With the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan upon the fall of Kabul in August of 2021, the country's new leaders have replaced fundamental rights with an extremist interpretation of Islamic Sharia. As a result, women's rights and freedoms have been completely eroded, and the people of Afghanistan are suffering more than ever from historic impoverishment and lack of opportunity.
However, the Taliban's influence extends outside of Afghan territory as well. The Taliban's return has indirectly caused chaos in Pakistan and Iran, two neighbours. Terrorist attacks in Pakistan have increased since 2019. As the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan had been gaining momentum, the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) had also been increasing their attacks in Pakistan. Furthermore, other groups like ISIS-K (Daesh-Afghanistan) and the Balochistan Liberation Army insurgency group have also increased their activities.
A recent suicide bomb attack in KPK's capital, Peshawar, has led to the deaths of over 100 people and injuries of over 200 people. Most of the casualties were suffered by police officers praying in the mosque where the attack happened. This attack, in particular, has been the most devastating attack the province has experienced in recent memory.
According to Dr. Nazir Mahmood, the number of attacks and counterattacks in 2022 from these three groups has clocked over 500 in Pakistan, with 310 in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, 110 in the Balochistan province, and 54 in the Sindh province. Most of these attacks reside in Pakistani areas that border Afghanistan, that is, KP and Balochistan. When considering 2021, 2021 marked an increase in terrorist attacks by 42% compared to 2020, according to a 2021 security report by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies.
Historically speaking, these two provinces have been the primary victims of terrorist activities whenever terrorist groups would have increased in influence. Motivated by international Islamic Jihad, the TTP and Daesh-Afghanistan pose the most significant threats. Their ideology lines with instituting the same extremist Islamic Sharia in Pakistan as was done in Afghanistan by the Taliban. Balochistan Sindh nationalist insurgents, on the other hand, are primarily interested in separatism in Pakistan. According to the 2021 Security Report, 77 attacks took place by these separatist groups in 2021 compared to 44 in 2020. Thus, terrorist activity, foreign or domestic, is on a steep rise in Pakistan.
The military in Pakistan recognizes this threat, as terrorist attacks in Pakistan have been a bane in the country's history from the initial Afghan Taliban takeover in 1996 to the ISIS insurgency in the middle-east during the early 2010s. The Pakistani government has previous experience with eradicating terrorists in their country, and it's simply a matter of delegating resources, personnel, and political will to get rid of them. According to the South Asian Terrorism Portal, the peak of terrorist activity from 2008-2016 has thousands of terrorist activities yearly.
Similarly, as terrorist activities continue to rise from 2019 to now, Pakistan may find itself in a similar situation of being a victim of thousands of terrorist activities every year if they don't quell the issue now. As a result, the country now reports an uprise in terrorist activities for the first time since the late 2000s.
When looking at the distribution of who is affected by terrorist attacks the most, the Security Reports indicates that nearly 66% of attacks were targeted against "personnel, vehicles and posts of security and law enforcement agencies." in 2021. There were attacked Civilians in 16 seizures. It makes sense considering security and law enforcement posting in Pakistan near the Afghan border as paramilitary forces like the Frontier Corps of Pakistan are specifically tasked with "maintaining law and order" in Balochistan and KPK, where terrorist activity is most likely to happen. The organization is assigned to counterterrorism, counter-insurgency, anti-smuggling, and border patrol, among other tasks. The Frontier Corps and the Pakistani army are head first against terrorist activity, leading their members to face casualties first.
In the eyes of terrorists, inflicting damage against the Pakistani military is the first line of defence they must penetrate to realize their ideology. Other factors to consider are Pakistan's economic and financial crisis; as the country faces further economic chaos with record inflation, historical debt, and a risk of default, terrorists are likely to exploit this situation for their benefit. They force the country to stretch its resources between financing debt, supporting its recovery from the economic downturn and funding counterterrorism initiatives—the latter factor, which the TTP can indirectly control by increasing their activity.
According to policy expert Madiha Afzal, there was a hope within Pakistani authorities that the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan would lead to TTP containment. The logic is that the Taliban would want to maintain good ties with Pakistani security for the international legitimacy of the Taliban government. However, Afzal points out that the Taliban has instead taken a neutral approach, allowing the TTP to operate out of fear that local leaders would undermine the Taliban's authority because the Taliban is not interested in implementing global Islamic Shariah. As a result, the Taliban indirectly supports Pakistani authorities for international legitimacy and anti-Pakistani terrorist groups for domestic legitimacy.
With Pakistan's political and economic turmoil, combined with a breaking-record increase in terrorist activities, the country is facing one too many obstacles to overcome. As a result, the government will bear a storm in the short term before anything gets better. As Pakistan has done in the past, the country must nip the sharp rise in terrorist activity in recent years with a coordinated, nationalistic milliary response.
The last thing the country needs to see is a complete collapse in government and abandonment of the people. We don't want Pakistan's government and military to be overwhelmed entirely with conflict and abandon ship. The government and its institutions must be held accountable and serve the people.
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