The attack on Peshawar on January 30th was a major challenge to Pakistan‘s national security. Since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, Pakistan‘s security has become more vigilant, but Monday‘s attack on the ‘Police Line‘ in Peshawar has become the greatest threat to Pakistan and its politicians. The blast was one of the most devastating and unprecedented explosions in Pakistan‘s recent history, resulting in approximately 400 casualties and injuries. The author of this article intends to use numbers and available statistics to analyze the security situation of Pakistan after the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan.
After August 15, 2021, the fall of Afghanistan has caused a significant increase in insecurity in Pakistan. Previously, Pakistani policymakers and troops thought that the Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan would lead to improved security in Pakistan, as they would have achieved their “strategic depth“ – the establishment of a friendly Islamist regime in Kabul that would put an end to Pakistan’s insecurity. However, it is yet to be seen if Pakistan has achieved its strategic depth and if the insecurities have been resolved.
Taliban and Security Modification in Pakistan
Pakistani policymakers initially thought that the presence of the Taliban in Afghanistan would protect Pakistan from its enemies and make it more secure. However, they soon realized that the Taliban‘s takeover did not solve their problems, but instead created more. This caused other fundamentalist groups to believe that following the Taliban’s example would help them win the war. Pakistani policymakers also believed that they could use the Taliban‘s influence to control the Tehreek–e–Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Although Pakistan was able to get the TTP to agree to a ceasefire, it had the opposite effect, and the TTP returned to the battlefield stronger than before.
The diagram above illustrates two things. Firstly, it shows the decrease in attacks since the start of the Zarb–e–Azb operation in 2014. In 2015, there were 625 explosions that resulted in 1,069 casualties, while in 2016, the frequency of attacks decreased by 28% and casualties by 12%. Additionally, the number of attacks and casualties between 2015 and 2020 have decreased significantly; from 625 blasts in 2015 to 146 attacks in 2020, a decrease of 76%, and from 1,069 casualties in 2015 to 220 in 2020. Secondly, the graph demonstrates that since the Taliban took control, attacks and insecurity in Pakistan have increased. There has been a 42% rise in the number of attacks and a 51% rise in casualties. In 2021 alone, 207 blasts occurred in Pakistan that killed 335 people. In 2022, there is expected to be a dramatic increase in the number of attacks and deaths in Pakistan, with 512 explosions and 980 casualties. This is a 147% increase in the number of attacks and a 192% increase in casualties compared to previous years. This is due to the Taliban‘s establishment of a government in Kabul, which provides a safe haven for the Pakistani Taliban. This means that Pakistan‘s strategic depth has become a safe haven for the TTP. Analysts believe that Pakistan is paying the price for being too trusting of the Taliban, who have not kept their promise to limit the activities of the TTP.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: The Terrorist Fighters
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is located in the northern part of Pakistan and shares a border with Afghanistan. In recent years, it has been the most dangerous region of Pakistan. This state now includes tribal areas, which are reportedly the hub of fundamentalist groups in Pakistan, such as the TTP and other extremists and fundamentalists who recruit and plan their attacks from there.
The maroon colour on the map indicates the permanent and active presence of militant groups in an area, while light red indicates active presence, blue shows low–level activity, and purple demonstrates the slight presence of groups. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the main militant groups are Tehreek–e–Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jamaat–ul–Ahrar (JUA), Harak–ul–Ansar (HUA), and Lashkar–e–Islami. Additionally, Al–Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and ISIS are also active, although TTP‘s activities are more prominent. In Baluchistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, Baloch groups such as the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), Baloch Republican Army (BRA), United Baloch Army (UBA), Lashkar Balochistan (LeB) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) have a strong presence. Furthermore, groups such as the TTP and Harakat Ansar are also active in this state. Recently, it was reported that the TTP has united with some Baloch groups, which could make it difficult to manage the situation in northern and northwestern Pakistan.
The graph above indicates that the number of fatalities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan has risen significantly over the past three years, with at least three explanations.
First: The Shared Border with Afghanistan
Afghanistan and Pakistan share a long border, and both countries have experienced a great deal of insecurity in recent years. The instability in Afghanistan and the lack of proper governance have allowed terrorist groups to take refuge on the other side of the Durand Line in case of danger. In other words, the presence of the Taliban in Afghanistan has become a strategic shelter for these groups, who even have a base in Afghanistan which they use as a training camp for their fighters.
Second: Taliban Presence in Afghanistan
The Taliban have had a long–standing and friendly relationship with fundamentalist groups in Pakistan. Over the past 20 years, while the Taliban were fighting in Afghanistan, these groups provided them with a safe haven on the other side of the Durand Line. Now that the Taliban have their own territory, they are expected to pay back their debts. Despite pressure from Pakistan, the Taliban have shown no interest in curbing the activities of the Tehreek–e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). In fact, they are accused of supplying weapons to these groups, which is supported by reports of American weapons being used by TTP members in battles against the Pakistani army. There are also reports that Taliban forces have joined the TTP and are continuing their jihad in Pakistan. Recently, Mullah Hebatullah, the leader of the Taliban, even declared that jihad is permissible in Pakistan, which further encourages the Taliban to pursue their goals. This is because, psychologically, the existence of the Taliban would be meaningless without war.
The dissatisfaction of Balochs and Pashtuns with the central government of Pakistan is one of the most important factors contributing to increasing insecurity in the country. This government instability, combined with corrupt officials, has caused citizens to become disillusioned and support fundamentalist groups. These two tribal ethnicities feel that they have been discriminated against, like the Sindis, and believe that the central government does not pay enough attention to their welfare. Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen, the leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, argues that Pashtun–inhabited areas have been deliberately pushed to the brink of fundamentalism to maintain the current system. This sense of discrimination can be a major factor in the insecurity in Pakistan, as people who feel oppressed are more likely to be drawn to extremist and fundamentalist groups.
The Year 2023
In the last decade, January 2023 has been one of the most violent months in Pakistan. During this month, 44 terrorist attacks occurred, resulting in 134 deaths and 254 injuries. With the political and economic instability, as well as the terrorism crisis in Pakistan, 2023 will be a difficult year for Pakistanis.