Fighting the enemy within Pakistan counter-insurgency policy had until now lacked cohesion

According to the Karachi Airport Security Force, 29 people had died in the suicide attack, including all 10 terrorists, while 24 had been injured. On the same day in the latest manifestation of continuing sectarian violence, Sunni extremists killed 23 Shia pilgrims travelling by bus in Balochistan. These two and other recent attacks are clearly indicative of the ability of Pakistan’s terrorist organisations to strike at will and underline the helplessness of the security forces in taking effective preventive action. 
Despite facing the grave danger of a possible collapse of the state, the Pakistan government’s counter-insurgency policy had until now lacked cohesion. The commencement of a peace dialogue with the TTP in February 2014, despite the abject failure of several such efforts in the past, allowed the terrorist organisation to re-arm, recruit and train fresh fighters. In March 2014, the TTP had offered a month-long cease-fire. The army honoured the cease-fire and refrained from active operations, but TTP factions fought on. On April 16 the TTP withdrew its pledge and blamed the government for failing to make any new offers. 
In the face of mounting public and army pressure, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reluctantly agreed to approve military strikes. He was apprehensive that Gen Raheel Sharif, COAS, may unilaterally decide to launch an all-out offensive. The army had been recommending to the government for quite some time that firm military action was necessary to deal with the menace of home-grown terrorism. The PM is now backing the army fully and has said that he will not allow Pakistan to become a “sanctuary of terrorists” and that the military operation will continue till all the militants are eliminated. 
The deteriorating internal security environment has gradually morphed into Pakistan's foremost national security threat. Karachi remains a tinderbox that is ready to explode. The al-Qaida is quietly making inroads into Pakistani terrorist organisations like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Harkat-ul-Jihad Al-Islami (HuJI), Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has consolidated its position in North Waziristan and could have broken out of its stronghold into neighbouring areas. Fissiparous tendencies in Balochistan and the restive Gilgit-Baltistan Northern Areas are a perpetual security nightmare.  
Realisation about the gravity of the internal security situation has dawned on the Pakistan army as well. Two successive army Chiefs have declared publicly that internal instability is the number one national security threat. However, unlike the Indian army that has been embroiled in low-intensity conflicts since the 1950s, the Pakistan army is relatively inexperienced in counter-insurgency operations. General Kayani had declared 2009 as ‘Military Training Year’ to re-orientate the army to internal security duties. Before becoming COAS, General Sharif had developed the training manuals for counter-insurgency. Over the last decade, the Pakistan army has deployed more than 1,50,000 soldiers in the Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and FATA areas. It has suffered over 15,700 casualties, including about 5,000 dead since 2008. The total casualties, including civilian, number almost 50,000 since 2001.  
Hurt by a series of Taliban successes in “liberating” tribal areas and under pressure from the Americans to deliver in the “war on terror”, the Pakistan army employed massive firepower to stem the rot - as was visible on television screens worldwide when operations were launched to liberate the Swat Valley (Operation Rah-e-Rast, May-Jun 2009) and South Waziristan (Operation Rah-e-Nijat, Oct-Nov 2009). Fighter aircraft, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery were freely used to destroy suspected terrorist hideouts, irrespective of civilian casualties. This heavy-handed, firepower-based approach without simultaneous infantry operations on the ground failed to dislodge the militants, but caused large-scale collateral damage and alienated the tribal population even further.  
Counter-insurgency operations against the TTP in South Waziristan drove most of the fighters to North Waziristan, but till now the army had been reluctant to extend its operations to this province. North Waziristan has a rugged mountainous terrain that enables TTP militants to operate like guerrillas and launch hit-and-run raids against the security forces. When cornered, the militants find it easy to slip across the Durand Line and find safe sanctuaries in the Khost and Paktika provinces of Afghanistan. Ahmed Rashid, author of “Taliban and Descent into Chaos”, has written: “Not only does North Waziristan house Pakistani and Afghan Taliban; it is also a training ground for al-Qaida, which attracts Central Asians, Uighurs from China, Chechens from the Caucasus and a flow of militant Muslim converts from Europe.” Quite clearly, the Pakistan army is in for the long haul and will undoubtedly suffer a large number of casualties.  
What do these developments portend for India? Regional instability always has a negative impact on economic development and trade. Creeping Talibanisation and radical extremism are threatening Pakistan's sovereignty. If the Pakistan army fails to conclusively eliminate the scourge in the north-west, it will soon reach Punjab, which has been relatively free of major incidents of violence. After that, it will only be a matter of time before the terrorist organisations manage to push the extremists across the Radcliffe Line into India. It is in India's interest that the Pakistan government succeeds in its fight against radical extremism.  
Political turmoil, internal instability, a floundering economy and weak institutions make for an explosive mix. Pakistan is not yet a failed state, but the situation that it is confronted with could rapidly degenerate into an unfettered disaster. All institutions of the state must stand together for the nation to survive its gravest challenge. The Pakistan army and the ISI must concentrate on fighting the enemy within, rather than frittering away energy and resources on destabilising neighbouring countries.  
The writer is a Delhi-based strategic analyst