WHILE Pakistan’s leadership remains almost exclusively occupied in political machinations, militants and terrorist outfits have been spreading their vicious tentacles. Violence-related deaths, according to recently released statistics from two major security think tanks, shot to a six-year high in 2023 as the country lost hard-earned ground to inimical forces. Some 789 terror attacks and counter-terrorism operations resulted in more than 1,500 deaths in 2023, including close to 1,000 civilian and security forces lives lost. There were around as many injuries as the total number of fatalities. The state’s failures seem particularly damning, considering that the trends had shown a persistent increase in violent incidents in the preceding two years as well. Despite the warning signs, the year 2023 saw a staggering 69pc increase in militant attacks over the previous year. The enemies of Pakistan operated with near impunity, striking 53 times per month on average in 2023, compared to 32 times per month a year earlier.
Among the provinces, KP and Balochistan were the hardest hit, with 84pc of the attacks taking place on their soil and accounting for 90pc of all deaths. Yet, considering the state’s recent actions, one would be hard-pressed to find any intent to put out the fires raging there. Indeed, the state only seems to be stirring the pot further with its short-sighted refusal to deal patiently and amicably with two long-running protest campaigns in the two provinces — the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement in KP and protests by relatives of missing persons in Balochistan — even though they have merely been demanding basic rights. Another deeply concerning fact that emerged from one of the reports was that banned terrorist outfits accounted for only 17pc of all terrorist attacks, which suggests that the spectrum of threats to Pakistani interests present on its soil is growing and needs to be mapped more thoroughly.
The released data shows that the target of militant and terrorist outfits’ activities has remained focused on security forces, with the overwhelming proportion of deaths recorded being those of front-line security personnel. This should be a cause for great worry for decision-makers responsible for security, as the deepening fissures between the citizenry and the state owing to the sociopolitical instability roiling the country are ripe to be exploited by hostile elements. They must not be allowed to take advantage of it — but for that, the country’s security apparatus will need to reprioritise and focus its energies on countering this grave threat. This will necessarily entail putting out the fires raging through the country amidst widespread public dissatisfaction with state policies, and resisting the urge to exert control with force. We seem to be passing through a sensitive period where any misstep may trigger long-lasting repercussions that could haunt us for years.