The blasts over the weekend in Baluchistan’s Mastung district, which claimed over 50 lives in Hangu, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), are the latest in the series of terrorist attacks intended to break Pakistan’s integrity. While major incidents cannot be hidden, protests in other parts, including POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) including GB (Gilgit Baltistan), are suppressed by the Punjab dominated Pak army which has muzzled the media. Human rights violations are rising increasing alienation against security agencies, while they accuse India. This growing tide of discontentment is making the task of holding the nation together challenging.
For the past few months POK has been on the boil due to inflation and extraordinarily high electricity bills. This, despite the region producing maximum electricity, which is largely utilized for Punjab, ignoring POK, whose electricity grid remains archaic. With the Rupee crashing, prices of essentials including wheat etc are beyond the reach of common citizens. Sacrificing a meal daily is the norm.
The Pakistan army is also engaging in land grabbing, including mineral mines in GB. Army controlled business houses, in conjunction with developers, under the garb of the CPEC, have been looting the region’s local resources. Protests against land grabbing result in immediate reprisal. Islamabad is also changing the demography of GB, which was once a Shia majority region, increasing sectarian clashes.
The arrest in August of a Shia cleric,Agha Baqir al-Hussaini,under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws increased resentment in GB. He was booked for his comments at an Ulema council meeting in Skardu, that was held to discuss the Government’s intent to make its blasphemy laws stricter, apparently to target the Shia community. Residents of Skardu threatened to dismantle border gates and move towards Kargil. By clamping down communication networks,limited inputs from these protests reach the outside world. The region continues to simmer.
To add to public anger are positive changes in J and K. Opening of educational institutes, infrastructure development and relative peace has gone against the narrative fed to the populace over the years. They were made to believe that Kashmir would soon be a part of Pakistan as the region was up in revolt. Currently, the scenario is the other way around.In order to offset anger within POK, Pak harps on human rights violations in Kashmir.
Comments by the Indian defence minister and his ministerial colleagues on India welcoming POK becoming a part of it add to instigation. To rub salt, Indian ministersregularly inaugurate developmental projects in Kashmir. Statementsfrom India create a belief that in case residents of POK revolt, Delhi would support them.For Pak, this could emerge as a dangerous scenario.
On Pakistan’s western borders the situation is even more grim. As per Pakistan’s Express Tribune, KPand Baluchistan were primary centres of terror attacks, accounting for more than ‘80% of all fatalities in the country during the second quarter of 2023.’The TTP is making inroads into districts bordering Afghanistan, while the Baloch are pushing the Pak army to its limits in Baluchistan. The ISKP is also gaining ground and could have been behind the recent suicide attacks.
The latest target is Chitral in KP where the TTP, post capturing several villages,temporarily took control of the local army camp. Pakistan was compelled to rush in additional forces. The district is close to China’s Xinjiang province.
As per Pak army data,’over 220 security forces personnel have been killed in attacks this year alone.’The Dawn mentions that the region witnessed ‘665 attacks and 15 suicide bombings between Jun 2022 to Jun 2023.’Added are reports of the Afghan army supporting the TTP. Pakistan’s claims of Kabul backing the TTP is regularly rejected.
As per US intelligence, the Taliban have contained all other terrorist groups less the TTP. Desperate to gain Taliban support Pakistan even peddled lies that 200 TTP militants were arrested by the Taliban.
In August alone, Pakistan faced about 100 terror attacks which signify an 80% increase as compared to the previous month. This has been the toughest month in the past decade. The TTP has expanded its operations from the erstwhile FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) to Baluchistan. To add to woes, terrorist groups are far better equipped as compared to the past, thanks to dumped US equipment. The support, including participation of the Afghan army, in the attacks has added to its confidence.
There are reports of a split within the Taliban with a faction backing the TTP. The Torkham crossing on the Pak-Afghan border is regularly shut due to increased firing incidents between the two nations. Pakistan exploits this crossing to blackmail Afghanistan, however has little impact.
Baloch freedom fighters are simultaneously targeting the Pak army and the Chinese employed in various CPEC projects. Chinese workers move under armed escort in armoured buses. Pakistan has regularly claimed to have suppressed the Baloch but the Chinese leaving Pak in droves projects a different picture. One of the reasons for China refusing to expand further cooperation on the CPEC is insecurity of its personnel.It has no choice but to complete ongoing projects as it has invested heavily in them.
Basit, a researcher currently associated with the Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore, stated, ‘The Chinese know what they have gotten themselves into, and are learning the ropes on how to muddle through.’Currently Pakistan is firefighting both the TTP and the Baloch with no long-term strategy. It is adopting a policy of suppression of the local populace by employing strong military measures. This is further alienating the populace.
To add to woes is growing political and economic instability in the country. The army, instead of concentrating on its primary role of ensuring security, is involvedin resetting the economy, managing governance and selecting politicians whom it can control. It has ignored developing a cohesive strategy against terrorist groups.The end result is that it reacts to situations, rather than being proactive.
Such a flawed approach leads to increased casualties, followed by repression culminating in larger numbers joining organizations seeking to carve independent states. It will turn into an endless cycle of violence and destruction, breaking the national fabric. For how long will the Pakistani trooper sacrifice his life while his generals seek to run Islamabad from Rawalpindi.
The author is Major General (Retd)