~ If you want total security, go to prison… The only thing lacking is freedom. Dwight D. Eisenhower
And now we have Brussels to add to a list that can never grow shorter. Only longer. There are many names on this list. Many cities. Many countries. In some minds the list has grown faster ever since the global community’s major powers formally declared ‘war’ against such extremism and the killing of innocents.
To many that seems bitterly ironic and heinously inappropriate. As leaders all over the world lined up to express their horror and offer sincere condolences to the people of Belgium, there is one sentiment repeatedly expressed: we must all truly unite to fight off such old-world barbarism. While I understand the sentiment and the angry frustration residing deep inside it, I fear it is also an impossible dream for a reason we do not openly discuss. Namely, there can be no perfect security where there is already perfect freedom. It is not a tension. It is not a problem of imperfect policy. It is not the failure of executing proper countermeasures. It is an axiom: if we are to be free as a society then we can never be idyllically safe as well. The two interests are in contrast to one another. And that, much more than suffering from terrorism while the world declares war against it, is the profoundly bitter irony we must all adjust to. For as with all axioms, it shall never be reversed.
This is not a standard exposition on the quaint platitudes that we often read and will no doubt read again in the immediate aftermath of Brussels. About how freedom isn’t free or how the person willing to give up liberty for security is deserving of neither. This is not a criticism of people in the modern day as much as a confession as to what democratic freedom truly means in society. Freedom of movement; freedom of association; freedom to travel; freedom of belief; freedom of information; freedom from unlawful search and seizure; freedom from unjust prosecution. These things we hold to be so basic, so fundamentally rooted in the essence of our free societies, that we forget such precious things also come with severe consequences. The most important of which is the general mystery and secrecy with which we can all live our lives. Even in the hyper-technological 21st century, where most of us are either online or recently were online, our every movement, location, and thought potentially transmitted and revealed to friend and stranger alike, it is remarkable that we forget how easy it is to NOT be noticed at all. There is an old Russian proverb I love to remind people of: if you only knew how little people think of you, you wouldn’t worry about what people think. It is a humbling reminder of how fantastically small we all are in a giant world of billions. No matter how big, how famous, or how well-known in our individual spheres of influence we become, the reality is for most of us that 99% of the world does not know us or care to. Why does this matter and how does it pertain to Brussels? Quite simply, it explains why a free society can never achieve perfect security: exactly because of its freedom and how people can so easily remain disconnected from each other’s attention.
Many people do not know that several of the terrorists who perpetrated 9/11 in the United States learned how to fly jumbo jets on simulators in various private flight schools in small-town America. Fewer still realize that these men with foreign-sounding names and middling English-language skills were adamant in insisting to their instructors that they be taught how to take off and fly but showed no interest whatsoever in learning how to land. One astute American even went so far, given the unique weirdness of the situation, to call in to his local FBI office and report it. Unfortunately, the unique weirdness was so unique and so weird and so out of the ordinary that the local agent was unable to consider it anything except the random oddity one sometimes finds in a truly free land. This is America, after all, where anyone can pretty much do whatever they want. And thus, it went uninvestigated and several unique and weird men were allowed to acquire a few odd aviation skills that would literally change the geopolitical landscape of the 21st century. The point of this quirky little anecdote is to show how hard it is to be noticed in a free society even when you are doing things that should in all rights be noticed quite readily. Now just imagine when you are actually trying to not be noticed and subtly undertake multiple strategies to be unseen and unheard, both physically and digitally. In a free society it is remarkably, and scarily, easy to do. And that horrific but righteous combination, to be free and unnoticed, is what makes Brussels happen. And San Bernadino. And Paris. And Nigeria. And Kenya. And Madrid. And London. And Moscow. And New York. And countless other cities and countries most of us don’t even know because we were too busy being free to bother noticing.
Remember that I said ‘perfect security.’ For if there is any silver lining in this black cloud of analysis it is that for every Brussels and Paris and New York there are one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand avoided Brussels and Parises and New Yorks. Some of them we hear of. Most of them we don’t. But even if we did I doubt it would give much relief to those caught up in the wake of the terror of the successful 1%. For that is the truly heinous nature of terrorism in the modern age: our technology and policing and intelligence capabilities are so advanced and keen that we truly do succeed in stopping 99% of possible incidents, preventing those who wish do us harm simply because our societies are unjustly judged evil and unholy and perverted. But the intensity and shocking insecurity of that remaining miniscule percentage makes us contemplate Grand Strategies and call upon global unified collaborations to sweep up that final 1%. And that, alas, is the saddest news of all: the 1% will never be swept up. This is not because of the brilliance of the planners or the cunning of the executors. That miniscule 1% succeeds because we do in fact live in free societies. And any society that gets close to being perfectly free can never ever hope to also be perfectly secure. That irony may be bitter, but it is also glorious. I hope we can always remember that in the aftermath of such tragedies like Brussels.
Political Scientist: Taliban Rule will lead to terrorism activation in Pakistan
The strengthening of terrorist activity in the northwest of Pakistan and the country as a whole is linked with reinforcing the Taliban’s power in Afghanistan. Since they have established absolute power in Afghanistan, implicitly or not, they support the Pakistani Taliban. Although these are different organizations, they definitely have a common genesis, ties and contacts, but they deny this. However, we understand that the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban are at least allies. This is how a political scientist, Ph.D., associate professor Georgi Asatryan commented on the latest developments around the situation in Afghanistan and the activity of the Taliban.
“There was another explosion in Peshawar; unfortunately, this can be predicted to occur again. Now we witness a particular conflict between the Pakistani and Afghan authorities represented by the Taliban. Pakistan, represented by the Minister of Defense and other high-ranking officials, blames the Afghan authorities for these attacks, arguing that the Taliban Kabul is supporting the Pakistani Taliban, and the Taliban, in turn, deny this. Therefore, this conflict between the two South Asian countries will boost and worsen”, said political scientist Georgi Asatryan.
The administration of the Pakistani Taliban has announced that it is lost the armistice. It happened in November. The Pakistani Taliban announced that they were withdrawing from the armistice with Pakistan and called on their supporters to launch attacks on targets in Pakistan. It should be mentioned that the situation will worsen and destabilize as long as the Taliban run in Afghanistan and supports its Pakistani allies.
To a certain extent, we witness how the method of the Pakistani military to support the Afghan Taliban leads to harmful and dangerous outcomes for them. The Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan would be impossible, or quite complicated, without the total assistance, consultations and, to a certain extent, the participation of the Pakistani military. Now we see a growth of terrorist networks in the region. The policy of strategic depth leads to troubles and threats for Pakistan itself.
The country’s ruling parties received a warning from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that “concrete actions” aimed at their leadership would be carried out in reaction to the statement of war against them. In this statement, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari were named in the TPP message. In addition, the statement contains a warning to the religious political parties of Pakistan. They are urged not to participate in activities directed against the TPP. “TTP’s policy does not include targeting your parties, but we ask you to avoid engaging in any activity against us,” it says. The TPP danger came two days after the National Security Committee of Pakistan announced its decision to combat organizations related to violence and terrorism.
According to Al Jazeera, Pakistan is confronting an attack again. Analysts express that as the country enters into an election year, the leadership of Pakistan should develop a strategy to counter the threat to internal security. At least nine attacks occurred in the southwestern province of Balochistan last Sunday, killing six employees of security services. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), known as the Pakistani Taliban due to its close ideology to the Afghan Taliban, has claimed responsibility for these attacks.
Countering Terrorism: 2023 and Beyond
Pakistan has carried three significant issues from 2022 into 2023. These include political instability, a dwindling economy and resurging terrorism. With respect to terrorism, Afghanistan has assumed centre stage. Following the withdrawal of US forces on 15 Aug 2021, there was initial jubilation in Pakistan over Taliban’s triumph. It stemmed from the perception that US military presence in the region and drone strikes were the leading sources of regional instability.
2022 ended for Pakistan with an upsurge in terrorist activities and accordingly the New Year started with a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC). The press release following the meeting reiterated NSC’s resolve to ‘have zero tolerance for terrorism in Pakistan and reaffirmed its determination to take ‘on any and all entities that resort to violence.’ This is a welcome decision by the government and state organs.
Pakistan’s counterterrorism (CT) efforts gained momentum following the unprecedented Army Public School (APS) massacre of 2014. Some have compared it to Pakistan’s 9/11. The tragedy was relatable to all of Pakistan regardless of the so-called ethnic, regional or sectarian divides. The inhumane attacks brought the civil and military leadership together in assigning this scourge of terrorism the priority that it deserved. The most prominent outcome was a National Action Plan on countering terrorism that enjoyed broadest possible political support.
Subsequently, the united stance against terrorism enabled unprecedented successes in rooting out terrorism. However, it appears that the reduction in terrorist activities led to a sense of complacency which was further aided by growing political polarisation that had more to do with differences on domestic, economic and foreign policy issues. Unfortunately, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan occurred at a time when Pakistan was struggling with internal politics. Apparently, the eventual prevalence of Afghan Taliban against a super power that they had been resisting for two decades, emboldened the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to think that it could similarly attrite the Pakistani nation and its state organs.
TTP’s motivation seems to be misplaced for primarily three reasons. First and foremost, the Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) of Pakistan are fighting this war to provide a safe and secure environment to the future generations of the country – including their own children; unlike the US and coalition forces that neither had a clear objective nor a consistent policy to follow. Second, much of Afghan Taliban’s acceptance at the domestic level was based on the fact that they were fighting a foreign occupant – which is not the case for TTP. Thirdly, the Afghan Taliban assumed power by virtue of force rather than the will of the public and that is why they struggle to gain legitimacy at home and abroad.
Pakistani political leadership might differ on the possible approaches to dealing with this issue, but there certainly is no appetite for letting the TTP and associated factions consolidate power to a degree that they are able to challenge state’s writ at a level comparable to yesteryears. However, display of a united front by the various ruling parties at the Centre and provinces will help demonstrate that there will be no tolerance for terrorist activities no matter which political party assumes power.
TTP’s threat against the leadership of two ruling parties is an attempt to exploit the current domestic political divide. Political mudslinging on this issue only helps the enemy’s cause. The ongoing struggle for power between the political parties should not enable TTP to consolidate power in the interim period. Otherwise, it will become a greater threat for the next government to deal with. During the previous election years, terrorist outfits were successful in targeting the leadership of various political parties during their election campaigns and arguably changing the election outcomes by terrorising the electorate. It is in shared interest of all the political parties to avoid a repeat of such a scenario.
While the politico-military leadership establishes a united front at home, it will be important to deny external actors the ability to exploit Pakistan’s internal situation. Pakistan has been at the receiving end of accusations even as it presents irrefutable evidence of external involvement in terrorist activities inside the country. As Pakistan continues to expose foreign involvement, it ought to simultaneously deny foreign actors fertile ground to exploit at home. Previously, the foreign threat was limited to the Eastern front but now it has expanded at an unprecedented level to the Western front where the Taliban government is either complicit or unable to check use of its territory to launch terrorist attacks against Pakistan.
2023 is likely going to be the year of General Elections in Pakistan. Whichever party assumes power, it is important that it looks at counterterrorism as a long-term operation that will require broader political support, less in-fighting and an ability to stay the course impervious of temporary gains and setbacks which will inevitably be a part of the process.
A Rift Getting Deeper: TTP and IEA parting their ways?
A few days ago, an alleged audio of Tahreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief, Noor Wali Mehsud has caught the attention of those who keep a close eye on terrorist groups operating in Pakistan, especially Tahreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Through this audio, Noor Wali has sent a message, to TTP fighters to pick up arms against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) after its search operation in provinces along the Pak-Afghan border. Since the takeover of Kabul, some security analysts had predicted the possible collaboration of IEA with TTP. Still, the evolution of TTP strategies and its ideological shift from being a branch of IEA to being an opponent of IEA was observed. Only those who have kept a sharp eye on TTP activities know that TTP is now a threat to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The reason behind the shift in TTP’s strategies:
What compelled TTP to give such a big statement? This question comes to everyone’s mind, the below discussion is made in context to this question. The ideological standing of both TTP and IEA is far different. Afghan Taliban are ethnic nationals. They have only fought a war against foreign forces for Afghan territory and have never claimed any region beyond the borders of Afghanistan. However, TTP has long taken inspiration from Al-Qaeda, which has expansionist objectives and deadly takfiri ideology to create a falsified identity of believers and non-believers, only to legitimize its terror activities in the name of Islam. Hence, following the footprints of such a radical organization, there is a significant possibility that TTP will join hands with ISKP against IEA.
Question of natural and forced alliance:
Since the Kabul takeover, TTP has tried to align with IEA, thus, giving it the camouflage of a natural alliance. TTP’s leadership also manifested this narrative in its statements and activities. But the ideological drift and conflicting objectives show that TTP’s so-called alignment with IEA was one-sided and enforced. After the Kabul takeover, TTP tried its well to be a part of IEA but by rigid stance, IEA always cleared in their statement that TTP and IEA are two different groups, having different inspirations and goals.
Pakistan’s role that TTP in using Afghan soil:
Pakistan has been fighting TTP since 2003. In April 2022, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) struck the hideouts of Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan along the Durand Line. This strike highlighted that a group within IEA was keen on providing safe havens to TTP. Hence, diplomatic pressure was mounted on IEA to eradicate TTP from the strategic provinces of Kunar and Khost.
Chance of Mutual tussle between TTP and IEA:
Is there another conflict going to happen in the region? Now, the battle is the same, but the opponents are different. The so-called narrative that claims IEA and TTP were on the same table is wrecking after TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud and IEA spoke’s person Zabiullah Mujahid’s statements.” They are not, as an organization, part of IEA, and we don’t share the same objectives,” Zabiullah Mujahid said in reaction to TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud’s claims of being a part of the IEA. Now, the TTP chief has alerted his fighters for war. It would create complexities in the region. IEA acted as a mediator between the government of Pakistan and TTP to make peace in the region. Additionally, Zabiullah mujahid also mentioned that We advise TTP to focus on peace and stability in their country. This is very important so, they can prevent any chance for enemies to interfere in the region, and we request Pakistan to investigate their demands for the better of the region and Pakistan.
Mujahid added that the TTP was Pakistan’s internal matter “The IEA stance is that we do not interfere in other countries affairs. We do not interfere in Pakistan’s affairs.”
After this emerging rift, would it be possible for IEA to counter TTP? IEA is struggling to stabilize the state after Kabul take over. Nowadays, Afghanistan’s security and economy are on the verge of chaos. It would not be able to engage in other conflicts nor do they have the power to do so. And if they engaged in battle with TTP, an alliance of ISKP and TTP can hurt Afghanistan. But if they counter them, there is a chance to get international sympathy and maybe recognition because it will endorse the Doha agreement, as Recognition has become a dire need in Afghanistan.
In a nutshell, it won’t be inappropriate to assume that another war will break out, and it is likely more drastic than the last ones. Despite all the hurdles, it is an opportunity for IEA to gain global sympathy for its recognition and to legitimize its regime. If the IEA becomes successful in convincing the world by taking action against terrorist outfits and extremism in its ranks, it will not only pave the way for its recognition but also meet with the minutes of the DOHA Accord to not allow any violent non-state actor to operate within Afghan territory.
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