BACKGROUND: The September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. in which thousands of innocent lives were lost led Pakistan to join the U.S.-led global war against international terrorism in which Pakistan has over the years made an invaluable contribution. However, with the passage of time, Washington increasingly came to view Islamabad as part of the problem rather than the solution. Most U.S. and European policy makers believe that Pakistan is providing a safe haven for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Western media is full of stories about a presence of the Taliban leadership in Pakistan, including of Mullah Omar’s alleged base in Quetta. Since the summer of 2008, U.S. military and intelligence agencies are sharing minimal intelligence with its Pakistani counterparts, instead focusing on drone attacks against suspected terrorist movements and hideouts.
Pakistan is a signatory to the UN’s Palermo Convention. At the regional level, Pakistan has signed and ratified SAARC Regional Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism and the SAARC Convention on Narcotic Drugs Substances and the ECO Protocol against drugs. It has extradition treaties with 29 countries and bilateral agreements or MOUs on terrorism with 50 countries. Pakistan has played a major role in eliminating a number of terror networks such as the Al-Qaeda Anthrax network, the Alghuraba network, the UK-based Anglo-Pakistani group and Jundullah. Prominent targets captured include Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, Abu Alfaraj Alibi, Al Shib, Abu Zubaida, Abu Talha, Khalid bin Attash or Walid bin Attish, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, Abu Laith al-Libi, Hasan Bana, Hamza Rabbi, Sharif Al Masri, Abu Mushab Masri, Jaffar Uttayyar Alkashmiri Yassir Al-Jaziri, and Abdul Rehman Al-Masri. Umar Patek was arrested in Abbottabad by Pakistani forces and may have provided important leads to Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts.
Since 9/11, Pakistan has also become a victim of terrorism. The direct and indirect cost suffered by Islamabad in the war on terror has been around US$ 35 billion. There has been a constant increase in the number of terror attacks in Pakistan since 9/11 and a number of prominent Pakistanis have lost their lives in such attacks. These include the two-time Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto and the former head of the Pakistan Army’s Special Service Group, Maj. Gen. (Rtd) Ameer Faisal Alvi.
Most of the jihadists in Pakistan, especially the splinter groups of various organizations, are now operating under the umbrella of TTP, a Deobandi Sunni organization established in December 2007. TTP’s objectives include cleansing Pakistan of foreign, meaning the U.S. and overall Western, presence, implementing Sharia and establishing a Caliphate. Over the years, TTP has been involved in a number of suicide bombings, rocket attacks, remote controlled bombs, abductions, and beheadings. It has widened its area of operations beyond Pakistan’s tribal areas and targeted a number of government installations and organizations in the mainland, including the Federal Investigation Agency’s Lahore office, the Naval War College in Lahore, the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, the Wah ordinance Factory, the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, a police training school, the GHQ Rawalpindi and the Navy’s Mehran base in Karachi. It is also involved in kidnapping for ransom, bank robberies, forced taxes and drug trade.
IMPLICATIONS: Since 9/11, the TTP has increasingly converged with the staunchly anti-Shia militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. A number of prominent TTP operations were conducted by known Lashkar-e-Jhangvi operatives. In recent months, the Hazaras in Baluchistan are increasingly becoming a prime target of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Both TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi consider Shias kafirs (infidels) and hence legitimate targets.
Terrorist activities showed no sign of receding in 2012, indicating that after more than a decade of fighting terror, Pakistan is nowhere close to the finishing line in this war and the problem is taking an even uglier shape. According to various sources, Pakistan suffered more than 6000 casualties in different terror attacks in 2012. More than 450 terror attacks were recorded in 2012 in which at least 39 were confirmed suicide attacks. Another important development in 2012 was the increasing operational alliance between the TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, although the two groups have cooperated with each other also in the past, the group led by Amjad Farooqi in 2003-2004 being a case in point.
However, in 2012 the two groups largely converged operationally in the sense that they declared a war against Shias. This convergence has resulted in the worst attacks to date against Shias, especially the Hazaras in Baluchistan. In 2012, Shias were targeted in 113 attacks in which 396 people lost their lives, indicating the increasingly sectarian features of Pakistan’s terrorism problem. So far, more than a thousand terror-related deaths have occurred in 2013.
Apart from a closer alliance emerging between TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, TTP has also established Ansar Al-Aseerian (Helpers of the prisoners) in partnership with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. According to media reports, Adnan Rasheed has been appointed the head of this group. The purpose of this group is to free all militants held in custody by Pakistani security forces and in various jails. TTP is also attempting to expand its activities and area of influence to Karachi, Pakistan’s major financial hub. Karachi, which is also considered to be Pakistan’s major Pashtun center, has been a preferred hideout for TTP, while some TTP and other jihadi activists have received medical treatment in Karachi.
2013 also witnessed two developments that will have long lasting effect on Pakistan’s war against terrorism. Firstly, Pakistan’s national Assembly unanimously passed the National Counter Terrorism Authority Bill 2013 on March 8, 2013. The establishment of a National Counter Terrorism Authority (NCTA) will play an important role in the efforts to combat terrorism. According to the mandate given to NCTA, it will “coordinate counter terrorism and counter extremism efforts in view of the nature and magnitude of the terrorist threat; and to present strategic policy options to the government for consideration/implementation by the stakeholders after scientifically studying the phenomenon of extremism and terrorism in historic and professional perspective.” Secondly, Pakistan’s army is taking a tougher stance and increasing its attention to the terrorism problem, as indicated by the decision of Pakistan’s army chief to treat the problem of terrorism as an operational priority.
2013 is also an election year in Pakistan, with national and provincial elections scheduled for May 11, 2013. TTP has already targeted a number of political events in Khyber Paktunkhwa and especially the Awami National Party’s election campaign. The political party or parties that will form the next government will not only inherit a crisis in the energy and financial sectors but will also have to make hard decisions about the country’s war against terror.
CONCLUSIONS: Developments in Pakistan suggest that the country’s terror problem will only increase in the lead-up to 2014 and Pakistan will have to fight its war on terror well beyond 2014, if concrete and decisive steps against TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are not taken. Both organizations want Pakistan to be a Sunni state and are increasingly targeting Shias. The Pakistani people and armed forces have paid a huge price in people and material in this ongoing war. Unless Pakistan addresses the root causes of the problem, it will not only persist but also get worse.
AUTHOR’S BIO: Rizwan Zeb is based at the Centre for Muslim States and Societies (CMSS), University of Western Australia. He was previously a Benjamin Meaker visiting Professor of Politics at IAS, University of Bristol and a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution.