Explosions and intelligence-based operations: Pakistan’s vicious cycle - Hindustan Times

Explosions and intelligence-based operations: Pakistan’s vicious cycle

Jun 13, 2024 07:30 AM IST

Kinetic measures hardly yield long-term dividends on their own and ideally, should be complemented with substantial non-kinetic means

On June 9, an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near a security convoy, which was followed by a gunfire attack on the vehicle, killing seven soldiers, including an army captain in the Lakki Marwat district of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Pakistan military’s media wing, issued a statement, stating - “the perpetrators of this heinous act will be brought to justice”.

Pakistani paramilitary soldiers stand at the Pakistan-Afghanistan Torkham border crossing in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 2021. (Representative Image/AFP) PREMIUM
Pakistani paramilitary soldiers stand at the Pakistan-Afghanistan Torkham border crossing in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 2021. (Representative Image/AFP)

Delivering on this promise, security forces on June 10-11 conducted an intelligence-based operation (IBO) in Lakki Marwat, neutralising 11 terrorists who were involved in the bombing. Although no group has officially claimed responsibility or provided a rationale, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) confirmed its involvement in the two-pronged assault through its ‘unofficial media channel’, reported The Khorasan Diary.

Of late, Pakistan has witnessed a surge in IED attacks against security forces, often resulting in IBOs against the terrorists responsible. Last month, the army conducted a concatenation of IBOs from May 26 to 27, killing a total of 23 terrorists (and a few soldiers engaged in the operations) in Peshawar, Khyber and Tank districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in a Militant Quandary

In early May, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) released a report detailing that a total of 179 terrorist incidents had occurred in the province this year till April 30, according to ARY News. This month, the provincial CTD confirmed that 65 police officials have died and another 86 wounded in terrorism-related incidents since the beginning of the year.

The restive districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, many of which were former TTP strongholds, have been bearing the brunt of the group’s resurgence since the Taliban’s rise to power in August 2021 and the end of a tenuous ceasefire with the Pakistani government in November 2022. As the TTP attempts to reactivate its erstwhile network in Pakistan — which existed prior to the counter-terror operations — its primary targets have been the security forces, law enforcement agencies, polio workers and to a certain extent, foreign elements, particularly Chinese interests and workers.

The recent attack harks back to March 2024, when terrorists affiliated with the TTP had rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a security post in the Mir Ali area of KP’s North Waziristan district, killing seven soldiers. In response, the Pakistani government conducted the highly publicised airstrikes in Afghanistan’s Khost and Paktika provinces, where the terrorists were purportedly based. In the same month, five Chinese engineers and their Pakistani driver were killed in KP’s Bisham tehsil after a suicide bomber rammed an explosive vehicle into the bus they were travelling in.

Similarly, in 2023, the province was rocked by two high-profile attacks, one at the beginning of the year — the January Peshawar mosque attack that killed over 100 - and another at the end — the December Dera Ismail Khan attack that killed 23 soldiers, drawing condemnation from both the United States and United Nations Security Council.

Are the Governments Aligned?

On June 10, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif stated in a post on X that “we must repay by relentlessly eliminating terrorism from our nation”. President Asif Ali Zardari, too, appeared “determined to root out the cancer of terrorism”, as per a statement released by the President Secretariat Press Wing. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Chief Minister, Ali Amin Gandapur, and its Governor also condemned the attack.

Despite widespread condemnations, the recent attack was not met with the scale of airstrikes, possibly due to the location of terrorists; instead, it was countered by an IBO, which seems to be the Pakistani Army’s preferred method presently in the absence of a large-scale counter-terror operation. In any case, peace talks with the TTP, infamously known as the policy of appeasement, have been vociferously rejected by the Pakistani government.

However, the provincial government seems to be on a different footing than the centre, as evidenced by its CM’s advocacy for “meaningful dialogue” with militants to reverse the breakdown of the prevailing law and order in the region. This divergence in posture can plausibly be attributed to the CM’s background as a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) leader, which, under Imran Khan’s tenure, not only favoured peace talks with the TTP but also proposed to resettle the outlawed TTP fighters from Afghanistan to Pakistan. In light of this dissonance, CM Gandapur met with the Interior Minister after the Bisham attack to discuss better coordination between the centre and KP law enforcement agencies to ameliorate the province’s dire state.

Now, kinetic measures (application of force) — albeit initially essential — hardly yield long-term dividends on their own and ideally, should be complemented with substantial non-kinetic means, an area where the government’s performance has been lacklustre. For instance, a rise in the recruitment of suicide bombers signals that the government needs to urgently prioritise deradicalisation, better governance, and provision of employment opportunities since merely espousing a heavy-handed approach increases the militants’ (or those prone to extremism) propensity for violence.

Regarding IEDs, whose usage has shot up in recent years due to their low-cost and high-casualty factor, it becomes imperative for the government to regulate the sale and purchase of explosives and other IED components. Last but not least, buttressing the capacity of police and other law enforcement agencies, though emphasised time and again, is not just a hackneyed measure but indispensable to the country’s security, especially when they remain on the frontline and are nearing demoralisation due to the frequent audacious attacks they face.

Bantirani Patro is a research associate at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.

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