Rising terror attacks in Khyber Province threaten peace and stability in Pakistan

Rising terror attacks in Khyber Province threaten peace and stability in Pakistan

Date: 7th March 2023

Moksh Suri 

Pakistan and Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence

On 30th January 2023, a mosque located inside a high security police compound in Peshawar, Pakistan was struck by suicide bombers which killed more than 134 people, most of them being police officers offering their afternoon prayers (Foreign Policy, 2023;The Jerusalem Post, 2023; Al Jazeera, 2023). The Peshawar mosque suicide bombings is one of the latest episodes of terror attacks which have shaken Islamabad, that already seems to be struggling to manage an economic crisis and the catastrophic consequences of the 2022 floods. 

An extremist splinter group known as ‘Jamaat-ul-Ahrar’- that defected from its parent organization Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP)-  has claimed responsibility for the Peshawar attacks. Although the TTP- also known as the Pakistani Taliban-  has distanced itself from the Peshawar attacks, the suicide blast has added fuel to the ongoing protests in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province- in Pakistan’s northwest- where citizens are making it clear that they do not want violence and lawlessness to return to their neighbourhood (Foreign Policy, 2023). The TTP has initiated a war against the Pakistani security apparatus after the Afghan Taliban brokered peace talks between the TTP and Pakistani Government were called off in November 2022 (Foreign Policy, 2023; Al Jazeera, 2023). As per the Islamabad based Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, January 2023 has been recorded as the most violent month for Pakistan since July 2018 (The Jerusalem Post, 2023: VOA News, 2023). 

Since the United States’ decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in 2021 that subsequently resulted in the swift takeover by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Pakistan has seen an increase in the scale of terror attacks—especially in its border regions such as the Khyber province  (Foreign Policy, 2023; Al Jazeera, 2023; VOA News, 2023). The TTP, which has claimed responsibility for several terrorist incidents throughout Pakistan in recent months- including a suicide bombing in Islamabad; an attempted attack targeting a police station in Punjab province; and an assault on a police compound in Karachi mid-February  suggests that that these terror attacks are expanding beyond Pakistan’s north western provinces (Foreign Policy, 2023). It further suggests the Pakistani Taliban (TTP)—which is already aligned with the Afghan Taliban—has regrouped from inside Afghanistan(Foreign Policy, 2023; Al Jazeera, 2023). 

In Khyber province, the resurgence in violent terrorist activities has stirred grievances against both the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Government’s military build-up, which protesters say has contributed to the prolonged violence. Zahid Hussain, a Pakistani based security affairs expert, described negotiating with the TTP- a globally recognized terror group- as a huge mistake made by the Pakistani Government because it gave the TTP a chance to reorganize (VOA News, 2023). “They have regrouped, and they are better armed because they are equipped now by probably more modern weaponry from Afghanistan, since lots of weapons have been left by the NATO forces and that has been used by the TTP,” Hussain further commented (VOA News, 2023). 

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was responsible for negotiations with the TTP defended his policy of negotiating the extremist group in a nationally televised address, arguing that “30,000 to 40,000 TTP fighters wanted to come back to Pakistan after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan ended” (VOA News, 2023). In reference to the resettling TTP fighters in Khyber province, which borders Afghanistan, Khan further said his government had the option to “either kill all of them or reach an agreement with them and allow them to settle in the province.” (VOA News, 2023). 

Likewise, relations between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Government have worsened, which have further led to frequent incidents on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. A report submitted to the Pakistan parliament in December 2022  highlighted serious capacity constraints and law enforcement gaps in Khyber’s Counter Terrorism Department (The Diplomat, 2023). Since the Taliban’s takeover, Khyber Provinces’ police have borne the brunt of the TTP’s terror attacks, losing more than 120 personnel in 83 assaults (The Diplomat, 2023). Yet the report also pointed out that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa CTD’s manpower is poorly trained, under-resourced, and ill-equipped. For instance, it spends less than 4 percent of its budget on operations, with zero allocations for procurement (The Diplomat, 2023). The following months will be crucial for Sharif Government to gather an effective policy response to respond to the rising terror attacks in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. 

References and Further Reading 

Al Jazeera. (2023). What is behind the rising violent attacks in Pakistan? Pakistan Taliban News | Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/2/2/what-is-behind-the-rising-attacks-in-pakistan 

Basit, A. (2023). The resurgence of terrorism in Pakistan. – The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2023/01/resurgence-of-terrorism-in-pakistan-2/

Joles, B. (2023, February 24). Rising terrorism stirs protests in Pakistan. Foreign Policy. https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/02/24/pakistan-terrorism-protests-ttp-taliban-military/

Mehmood, A. (2023). Rising terrorism in Pakistan may destabilize Regional Security. The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com. https://www.jpost.com/international/article-732108

Shah, A. (2021). What will happen to Afghanistan and Pakistan’s uneasy border? Carnegie Endowment for International Peace . https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/08/13/what-will-happen-to-afghanistan-and-pakistan-s-uneasy-border-pub-85152

Zaman, S. (2023, February 5). Pakistan plans political consensus to fight growing terrorism. VOA. https://www.voanews.com/a/pakistan-plans-political-consensus-to-fight-growing-terrorism/6947641.html