By Shanzay Noor and Aitzaz Ajmal.
Terrorism is a complex phenomenon, reason why there is no common agreed definition. According to the Global Terrorism Database terrorism is defined as “the threatened or use of illegal force and violence by a non state actor to attain political, religious or social goal through fear, coercion or intimidation”.
In Pakistan, terrorism witnessed a surged following 9/11. Among very complex dynamics, some terrorists fled to Pakistan's federal tribal areas and began conducting illicit terrorist activities inside Pakistan as well. Beyond this, there are several internal factors and grievances in Pakistan that have contributed towards the presence of terrorism such as ethnicity, illiteracy, inequality, inflation, high unemployment, religious intolerance and political instability. Both endogenous and exogenous forces have exacerbated terrorism in Pakistan, contributed to the country becoming one of the most affected countries by terrorism in the world. Currently terrorism in Pakistan is declining, however, the underlying root causes of extremism remain and haven’t been properly addressed.
"Terrorism in Pakistan has declined
but the underlying roots of extremism remain"
Since 2013 Pakistan has witnessed a wave of terrorist attacks, although the incidences of domestic terrorism has drastically reduced in recent years due to active measures taken by the Pakistani state. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, Pakistan witnessed 319 terrorism related incidents in 2020 and 169 associated deaths of civilians. Which shows a decline from nearly 4000 such incidents in 2013 where there were over 2700 civilian deaths.
The main terrorist threat derives from the group Tehrik-eTaliban Pakistan (TTP) and Daesh. Both these groups have conducted attacks throughout Pakistan directed towards Pakistani state, foreign intervention and population. After the abhorrent attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in 2014, Pakistan has taken several steps to combat terrorism. Measures have included adopting the death penalty as punishement for terrorism, as well as, American-led drone attacks targetting the leaders of TTP such as Baitullah Mehsud, Hakimullah Mehsud, Mullah Fazlullahin in 2009, 2013 and 2018 respectively. Moreover, Pakistan's army has conducted several kinetic operations against the TTP such as operation Zarb-e-Azb and Rad-ul-Fasad.
Another anti-state group that has a foothold in Pakistan is Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET). To combat the group, Pakistan has taken action in the wake of its enhanced monitoring by FATF in 2018 by sentencing the leaders of LET for terrorist financing. Pakistan has additionally taken a central role in Afghan Peace Process, developed good relations with Kabul, as well as enforced strict border controls with Afghanistan. Furthermore, the Pakistani government has implemented the Anti-terrorism act of 1997 and NACTA Act 2014 laying down the country’s legal framework for counterterrorism and gives enhanced powers to the courts in terrorism cases. As exemplified from all these actions, Pakistan is keen to rid an image associated with terrorism. As Victor Hugo once famously said “Great Perils have this beauty that they bring together the fraternity of strangers”. Terrorism unites the nation against the illicit motives of terrorists.
As a result of the extensive efforts of Pakistan army and state, Pakistan has witnessed a huge decline in rate of terrorism. Pakistan has determinedly improved its domestic instability over the years but the elements of extremism are still present. This remains a matter of concern for Pakistan. The largely heterogeneous population in Pakistan has fostered intolerance for diversity leading to several separatists movements and allowing extremism to grow. Under the National Action Plan the government ensures the supervision and regulation of madrassas and operates five deradicalization camps offering religious corrective education, counselling and therapy. These efforts are all to eliminate the threat of extremism. In conclusion, unless extremism is eliminated from the roots of Pakistan, terrorism cannot be ended.