Resurgence of terrorism in Pakistan

Men hold up flag that reads "We want peace" as hundreds take to the streets in Mingora on Sunday to protest against the possible return of TTP to Swat. (Photo: Naimat Khan)

That Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s recent announcement that “resurgence of terrorism will not be tolerated in the country”, would not enthuse the terrorism scarred and violence weary people of Pakistan was expected. However, this is not because of public apathy or cynicism but due to Rawalpindi’s own fault, in that, it has consistently been deceiving its own people by making false claims to conceal its own professional failings.

Though Islamabad has always blamed India for anything and everything going wrong in the country, the Pakistan army generally refrained from making direct accusations against New Delhi or its spy agency Research and Analysis Wing [RAW]. However, this wasn’t because armies consider levelling baseless allegations unsoldierly, but since doing so would be tantamount to accepting that its arch-enemy had got the better of Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI].

Things however changed in 2015 when during his visit to Quetta the then Pakistan army chief Gen Raheel Sharif had [without taking any names], had warned “foreign governments and intelligence agencies” not to fuel insurgency in Balochis­tan. Just a month later, the statement issued on conclusion of the Corps Commanders’ Conference by Pakistan army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR] mentioned that “The Conference also took serious notice of RAW’s involvement in whipping up terrorism in Pakistan.”

This statement came as a big surprise. In his report on this development, Dawn Foreign Affairs/National Security Correspondent Baqir Sajjad Syed mentioned that “RAW has quite often been blamed by law-enforcement agencies for being involved in subversive activities in Pakistan, but it’s unusual for a corps commanders’ conference to directly point fingers at the hostile intelligence outfit.” [Emphasis added]. Whereas New Delhi rightly ignored Gen Sharif’s incredulous accusation, Pakistan army however found a handy whipping boy in RAW, and it has never looked back since.

Readers would recall that before Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, ISPR kept claiming that RAW and its Afghan counterpart National Directorate of Security [NDS] were jointly sponsoring Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] terrorist group as well as various freedom fighter outfits in Balochistan. However, while the international community wasn’t impressed by ISPR’s incredulous claim, many Pakistanis actually believed that TTP and Baloch freedom fighters were Indian proxies, and this is exactly what Rawalpindi wanted.

So, once Taliban overran Kabul, people in Pakistan expected that with New Delhi out of the scene, both TTP and Balochi freedom fighter groups would simply wither away due to lack of sustenance and safe sanctuaries. However, Taliban’s takeover of Kabul marked an unprecedented spike in TTP attacks against Pakistani security forces. This unexpected turn of events demolished two myths propagated by Pakistan army; one, that without help from India, TTP was a mere pushover, and two, Pakistan army was capable of decimating this terrorist outfit.

This became all the more evident when instead of fighting TTP, the Pakistan army unconditionally accepted the ceasefire declared by TTP and agreed to negotiate with this terrorist group, despite the fact that it had perpetrated the 2014 Army School Peshawar massacre in which nearly 150 persons [mostly school children] lost their lives. Rawalpindi even accepted TTP’s unreasonable precondition of releasing TTP terrorists jailed for their complicity in killing Pakistani security forces personnel and civilians. So, how can one expect the people of Pakistan to take Gen Bajwa’s words of not tolerating “resurgence of terrorism”?

Some may argue that the decision to enter into a ceasefire with TTP, release its convicted fighters and negotiate peace with this terrorist group would have taken by the legislature and so pillorying the army for the same is unfair. While this argument may appear convincing, readers may recall that while speaking on the floor of the National Assembly in June, PML-N Senator Irfan Siddiqui admitted that lawmakers were unaware when the negotiations [with TTP] began, and between whom they were taking place. This proves beyond any doubt that the Pakistan army is the sole architect and executor of this ignoble deal!

Pakistan army maintains that it has broken the backbone of terrorism, but ground situation doesn’t support this view. Massive ongoing public protests by locals against TTP’s re-emergence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa continue to rock the province making light of Gen Bajwa’s remark that “resurgence of terrorism will not be tolerated in the country.” Just the other day, Mingora, Haripur and Battagram districts of KP witnessed massive anti TTP protests. Sparked by the killing of a school bus van driver in Swat valley, protesters were demanding action to evict TTP terrorists from KP, and the angst of the local leaders was palpable.

While addressing protesters, Jamaat-i-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan lamented that “… despite a massive defence budget, the state has completely failed to ensure peace here.” Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement chief Manzoor Pashteen was more forthright and said it was ironic that despite the presence of security forces and cantonments, TTP had still managed to enter Swat and the vicious cycle of targeted killings and fake encounters had resumed.

National Democratic Movement chairman and National Assembly member Mohsin Dawar told Al Jazeera that “If Pakistan’s political and military leadership does not sit together to resolve this menace, I fear that in the coming days the situation will be out of control.” He hit the nail on the head by saying, “It is questionable that in the blink of an eye the situation turned chaotic, the Taliban [TTP] returned and started sabotaging peace”!

Of course, the TTP didn’t resurface in KP overnight. Way back in August, people in KP started complaining about targeted killing and intimidation of locals by TTP cadres and being a serious security related issue with national ramifications, this problem was highlighted up by the media. During the same month, TTP released a video with visuals of a Pakistan army officer and a Deputy Superintendent of Police apprehended by this terrorist group in KP province. Abduction of an army officer and police official leaves no doubt that TTP is freely operating in KP with unbridled impunity.

Yet, rather than taking the bull by the horns and using force to evict TTP terrorists from KP, Pakistan army chose to play down TTP presence in this region.  Infact, ISPR rejected these reports terming them “grossly exaggerated and misleading”. However, to play-safe and avoid embarrassment, ISPR cunningly conceded that “Presence of a small number of armed men on a few mountain tops between Swat and Dir has been observed, located far away from population.”

While presence of TTP terrorists on mountain tops “far away from population” may not perturb Pakistan army, the terrorised people of KP are up in arms and have taken to the streets to protest against the large-scale presence of TTP terrorists in the region. However, since Pakistan army hasn’t taken any concerted action against TTP in this area as yet, it appears that Gen Bajwa doesn’t perceive the burgeoning congregation of TTP terrorists in KP as “resurgence of terrorism”.

Baloch freedom fighters establish a checkpost on a busy road in Balochistan and abduct a serving Lt Col. Then they accost two Frontier Corps Personnel and shoot down an army helicopter sent to retrieve them. TTP terrorists blockade the arterial road connecting KP with Gilgit-Baltistan and take a senior Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf [PTI] Party minister and two foreign tourists accompanying him hostage. Don’t these incidents clearly indicate the “resurgence of terrorism” in Pakistan?

After the murder of the school bus driver by TTP terrorists in Swat, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan [HRCP] has rightly lashed out at the army, observing that “Swat’s residents are right to hold the security forces responsible for failing to enforce the writ of the state.” Furthermore, in an obvious reference to aforesaid ISPR claim that reports regarding the large-scale presence of TTP in KP were exaggerated, HRCP has rightly noted that “It was callous and short-sighted to have downplayed the threat from militants given residents’ growing protests and calls for security.”

The ball is thus fairly and squarely in Rawalpindi’s court. Whether the Pakistan army will walk its talk by using force to bring TTP down on its knees, or merely engage in rhetoric and blame all and sundry for this sorry state of affairs, however remains a million-dollar question! 

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