Islamabad, Pakistan — Pakistan is facing a resurgence of violent attacks. Analysts say the government must immediately develop a strategy to address the threat to internal security as the country faces an election year.
On Sunday, there were at least nine attacks in the troubled southwestern province of Balochistan, which killed at least six security forces. Two of these attacks have so far been claimed by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an armed group also known as the Pakistani Taliban because of its ideological affinity with the Afghan Taliban.
Just last month, the TTP unilaterally declared the end of a ceasefire agreed with the government and issued orders for its fighters to carry out attacks across the country.
On Friday, the TTP claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in the federal capital Islamabad, which killed at least one police officer and injured several more people.
A week earlier, Pakistani security forces repelled the TTP attackers in the town of Bannu in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after holding security personnel hostage for more than 40 hours.
Given these security concerns, the United States embassy in Islamabad warned its employees on Sunday and warned of a possible attack on one of Islamabad’s top hotels frequented by the Americans.
In a statement, the embassy stated that “unknown people may be planning to attack Americans at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad sometime during the [Christmas] holiday.”
150 TTP attacks this year
Islamabad-based research organization Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) estimates that the TTP and its affiliates carried out more than 150 attacks in the first 11 months of this year, killing more than 150 people, most of whom included law enforcement agencies.
PIPS Director Amir Rana told CNN Breaking News that the rising trend of attacks represents a grim situation for Pakistan, which is due to hold general elections next year.
“If the state’s security apparatus does not develop an effective anti-terror policy, things will get out of control. It could be reminiscent of the 2013 election campaign, which was pretty bloody, and we could see a repeat,” he said.
Since its founding in 2007, the TTP has waged a rebellion against the state of Pakistan and is calling for stricter enforcement of Islamic laws, the release of its members arrested by the government, and the withdrawal of the merger of the Pakistani tribal areas with the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The rise of the Afghan Taliban, who took over Kabul last year, emboldened the group and led to an increase in its attacks. According to official figures, most of the group’s leadership has sought refuge in Afghanistan.
Peace talks began at the end of last year between Islamabad and the TTP, which were backed by the Afghan Taliban. Despite the talks and a ceasefire agreed in June, the group’s attacks continued.
Abdul Basit, a research assistant at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, believes that the Pakistani security forces became complacent in their fight against the TTP after the peace talks began.
“Apparently, the military thought peace talks with the TTP would pay off, so they were reactive rather than proactively trying to dismantle various TTP networks,” he told CNN Breaking News.
The TTP took advantage of this lull and managed to regroup in a more devastating way, said Basit.
“The Pakistani military was caught napping after the attacks began, and I don’t think there was any effort to dismantle the TTP network,” he said.
Brigadier Muhammad Zeeshan, a former military officer, is now Director General of the Centre for Peace, Security and Developmental Studies, a think tank based in Islamabad. He believes that TTP fighters who have sought refuge in Afghanistan have returned there after the Taliban came to power.
“After the Afghan Taliban came to power, TTP cadres were forced to return to Pakistan. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Pakistani state has failed to dismantle its network here,” he told CNN Breaking News.
Attacks in the midst of the economic crisis
Pakistan’s internal security is facing a time when the country is already facing political instability after key opposition leader and former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who lost a parliamentary confidence vote in April, held public rallies and called for early elections.
Pakistan is already suffering from a crippling economic situation. Foreign exchange reserves have been used up to 6.7 billion US dollars — a four-year low — and inflation is record breaking.
It also addresses the consequences of this summer’s disastrous floods, which killed more than 1,700 people and caused damage estimated at over $30 billion as the waters destroyed crops, roads, bridges and homes.
Basit said that in order for Pakistan to effectively address the threat posed by TTP and other armed groups, it must change its combat mode from “defensive to offensive counterterrorism.”
“All parties involved, including civilian law enforcement agencies, the military establishment, and political parties across the spectrum, must be brought to a consensus and a new military operation should be launched,” he told CNN Breaking News.
Former army officer Zeeshan said the latest attacks in Pakistan were the result of the political and security environment in the country, which is already struggling with instability and uncertainty.
“There is significant instability and polarization in society, creating a vacuum. TTP uses this space and puts pressure on a government that is facing a wide range of challenges. It is a good time for them to use violence and force the government to negotiate with them on their terms,” he said.
Basit warned that unless the Pakistani military acts soon, there could be too much bloodshed in 2023.
“Clearly, we should prepare ourselves for a volatile, violent year in terms of internal security if the state does not take action against these armed groups. I don’t think this violence is going to slow any time soon,” he told CNN Breaking News.