Last week, nine Pakistan Army soldiers were martyred in a suicide attack targeting a military convoy in the Jani Khel area of Bannu district. The banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) subsequently claimed the attack. It was the highest single-day toll of the military from terrorist attacks reported thus far in 2023; 10 soldiers were martyred in Balochistan’s Kech district in 2022. Amidst a resurgence of terrorism nationwide, the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies think-tank has said that 389 people have died in various militant attacks thus far this year. In response, both the civilian and military leaderships have vowed the “eradication” of militancy in the country, assuring the general public that peace talks are now off the table.
A key reason for the surge in militancy is the return to power in Kabul of the Afghan Taliban, which has seen leaders and fighters of the TTP taking refuse across the Durand Line and staging cross-border terrorism. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) has said over 100 soldiers, including officers, have been martyred in various bombings and gunfights since the start of 2023, raising the worrying specter of the state losing its writ in border areas. What makes the situation worse is that most of the attackers—but not all—are Pakistani nationals, who have adopted a flawed version of Islam and are now feeling emboldened by the “success” of the Taliban in “ousting” the U.S. from Afghanistan in 2021.
Pakistan is in an unenviable position, forced to reckon with unrest on both its eastern and northwestern borders. Despite multiple vows to curb militants, the nuclear-armed state has failed to adequately address the issue, with observers lamenting the increasing terrorism that appears to have no end in sight. It is now clear that the core issue preventing an end to militancy is a lack of the writ of the state in border regions, which when coupled with economic turmoil, has left Pakistan is a situation barely better than neighboring Afghanistan. To overcome this, the country needs intensive corrective measures. However, lacking an elected government with a strong mandate, it is unlikely these would emerge without significantly more pain and suffering in the weeks and months to come.