Pakistan has experienced a spike in militant attacks, killing more than 450 people, mostly security forces, in the first nine months of this year. Officials dismiss the violence as “isolated incidents of terrorism.”
Islamabad attributes the resurgence in militancy to the Taliban takeover of the conflict-torn Afghanistan, where anti-Pakistan militants have taken refuge and continue to direct cross-border attacks from there.
Officials have confirmed the death of nearly 350 soldiers and personnel of other law enforcement agencies in hundreds of attacks in the first nine months of 2022.
The outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, has claimed or is blamed for many of the attacks.
Security officials told VOA that the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan, has experienced the highest number of TTP attacks, killing 96 soldiers and wounding at least 280 others. Separately, the provincial police department has confirmed the deaths of 82 police personnel.
The remaining casualties in 2022 occurred elsewhere in Pakistan, largely in southwestern Baluchistan province, where ethnic Baluch insurgents have stepped up deadly ambushes and gun attacks against security forces. The natural resources-rich province borders Afghanistan and Iran.
Pakistani security forces have also continued their push against militants and claimed killing hundreds of them.
A Pakistani military official refuted suggestions that militancy is on the rise in Pakistan, saying years of counterterrorism missions instead have led to a marked improvement in the security situation across the country. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.
“Due to [the] peculiar security situation in Afghanistan and [the] use of Afghan soil as [a] safe haven by terrorists against Pakistan, sporadic and isolated incidents have been happening in the newly merged districts, which by no means can be counted as [a] surge in terrorist incidents, when compared to [the] scale and lethality of terrorist incidents [that] happened in the past,” the official told VOA.
He referred to several Pakistani districts formerly and collectively known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA. The volatile region for decades was governed by special controversial laws and served as a safe haven for both local and foreign-based militant groups.
However, sustained Pakistan military operations in recent years uprooted what officials described as a “terrorist infrastructure” in ex-FATA, merging the area into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through a constitutional amendment subsequently.
The Taliban government in Afghanistan, in responding to growing terrorism-related concerns, brokered and hosted peace talks between Pakistan and Afghan-based TTP commanders in recent months.
But the dialogue has failed to ease TTP-orchestrated violence and the process has apparently fallen apart over militant demands for restoring the traditional status of ex-FATA.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the chief spokesman for the Taliban government in Kabul, told VOA in a recent interview they were determined to address security concerns of Afghanistan’s neighbors and would arrest for “treason” anyone using Afghan soil against Pakistan.
“Whoever is present here [in Afghanistan], they aren’t allowed to carry out any such activities because they have assured us, they would not threaten another country. And if [they do] so, these people are committing treason against Afghanistan first. They must be hunted, arrested and punished,” Mujahid told VOA.
Critics remain skeptical about the Taliban’s claims they are effectively blocking terrorist groups from threatening other countries.
The rise in TTP extremist activities and the reemergence of its fighters in some of their former strongholds in northwestern Pakistan in recent weeks triggered a strong public backlash, with thousands of residents routinely taking to the streets demanding authorities restore security.
The Islamabad-based Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an independent research and advocacy think tank, in a recent report, described the TTP as an “ideological and operational” partner of the Afghan Taliban.
“For Pakistan, the perils of a militant regime in Kabul have become unmistakably clear as the country has witnessed a mindboggling 51% increase in the number of terrorist attacks in a single year since the Taliban takeover,” the PIPS wrote in its report.
“The Taliban regime avoids decisive action against the TTP probably as a strategy to extract concessions from Pakistan in bilateral affairs,” the report noted.
Landlocked Afghanistan heavily relies on Pakistani overland and sea routes for bilateral as well as international trade. Islamabad has stepped up trade links with the Taliban government over the past year, hoping it would encourage the Islamist rulers to address Pakistani concerns in return for more economic incentives.
The revelation that al-Qaida leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri had been staying in a safe house in the heart of Kabul and his killing in a U.S. drone strike last July has also cast doubt on counterterrorism pledges by the Taliban and promises that they would cut ties with terrorist groups.
No country has yet recognized the Taliban government over human rights and terrorism-related concerns.