Population of Pakistan being radicalized by regional terrorist organizations
In late September, Pakistan witnessed a surge in terrorist activity in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. In total, the suicide bombings killed about 60 people and injured dozens more, which is a tragic outcome of the month. The first week of September saw an incursion into Chitral district by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants who attacked two military outposts, leading to casualties on both sides.
Prior to this, August 2023 was named the deadliest month in Pakistan since November 2014. By 2015, Islamabad was able to halt the multi-year streak of violence by conducting large-scale counter-terrorism operations.
It is often Taliban, which has returned to power in Afghanistan, who is blamed for the recent stepping up of extremist activity in Pakistan. However, local terrorism also reflects a deep-rooted ideological problem that authorities need to understand if they are to eradicate violence.
The very emergence of Pakistan was historically associated with communal thinking, as a result of which some factions of post-colonial religious structures developed the idea of their exclusiveness. A similar way of thinking was cultivated during the Cold War, when, at the direction of the United States, mujahideen groups declared jihad against the USSR in Afghanistan. This phenomenon turned some factions of religious fundamentalist groups into paramilitary groups, starting a trend that was followed by other groups later.
Ironically, the United States itself became a target for these groups. During the counter-terrorism operation of the international coalition forces, groups such as the TTP, the main instigators of violence in Pakistan, built their ideology based on people’s religious feelings. TTP militants positioned themselves as courageous opponents of the United States and its allies, defending the Islamic Sharia system as the overall solution to all problems.
Over the years, TTP militants have committed horrific acts of violence against the Pakistani state and society, culminating in the 2014 Peshawar massacre of more than 130 military cadets.
These events were followed by an immediate government response: the Pakistani military attacked TTP strongholds in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and for a time the group was thought to have been neutralized. However, in 2020, as the Afghan Taliban strengthened their position in Afghanistan, the TTP began to show signs of revival. In response, the Pakistani state began negotiations with TTP leadership, which proved futile due to the irreconcilable differences in the interests of both sides.
The principles of the TPP must be seen as an integral part of the larger extremist ideology that has plagued Pakistan for decades. If the root cause is not eradicated, the group's leadership will always have sufficient capacity to get away with it again.
Pakistan's preeminent political and security analyst Rahimullah Yousafzai has argued that the TPP, since its inception in 2007, has been essentially “an amalgamation of various like-minded armed groups.” Over the years, the group has repeatedly disintegrated for various reasons, and its branches often acted autonomously.
Thus, the resurgence seen in 2020 was not primarily the result of the group coming together as a united entity. In fact, it was a regrouping of various breakaway factions of “like-minded people”, reinforced by the inclusion of cells of authoritative terrorist organizations.
The TTP's revival was orchestrated under the leadership of the new head of the TTP Noor Wali Mehsud, who is widely seen as the group's chief architect. It is noteworthy that Mehsud publicly expressed support for the Afghan Taliban.
The resurgence of organizations such as the TPP makes us carefully examine the enduring influence of their ideological basis. Extremism in Pakistan exhibits varied dynamics and it must be recognized that the problem is not solely rooted in Deobandi or Salafi extremism. Barelvi extremism deserves no less attention. A striking example of this is the unique religious and political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). It is different from other groups because of its ability to mobilize supporters by pressure, and for this reason the TLP has a significant influence on the political landscape of the country.
The group has a clear interpretation and understanding of Sharia law, which distinguishes it from the ideologies of organizations such as the TTP or IS-Khorasan, the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan. All three groups often criticize and attack each other. However, the common thread that binds them together is the ability to attract supporters of their extremist ideologies, which leads to large-scale radicalization of the local population. The extremist agenda in Pakistan is diverse, which contributes to the widespread dissemination of Islamist ideology and makes it particularly attractive to youth audiences.
The group has a clear interpretation and understanding of Sharia law, which distinguishes it from the ideologies of organizations such as the TTP or ISKP, the Islamic State branch in Afghanistan. All three groups often criticize and attack each other. However, the common feature that unites them is the ability to attract supporters of their extremist ideologies, which leads to large-scale radicalization of the local population. The extremist agenda in Pakistan is diverse, which contributes to the widespread dissemination of Islamist ideology and makes it particularly attractive to youth audiences.