Pakistan’s security challenges require a new approach | Opinions

On January 30, a suicide bomber detonated explosives in a packed mosque, killing at least 100 people and wounding more than 225 in the city of Peshawar, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province near the border with Afghanistan. The attack, one of the worst to hit Pakistan in recent years, took place deep inside the Police Lines, a high-security zone where the regional police secretariat is located.

While a commander linked to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban, took to Twitter shortly after to claim responsibility for the attack, a spokesman for the unit subsequently dismissed allegations of the group’s involvement. In any case, the scale of Monday’s bombing, which followed a sharp rise in terror incidents in Pakistan in recent months, does not bode well for Pakistan’s leaders as they try to come to grips with multiple crises at home.

The latest attack now highlights the need for a comprehensive review of the country’s counter-terrorism strategies. But against a backdrop of growing socioeconomic instability and political polarization, it is unclear whether Pakistan’s leaders will be able to effectively tackle the country’s growing security challenges.

Failed security strategy

Even if the TTP, which has waged repeated insurgencies against the Pakistani state for nearly 15 years, chooses to distance itself from Monday’s heinous attack, it cannot be denied that in recent months the group and its affiliates have stepped up their targeting of police and law enforcement officials as they tried to expand operational activities outside the province. The TTP is estimated to have carried out close to 100 attacks since November.

Pakistani policymakers say militants, including the TTP, have benefited enormously from the sanctuaries made available to them in neighboring Afghanistan after the Taliban took over Kabul in 2021.

The reluctance of the Afghan Taliban to act against the TTP stems from the fact that they view the organization as a useful tool against the Pakistani state. By giving the TTP sanctuary, the Afghan Taliban can assert their own strategic autonomy vis-à-vis the Pakistani security establishment. And Islamabad’s influence over the Afghan Taliban, though limited at first, has weakened only since the group took over Kabul.

As a result, Pakistani officials have resorted to a carrot and stick policy. On the one hand, they tried to negotiate with the TTP in closed-door talks hosted by the Afghan Taliban, and on the other, they conducted a series of covert intelligence-led operations deep inside Afghanistan, targeting individual TTP commanders. .

While these operations reportedly had some tactical successes, such as the killing of senior TTP commander Khalid Khorasani last year, overall the dual strategy does not seem to have worked quite as Pakistan had intended. In November, the TTP abruptly ended a five-month ceasefire after the Pakistan Army stepped up counter-terrorism operations in the border area. And in an initial statement issued on Monday, the TTP said the attack on police lines in Peshawar was in fact retaliation for Khorasani’s murder.

The talks also failed to produce anything other than short-term ceasefires, as the TTP held firm to its stated goal of imposing its strict interpretation of Islamic law across the country, along with reversing the country’s 2018 merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Solving multiple crises

Unfortunately, instead of provoking a unified response aimed at eliminating terrorism, the resurgence of violence across Pakistan has only exacerbated already deeply troubling socio-political and ethnic divides.

Earlier in January, the provincial assemblies of Pakistan’s two largest provinces, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, held by former prime minister Imran Khan’s opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, were dissolved in a tactical bid to pressure the ruling coalition in Islamabad to call for early elections. elections. While the interim cabinets have since vowed to lead both provinces until elections are held in the next 90 days, there is every chance that the TTP will try to exploit the political vacuum at a bad time.

Despite this vacuum, the strategic targeting of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s civilian law enforcement agencies by militant groups appears shrewdly calculated: to demonstrate state weakness and the provincial government’s inability to counter violent militancy, and to encourage terrorist recruitment by the TTP and its subsidiaries.

As Pakistan prepares for provincial and national elections later this year, the all-too-familiar consequence of this initial sweep of the ground by terrorist groups is likely to be increased political violence. In the country’s 2013 general elections, the TTP notoriously targeted the leadership of several political parties. The group’s violence was particularly severe in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which in turn made effective campaigning difficult for many parties.

The current political crisis in Pakistan is compounded by the economic crisis. This month, Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves fell to their lowest point since 2014. Last week, Pakistani cities suffered nationwide blackouts, throwing an already ailing economy into the dark.

Pakistan’s cash-strapped leaders are fervently hoping the International Monetary Fund will pay off a $1.1 billion loan. But talks with that international financial institution have been stalled in recent months, which does not bode well for Pakistan’s economy.

What is now clear is that Pakistan urgently needs some political stability to effectively tackle a complex array of economic and security challenges. Ultimately, this requires the country’s political and military leaders to work closely together to ensure free and fair democratic transitions later this year. This can be the basis of credible political mandates that enable difficult decisions to be made on the economic, political and security fronts.

In the absence of that stability, Pakistan’s economic woes are likely to lead to widespread social unrest, which will only increase the scope for more terrorist violence.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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