The World Today for February 20, 2023

NEED TO KNOW

Militants-in-Waiting

PAKISTAN

In Pakistan late last month, a terrorist disguised as a police officer detonated a bomb in a mosque packed with law enforcement officials in Peshawar, a city in the restive northwestern region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa bordering Afghanistan, killing more than 100 people and injuring hundreds of others. Some members of the Pakistani Taliban, otherwise known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), took credit for the carnage, saying it was in retaliation for the death of one of their leaders, Nikkei Asia wrote.

Other members of the group denied it.

Enjoying links with the Afghan Taliban, al Qaeda and other groups, the TTP also recently claimed responsibility for the bombing of a military vehicle that killed at least one soldier and injured 12 others in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province near the Afghan border, wrote Voice of America.

These attacks and others underscored the rise of violence in the South Asian country involving the TTP, and have precipitated a security crisis.

In recent years, militant violence had declined after repeated military offensives in the rugged tribal regions bordering Afghanistan because the TTP had been weakened. But as Madiha Afzal, a fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told CNN, the 2021 Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has “emboldened” the TTP, and other terror groups.

“This is now a national security crisis for Pakistan once again,” she said. “The solution has to be a concerted military operation (against the TTP) but that is now complicated by the fact that the TTP can go across the border into Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.”

As the Indian news magazine Outlook explained, the TTP wants to upend the secular Pakistani state and rebuff its Western allies. Attempting to expel Pakistani central government forces from their traditional regions along the Afghan border, they want to institute a caliphate and enact harsh Islamic law.

Many are using weapons that the US and other NATO countries left behind when they pulled out of Afghanistan in 2021, Islamabad-based security expert Zahid Hussain told Voice of America. Local law enforcement and counterterrorism forces – underfunded, corrupt, and prone to political meddling – don’t offer them much resistance, either.

Meanwhile, the attack also comes as Pakistan struggles to cope with the aftermath of widespread and devastating floods that killed over 1,500 people and left vast agricultural areas of the country in muddy ruins, a dire economic and financial crisis that has led to spiraling inflation, heavy foreign debts that have brought the government dangerously close to default, and a sharp devaluation of the national currency, the Washington Post reported.

Now, Pakistan’s leaders need to come up with a consensus on a path forward that improves the security situation, argued Tufts University political scientist Fahd Humayun in an Al Jazeera op-ed. They have been battling the TTP for 15 years, have yet to stop them from launching attacks from Afghanistan, and have failed to protect police installations from the militants’ ire, Humayun said.

The late General Pervez Musharraf, who led the country for seven years through 2008, and died just this month, was the architect of many of those policies, the New York Times wrote.

His passing might be a good time to reflect on how the political and security situations are changing, including for the worse.

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