Pakistan's Ongoing Struggles with Terrorism

The issue of terrorism continues to plague the nation of Pakistan. The negative effects of terrorist attacks spread far beyond the immediate consequences of death and injury. Terrorism by its very nature disrupts society, from both the bottom up and the top down. Terrorism also reduces foreign investment, especially in nations such as Pakistan which has failed to adequately prevent attacks from happening. In the recent weeks in Pakistan, both of these effects can be seen.

The unstated goal of most terrorist groups is to provoke the government into an overly harsh reaction. The terrorist organization hopes this will turn the public against the government and generate sympathy and support for their cause, or at the least destabilize the government, making it easier for the terrorist organization to continue its actions. This is how society can be disrupted by terrorism in a top-down fashion, where the government passes policies or judgements provoked by terror attacks. In more than a few cases, governments have used the specter of terrorism to justify their oppressive actions or draconian policies.

The decision of the Pakistan Supreme Court to acquit Asia Bibi of blasphemy charges attracted international attention, as did the massive protests against her release. As the protests threatened to turn into riots, the government appeased the leaders of the movement, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) political party, by assuring them Mrs. Bibi would not be allowed to leave the country until the appeals against the Supreme Court’s decision were made. However, last Saturday, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry announced in a news conference that 3,000 TLP members had been arrested, including the chief and founder of the party Khadim Hussain Rizvi, and that the leadership will be tried on charges of treason and terrorism. These charges stem from the violent actions (attacking civilians and burning cars) and the violent rhetoric (urging the Supreme Court judges’ cooks and servants to kill the judge, condemning Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Pakistani army chief) that occurred during some of the protest. The rank and file members of TLP will be freed if they pledge to avoid engaging in “illegal and unconstitutional” political activities in the future.

While the violence carried out by the TLP during their protests is undefendable, and their rhetoric is shocking at times, one must wonder: do these attacks constitute terrorism? The Khan administration has not indicated if the political party itself will be labeled a terrorist organization, but with its leadership facing life imprisonment should they be found guilty, TLP will be hard-pressed to continue operating at its current capacity, having secured 2 million votes in the July general elections. Afzal Qadri, one of Mr. Rizvi’s deputies, shocked Pakistani society when he called for the overthrow of the army chief. Pakistan’s military is rarely criticized in public, as the military often does not tolerate any public demonstrations of dissent against them. It would not be hard for many Pakistanis to view these charges as attempts to silence the more provocative elements of the TLP political party, and perhaps could lead to increased support.  

Acts of terrorism can also heavily disrupt the state’s economy as well. Especially for states like Pakistan, which desperately desires foreign investment, these instances of violence are a significant detriment to their ability to attract foreign companies. Foreign investors already have to account for the vast amounts of corruption in Pakistan when doing their cost-benefit and risk analyses. Having to factor in potential acts of terrorism as well can make Pakistan too much of a risk for these investors.

However, China has decided to invest vast sums of money into Pakistan as a key part of their Belt and Road Initiative. The Chinese investment, while welcomed by many officials, has created significant problems on the ground for many Pakistanis. Many have had their lives and livelihoods disrupted by the massive amounts of construction being carried out by Chinese companies, who mainly employ only Chinese labor. Chinese construction has also been carried out in the volatile region of Balochistan. A few weeks ago, three suicide bombers belonging to the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) carried out an attempted attack against the Chinese consulate in Karachi. While the attack was foiled, the fact that such an attack against a secure target in a high-security zone indicates the level of anger the BLA has against the Chinese government, and what the BLA sees as “Chinese military expansionist endeavors” in Balochistan. On Twitter, Prime Minister Khan condemned the attacks, and claimed the attacks were “intended to scare Chinese investors and undermine CPEC”.

The Chinese have been doing themselves little favors in carrying out their construction and business in Pakistan. CPEC was marketed to the Pakistani public as a massive source of job creation and business for Pakistani companies, but that has failed to materialize. Chinese companies are often exclusively used, for everything from construction to shipping the materials. This has caused many in Pakistan to complain and anger towards the Chinese has grown. Despite Pakistan pledging over 15,000 military forces to protecting Chinese workers and business interests within the country, Beijing has become increasing vocal of the need for Khan’s administration to take further measures. While the level of violence has not reached the point where China considers pulling out, it has certainly made things more difficult for the Pakistan government.   

Pakistan has claimed that they have taken great strides towards combating the terrorism presence within their borders (often in response to accusations by Afghani or American officials concerning Pakistan’s support for the Taliban), but these reaction events have tainted the belief that real progress has been made. With Imran Khan’s government facing a struggling economy and growingly dissatisfied population, terrorism will remain a significant problem to his administration.