Pakistan Army ‘Under Attack’ By Terrorists & Civilian Govt.; At-Least 23 Major Terror Groups Operating From Afghanistan

OPED By R. C. Ganjoo

Since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has been muddled by two permanent problems, which have cast a shadow over its progress and prosperity.

First, continued military interference in politics, and second, a weak economy. As a result of these two problems, long-lasting military dominance eroded the rule of law, weakened institutions, and threatened overall political stability. If these issues continue, it will soon face balkanization and the stripping away of its nuclear assets.

Since its independence, Pakistan’s military has significantly influenced the country’s governance and decision-making processes. Despite periodic transitions of civilian rule, the military has been a dominant power in Pakistan’s political scene, shaping policies, influencing elections, and even orchestrating coups d’état to assert its authority.

The result of military interference in politics deflation of democratic institutions as well as eroded civilian authority, and continued a culture of instability and uncertainty. Moreover, the military’s preoccupation with political matters diverted resources and attention away from socio-economic challenges, and governance deficits and perpetuating a cycle of underdevelopment.

To check military interference in politics, Pakistan politicians have embarked on a comprehensive reform agenda aimed at strengthening democratic institutions, safeguarding civil liberties, and promoting civilian supremacy.

Besides, Pakistan’s fiscal deficits, driven by excessive government and defense spending and inadequate revenue generation, have contributed to macroeconomic instability. However, with concerted efforts, Pakistan is trying to overcome these challenges and chart a path towards sustainable development, democratic consolidation, and inclusive prosperity.

With purpose, Pakistan military rulers never heed calls from the public, civil society, and media regarding the growing risks of a resurgence of terrorism, regrouping, and unlawful activities of the members of banned outfits.

The present menace of terrorism poses a grave challenge for Pakistan, which has been gifted by its army. The reports suggest that the miscreants are well equipped this time with the latest weapons left behind by the US military during withdrawal from Afghanistan.

A huge chunk of the population in various parts of the country had been radicalized due to policies of the past governments. Pakistani rulers, particularly the army, had used religion for political purposes, and state-sponsored jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir not only radicalized the society but encouraged the religious clerics to preach jihad and form armed groups to realize their nefarious agendas.

Recently, prominent opposition leaders collectively criticized the military’s interference in political affairs. PTI Secretary General Omar Ayub, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, openly rejected the press conference of the director general of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), questioning the DG’s right to negotiate on political matters.

He also alleged that the DG was confused and lacked narrative. “DG ISPR, you are a protector, not the owner of the state,” Mr Ayub declared, emphasizing that real power resides with the people and their elected representatives.

Another PTI leader, Advocate Hamid Khan, said the 1956 Constitution was democratic, and if it had not been suspended, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) would still be part of Pakistan. The country was divided because “we did not accept their (East Pakistan’s) mandate,” he said.

Advocate Khan noted that the DG ISPR said everything regarding the May 9 incident was clear. “It means that he has made a decision. Who has given him the power to make decisions?” he added.

Liaqat Baloch, the deputy head of Jamaat-i-Islami, suggested that the establishment should not be involved in politics and democracy.

The tug-of-war between PTI and the Military triggered the controversial arrest of Imran Khan by Rangers personnel from the premises of the Islamabad High Court and exploded in unprecedented, widespread violence by PTI supporters on May 9, 2023. Imran Khan’s power challenged the military hegemony and gave opposition parties a chance to unite in support of strengthening democratic institutions.

Another misadventure was by the Pakistan army when it joined the US-led war on terror and lost over 80,000 Pakistani soldiers but collected huge funds and weaponry.

Before the Afghan Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, there was an 86 percent reduction in terrorist incidents in Pakistan, but soon after the takeover, a surge of 70 percent was witnessed.

The Taliban government not only provided safe havens to terrorists but also armed them with the weapons left over by the US. The Taliban takeover also facilitated the re-emergence and strengthening of terrorist groups other than the TTP.

Terror Groups In Af-Pak Region

As many as 23 major terrorist groups are operating from Afghanistan. TTP now has 42 factions operating under its umbrella and has been further strengthened after its alliance with Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group. TTP, having a total strength of around 6,000. There has been a surge of terrorist attacks by TTP in K-P and Balochistan.

The second terrorist group, Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-K), formed in 2015, mostly comprises disgruntled elements of Afghan Taliban, TTP, Arabs, and Central Asians. IS-K wants to establish a Muslim Caliphate across Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Iran.

With an estimated strength of 1,500 to 3,000 based in Kabul, Nuristan, Nangarhar, and Kunar (Eastern Afghanistan), IS-K is struggling to establish its foothold in Central Asian Republics. This terrorist group is involved in some of the deadliest attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, and more recently in Moscow at a concert hall.

The third terror group, Al Qaeda Core, is in Sub-continent (AQIS which was created in 1988 in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. The group provides recruitment, training, and ideological support for all terrorist groups, including the TTP.

Pakistan Army
File Image: Pakistan Army

Last year, it planned and facilitated TTP attacks on Pakistan border posts in Chitral. It recently came back to the limelight when its leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed on 31 July 2022 in a US drone attack.

Al-Qaeda’s Core leadership is in Afghanistan and is mobilizing its operational capability. According to a UN report, Al-Qaeda has established 8 new training camps in Ghazni, Laghman, Parvan, and Urzugan provinces of Afghanistan.

The group is also training would-be suicide bombers of TTP in Kunnar under Hakeem Al Misri. According to a London-based threat analysis firm, Al-Qaeda is controlling smuggling routes along with the Afghan Taliban and earning billions of dollars.

The fourth on the list is Eastern Turkistan Islamic Moment (ETIM), which is using Afghan soil to launch cross-border attacks against China. The Afghan Taliban supports the Uyghur separatist group, which is challenging Chinese security interests in Xinjiang.

Since the group cannot attack inside China, it tries to attack Chinese interests in Pakistan along with TTP. According to media reports, the group is part of the Dasu attack claimed by TTP in 2021.

Recently, ETIM has shifted its base from Badakhshan to Baghlan province, expanding its operational reach. Al Qaeda is also facilitating ETIM through training and ideological brainwashing.

The fifth terror group is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), founded in 1998 by former Russian soldiers Jumma and Tahir Yuldashev. The group’s target is to overthrow the secular government in Uzbekistan and impose sharia.

When the government launched a crackdown on their movement, it shifted to Afghanistan. The IMU comprises recruits from Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and the Kyrgyz Republic, as well as Chechens and Uyghurs of Xinjiang. IMU was involved in the attack on Karachi International Airport in 2014, which killed 39 people.

Tehrik Taliban Tajikistan (TTT) emerged in July 2022 in Afghanistan’s Badkhshan province. TTT is affiliated with Al-Qaeda and has allegiance to the Afghan Taliban. The terrorist outfit is getting recruits from Tajikistan and other Central Asian Republics. It is also planning to overthrow the secular government of Tajikistan and impose sharia there.

The seventh terrorist group is Baloch Raji Ajoi Sangar (BRAS), which includes BLA BLF, BRG, and Majeed Bridge. TTP is responsible for providing training to suicide bombers of Majeed Bridge. There are also reports of Majeed Brigade having allied with IS-K.

The Pakistan army has been in touch with these terror groups operating from Afghanistan’s safe havens and shares their activities as and when they require funds from the UNSC and the international community.

After 9/11, the US attacked Afghanistan to eliminate terrorism from the world, but now it seems that the US and the world have failed to achieve this objective.

  • R. C. Ganjoo is a senior journalist and columnist with more than 30 years of experience in covering issues concerning national security, particularly Kashmir. 
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