Terrorism in Pakistan originated after Pakistan supported the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet-Afghan War and the subsequent civil war that erupted in Afghanistan. The upsurge in acts of terror in Waziristan and interior Baluchistan is not declining in spite of a radically changed environment in Afghanistan and the installation of a fence along the western border. The recurring incidents have caused casualties to the security forces. On Aug 18, N/Sub Sonay Zia was martyred in South Waziristan (SW). On Aug 22, Capt Kashif embraced martyrdom after his jeep was hit by an IED; on Aug 27, one terrorist was killed in North Waziristan (NW); the same day, one NCO was martyred in Lower Dir.
On Aug 31, a Sepoy was martyred in Bajaur by terrorists firing from across the border; on Sept 07, two soldiers were martyred in an IED explosion; on Sept 11, one terrorist was killed and 11 arrested in NW; on Aug 14, two terrorists were killed in NW.
Preventive measures by the ISAF
In less than ten days four intelligence-based operations were launched in SW and NW districts. These undesirable activities have taken place from across the border despite assurances given by the Afghan Taliban that Afghan soil will not be allowed for cross-border terrorism. Some ways will have to be devised to avoid casualties of own security forces and to curtail attrition rate.
The US during its occupation of Afghanistan had taken steps to minimize casualties of ISAF troops. These included discontinuation of boots-on-ground strategy, the introduction of pilotless drones, keeping engaged in peace talks with the Taliban and finally inking the Doha agreement on Feb 29, 2020, by virtue of which the Taliban refrained from striking foreign troops. The occupiers made maximum use of airpower and drones and avoided ground operations, thus saving the lives of combatants. While the US commanders succeeded in minimizing war casualties, they failed to defeat their foes and had to pack up and return home.
Pakistan’s counter-terrorism strategy
In our case, security forces deployed in combat zones since 2003 have launched umpteen ground operations whenever actionable intelligence was received. The cordon, search and destroy operations exposed the troops to extreme danger from the faceless enemy hidden within the local population or in high mountains. Paid terrorists had the advantage of safe exit routes into Afghanistan. In the face-to-face firefight, the militants invariably chose their sites judiciously, providing them a good field of observation and a safe exit route. The security forces rushing towards the hideout pointed out by locals or intelligence agencies often got ambushed or their convoy got hit by IEDs planted along the roadside.
There was a time when the phenomenon of sudden night attacks by hundreds of militants encircling the isolated outposts was common. In some cases, the surrounded posts didn’t receive reinforcement or air support and often ran out of ammunition. Isolated check posts along the main roads were also vulnerable to attacks. Over a period of time, drills and SOPs were perfected to deal with sudden attacks, ambushes, suicide attacks and IEDs.
What is upsetting is that after having broken the back of terrorism and eliminating their safe havens and command structure, the terrorists based in Afghanistan are still drawing blood. In most clashes, the ratio of deaths and injuries on both sides is almost equal and in some cases, the terrorists have an upper hand. Current firefights are taking place in deeper hilly areas of Waziristan or the treacherous mountains of interior Baluchistan where the terrorists have an advantage of fighting from vantage points.
The bitter realities
We have to take into account certain bitter realities due to which terrorism is not dying down. These are penned here under:
The people of former FATA were highly patriotic and had taken it upon themselves to defend the western border.
The CIA and FBI were allowed to establish outposts in FATA to net Al-Qaeda operatives, but they availed the opportunity to create space for the anti-Pakistan Tehreek-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP).
The TTP, Lashkar-Islam, and half a dozen Baloch rebel groups were sponsored by CIA, RAW, NDS. After the incapacitation of these groups by the Pak security forces in 2009-11 and again in 2014-16, these fractured groups were rejuvenated and regrouped by the sponsors and are still being funded.
Although the Tehreek-Taliban-Afghanistan (TTA) and TTP had different agendas during the 20-year war, both being blood relatives and pursuing similar Islamic ideology, they are natural allies and not adversaries. Both had fought the Soviets jointly and people of FATA had welcomed the Afghan Taliban after they were ousted from power in 2001.
While Pakistan had facilitated the capture of Afghanistan by the western forces in 2001, it became part of the US coalition to fight terrorism, took part in the war on terror as the frontline state, and provided Shamsi base to CIA for drone attacks inside FATA, and two supply routes to NATO forces throughout the war.
The tribesmen of FATA revolted only when Pakistan at the behest of the US sent regular troops to SW in violation of the 1948 agreement. A large number of military operations and drone wars destroyed FATA and embittered the people.
Drone attack on a religious seminary at Damodala (Bajaur) in Oct 2006 killing 80 teenaged students, incorrectly owed by Pakistan, followed by botched up operation against Lal Masjid in Islamabad in Jul 2007 triggered suicide attacks in urban centers.
Peace deals brokered with the TTP leaders were sabotaged by the US.
While the Afghan Taliban didn’t target Pakistan, they looked the other way to the cross-border terrorism of TTP launched from Kunar, Nuristan, Nangarhar, Paktia and Khost. All these areas were under the control of the former.
Afghan refugee camps in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan have become safe havens for the terrorists and a big security hazard.
It was after the ghastly attack on a school in Peshawar on Dec 16, 2014, which impelled the policymakers to frame a comprehensive 20-point national action plan (NAP) and establish NACTA for the first time to deal with the menace of terrorism which by then had become an existential threat. Military courts were established to carry out speedy trials of the terrorists.
85% of rural and urban terrorism died down; the rest didn’t since all the terrorist groups from Swat, Bajaur, Mohmand, SW and NW fled to Afghanistan where they were provided safe havens and requisite facilities to regroup and renew acts of terrorism in Pakistan.
Sleeping cells, facilitators and handlers remained operative in major cities for whom countrywide Operation Raddul Fasaad was launched in 2017. Absconding MQM leaders and rebellious Baloch Sardars were given refuge in the western capitals and patronized.
Prongs of military-civil administration-judiciary required to stay in step to achieve tangible outcomes remained out of step. Resultantly, the whole burden of holding on to the recaptured areas, providing security to the locals, managing IDP camps and their resettlement, developing war-ravaged tribal belts and trial of hardened terrorists came upon the military.
NAP has not been implemented in letter and spirit, NACTA has become dysfunctional since the role of counterterrorism has been assigned to intelligence agencies.
After recapturing power on Aug 15 this year, the Taliban released the hardened terrorists of TTP as well and have so far not put restrictions upon them and have no intention to hand them over to Pakistan.
The Taliban want Pakistan to emulate their example of forgiving the foes and have conveyed to Islamabad to pardon the fugitive TTP members. It is probably in this context that President Alvi and Foreign Minister Qureshi have hinted at granting general amnesty to them in case they agree to surrender, quit terrorism and their Islamic ideals of converting FATA into Islamic Emirate and join the mainstream.
The issues at hand
It is still to be seen whether the Taliban regime under Haibatullah Akhundzada which took oath on Sept 11 will fulfill their pledge to rein in the TTP.
What if terrorism from Afghan soil continues unabated and what will be the options for Pakistan?
The TTP backed by the Afghan Taliban would be the most dangerous hypothesis for Pakistan.
The idea of granting general amnesty to the TTP members is a touchy subject since the families of victims of TTP terrorism may not accept this magnanimity of the ruling regime. It is also to be seen whether the TTP accepts Pakistan’s demand of giving up terrorism and pledging loyalty to the state.
There are some hawkish elements within the ruling cabal in Kabul that want to settle scores with Pakistan for its betrayals.
Given the economic crunch and financial and food crises, would the Taliban live up to the expectations of the international community and succeed in restoring a semblance of order and much-needed stability through better governance?
Stability in Afghanistan will depend a lot upon the attitude of the USA, which unlike the Taliban has not forgiven the Taliban and is recoiling to take revenge for its humiliation.
The changed coercive tactics of the US
After its narrative of chaos, bloodshed, civil war and refugee exodus backfired since nothing of the sort happened in the areas captured by the Taliban in May-July 2021, and after they took control of Kabul on August 15, the emphasis of the US shifted to the formation of a broad-based inclusive government, human and women rights and threat of Daesh-Kurdistan (K).
Failing to defeat and subdue the Taliban on the battlefield, the US and its allies are now exerting economic pressure on the fledgling regime in Kabul faced with financial and food crises. War of economics has been launched.
Before departing, vast military equipment in the largest Bagram airbase was destroyed, Kabul airport which remained in the control of the US Marines till Aug 31 was made non-operational. Afghanistan’s $ 9.5 billion in the US banks was frozen, foreign exchange reserves in the central bank in Kabul stolen, and the flow of IMF and World Bank funds suspended.
A malicious propaganda campaign has been unleashed to debase the Taliban. Fake stories of rapes, killings and women’s rights violations are in circulation with a view to undermine the humanitarian program of the Taliban. The world is being fed with the idea that there is no change in the new Taliban and they are as ruthless and irreconcilable as the old Taliban of the 1990s.
The drama of Kabul airport was enacted to create mayhem in Kabul and to show to the world that the Afghans hated uncivilized Taliban. Five Afghans died trying to board the flight.
A suicide bomber of Daesh-K was used to bomb Kabul airport on Aug 25, which took the lives of 175 Afghans and 13 US Marines. It provided an excuse to the US to drone two so-called havens of terrorists on Aug 26 and 29 in which innocent civilians died.
The CIA-RAW created Daesh-K has been activated and it has started its terror activities in various cities of Afghanistan.
After propagating that Pak Army troops had militarily supported the Taliban offensive, Panjshir has now been made into an issue. The last stronghold which the Indo-US joined by Tajikistan wanted to exploit was seized by the Taliban on Sept 6. Indo-western media joined by Iran is wrongly blaming Pakistan Army and air force for helping the Taliban in capturing Panjshir. So-called war in Panjshir is being fought in the media only.
The Afghan interim set-up is Taliban heavy with two portfolios given to a Tajik and an Uzbek, both affiliated with the Taliban. It is unacceptable to the US. Although more Tajiks and Uzbeks along with the Hazaras are likely to be inducted for which Pakistan has promised to make an effort, it will not please the US and India. They want people like Hamid Karzai, Dr. Abdullah, Rashid Dostum, Amrullah Saleh and Ahmed Masoud to be given prized appointments.
Recognition of the new regime in Kabul and assistance by the international community has been made conditional to acceptance of the US demands.
The future of these crises
Terrorism in the Af-Pak region will not die down as long as the terrorists receive funds and weapons from intelligence agencies of war-mongering countries. Both Afghanistan under the Taliban and Pakistan are likely to remain in the grip of pulls and pressures of Indo-western machinations.
Hosting and chairing of a security conference of intelligence chiefs of seven regional countries (Russia, China, Iran, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) by the DG ISI Lt Gen Faiz Hamid on Sept 11 to take stock of the evolving security threats due to fluid situation in Afghanistan and to take collective measures to counter the emerging threats was thoughtful and a very wise initiative.
Space for the spoilers of peace must be shrunk and expanded for the peacemakers by the immediate neighbors of Afghanistan and the regional countries.
The writer is retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defense & security analyst, international columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, Member CWC PESS & Think Tank. He can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.