Pakistan Bulletin

An up-to-date and informed analyses of key issues of Pakistan.

Resurgence of Terrorism in Pakistan

September 2023

Terrorism is essentially a political problem and requires a political response: administrative arrangements including policing alongside socioeconomic development. The recent upsurge in terrorism has pushed Pakistan to revisit its policy options because military action alone would be a short-lived achievement. The writer explains as how the resurgence of terrorism in Pakistan is linked back to geopolitics and the country’s policy implications.

Pakistan is facing a resurgence of terrorism in the wake of the 2021 Tehrik e Taliban Afghanistan (TTA) takeover of Afghanistan. The number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan has increased by 73 per cent in less than two years since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, as compared to corresponding period of time before their takeover. The number of people killed in the attacks in Pakistan from August 2021 to April 2023 (21 months) has also increased by 138 per cent.
Along with avowedly armed groups, we also note an increase in religious and ethnic intolerance, extremism at times resulting in violence against religious and sectarian or ethnic minorities. There have been thirty-five blasphemy cases registered across Pakistan, while as many as 171 people were accused under the blasphemy laws. These cases are commonly reported from the Punjab province and directed at Hindu and Christian families for the purpose of land grabbing, as noted by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
The simplest definition of Terrorism is “violence without any distinction between Military and non-military targets, with the aim to terrorise a state and society to submit to some political demands/goals, by non-state actors, who don’t distinguish themselves from non-combatants.” It remains terrorism, due to its tactics irrespective of the cause, which one considers just or unjust. It’s essentially a political problem.
Why some individuals choose terrorism as a method to achieve some political goal depends on many factors, which include individual personality, socio-economic conditions, and political culture among others. Having identified it as a political issue, it requires a political response, unlike other individual crimes which require better administrative arrangement including policing along better socio-economic conditions.
Jumping to the current phase, Pakistan’s response to this new wave takes a narrow view by considering it just a result of Tehrik e Taliban – Pakistan (TTP) enjoying a haven in Afghanistan. While partly correct, it is not the only factor. The view focusing on one factor resulted in a narrow solution of looking at Afghanistan, Afghan Taliban and Afghans generally, including Afghan refugees, as a part of the problem.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Afghanistan’s (TTA) success has also encouraged all types of religious extremism and extremists, whether armed terrorists or others. It has generated a perception among extremists, that they can re-make Pakistan in accordance with their version of Islam through armed struggle rather than any peaceful democratic movement or political process. TTP fighters, who fought against the former Afghan government and foreign armies have learned the need to coordinate and cooperate with others against the common enemy, even if they are not ideologically on the same wavelength.
Thus we note reports of at least cooperation, if not alliance between the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and TTP. One also notes an increase in admiration for the Taliban among non-armed extremists. This has also become a new source of recruitment for TTP as well as the Islamic State Khurasan (ISK) along with different groups that had splintered away returning to the fold of TTP, thus multiplying its capabilities.
Pakistan, after negotiations through good offices of TTA having failed, has decided to pressurise them. This policy became more aggressive after the recent TTP intrusion from Afghanistan in Chitral.

The elimination of terrorism is a long-term process, yet, it requires the state to consider people and their representatives as allies against terrorism. Political ownership of development interventions will achieve the objective of isolating terrorists. Nevertheless, it needs to be understood that terrorism will be eliminated through the political and economic empowerment of people.

Pakistan closed the Torkham border crossing for more than a week in September as well as has started a police campaign against Afghan refugees. There have also been reports of targeting of TTP personnel through drones inside Afghanistan. Along with such measures, diplomatic channels have been kept open aiming at convincing TTA to act against TTP. To date, nothing much has come out of it. Closure of borders or targeting Afghan refugees hurts ordinary Afghans rather than the Taliban, which furthers the negative perceptions of Pakistan, thus hurting Pakistan’s need to have a friendly neighbour. It also damages the economic interaction between the two neighbours, which needs to increase to create vested interests on both sides for peaceful relations.

TTP continues its terrorist activities mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan on an almost daily basis, gradually expanding its area of operations. TTP claimed a few days back, an attack on police in Mianwali district of Punjab. It has declared Punjab as its 12th province, appointing a shadow governor for it.


Pakistan’s response of taking a military view of the challenge aims at physical elimination or surrender of TTP/other terrorists. There is a thinking among the decision makers that denial of safe havens will help achieve both in a short span. Such an approach ignores and gives much less significance to other elements of the challenge.
Terrorism in this region has a long history and domestic and geopolitical aspects. Pakistan has in the past glorified Mujahideen (1980s) and even the Taliban, though it was officially an ally of the US in the ‘Global War on Terrorism’ (GWOT), especially in Afghanistan.
TTA’s victory in Afghanistan was welcomed in Pakistan across the board. However, the mostly unexpected fallout of the TTA win – reflected in emboldening of TTP – has left Pakistan in a policy dilemma. Due to historical reasons, rooted in a violent partition and kept alive by the Kashmir dispute, Pakistan is unable to completely give up on religious extremism. That limits its ability to act decisively against religious extremism and terrorists. Pakistan’s policy towards a recent upsurge in religious extremism is directed at isolating it from other forms/ groups of extremists and terrorism, and is aimed at quick results.
Pakistan’s decision-makers have to understand there are no quick solutions. The current situation was long in the making and will take a long time in unmaking. Mostly mid and low-level Taliban are not much concerned about ideological disagreements. They easily leave and join or rejoin other groups. They are led by whichever group is considered more effective at a given time. Many splintered away from TTP in the 2010s when they saw TTP on decline. However, the post-Afghanistan victory rejuvenated TTP that started attracting these splinters. Pakistan needs to give up distinguishing between good and bad Taliban (Terrorists).
Pakistan’s military action must be intelligence-based and focused. The nature of terrorism is that terrorists easily mingle with civilians. It may be very difficult, but Pakistan has to very seriously distinguish between terrorists and civilians while taking any action. The aim has to be isolating terrorists and denying them recruits.
It has to be accepted that; the elimination of terrorism is a slow term process. The state has to consider people and their representatives as allies against terrorism. Development activities without local political control and say will not achieve the aim of isolating terrorists. It needs to be understood, that terrorism will be eliminated through the political and economic empowerment of people. While that is a long process and may not be achievable quickly, the role of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) has to be understood, planned and executed aiming to protect that process, not replace it. Along with this, politically educated military and developmental actions, a gradual distancing, abandoning and opposing religious extremism and intolerance in the whole state, and formulating related laws and policies have to be initiated.

Prof. Ijaz Khan


The author is the former Head of Department and Professor at, Department of International Relations, University of Peshawar.

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