has seldom unequivocally condemned this wave of attacks, instead rubbing Pakistan’s nose in the dirt by suggesting talks with the TTP again. The Kabul government has this time condemned the Bajaur attack but the simple explanation for this deviation from the norm lies in the fact that the IS-K is a rival of the Afghan Taliban inside Afghanistan and in the region as a whole.

It needs to be recalled that the benighted Imran Khan government initiated negotiations with the TTP in 2021, soon after the Afghan Taliban took power in Kabul. A ceasefire followed, but could not be sustained since the state of Pakistan, quite rightly, refused to countenance the outlandish extreme demands of the TTP, instead insisting it must lay down its arms and adhere to the country’s Constitution.

The breakdown soon led to renewed TTP attacks, facilitated enormously by the safe havens it enjoys on Afghan soil and the windfall of the latest US weapons left behind when Washington withdrew, which were captured by the Afghan Taliban and now are in the possession of the TTP.

A UN committee has reported to the Security Council that the TTP is indeed regrouping and seeking the umbrella of al Qaeda. Therefore, the committee’s report states, Pakistan’s fears are well-founded. TTP, the report goes on, represents a real threat not only to Pakistan but the region as a whole. It argues the Afghan Taliban government should be prevailed upon to flush out all such elements from Afghan soil, as it agreed to do in the Doha Agreement, not parrot the obviously failed talks effort with the TTP endlessly. This sounds more like a pious hope than a realistically achievable goal.

Plumbing the surface facts that are obvious, there are important lessons to be learnt from the birth and now resurgence of the TTP and other religious extremist terrorist groups besieging Pakistan. The whole responsibility lies on the muddled thinking over decades that creating and supporting such groups as the Afghan mujahideen and later the Taliban for strategic reasons to our west would not imply a serious fallout for us.

Proxy wars can be dangerous things. Our protracted one in Afghanistan over the last 50 years has by now delivered the deadly crop of religiously motivated extremist terrorism with a vengeance. No right minded person familiar with how things work in our Pakistan would harbour any illusions about anyone or any state institution being held responsible for this blowback from our proxy war exertions. But at least now any lingering illusions about the Afghan Taliban being grateful to us for helping them defeat the US occupation and return to power should be shed.

They are not, and are unlikely to be, our friends at the expense of their ideological brothers in the TTP. The major effort in lives and resources expended on the military operations against the TTP after 2014 seem in retrospect to have been wasted, since the TTP was not crushed but escaped across the border into Afghanistan, where it has been hosted since then by the Haqqani Group and the Afghan Taliban.

Given Pakistan’s current vulnerabilities on the political, economic and social front, the civilian and military authorities need to come together in a solemn compact not to rest until the threat from TTP and other similar groups is eliminated, once and for all.

KP may only be the beginning, as Mohsin Dawar has warned an audience in the US. Given the track record of the TTP’s ability to bounce back from an apparent resounding military defeat, the path to spreading its malign presence and activities to the rest of Pakistan seems open and obvious.

If we turn back to the National Action Plan formulated to deal with the terrorist threat after the Army Public School Peshawar massacre, it envisaged, at the very least, a coordinating centre for the complex task of rooting out the terrorist threat root and branch. Since much of such an effort rests on intelligence, the lack of coordination will continue perhaps to be manifested in tragedies such as Bajaur and indeed many others.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Rashed Rahman

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