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Normally one tries to focus on one critical issue that appears to be central when sitting down to pen these columns. However, such is the state of things in Pakistan that perforce one has to deal with a plethora of issues confronting the country and its people.

That this may lead to important issues being treated peripherally or in insufficient depth is one of the occupational hazards of being a member of the commentariat.

Terrorism has never been laid to rest despite the military campaigns against the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other like groups in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (KP’s) erstwhile tribal areas. The recent uptick in terrorist attacks, particularly in KP, endorses this conclusion.

One reason for this is that the military offensives from 2014 onwards failed to plan a pincer movement to cut off retreat avenues for the TTP, admittedly in unfavourable and forbidding terrain, seemingly content to uproot these terrorist forces from their bases in erstwhile FATA and ‘allow’ them to flee across the border into Afghanistan.

I have been consistently arguing since in these columns and elsewhere that the military has succeeded merely in ‘exporting’ the problem, not scotching the snake. This prediction has since come true, particularly after we helped the Afghan Taliban to come to power on the heels of the ignominious and shambolic retreat of the US from their 20 year military occupation of Afghanistan.

However, this turn of events once again proved the adage in politics that yesterday’s friends cannot be taken for granted to remain tomorrow’s allies. That applies doubly to proxies, with whom many countries, including Pakistan, have had occasion to rue the day they plumped for support for such entities. Inherent in such a relationship is the risk of proxies sooner or later running off the leash. The retreat into Afghanistan has if anything strengthened the TTP’s hand because of unadmitted but obvious support from the Afghan Taliban regime in Kabul.

Multiple attacks by the TTP were witnessed in KP over the weekend, in which two officers and five troops were killed in North Waziristan’s Mir Ali area in an attack on a police check post, two policemen were injured in another attack on a police check post in Ambar Dub Chowk Tehsil of Mohmand district, a police mobile (with no casualties) was damaged in an attack on Otmanzai police station in Bannu, and a Motorway Police vehicle was attacked (again without casualties) in Kund, Nowshera.

The pattern of these attacks, as previous attacks, suggests the spread of the TTP’s reach beyond their traditional tribal areas holdouts to KP province entire. From there it is a short hop, skip and a jump to Punjab and Balochistan, the two neighbouring provinces of KP. Having reverted to guerrilla tactics with dispersed units instead of concentrated forces in the past in the tribal areas, the TTP now can only be combatted through superior intelligence.

That, unfortunately, remains conspicuous by its absence, not because efforts are not made night and day by military and civilian intelligence agencies, but because there is precious little coordination between them. Intelligence agencies the world over are notorious for keeping their intelligence information cards close to their chest and being reluctant to share them even with fellow intelligence organisations of their own country, engaged in a common struggle.

The post-2014 National Action Plan (NAP) was stillborn in the face of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) balking at the suggestion that they should coordinate with and (perish the thought!) share intelligence with their civilian counterparts under the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA). There the half-baked pie of the NAP rests in peace (RIP). There is no evidence that either the military or civilian authorities are seized of the critical requirement to overcome this logjam and get down to the serious task of rooting out the terrorist threat. We must therefore gird ourselves against more of the same for the foreseeable future.

But hark, perhaps I underestimate the resolve of the military. In the wake of these multiple attacks in KP over the weekend, Pakistan has carried out airstrikes against alleged TTP bases across the border, killing, according to Kabul, eight people in Khost and Paktika provinces, all the dead being women and children. Taliban officials claim the ‘reckless’ airstrikes prompted retaliatory actions with “heavy weapons” against Pakistani military outposts on the border.

They followed up with a statement that Afghanistan would respond to any aggressive actions and defend its territorial integrity at all cost. The simmering tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan since the 2021 victory of the Taliban, which prompted the former to expel millions of Afghan refugees across the border back to their home country, promise, if Kabul’s veiled threat is to believed, in “very bad consequences, which will be out (of) Pakistan’s control”.

Now it may be conceded that since the TTP terrorists based in Afghanistan’s border areas have their families living with them, the toll may well have included, if not been entirely composed of, women and children. To compare, not so long ago when Iran attacked alleged Jundullah bases in our Balochistan and Pakistan retaliated with strikes against alleged Baloch nationalist fighters in Iran, the casualties on that side, if correctly reported, were indeed women and children.

With all the sophistication of drone and air force technology today, it remains an uncertain weapon for targeting elusive guerrilla organisations. Pakistan and Iran mended fences soon after, in an atmosphere of both sides’ ‘honour’ having been satisfied, but the new tensions between Islamabad and Kabul portend an escalation with no end in sight.

Pakistan needs reasonable, if not good relations with all its neighbours at a moment when it has so many other problems to contend with. Relations with Iran are on the mend after the mutual strikes on each other and the start on the Pakistan side of the much delayed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline that threatened their bonhomie. With India, relations remain frozen, with little chance of even normal diplomatic outreach till after the Indian elections.

With Afghanistan, we could be staring down the barrel of the gun of a continuing tension and even conflict on the border because of the reverse osmosis of TTP terrorists based in Afghanistan continuing and escalating their attacks inside Pakistan, the wages of the original sin of using religious extremists in Pakistan’s wars in Afghanistan since 1973.

Strangely, the terrorism issue has taken up all the space this week, but I shall no doubt be explicating the other issues facing Pakistan in flux in the weeks to come.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

Rashed Rahman

[email protected] , rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Comments

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KU Mar 19, 2024 11:26am
You are right on all accounts. We are slowly headed towards a state of affairs which we witness in Middle East. Its not because of terrorism alone, but corruption and crimes against our economy.
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