Pakistan’s security matrix-challenges incognito

Shehla Naz

While being a front line country in war against terrorism since 9/11, Pakistan has played a critical in apprehending Al-Qaeda terrorists. Through kinetic measures and intelligence based operations Pakistan security forces cleared the homeland from the scourge of terrorism. For now major terrorist groups in the region are concentrated largely inside Afghanistan enjoying the vast ungoverned spaces. Reportedly forty to fifty percent of Afghanistan territory is controlled by Taliban. Afghanistan also continues to be safe haven for Al-Qaeda among other terror groups. Twenty percent decline in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan reported by UN office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Opium Survey 2018 was mainly linked to drought conditions during 2018. So, in addition to other resources narcotics trade continues to be significant source of income for terrorist groups flourishing there. It is noteworthy that all the current major terrorist attacks in Pakistan are being planned from the Afghan soil. Though there is visible decline in terrorism incidents in Pakistan in comparison with 2011, sporadic terrorism incidents negatively impact security profile of Pakistan and challenge Pakistan’s assertion about elimination of terrorism from its soil.

Terrorist groups which escaped military operations from Pakistan have relocated themselves across border in Afghanistan, pose persistent cross border threat to Pakistan. In Afghanistan they not only enjoy local support but also facilitation of all kind by inimical forces to utilize them against Pakistan. Pakistan shares 2600 km porous border with Afghanistan which is characterized by various remote areas inaccessible to get guard against. To prevent inflow of terrorists, Pakistan is fencing her border along Afghanistan despite financial constraints. Terrorism has cost too high in men and martial for Pakistan. Fencing is complemented by construction of forts, deployment of drones and other modern equipment for effective surveillance. There is general conviction that with completion of this fence, inflow of terrorists, arms and crimes etc into Pakistan would be significantly curtailed.

In contrast to Pakistan’s strenuous efforts to create stability in the region, terrorists continue to thrive in Afghanistan. Terrorism versus crime nexus is flourishing in Afghanistan as a major source of income for terrorists. So this terrorism financing threats originating from Afghan soil keep on haunting the whole region generally and Pakistan specifically impacting her already fragile economy.

Pakistan can claim for being the only country both at regional and international level which had to bear the maximum brunt of instability in Afghanistan. Correspondingly India is the only country which has exploited the phenomenon of terrorism to fullest to fulfill her narrow agenda like linking the peaceful and indigenous Kashmir freedom (KFM) for self-determination with terrorism and to isolate Pakistan on this issue. Moreover to undermine Pakistan’s achievements in counter terrorism efforts, India has been using political tool to malign Pakistan for inaction against terrorists. War hysteria has prevailed in India, not only in higher echelon but also at grass root level. Within minutes of any news of (terrorist) attack in India, hyper nationalist media, ups the ante within blink of an eye blaming Pakistan for the same. Since PM Modi came to power this hyper nationalist social behavior has gained the strength.

In this milieu bleak international focus on imbibing threat of Daesh in Afghanistan might not be without reason. Daesh continues to pose an enduring threat worldwide despite the territorial losses it has suffered. Globalization of Daesh through its media arm has so far maintained its relevancy. Decentralized Daesh can pose enhanced threat in form of lone wolf attacks. Afghanistan has emerged as an alternative theatre for different terror groups including Daesh. In this background, there are prospects for Afghanistan to turn into violent theatres of conflict very soon.

Pakistan is a central element of Chinas approach, linking the maritime and continental components of the Belt and Road Initiative. While US, to much extent persuaded by India view Pakistan as terror sponsoring state required to be internationally isolated. US apprehensions regarding Pakistan, shared by its allies clearly points out that the international community is not convinced by Pakistan’s narrative regarding her counter terrorism contributions.

Though in context of US President Donald Trump administration s desire to get some settlement in Afghanistan that could be showcased before next US elections, Pakistan’s salience has been raised for the time being but future of Pak-US relations remains uncertain. US semblance of positive overture towards Pakistan with aim to pull Pakistan out of Chinese sphere of influence might be another possibility. It is obvious that US will never side with Pakistan at the cost of its relations with India. In recent past US support to India at UN Security Council vis-a-vis proscription of Jaish-e-Muhammad Chief, Masood Azher even without tangible evidence is tantamount to this fact. Pakistan has even not been able to convince US so far over the issue of Haqqani network.

In this fast moving scenario, Pakistan will have to move quickly to address the US and allies suspicion about her narrative to prevent her blacklisting by FATF. Additionally Pakistan will have to continue counter-terrorism efforts encompassing effective kinetic measures as well as resolving underlying causes of extremism and terrorism.