Internal Security Dilemma in Pakistan

Pakistan has grappled with range of issues posing a threat to its internal security. These issues include terrorism, religious extremism, sectarian violence, insurgency, ethno-political activities, cybercrimes etc.

Pakistan has grappled with range of issues posing a threat to its internal security. These issues include terrorism, religious extremism, sectarian violence, insurgency, ethno-political activities, cybercrimes etc. One of prominent internal security issue is terrorism. The country has been victim of various terrorist attacks by numerous militant groups residing within its territories. These groups either motivated by some ideological belief or compelled by separate agendas have targeted both civilians and security forces. Religious extremism has been driving force of internal security issues followed by terrorism, radicalization, sectarian violence and misuse of blasphemy laws. The Pakistan is a home to diverse ethnic groups but the conflicts and clashes between these groups have deteriorated the security nets. Sectarian discord between religious groups have also paralyzed the nation leading to discrimination, violence and targeted killings. Additionally, Pakistan has wrestled with regional conflicts and their spillover effects.

Terrorism-A major internal security threat to Pakistan?

For many years, Pakistan has been engaged in fighting insurgency in Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. From 2002 to 2006, the total number of terrorist attacks was twenty-one while over next five years the number rose to 279. With the soviet invasion in Afghanistan in 1979, without consent Pakistan was pushed into capitalist block. Pakistan played a significant role in supporting Afghan resistance fighters, mujahideen. But after withdrawal of USSR from Afghanistan Pakistan’s strategic interests changed dramatically.

 The support to mujaheddin had unintended consequences within Pakistan. The influx of arms, foreign fighters and extremists’ ideologies during war led to the rise of domestic militant groups. After 9/11, the situation was further aggravated. With the involvement in war on terror, the military operations conducted against Al-Qaeda and various affiliates led to attacks on security forces, public spheres and civilians. FATA and KPK share a long and porous border with Afghanistan. The conflicts with Afghanistan have spill-over effects with militant groups taking advantage of border regions for border attacks. These militant groups including tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have targeted the Pakistani state, security forces and civilians.

Rise of talibans:

The Talibans, originated in the aftermath of Soviet-Afghan war, a specific militant group, seek to establish strict interpretation of Islamic law in the country. After being overthrown by US led forces in 2001, they regrouped and shifted their tactics to guerrilla warfare. Being an ally of US in war on terror, Pakistan has been on target of talibans. Afghan talibans with the collaboration of TTP has carried out various numerous terrorist attacks. Within FATA, specific regions such as North Waziristan, South Waziristan and Orakzai Agency have been known as strongholds for the Talibans. The incidents of terrorist attacks have increased by 51percent since August 2021 when Taliban again took control of Afghanistan because of historical links between TTP and Afghan Talibans.

Religious extremism; A threat to national security:

Religious extremism can indeed pose a serious threat to internal security. in Pakistan religious extremism has contributed to acts of terrorism, sectarian violence and social discrimination. In the early years of Pakistan, the country was governed by secular government but in the later years the state began to use religion as a tool to legitimise its rule.

Most of the factors concentrated on role of Zia’s Islamization, religious schools and Afghan Jihad in growth of religious extremism. Pakistan’s religious minorities including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmadis have faced violence and discrimination. Extremist groups such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammad etc have conducted attacks in name of Islam. Moreover, blasphemy laws have been misused not against the religious minorities but also against Muslims. Incidents like brutal murder of Waris Issa, Mashal Khan, Priyantha Kumar, assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti highlight the dangers associated with religious extremism

Pakistan’s resurgent Sectarian war:

Sectarian violence has been a persistent issue in Pakistan with the tensions and conflicts between different sects within Muslim community. The main sectarian divide is between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Mosques, imambargahs and shrines have been specifically targeted by extremist groups.  Though madrassas belong to all Islamic sects majority of madrassas belong to Sunni. Among the Sunnis there are three sub-sects: Deoband, Barelvis and Ahl-I-Hadith. Likewise, Shias also have major sects including Zaidis,Ismailis and Ithna Asharis. Jamaat-e-Islami has its own madrassas. Extremist groups such as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and its offshoot Lashkar-e-Jhangvi committed much of the violence. Both these groups which draw their support from Deobandis initiated a violent campaign to eliminate Shias. In 2011, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi also issued a statement declaring all Shia wajib-ul-qatal. The Hazara community, predominantly Shia Muslim ethnic group has faced targeted attacks particularly in Baluchistan. The Salafi Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) with the Pakistan Taliban competes for influence especially in KPK and Baluchistan province. It was responsible for bombing of Shia Mosque in Peshawar 2022. Barelvis were considered as most moderate sect but they are now challenging due to rise of intolerant Barelvi organizations particularly Labaik.

Inner-Sunni conflicts:

Inter-Sunni conflicts are also prominent. In 1990s, the conflict intensified when Barelvi group, Sunni Tehreek had to counter its Deobandi rival Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Deobandi also targeted major Barelvi shrines including suicide bombing of Islamabad’s Bari Imam 2005, October 2010 bombing of Lahore Data Darbar and suicide attack at Sehwan’s Lal Shehbaz Qalandar 2017.

Dynamics of ethnic conflicts in Pakistan:

Pakistan has faced ethnic conflicts throughout its history one of which also led to dismemberment of country in 1971. Ethnic conflicts are rooted in factors such as cultural differences, political grievances and competition for resources. Baloch nationalist movement, MQM, Sindh nationalist movement, Pashtun Tahafuz movement (PTM), Gilgit Baltistan Movements and likewise ethnic movements have gained momentum.

In urban areas of Sindh, tensions have emerged between Mohajir community and Pathan community. Similarly periodic tensions among Sindhis and Muhajirs have accelerated these conflicts. In certain regions such as KPK and Baluchistan, tensions have arisen between Pashtun and Baluch communities. 

The Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) emerged as political party of Muhajirs to defend the rights of Muhajir ethnic group. PTM is a Pashtuns Right Movement that emerged in wake of military operations in FATA and highlights issues such as extrajudicial killing, disappearance and discrimination against Pashtuns. The Pashtuns have been fighting for creation of independent state of Pashtunistan .The Baluchistan Nationalist Movement represents Baloch ethnic group and is against Pakistani state. The Baloch have suffered economic exploitation and aggression from Pakistan. Various Sindhi Nationalists Movements Advocate for rights and autonomy of Sindhi ethnic group.

Criminality in Pakistan-The organized crime index

Pakistan grapples with various form of organized crime including drug trafficking, arms smuggling, human trafficking and extortion. The Pakistani mafia is spread in many countries and are mostly ethnically based.

 Pakistan is also a transit route for drug trafficking due to its geographical location between opium-producing Pakistan and drug markets in Central-Asia. Illegal arms trade and smuggling of weapons are prevalent in Pakistan. Due to increasing incidents of terrorism and being a haven for various militant groups, arms smuggling has reached to the maximum level. With the rapid advancement of technology, cybercrime has emerged as significant threat in Pakistan. Criminal networks exploit vulnerable women and children for forced labour, sexual exploitation and bonded labour.


Pakistan has faces various insurgencies and acts of terrorism over the years. Pakistan has faced challenges from militant groups. Baluch nationalist groups have been involved in a struggle for greater autonomy and control over province’s natural resources. The situation is complex in Pakistan and there are various political, ethnic, and socioeconomic factors that contribute to the conflicts and insurgencies in Pakistan. The Pakistani government has taken many measures to address these internal security issues. It has conducted military operations against militant groups, implemented counterterrorism strategies, improves intelligence sharing and pursued efforts to address root causes.

Eman Fatima
Eman Fatima
The author is in 4th semester, student of BS International Relations at GCUL. She is interested in politics, global affairs, middle-east politics, conflict studies and international politics.