Pakistan, a country that has long struggled with terrorism, is once again reeling from the brutal grip of militancy and radicalism. This grave challenge requires urgent attention and action from all.
The recent mosque bombing in Peshawar has yet again brought to light the menace of terrorism in the country. This incident, which claimed the lives of numerous innocents, is a tragic reminder of the persistent threat of violence that continues to plague Pakistan.
It is obvious that the battle against extremism is far from over and that the nation needs to brace itself for more difficult times ahead. The question is, how did we get here, and what can we do to put an end to this affliction once and for all?
This comes at a time when the economy is in serious trouble. This attack that took place in the city of Peshawar in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan on 30 January 2023 resulted in the deaths of more than 100 people and left over 200 others injured.
The attack targeted a mosque situated in the highly secure zone of the city, where police and other security agencies are stationed. This is one of the most deadly incidents in the city in several years.
Just returned from Peshawar. The sheer scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable. This is no less than an attack on Pakistan. The nation is overwhelmed by a deep sense of grief. I have no doubt terrorism is our foremost national security challenge.
— Shehbaz Sharif (@CMShehbaz) January 30, 2023
The responsibility for the attack was initially claimed by the Mohmand chapter of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but the TTP Central later denied any involvement. The majority of the victims were police officers.
In recent years, Pakistan has made significant strides in combating terrorism. The country has launched numerous military operations, tightened security measures, and implemented tougher laws to crack down on extremist groups. These efforts have yielded some success, with the number of terrorist attacks declining significantly over the past few years.
However, the recent mosque bombing in Peshawar is a stark cue that the threat of terrorism remains very real. While Pakistan has made progress in its fight against extremism, the country cannot afford to let its guard down.
The neoteric onslaught indicates that more needs to be done to address the root causes of terrorism in the country.
Security Failure: TTP’s Dominance in Pakistan
Not only does this attack point to an utter failure in security and intelligence, but it reaffirms the TTP’s message: “we can kill you anywhere, anytime, including in mosques, and the army and government cannot protect you.”
Following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, there has been a 51% increase in TTP attacks.
This can be attributed to the close ideological, tribal, and operational ties between the Taliban and the TTP, with the TTP having rear bases in Afghanistan to launch attacks into Pakistan. Despite the Taliban condemning the attacks, it is widely believed that their words are insincere.
Pakistan has been pressuring the Taliban to shut down TTP camps in Afghanistan, where an estimated 6,000 fighters are located, since the Taliban takeover.
However, the Taliban have refused to comply, and it is unlikely they will do so in the foreseeable future. This confirms that Pakistan’s support for the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul was a flawed decision and poses a security dilemma for Pakistan.
A day after the Peshawar attack, a police station in Mianwali, Punjab, came under a gun attack by heavily armed TTP fighters. Despite being repulsed, the attack showed the TTP’s presence and influence in regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
In November 2022, the TTP announced a unilateral ceasefire with the Pakistani government, but it was short-lived.
The insurgent group has frequently attacked police check posts and stations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and areas bordering Afghanistan since ending their unilateral ceasefire with the Pakistani government in November 2022.
Addressing terrorism in Pakistan is a major challenge due to the complex and multifaceted nature of the problem. To combat terrorism effectively, it is necessary to adopt a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach.
Approaches to Combating Terrorism in Pakistan
This could involve investigating the root causes of terrorism and addressing people’s grievances by investing in education and creating job opportunities.
Additionally, measures such as enhancing intelligence and surveillance capabilities, improving border control and immigration policies, implementing effective counterterrorism strategies, and engaging in diplomatic efforts to resolve conflicts could also be part of the multi-faceted approach.
Furthermore, it is essential to engage with the affected communities who have been discriminated against and are more prone to extremist agendas and understand their concerns, experiences, and grievances. This requires active listening, empathy, and a willingness to work together to find solutions that address their needs and concerns.
It also means strengthening the country’s law enforcement agencies and improving intelligence-gathering capabilities to identify and neutralize terrorist threats.
A few other potential approaches that can be acquired to address the issue include:
The “cautious” military solution to counter threats
The military must implement a comprehensive strategy to effectively deal with the growing threat of terrorist groups like the TTP.
This could involve a range of measures, such as conducting targeted operations against terrorist leaders and their networks, increasing border security to prevent cross-border attacks, and improving intelligence-gathering capabilities to identify, neutralize and prevent terrorist plots before they can be carried out.
However, force must be used proportionately per international human rights and humanitarian law. Moreover, efforts should be made to ensure that military operations do not harm civilians or lead to further radicalization.
Strengthening the Judiciary
One civil institution that can play a significant role in countering terrorism is the judiciary. Strengthening the independence and effectiveness of the judiciary can help to ensure that terrorists are brought to justice while also protecting the rights of citizens.
This can be achieved by providing adequate resources and training to judges and court personnel and ensuring the judiciary is free from political interference. It also requires broader reforms in the justice system, including addressing corruption issues, the backlog of cases, and the lack of access to justice for marginalized communities.
Countering narratives through media
The media can play a vital role in countering extremist narratives and promoting a more tolerant and inclusive society. This can be achieved through the creation of independent media outlets, training programs for journalists, and the promotion of ethical reporting standards.
Involvement of Local Public
With respect to the local public, there are several ways in which they can be involved in the fight against terrorism. One approach is to empower communities to take ownership of the security of their neighborhoods. This can be achieved through community policing programs, which involve establishing partnerships between law enforcement agencies and local communities.
However, it is equally important to ensure that community policing programs are not used as a cover for human rights abuses or to undermine the rule of law.
Collaboration with the International community
In addition to these efforts, Pakistan must work closely with its regional and international partners to address terrorism. The recent attack in Peshawar is a reminder that terrorism is a global problem that requires a coordinated response from the international community.
However, this must be done in a way that respects local sovereignty and takes into account cultural and religious sensitivities.
In conclusion, to effectively combat terrorism in Pakistan, a multi-faceted approach is needed that addresses the root causes of terrorism, engages with affected communities, strengthens law enforcement agencies, and involves civil institutions such as the judiciary and media.
Additionally, collaboration with the international community is necessary to counter terrorism effectively.
However, caution must be exercised to avoid human rights abuses and protect democracy and sovereignty. It is important to acknowledge that these efforts are long-term and require sustained commitment.
*The views expressed in this article do not reflect the opinions or positions of The Diplomatic Insight. The organization does not endorse or take responsibility for the article’s content. Any opinions or perspectives expressed in this article are the author’s alone.