Last month, Pakistan suffered its deadliest spasm of terrorist violence since 2014. Over a period of four days in February, militants struck all four Pakistani provinces and three major urban spaces. The bloodshed culminated on February 16 with an assault on a revered Sufi shrine that killed nearly 90 people. It was the deadliest terrorist attack on Pakistani soil since a school massacre in the city of Peshawar that killed 141 people, most of them students, in 2014.
This killing spree has dangerous implications, not only for Pakistan, which has enjoyed a relative respite from terrorist violence over the last two years, but also for the broader region. Pakistan’s already tense relationship with Afghanistan has been plunged into deep crisis, with conflict a very real possibility.
The attacks in February were claimed by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a Pakistani Taliban faction; Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a sectarian extremist group; and a local chapter of the Islamic State known as ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K). These are arguably the most active and lethal terror groups operating in Pakistan today. And according to Pakistan, they are all based in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has long accused Kabul of refusing to act against Pakistani militants on Afghan soil. It’s an ironic allegation, given that Pakistan has itself long provided sanctuary to Afghan militants that stage attacks in Afghanistan. These militants include the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network—the two groups leading the insurgency in Afghanistan.
Islamabad has nonetheless insisted that Kabul crack down—a demand that’s grown louder ever since the Peshawar school attack. That tragedy was staged by another Afghanistan-based terrorist entity, the parent Pakistani Taliban organization. In fact, most terrorist assaults in Pakistan over the last two years—many of which have targeted the border province of Baluchistan—have been perpetrated by groups now based in Afghanistan. Many militants fled there to escape a Pakistani counterterrorism offensive launched in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal agency in 2014.
For Pakistan, the bloodshed last month may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Soon after closed two major border crossings. It gave Afghan officials a list of 76 “most wanted” terrorists on Afghan soil and demanded that Kabul deal with them immediately. Then, on February 17, the Pakistani military started shelling what it described as terrorist ecampments in Afghanistan. On February 19, Pakistani media reports claimed that the artillery shelling had destroyed “nearly a dozen” training camps and hideouts and killed “over a dozen” terrorists.
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