Pakistan has effectively eliminated terrorist groups from its soil; however, terrorists operating out of Afghanistan have continued to take place, especially after TTP’s recent reunification with its breakaway factions and some other groups. Since the last two decades, Pakistan has been battling with the scourge of terrorism due to which the country has suffered massively, by sacrificing thousands of civilians and soldiers while incurring economic losses amounting to $126 billion.
Pakistan has successfully, to a large extent, eradicated the problem of terrorism by dislodging the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from its strongholds in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and adjoining areas such as Swat, thanks to a robust and effective counterinsurgency strategy and tactics adopted by the military. The TTP was established in December 2007 when a number of militant groups united to fight the Pakistan Army in response to Pakistan’s joining of the international coalition against the War on Terror followed by military operations to flush out terrorists hiding in Pakistan’s tribal and settled areas. Since then, the TTP has been found involved in most of the terrorist attacks that have occurred in the country.
Pakistan launched a number of counterterrorism operations, to include Operation Zarb e Azb ,which destroyed TTP’s organizational structure and its military and financial bases. Despite success against the TTP, the problem of terrorism still haunts Pakistan, as Afghanistan continues to provide safe havens to terrorist groups, including the TTP. Pakistan’s aggressive and well-planned operations killed most of the TTP members; however, the leadership managed to flee across the border to Afghanistan, where they found sanctuaries and operational support. The support structure in Afghanistan enabled the TTP not only to survive but also to regain its operational capability to carry out attacks inside Pakistan.
Elements in Afghanistan have facilitated the reunification of splinter groups of the TTP. In 2020, five terrorist groups formed an alliance with the TTP, including the Shehryar Mehsud group, Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA), Hizbul Ahrar, the Amjad Farooqi group, and the Usman Saifullah group, previously known as Lashkar-e- Jhangvi. The merger of these groups in Afghanistan has rejuvenated the TTP which has resulted in a dramatic increase in cross-border attacks in Pakistan. A report by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) maintained that the TTP and its affiliated terrorists groups perpetrated 46 % of the reported terrorist attacks in 2020.
Pakistan has long argued that intelligence agencies, in particular India’s Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), based in Afghanistan, have continued to provide financial and logistical support to the TTP and its affiliates, to orchestrate terrorism in Pakistan. The United Nations, in its 27th report, released in February 2021 affirmed Pakistan’s long-standing position that the TTP and its partner organizations such as Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), Hizbul-Ahrar (HuA) use Afghanistan’s territory to perpetrate terrorism in Pakistan. The report also highlights that TTP’s merger with JuA, HuA ,and LeJ (Lashkare-Jhangvi) has increased its strength exponentially, enabling it to carry out more than 100 cross-border attacks between July and October 2020. The continuation of this trend would not only seriously destabilize Pakistan internally but also endanger regional peace.
There is almost a consensus among scholars that external support is quite crucial for terrorist groups to continue and sustain themselves . The survival of the TTP and its ability to coordinate terrorist attacks through its affiliates in 2020 clearly showed that it had secured outside support and it was none other than India which used its presence in Afghanistan to bolster anti-Pakistan elements in the country to subvert Pakistan. In November 2020, Pakistan presented substantial evidence to UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, on Indian involvement in providing logistical and financial support to the UNSC-designated terrorist organizations such as TTP and JuA, who have been regularly targeting Pakistani security forces and its people.
India has not stopped at destabilizing Pakistan internally through its sponsorship of terrorism, but it has been constantly engaged in activities to tarnish Pakistan’s image, internationally. Last year, EU DisinfoLab, a Brussels-based independent, non-profit organization that works on tackling sophisticated disinformation, revealed India’s consistent campaigns focused on defaming Pakistan within EU institutions. According to the EU DisinfoLab, the New-Delhi-based Srivastava Group and Asia News International (ANI), an Indian news agency, coordinated and launched campaigns to tarnish Pakistan’s reputation. India is believed to have used more than 750 fake media outlets and more than 550 domain names in 119 countries, to spread false information about Pakistan. Through this false propaganda, India had attempted to create doubts about Pakistan’s role in the War on Terror while alleging that Pakistan-based terrorists groups are responsible for terrorism in India.
Indian propaganda bore fruit as the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) placed Pakistan on its grey list in 2018. However, the United Nations 27th report on terrorism has recently acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts on cracking down on individual and organizations involved in terrorism financing and money-laundering. It has also acknowledged that Pakistan has taken step towards freezing assets of designated individuals and entities. FATF, in its recent judgment in February 2021, appreciated Pakistan’s progress, maintaining that Pakistan has complied with 24 points in the 27-point action plan. Thus, Pakistan would stay on the grey list until the next evaluation in June. India, however, has been actively lobbying to put Pakistan on the black list.
FATF putting Pakistan on the black list would only worsen Pakistan’s economic problems, thus curtailing its ability to fight against local and international terrorist groups who have recently united to pose serious threats to Pakistan’s internal security as well as to regional peace. The international community should give due recognition, denied previously, to Pakistan’s role in fighting the menace of terrorism. It is noteworthy that Pakistan has sacrificed thousands of its citizens and soldiers while suffering massive economic losses. The international community should also help the country to recover from those losses and rebuild its economy, as these steps are necessary to develop Pakistan’s capability to fight international terrorist groups. In addition, the international community should take notice of India’s deep involvement in planning and executing terrorist attacks inside Pakistan through the TTP and other terrorist groups. FATF should also develop an action plan for India to stop it from supporting terrorism in Pakistan. This would help dispel the notion that FATF is working on the behest of the powerful rather than being non-partisan.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect those of the organization he works for.
Dr. Shahzad Akhtar is an Assistant Professor in the School of Integrated Social Sciences, University of Lahore.