Security situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces of Pakistan
The South Asia Counter Terrorism Portal (SATP) states that the security situation in the North Waziristan region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan continued to be very challenging in September-October.
On October 19, 2023, three Army personnel were killed in the North Waziristan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. On October 8, 2023, two Army personnel, including Major Syed Ali Raza Shah, were killed in the Sambaza area of Zhob District in Balochistan. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed the attack. On October 4, 2023, two Security Force (SF) personnel were killed and three sustained injuries when a Security Force (SF) vehicle in a convoy was targeted with explosives in the Chaghi Bazar of Chagai District in Balochistan. On September 28, 2023, four soldiers were killed during a clash with infiltrating terrorists along the Pak-Afghan border near Sambaza in the Zhob District of Balochistan.
With more than two months still left in 2023, the year has, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), already recorded the highest number of SF fatalities in Pakistan in a year since 2014, when there were 508 such fatalities. After reaching a recent low of 137 in 2019, SF fatalities have been on a continuous rise proportionally to the rise in the number of attacks.
The surge in attacks on SFs and the resultant fatalities coincide with the increase in the power and influence of the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan after the signing of the Doha Agreement of February 2020, and gained further momentum with the return of the Taliban to power in Kabul in August 2021. With the collapse of the talks between the TTP and the Pakistan Government on November 28, 2022, there was a significant escalation of attacks on SFs. Some of the prominent attacks on SFs in Pakistan in 2023 include:
August 31: At least nine soldiers were killed and 20 sustained injuries when a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle blew himself up on a military convoy in the Mali Khel area of Jani Khel in the Bannu District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Hafiz Gul Bahadur faction of TTP, through its propaganda wing, Al Amar Media from North Waziristan, claimed that an affiliated cell of the group, the ‘Sufyan Karawan’, carried out the suicide attack.
August 22: At least ten SF personnel were killed when their convoy came under terrorist attack in Tarza district of South Waziristan Agency in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. The TTP claimed responsibility for the attack.
August 22: six military personnel and four terrorists were killed and two terrorists were injured in an exchange of fire in Asman Manza district of South Waziristan Agency in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
July 12: Ten army personnel, five terrorists and one civilian were killed during an encounter when terrorists attacked a garrison in Zhob town (Zhob district), Balochistan.
March 6: Nine people, including eight policemen and one civilian, were killed and 13 others injured in a suicide attack on a police van at Qambri Bridge in Kachchi District in Balochistan.
February 17: five terrorists and four others, including two Rangers and one policeman, were killed and 18 others were injured in an operation when terrorists raided the office building of the Karachi Police Chief in the city's Shahrah-e-Faisal area. The TTP claimed responsibility for the attack.
January 30: At least 84 people, including 27 policemen, were killed and another 220 injured in a suicide bombing inside a mosque in the police cordons area of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province. Two TTP leaders, Sarbaqaf Mohmand and Omar Mukaram Khorasani, said the attack was “revenge” for the death of TTP splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) leader Khalid Khorasani in Barmal district of Paktika province in Afghanistan on August 7, 2022.
A report by Pakistani security officials dated March 31, 2023, alleged that militants carrying out attacks inside Pakistan received United States weapons left behind in Afghanistan. The influx of American weapons has increased the military capabilities of the TTP and Baloch separatist groups. This influx of weapons has caused "a surge in violence (in Pakistan) over the past two years,” the report added.
Abdul Syed, a Swedish researcher who tracks the TTP, says the banned group's access to sophisticated military weapons has had a “horrifying” impact, especially on Pakistan's less-equipped police forces.
Moreover, speculation about a TTP-Baloch alliance appeared to receive some confirmation when TTP 'spokesperson' Mohammad Khurasani congratulated the Baloch insurgent groups for their (Baloch Liberation Army, BLA's) February 2, 2023, twin attacks on Panjgur and Nuskhi Army camps, declaring, “The Pakistani Army is carrying out the massacre in Balochistan. We are against the massacre of Balochistan as well as in Waziristan by the Pakistani Army. Our enemy is common.”
Indeed, immediately after the twin attacks, Pakistan's then Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid, citing intelligence reports, told the media on February 3, 2023, that the Baloch militants are not capable of launching major attacks in Nuskhi and Panjgur. TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) has the capability, experience and latest NATO weapons to launch such attacks. There's some understanding between the TTP and Baloch militants. They have their hideouts in Afghanistan.
Faran Jeffrey, a London-based security analyst, noted that relations with the TTP had helped Baloch militant groups "drastically upgrade their capabilities" with the addition of suicide squad operations and suicide bombings. He further observed: “After the Taliban takeover of Kabul, these ties have only grown stronger and TTP might even have provided some logistical help to some of these Baloch militant groups in recent times. This would also explain how some of these Baloch militant groups are getting their hands on NATO weapons and equipment.”
Inputs indicate that TTP has provided bases to the Baloch rebels in the Barmal District of Afghanistan's eastern province of Paktika, which is adjacent to Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region, the TTP's stronghold.
The growing tactical alliance between the TTP and the Baloch groups has coincided with a sharp uptick in attacks against Pakistani SFs in tribal areas in recent months.
Significantly, when the US pulled its forces out from Afghanistan in 2021, it left behind around USD 7 billion worth of military equipment and weapons, including firearms, communications gear, and even armoured vehicles. The Afghan Taliban seized the weapons during the chaotic US withdrawal.
On September 8, 2023, the Pakistan Foreign Office (FO) expressed concerns over the “advanced weapons” being used by terrorists operating out of Afghanistan, in attacks in Pakistan, particularly on its security agencies. “These modern weapons have fallen into the hands of terrorists in Afghanistan who are using these [weapons] to attack Pakistan and its security agencies,” said FO Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch.
Meanwhile, on October 13,2023, Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar, asserted that the state of Pakistan was powerful enough to fight TTP even for the next 100 years. When asked about the impediments to talks with TTP, the Prime Minister said the biggest obstacle was that no one was willing to talk to them. “We don’t have any intention to talk with TTP,” he said, adding that the writ of the state would be established at all costs.
With the Government ruling out possibility of any talks with TTP, the most active and destructive terror outfit fighting against the state with established links with other active terror formations, attacks on SFs are likely to grow. The SFs can also be expected to intensify their operations driving up terrorism-related fatalities in Pakistan, in the months to come.
The army can also be expected to intensify its operations in the coming months, leading to more terrorism-related casualties in Pakistan.