Situation, Facts and Events

Terrorists are making the situation in Pakistan increasingly volatile

Larisa Aleksandrovna Shashok is a research fellow at the Center for Central Asian Studies at the Institute of China and Modern Asia of the Russian Academy of Sciences.


The surge in violence in several regions of Pakistan at the same time causes deep concern among the country's authorities, since the growing extremist threat, in combination with the economic and internal political crisis, can destabilize the situation. In northwestern Pakistan, a suicide bomber carried out a suicide bombing on a convoy in March, killing five Chinese nationals and their Pakistani escort. In most cases, the terrorist organization Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, banned in the Russian Federation) is behind such attacks, but this time its leadership denied the involvement of militants in attacks on Chinese specialists. In mid-March, two suicide attacks in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province killed nine Pakistani servicemen. That same month, in Baluchistan province, militants carried out a series of attacks on Pakistan's second-largest naval air base and the Gwadar port complex. Military officials said the attacks killed two soldiers and eliminated 14 militants. An extremist group known as the Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility.


Speaking about the organizations shaping the terrorist landscape of Pakistan, it should be noted that the most severe tactics of subversive activities are used by the regional division of the Islamic State (a terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation), known as ISKP (a terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation). Khorasan is a collective name that describes a historical region that includes parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Iran.  

The group was established in 2015 by militants from the cells that broke away from the Taliban movement (a terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation) and the TTP. Like IS itself, ISKP is a Sunni organization whose goal is to establish the principles of Salafi Sharia in the region of its influence and control their implementation. The group violently suppresses expressions of Shiite Islam, and its militants have claimed responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of Shiites in Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent years. According to the UN, the number of ISKP fighters ranges from 4,000 to 6,000 persons. The group recruits members of the Taliban, the Tajik radical group Jamaat Ansarullo, the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan (an organization banned in the Russian Federation) and other individuals obsessed with radical Salafi ideology.


After the withdrawal of international coalition forces from Afghanistan in August 2021, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan group noticeably intensified its subversive activities. According to the UN, the TTP is training suicide bombers with the direct participation of Al-Qaeda (banned in the Russian Federation).


The TTP's new strategy includes delegating powers to affiliated terrorist organizations such as Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan, organizing ambushes and using advanced weapons such as M24 sniper rifles and M16A4 rifles with thermal imaging sights. If previously the terrorist activities of the TTP were limited to suicide bombings, now the militants’ goal is to inflict maximum losses using a wide range of weapons.


According to a report published by the Pakistan Center for Security Studies (CRSS), the number of terrorist attacks and, as a result, counter-terrorism operations across the country increased significantly in the first quarter of 2024. As a result of the militant attacks, 432 people were killed and 370 were injured. Victims include civilians, government security personnel and members of extremist organizations. More than 92% of all deaths and 86% of armed clashes occurred in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan bordering Afghanistan. In 2023, there were 789 attacks in Pakistan, the highest number since 2018. The national authorities attribute most of the attacks to the TTP or affiliated organizations.


The Pakistani government attempted dialogue with the TTP in 2021, but the parties were unable to reach an agreement. Later, officials said that the TTP leadership wanted to gain control of regions close to Afghanistan in order to establish the same regime as that of the Afghan Taliban there.


Pakistan's leadership was greatly mistaken in believing that the Taliban government would support Islamabad's interests. The authorities expected that once the movement returned to power in Afghanistan, its government would become friendly and the situation on the Pakistan-Afghan border would finally stabilize. However, this did not happen: on the contrary, with the tacit consent of the Taliban, the TTP intensified subversive activities from the territory of Afghanistan, and the leadership of the movement refused to hand over its leaders to the Pakistani government. Thus, Islamabad has resorted to increasingly harsh rhetoric on issues related to the activities of the Afghan Taliban, and, as a result, senior leaders of the movement, even those who were once close to it, are beginning to turn away from it.

Baloch separatist groups are largely secular in nature, but most of them have been involved in an active insurgency against the Pakistani authorities for almost 20 years. The confrontation began after one of its leaders, former Chief Minister of Balochistan Akbar Bugti, was killed by the Pakistani Armed Forces in 2006.


To date, five Baloch separatist groups are known to be focusing subversion on government forces and infrastructure projects funded by China under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative.


The most radical group of Baloch separatists is the Majeed Brigade, part of the Balochistan Liberation Army (recognized as terrorist in a number of countries). The Majeed Brigade has repeatedly claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks against Chinese citizens and Pakistani armed forces.


The key difference between Baloch and Islamist militants is that there is political confrontation in Balochistan. The militants are fighting not for ensuring compliance with Sharia law, but for greater control over territory and resources. Since 2018, Pakistani media have reported 11 large-scale attacks on Chinese citizens and infrastructure projects in the province and beyond. Baloch separatist groups have claimed responsibility for most of these attacks.


However, Pakistani authorities consider Islamist militias to be a greater threat to regional security due to their transnational presence and larger number of militants. In this regard, Islamabad will likely continue to put pressure on the Afghan Taliban to reduce the level of terrorist threat from the TTP.