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Post-Pulwama False Flag Operation: Prediction and Reality

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Since the nuclearization of South Asia in 1998, the region has become a major component of international security and stability. The recent military escalation and de-escalation of February-March 2019 between the nuclear armed rivals of South Asia i.e. Pakistan and India, more than a month has passed but the world is still concerned about the situation in this volatile region. There is an ongoing debate in Pakistan about the Pulwama attack of 14th February 2019 as a ‘False Flag Operation’ in the realm of hybrid warfare which India has launched against Pakistan. The false flag operations are based on deception with pre-determined outcomes to achieve some political or strategic objective.

India has a history of such false flag operations starting from 1971 till now for achieving the predetermined strategic and political goals (whether successful or unsuccessful). The 2016 Uri attack, the PathanKot Air Base attack, the Mumbai attacks 2008are candid examples of the false flag operations which India has carried out. These operations which are now part of history were aimed to divert international attention from Kashmir issue while blaming Pakistan without any evidence. These operations have remained focused of achieving political goals in elections. The most recent example is the Pulwama suicide attack of February 2019, in which 44personnel of Indian Central Police Reserve Force (CPRF) were killed. The BJP election campaign based on hatred against Pakistan to get popular support whereas the timing of attacks i.e. just two months before the elections make it one of the most controversial false flag operations. Within few minutes after the attack India claimed that about 350 kilograms Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was used. There are above 700,000 Indian troops present in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) and most of the times curfew is applicable which makes it impossible for any group to navigate carrying such a huge volume of explosives. As an election stunt the Indian leaders and media blamed Pakistan for backing the attacks without any investigation and evidence.

Pakistan’s ‘appropriate response’ in the after math of February 2019 events is part of history now. On 7th April 2019 Pakistan’s Foreign Minister has predicted that another ‘Pulwama like attack’ in IOK may happen in coming days between 16th to 20th April. India could stage another Pulwama like attack in IOK to justify its military escalation and to increase diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. He further said that Pakistan has authentic intelligence regarding Indian preparations for such attack. In this regard Pakistan has conveyed formally to the diplomatic representatives of the permanent members of UNSC in Islamabad. A meeting of  India’s ‘Cabinet Committee on Defence’ was held recently in which Modi gave free hand to the services chiefs to act against Pakistan in upcoming days. The chiefs responded that they have already selected military targets that go beyond Line of Control (LoC). 

India under Modi’s leadership is intentionally increasing the war hysteria against Pakistan without realizing the reality that any escalation beyond a certain point a may lead to a first ever nuclear exchange between the two countries. The Pulwama attack was no doubt a false flag operation carried out by India with two politico-military objectives. First, to project the freedom fighting movement in Kashmir as ‘terrorism’ which is at its peak since Modi is in power and second is to gain maximum popular support in context of 2019 elections by spreading hatred against Pakistan. The aftermath of Pulwama has re-assured Pakistan’s Nuclear Deterrence at conventional level and proved it a dominant factor over escalation ladder.

In case of a ‘new false flag operation’ or any February 2019 like escalation from India, Pakistan though lacking in number of conventional forces and weapons will remain with no choice but to respond un-conventionally by using the tactical nuclear weapons i.e. ‘NASR’ and subsequently short and medium range missiles capable of delivering nuclear war heads. The recent military standoff has proved to be a matter of failure for India vis-à-vis the credibility of the claims. The international media as well as the Indian media and opposition parties have questioned Modi’s government for the evidence of targeting militant training camp (killing 350 militants) and proof of Pakistan’s jet plane crashed during 27th February dogfight (claimed by India).According to Foreign Policy Magazine US officials have verified that Pakistan’s F-16 fleet is complete in numbers and not a single jet is missing.

The February 2019 military crisis and its aftermath didn’t prove to be a politico-military success for BJP. Pakistan has proved that it can respond to any Indian aggression appropriately and thus gained a moral and psychological edge over India in the crisis.  Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence has served as a dominating factor against the Indian conventional maneuvers. Pakistan needs to be well prepared against a new false flag Pulwama like operation in coming days realizing the political hype in India. In case of breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty by India in the name of a limited conflict or a surgical strike, this time the response might be a ‘nuclear’ staying below the nuclear threshold. 

Haris Bilal Malik is a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS), Islamabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at cass.thinkers[at]gmail.com

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Istanbul Terrorist Attack: What Awaits Turkey and its Neighbors?

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A terrorist attack on November 13 in central Istanbul killed six people and injured more than 80. The tragedy took place on the busy pedestrian İstiklal Avenue, about 200 meters from the diplomatic quarter, where the Russian Consulate General and Trade Mission, as well as the Russian school, are located.

Turkish police detained a Syrian woman with suspected ties to left-wing Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militias operating in Syria, who confessed to planting an explosive device. Turkish Interior Minister S. Soylu stated that the attack was carried out at the behest of the headquarters of the terrorist People’s Defense Units (YPG) in the Kobanî district of Syria. According to the Minister, the hands-on perpetrator of the Beyoğlu attack confessed during interrogation that she had been sent by PKK/YPG leaders illegally to Turkey via Syrian Afrin.

In retaliation for the attack, Turkey initiated airstrikes on Kurdish left-wing radical bases in Syria. According to the Turkish Defense Ministry, Operation Claw-Sword is targeted at “neutralizing the PKK/YPG and other terrorist elements [and] eliminating terrorist attacks against our people and security forces in northern Syria.”

Operation Claw-Sword is a military campaign in Syria and Iraq unprecedented in its massive use of combat aircrafts and UAVs against the bases of various Kurdish left-wing radical groups affiliated with the PKK. Nevertheless, no decision has been made to transform this operation into a ground phase so far, but it is very likely that the Istanbul blast will have serious implications not only for the domestic political situation, but also for Turkey’s neighboring states. In particular, such sentiment was expressed by Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Syria for Syria A. Lavrentyev. “We used the Astana Format on Syria to have very detailed conversations with our Turkish counterparts and try to convince them to refrain from conducting full-scale ground operations. We still believe that there could be a serious escalation of violence not only in northeastern Syria, on the territory of Syria itself, but in the Middle East as a whole,” he said during a press conference following the 19th round of the Astana talks on Syria.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party and its affiliates: Between terrorism and the fight against terrorism

However, the PKK leadership denies its involvement in the attack: “We have nothing to do with this incident and it is well-known by the public that we would not target civilians directly or approve of actions directed at civilians,” said a statement of the so-called Headquarters Command of the People’s Defense Center, which is the command of the military wing of the group.

The Syrian wing of the PKK, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), whose combat wing are the Kurdish YPG forces in Syria, did not admit guilt for the attack either. “Attempts by Turkish intelligence services to blame our militias for the explosion are intended to legitimize Ankara’s preparations for a new military operation in northern Syria to expand the border security zone,” the PYD said in a statement.

From Ankara’s point of view, however, there is no difference between the PKK and the PYD, since both are part of the Kurdistan Communities Union (Koma Civaken Kurdistan, KCK), headed by Abdullah Öcalan, who is serving a life sentence in Turkey. The KCK is an umbrella organization whose leadership replaced that of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party back in the early 2000s. The latter, in turn, became a regional Turkish affiliate of the Kurdistan Communities Union. While other groups created by the PKK, particularly in Iraq, Syria and Iran, have become branches of the KCK in these countries on an equal footing with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The same applies to the PYD in Syria.

Turkey did not accept as an argument the denial of responsibility for the Istanbul attack by the above-mentioned organizations. Ankara continues to accuse the Syrian branches of the PKK of numerous terrorist attacks, which they have denied or shifted the blame to cover organizations such as the Afrin Liberation Forces, whose connection to the YPG is considered by many experts to be apparent.

Among the most notorious and bloodiest terrorist attacks was the April 2020 bombing of a market in the city of Afrin, which was blamed on YPG cells. It killed 53 civilians and injured at least 50. And in January 2021, a car bombing in the same Afrin region claimed the lives of six civilians and wounded about 25 others. No one has taken responsibility for the attack, but Ankara blamed the YPG for the explosion.

Neither Turkey’s NATO allies nor most EU countries, which included the PKK in their terrorist lists, had any doubts about its terrorist component. But Ankara’s partners have been less consistent with the PKK affiliates of the KCK. Washington has chosen the Syrian branch of the PKK, the PYD, and its combat wing, the YPG, as its priority ally in the fight against the IS terrorists (an organization recognized as terrorist and banned in Russia). This, however, did not happen immediately as the Pentagon and the CIA were divided on this matter. The CIA insisted on continued cooperation with Syrian opposition structures from the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNC) and affiliated groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA, SNA) and moderate Islamists. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Defense urged the U.S. leadership to give up support for the Islamists and switch to assistance to the far more understandable and ideologically close, given their declared principles, Kurdish left-wing YPG groups in Syria.

The Pentagon’s position eventually prevailed in the American leadership, and the PYD and YPG became the basis of the proto-state and paramilitary structures in northeastern Syria — the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — created under Washington’s auspices. Such a move has stalled U.S.-Turkish ties and is still probably the main knot of tension in their bilateral relations.

The YPG between Washington and Moscow

The recent terrorist attack in Istanbul will seriously complicate the U.S. ability to support the YPG if Ankara decides to conduct a new full-scale military operation in Syria, rather than limiting it to air strikes. According to Ankara, Washington is also responsible for this explosion because it prevents the suppression of YPG activities in Syria by the Turkish Armed Forces, trains and equips these formations, designated terrorist by Turkey. This, in particular, was made clear by Turkish Interior Minister Soylu, responding to the condolences expressed by the U.S. on the terrorist attack: “I think that we should assess the condolences made by the U.S. today as if the killer would have been one of the first to arrive on the scene, and the reaction to this message will be very precisely. It will be seen in the near future, God willing,” said the Minister.

Ankara now has greater leverage to press Washington to remove the security umbrella from the YPG, at least in the 32 km strip where a new operation is most likely to take place. Turkish President Erdogan also has the option of freezing the accession process of Finland and Sweden to NATO by taking advantage of the terrorist attack if his wishes for a new military operation in U.S. politics are not carried out.

On the other hand, the position of Russia has not gone unnoticed by the Turkish leadership. Moscow has repeatedly deterred Ankara from launching a new offensive against the Kurdish left-wing radical groups in Syria. “Despite our repeated warnings to Russia, which is responsible for destroying terrorists in northern Iraq [1] and Syria under our 2019 Sochi agreement, Moscow refuses to do its duty,” Turkish President Erdogan said.

One thing to keep in mind is that Russia, too, referred to Turkey’s failure to fulfill its obligations under the Idlib Memorandum by supporting the Syrian government forces during operations in Idlib. By the way, they have not been implemented so far. By preventing new Turkish operations in Syria against the Kurdish left-wing groups, Russia tried primarily to protect the interests of its ally in Damascus and to prevent new violations of Syria’s sovereignty by offering the Assad regime various forms of relations with the Syrian Kurds and their integration into the Syrian state structures. However, this process has never advanced.

After the Istanbul attack, it will probably be much more difficult for Moscow, as well as Washington, to keep Ankara from another invasion of northeastern Syria. Now Erdogan has a serious trump card that is not easy to beat, and any attempt to press Turkey on this issue can only lead to a worsening of relations. This would be extremely undesirable for Russia, since Turkey remains its leading economic partner and logistics hub after cutting ties with the West.

In addition, one should not discount the very desire to foot on both camps and the provocative actions of Kurdish formations in the SAR, which did not stop sabotage and terrorist activities in the areas of the Turkish operations “Olive Branch” and “Euphrates Shield”. At the same time, in the course of the Turkish operation “The Source of Peace” in the fall of 2019, during negotiations between the Russian side and the Syrian Kurds, the latter agreed to Russian proposals to withdraw YPG units from the border strip in northeastern Syria, where Russian-Turkish patrols were supposed to operate. This provision was enshrined in the Sochi Memorandum, to which Erdogan referred in his claims against Moscow. However, once it became clear that the Trump administration had changed its decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, the YPG decided not to burden themselves with their previous commitments and maintained their military presence along the Syrian-Turkish border. This, in fact, predetermined a new military operation between Turkey and the SNA and exposed Moscow to criticism from Ankara.

For his part, Mazloum Kobane, the military commander of the left-radical Kurdish formations in Syria, expressed disappointment at what he called “the weak response of Russia and the United States” to dozens of Turkish airstrikes. In his opinion, Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine increased Turkey’s value in the eyes of both Russia and the West. Many believe that the sluggish response of both states to Turkey’s escalating war against the Syrian Kurds is explained by their desire to pull Ankara over to one side. According to Kobane, unless Moscow and Washington show firmness, Turkey is likely to carry out repeated threats to launch an offensive in Syria, as it did in two separate incursions in 2018 and 2019.

Moscow has previously made it clear that stopping the Turkish military operation is only possible through diplomacy, since the Syrian armed forces cannot stand up to the more powerful Turkish Armed Forces if they want to participate in repelling the Turkish offensive against the YPG, especially since they are exhausted from a decade of civil war. Therefore, the most acceptable option would be to make Ankara and Damascus jointly address the issue of the Kurdish left-wing groups in Syria, helping them to find common ground on other positions as well.

Domestic political factor

The recent attack came at a very opportune time for Turkey’s leadership, when there is an uncompromising battle for votes ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for May. The Istanbul bombing has already triggered painful memories in Turkish society of the barrage of terrorist attacks in June-November 2015. At that time, the Republic of Turkey was forced to hold parliamentary elections twice, as R.T. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) was unable to form a governing coalition.

It should not be forgotten that in 2015, because of the terrorist activity that rallied the nation, the president’s party rating rose 9% in five months, and the resulting need to tackle security problems dissipated the political uncertainty. Then the supporters of the Turkish leader did not just win back positions in the second vote, but secured a solid parliamentary majority.

However, both in 2015 and now the terrorist attack gave rise to a variety of conspiracy theories. However, even the opposition HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), which is often accused of being sympathetic to the PKK, is inclined to consider the attack a provocation by “third forces,” rather than blaming the government. The Istanbul explosion occurred against the backdrop of a gradual normalization of the authorities’ relations with political movements (such as the HDP), which are usually affiliated to some extent with Kurdish left-wing radical groups, including the PKK. The AKP could in some way count on the support of these forces in the upcoming elections. Now that the country’s leadership has engaged in an escalation scenario towards Syrian Kurdish groups, such an option is hardly possible.

Naturally, the opposition will also try to use the implications of the terrorist attack to their advantage. Thus, the head of Turkey’s main opposition party (Republican People’s Party, CHP) K. Kılıçdaroğlu lashed out at the government for failing to ensure border security. “They say that borders are an honor. And then they don’t hesitate to tell us that the terrorist got into Turkey illegally. How was she able to get past our borders?” he stated.

In turn, the leader of the far-right “Victory Party” (Zafer Partisi) U. Özdağ, who is gaining popularity on the issue of migration, also stressed that the authorities promised to secure the north of Syria in order to return refugees there, but “they cannot even secure the center of the largest city.” He recalled that the city of Afrin, from which the terrorist had arrived, was under Turkish control. “We barely made it to the site of the explosion to pay tribute to the victims. Several barricades were lined up in front of us and let five people through. It would be better to put these barricades on the borders with Syria, so that this terrorist could not get into our country so easily,” he said.

Nevertheless, it is obvious that criticism of the opposition forces may rather push the R.T. Erdogan administration to conduct a new military operation in Syria against the Kurdish left-wing radical groups than force it to abandon the idea. In fact, opposition leaders are criticizing the government for weakness and inconsistency, but not for the inherently flawed plan to create a security zone in Syria. Now the president has the opportunity to move to more active military action, which should not be limited to air strikes, to demonstrate to his opponents the willingness to put a stop to the issue of protecting the national borders from the Kurdish left-wing radical groups.

Troubled proxies

However, despite all the possible domestic and foreign policy dividends of a military campaign in Syria, today Turkey is minimally ready to launch it, and it is all about its Syrian allies. After all, it was the Syrian National Army (SNA), created by Turkey from various opposition groups, that used to be a key component of ground operations against the Kurdish left-wing radical groups. Turkish Armed Forces supported the SNA with tanks, armor, special forces, artillery and aviation.

Since the conflict between the SNA factions at the beginning of October, it has been in a state of “half-decay”. One side was represented by the Third Corps of the SNA, led by the Levant Front (Jabhat al-Shamiyah), the other by the al-Hamza Division, the Sultan Suleiman Shah Division and Ahrar al-Sham, supported by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorists (an organization recognized as terrorist and banned on Russian territory), who came to Afrin from Idlib.

Although it was possible to suspend hostilities after Turkey’s interference and the entry of Turkish units in Syrian Afrin on October 17, it is premature to talk about the complete withdrawal of radical forces. All this also indicates a further strengthening of the Tahrir al-Sham and a weakening of the SNA. That leaves Turkey with two options. The first is to bet on the radicals from Tahrir al-Sham, which will lead to serious image losses, even if these formations are used under a false flag, given their terrorist nature. The second option is to conduct the operation relying on Turkey’s own armed forces, which is fraught with large losses of Turkish soldiers. This could blur the entire positive domestic political effect of such an operation.

Nevertheless, the Turkish military command still expects to bring the Syrian National Army to a state of combat readiness and use them for an offensive operation. In particular, on November 2 there was a meeting of the Turkish command with the leadership of the SNA groups in the Turkish Gaziantep. The SNA commanders were ordered to dissolve all alliances within the Army and return to the previously approved regular structure of corps, divisions and brigades; to transfer control of all checkpoints to the joint security apparatus, and border checkpoints to the finance committee (customs); and to close their own detention departments. In addition, if certain factions are involved in conflicts among themselves, they can be disbanded. However, it is not yet known whether these measures have had the desired effect.

[1] In this case, the Turkish president made a mistake. The 2019 Sochi agreement, which provided for the withdrawal of the YPG from the 32 km border area under Russian military police control, referred only to Syria, not to Iraq.

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Terrorist Upsurge in Taliban’s Afghanistan: Regimes, Attacks and the Concerns of Neighbors

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(file photo) UNAMA/Fraidoon Poya

The U.S. undersecretary of defence for policy, Dr. Colin Kahl had wisely predicted in October 2021, that a possible resurgence of international terrorism might emanate from Afghanistan. His assessment regarding Al-Qaeda and ISIS’ intent of conducting and augmenting the terrorist activities and networks inside and outside the country is gradually being palpable over time. One year has passed but the Taliban government is still lacking an adequate approach to thwart terrorism. However, under the regime, along with Al-Qaeda and ISIS-K, many more terrorist groups like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM, known as the Turkestan Islamic Party), Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Khatiba Imam al-Bukha, Islamic Jihad Group, and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, using the country as a citadel, are now operating in Afghanistan and conducting terrorist attacks in domestic and external arena.

Terrorist Groups in Taliban’s Afghanistan: Al-Qaeda, ISIS-K, TTP, ETIM and Others

Despite renouncing overt inclination and connection with the terrorist groups, the Taliban regime is sympathetic to them. Mainstream terrorist groups have been gradually expanding their roots in the country due to the Taliban’s rickety policy. There are many terrorist groups and regimes such as Al-Qaeda and IS-K, in the country that are saliently and robustly active in their activities.

To talk about Al-Qaeda firstly, since the Taliban regime’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the core leadership of the group congratulated the regime. With the opportunity of the Taliban’s zero concern, by that time, the terrorist group has energized its affiliation with the outer world and reinvigorated its roots in the country by recruiting more members in and outside the country. With the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the successor of Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda had got a new impetus in Taliban’s Afghanistan to enlarge its branches. Although Al-Zawahiri has been killed by a drone strike, the activities of Al-Qaeda are not halted yet. Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, however, is mostly run with an affiliation with al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). Respecting this, however, being the regime and the country as a haven, it still ‘remains a central strategic node’ for Al-Qaeda.

Likewise, the Islamic State Khorasan branch, widely known as ISIS-K or IS-K, is another notorious terrorist group which is a powerful branch of the worldwide Islamic State. In Afghanistan, while IS highly seems to be an enemy group of Al-Qaeda and Taliban, its objective is analogous to the goal of Al-Qaeda to establish a pan-Islamic caliphate. With other leaders such as Maulawi Rajab Salahudin, Sultan Aziz Azam, Aslam Farooqi and other erstwhile military personnel and intelligence agency members, the group is led by an Afghan national, Sanaullah Ghafari. By the way, after the takeover, in less than a year, the members of the group have doubled in the country and activities have been extremely dilated. Of them, more than half of its operatives are from foreign countries. However, per an estimation, the group has conducted more than seventy-six attacks within 2021 after the retreat of the US forces.

Moreover, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Khatiba Imam al-Bukha, Islamic Jihad Group, Lashkar-e-Taiba and many other regional and international terrorist networks and groups are staying in the country who are gravely accused of conducting terrorist attacks. Posing a vile threat to other neighbors countries like India, Pakistan and others, these groups are misusing Afghanistan as a conducive hub and the Taliban’s sympathetic stance in this regard is highly disquiet. After all the rise of the Taliban as a state actor in the contemporary time, and its victory over mainstream politics have unveiled conducive rooms for terrorist groups. It has been observed that diverse terrorist groups all over the world gleefully celebrated the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. Without any doubt, under the Taliban regime, the revitalization of the network of global jihad is gradually becoming stronger in the country.

New Interim Government and Haqqani Network

A new interim government had been named in Afghanistan and controversially, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network had been appointed as the interior minister, in charge of security and police. This interim government is mostly led by the hardliners having no inclusion of minorities, women and opposition members. However, Sirajuddin Haqqani is one of the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’ persons and his Haqqani Network is designated as a terrorist network due to having links to Al-Qaeda. Being established in the 1970s, The Sunni Islamist Haqqani network had fought Soviet-backed Afghanistan and later had been infamous for conducting suicide bombings and killing thousands of Afghans, Americans and Soviets.

This network’s high-profile attacks include the suicide bombing at Kabul’s Serena Hotel in 2008 and the killing of 16 Afghans in a 20-hour siege of the US Embassy in 2011. However, although the Taliban is bullish about the group and says that “the group will be more conciliatory now than in the past and will abide by certain international norms”, it is very unlikely to discern any transformation. While the Taliban is antagonistic towards ISIS-K, according to Sajjan Gohel, the Haqqani network preserves a sound connection with ISIS-K. According to Michael Kugelman,… “several members [and leaders] of the Haqqani network — which has been implicated in some of the most mass casualty horrific terrorist attacks in Afghanistan over the years.. And are going to be occupying the top spots [of interim government].”

Recent Terrorist Attacks in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan

Without misgivings, the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has given an impetus to the upsurge of Terrorism. According to the Statista, the index of terrorism in Afghanistan has heightened to 9.11 in 2021 which was 9.05 in 2020. Statista data also shows that in 2021-22, Afghanistan secures the top position in the list of deaths from terrorism. Accounting for 20% of all deaths, Afghanistan is in the highest position in sharing global terrorism deaths.

However, in recent times, many terrorist attacks and incidents have taken place in the country. In August 2022, a series of bombings occurred in which more than 250 people have been killed & injured. Police reported that during evening prayers, a huge explosion was conducted by bombings killing another 21 and injuring 33 people. Before the incident, Rahimullah Haqqani was assassinated in a suicide bombing led by the Da’esh terrorist network. However, recently, on September 22, 2022, in a catastrophic bomb blast, at least 07 people were killed and 41 were injured near a mosque in Kabul. This bombing was allegedly led by ISIS.

Moreover, on September 30, a serious suicidal terrorist attack was held in the coaching centre of Kabul. In the attack, more than 25 people were killed and according to reports, it was against the local Shia Hazara girls and people led by ISIS-K. Very recently, demanding protection against the militants, thousands of protestors have come out of their homes and rallied against the heinous attack of the TTP on a school van in Swat Valley of Pakistan. In the terrorist attack, the driver of the van was killed and 02 children were injured. According to some reports, they are gradually coming back to their respective areas in Pakistan from Kabul which infers that they are now bolstered to a grave extent. As a result of the activities of the notorious terrorist groups, it has become more palpable that in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan terrorism has expanded to an egregious degree.

Neighbors’ Concerns

Since the Taliban government is less likely to pursue any hard policy and follows a ‘sympathetic attitude’ towards Al-Qaeda, ISIS-K and others, the tension among the neighbors is swelling deliberately. For instance, conducting their activities from Kabul, Afghanistan, the TTP is being stronger day by day in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. The local people are highly concerned with the heinous attacks and mischief activities of the group. However, with the major theme of “security and economic development,” a three-day conference was held between July 25 to 26 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan where more than 20 states and organizations partook including China, Pakistan, Iran and other Central Asian countries. In the conference, the neighbor states showed grave concerns regarding the dilly-dallying policy of the Taliban government regarding the terrorist groups. Particularly, they focused on the abrupt and violent upsurge of Al-Qaeda with the sympathy of Taliban. The return of Al-Qaeda is gravely giving rise to a vulnerable region, in which regard, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and other countries are extremely concerned about the resilience in and outside the country.

Apart from all the grim developments, the major and big question is, whether the Taliban government has been competent to uphold its pledge about thwarting terrorism or the regime is pursuing a contrast path giving the groups more sympathy. Data and evidence exhibit that the regime is countenancing the terrorist groups which course is threatening and ominous not only for the region but rather for the whole world. As a result, the neighbors and other countries are highly concerned about the future trajectory of the groups. Therefore, in no time, the Taliban government should break up all the relationships with terrorist groups in order to keep its legitimacy in the international community.

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Role of Pak-Military in Combating Terrorism: Post-2017 Analysis

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Over the past 20 years, Pakistan has continued to be a target of terrorism. It has endured a great deal of hardship as a frontline nation in the fight against terrorism being led by the United States. In the past 20 years, the bloodstained war against terrorism has claimed thousands of lives, including both civilians and security force members. Pakistan adopted a comprehensive plan and carried various operations to eradicate terrorism from its territory. The importance of Pakistan’s military cannot be overstated, especially given how successful that country has been in the last five years in combating terrorism.

In reaction to an increase in “terrorist attacks,” The Pakistani government declared a nationwide military operation with the codename Radd-Ul-Fasaad on February 22, 2017. This operation was not restricted to one area, but had been carried out across whole Pakistan and succeeded in driving out terrorist elements from Lahore, Sehwan Sharif, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the former FATA. The operation included the involvement of Pakistan’s air force, Pakistan’s navy, Pakistan’s police and other civil armed forces however, the Rangers performed special tasks ‘to operate in Lahore and different parts in the province of Punjab.

Similar to this, the Pakistani army began Operation Khyber-IV in July 2017 to purge the Rajgal Valley of militants in the Khyber tribal district. The primary objective of Khyber-IV was to eliminate the threat of IS in the tribal district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. the declared the Operation  was concluded On August 21, 2017.

According to sources (PIPS), systematically compile data on militant and anti-state violence in Pakistan claim that 2018 saw an improvement in the overall security situation compared to previous years. The total number of raids and operations carried out against militants in 2018 were 31 as compared to 2017 i.e. 75. In addition to these operational assaults, security forces and militants engaged in 22 armed confrontations in 2018. This represents a 68% drop from 2017 levels.

In accordance with data from the Global Terrorism Index, terrorist attacks have decreased in Pakistan since 2018. The total number of terrorist incidents decreased from 369 in 2018 to 279 in 2019. While the number of terrorist deaths in Pakistan I.e.300, reached its lowest annual total since 2006.

The nature of the violence in 2018 was diverse the figure below presents a breakdown of the nature of violent incidents and the number of casualties’ recorded in 2018:

Source: PIPS, Pakistan Security Report 2018, 6 January 2019, p. 20

In comparison to 2018, the security situation was even better in the first half of 2019. Numerous counterterrorism operations captured several top commanders from various militant organisations, including the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). According to the data, the security forces engaged in 23 operations against militants in the first seven months of 2019. In addition to these operational assaults, security forces and militants engaged in 15 armed encounters. 

Source: 2019-EASO-Pakistan-Security-Situation-Report.pdf

There were 276 total violent incidents in the first seven months of 2019. As a result, 403 people died and 702 were hurt. A breakdown of the types of violent incidents and the number of fatalities reported in 2019 can be seen in the figure above.

In 2019, the Pakistani government also contributed positively to the US-Taliban negotiations. Moreover, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) collaborated to develop Pakistan’s Action to Counter Terrorism (PACT) with a specific focus on Sindh in order to equip the criminal justice systems with the tools necessary to prevent and combat terrorism in a proactive manner. The goal of PACT Sindh is to improve the capabilities and coordination processes of national and local counterterrorism and criminal justice institutions. PACT Sindh’s primary goal is to enhance the criminal justice system’s investigation, prosecution, and adjudication procedures. By working with other departments, it will increase the ability of the police, prosecutors, and judiciary. These counter terrorism efforts of the security forces and especially Pakistan Army are significant indeed, considering the ratio that Pakistan faced in the last two decades.

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