Parliament, military adopt zero-tolerance policy against terrorism after resurgence in violence
akistan is revisiting its strategy to counter terrorism in the wake of increasing terror attacks against security forces and civilians.
Sensing the gravity of the security situation, the parliament called Chief of Army Staff Gen Asim Munir and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) director general last week for a briefing on the security situation. The National Security Committee also held a meeting to review the situation and evolve its anti-terror strategy.
The year 2022 witnessed a surge in terror attacks across Pakistan. According to a report by the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), militants carried out 376 terror attacks last year, killing 533 people and injuring another 832. The number of attacks showed a 28 percent increase over 2021. The report said the year 2022 saw the highest number of militant attacks in the last five years. For the first time since 2017, the country faced more than 300 militant attacks in a year. For the first time since 2018, it suffered more than 500 deaths resulting from terrorist violence.
The beginning of the year 2023 proved a nightmare. If the first quarter casualties are anything to go by, this can be the worst year for the country in terms of the terror-related incidents. According to a report about the security situation in Pakistan, 854 people were killed or wounded in militant attacks and counterterrorism operations in the first quarter of the year, about half of the casualties during the entire 2022.The report said the 219 terror attacks had killed 358 and injured 496 people in the January-March period.
As many as 245 (or 68 percent) of the attacks were reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, followed by 64 from Balochistan (18 percent). The report said that year 2023 had started with the most fatal January for security forces in a decade, following a similar trend from the previous year, which ended with the decade’s deadliest December for them.
Various reports suggest that the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Bloch Liberation Army and their affiliated groups and the Islamic State Khorasan (a local chapter of ISIS) were involved in the attacks.
The terror networks, especially the Baloch insurgent outfits including then BLA, changed their strategy and started targeting Chinese nationals, based in Pakistan for personal business or CPEC-related activities. They targeted Chinese citizens in Karachi and Balochistan where most of the CPEC activities were taking place. The trend is a matter of grave concern for not only China but Pakistan, too.
The political and military leaders have assured China that they would wipe out the terror networks. It is believed that the TTP is supporting the BLA in targeting Chinese civilians. However, the TTP has claimed that they are targeting only the security forces.
In view of the horrible security situation, military and political leaders are working to evolve a new plan to counter terrorism. The army chief’s speech in the parliament revealed some points about the new anti-terrorism strategy.
The terror networks, especially the Baloch insurgent outfits including the BLA, changed their strategy and started targeting Chinese nationals based in Pakistan for personal business or CPEC-related activities. They targeted Chinese citizens in Karachi and Balochistan where most of the CPEC activities were taking place. The trend is a matter of grave concern for not only China but Pakistan, too.
According to published excerpts, Gen Asim Munir said that talks with militants in the past had helped terrorists regroup in the country. The army chief’s comments were reflective of the mood at the NSC meeting attended by the top military and civil brass. The committee decided that the recent spate of terrorism was a result of a soft corner for and reckless policy towards the TTP in the past.
The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) and some of the former military leaders were staunch supporters of the talks with the TTP. The PTI government had released several important TTP commanders from jails to garner goodwill. In several interviews, former prime minister Imran Khan tried to justify his action, saying that he had plans for the rehabilitation of fighters returning to the country.
At the same meeting, the committee also decided to kick-start an all-out comprehensive operation against militant outfits to root out the menace of terrorism from the country.
At the in camera briefing in the parliament, Gen Asim said the campaign would include representation not only from the security agencies but also from all departments of the government. “There is no no-go area in Pakistan at this time.” He paid tribute to those who had sacrificed their lives for the cause adding: “They shed their blood for the country.”
The COAS added that the terrorists had no other option but to accept the state’s writ. He noted that they had regrouped due to the state’s willingness to negotiate with them.
“The security forces are ready for a permanent peace in the country. In this regard, intelligence-based operations are conducted on a daily basis,” the army chief added. “We should leave the discussion of new and old Pakistan and talk about our Pakistan from now on. Pakistan has no shortage of resources and manpower,” the army chief said. “Elected representatives of the people should decide the nation’s destination. Pakistan Army will fully support Pakistan in its journey of development and success,” he said.
The speech marked an important change in the country’s policy towards militancy: the discontinuation of the concept of good and bad militants. It also made the support of the parliament and the government an integral part of the policy.
During the previous tenure of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the government and the military leaders had formulated the National Action Plan after the Army Public School tragedy in 2014. However, after some initial success, some components of the plan appeared to have been compromised. It is hoped that this time the government will not allow a compromise for political or other reasons.
According to data collected from various security departments, from December 2022 to February 20, 2023, 142 terrorists were killed and 1,007 were arrested in 6,921 operations conducted by the security forces across the country. Still, the militant strikes continued. A zero-tolerance policy is clearly needed to eradicate terrorism.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher