On Dec. 16, 2014, Pakistan witnessed one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in its history, when six gunmen affiliated with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) stormed the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar and killed 149 people, including 132 schoolchildren. The attack was widely condemned by the international community and sparked a wave of grief, anger and solidarity across the country. It also marked a turning point in Pakistan’s war on terror, which had been ongoing since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The War on Terror in Pakistan
Pakistan has been a key ally of the United States in the global war on terror, providing military, intelligence and logistical support to the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. However, this alliance has come at a high cost for Pakistan, both in terms of human lives and economic losses. According to a report by the Costs of War project at Brown University, Pakistan has lost an estimated 64,000 people and $126 billion in the war on terror since 2001. The report also states that Pakistan has faced increased violence, instability and radicalization as a result of its involvement in the war on terror.
The main source of violence and terrorism in Pakistan has been the TTP, a loose network of militant groups that emerged in the aftermath of the US invasion of Afghanistan and the Pakistani military operations in the tribal areas along the Afghan border. The TTP has been waging a bloody insurgency against the Pakistani state, targeting security forces, government officials, religious minorities, civil society activists and civilians. The TTP has also claimed responsibility for several high-profile attacks in Pakistan, such as the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, the attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in 2008, the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009, and the attack on the Mehran naval base in Karachi in 2011.
The APS Attack and its Aftermath
The APS attack was one of the most horrific and brutal attacks by the TTP, as it targeted innocent children and teachers in a school. The attack was widely seen as a retaliation for the Pakistani military’s Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a comprehensive anti-terrorism campaign launched in June 2014 in the North Waziristan region, which was considered a stronghold of the TTP and other militant groups. The operation had reportedly killed or displaced thousands of militants and disrupted their networks and hideouts.
The APS attack shocked and outraged the nation, and triggered a massive public outcry for decisive action against the TTP and other terrorist groups. The attack also galvanized the political and military leadership to adopt a unified and comprehensive strategy to counter terrorism and extremism in the country. In the wake of the attack, the government and the military announced a 20-point National Action Plan (NAP), which included measures such as the establishment of military courts, the revival of the death penalty, the formation of a national counter-terrorism authority, the regulation of madrassas, the crackdown on hate speech and sectarian violence, and the implementation of the National Internal Security Policy.
The APS attack also had a significant impact on the regional and international dynamics of the war on terror. The attack prompted a rare cooperation and dialogue between Pakistan and Afghanistan, as both countries agreed to work together to eliminate the common threat of terrorism and to prevent the use of their territories by militant groups. The attack also elicited a strong response from the United States and other countries, who expressed their solidarity and support for Pakistan and pledged to enhance their cooperation and assistance in the fight against terrorism.
The Challenges and Prospects of the War on Terror
Six years after the APS attack, Pakistan has made considerable progress in its war on terror, as it has reduced the frequency and intensity of terrorist attacks, improved the security situation, and weakened the capabilities and networks of the militant groups. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan declined from 1,816 in 2014 to 146 in 2020, while the number of fatalities decreased from 5,496 to 319 in the same period. The Pakistani military has also claimed to have cleared most of the tribal areas from the presence of militants and restored the writ of the state.
However, the war on terror is far from over, as Pakistan still faces many challenges and threats from various sources of terrorism and extremism. The TTP and other militant groups have not been completely eliminated, and they continue to pose a potential danger to the country’s security and stability. The TTP has also reportedly regrouped and reorganized itself under a new leadership and formed alliances with other groups, such as the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), the Afghan Taliban and the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). The TTP has also increased its attacks in the recent months, especially in the former tribal areas and Balochistan, where it has targeted security forces and civilians.
Moreover, Pakistan has to deal with the complex and uncertain situation in Afghanistan, where the US and NATO forces have withdrawn after 20 years of war and the Taliban have taken over the country. The developments in Afghanistan have raised concerns and challenges for Pakistan, as it has to balance its relations with the Taliban, the Afghan government and the international community, while also managing the influx of refugees, the border security, the threat of spillover violence, and the implications for the regional stability and cooperation.
Furthermore, Pakistan has to address the root causes and drivers of terrorism and extremism in its own society, such as the socio-economic grievances, the political marginalization, the ideological polarization, the sectarian violence, the radicalization of youth, and the misuse of religion. Pakistan has to implement the NAP and other policies in a more effective and comprehensive manner, and to ensure the coordination and cooperation among all the stakeholders, including the federal and provincial governments, the military and the civil society. Pakistan also has to reform and strengthen its institutions, such as the judiciary, the police, the education system, and the media, to counter the narratives and propaganda of the terrorist groups and to promote the values of tolerance, diversity and democracy.
The APS attack was a tragic and traumatic event that exposed the horrors and costs of the war on terror for Pakistan. It also served as a catalyst and a wake-up call for the nation to unite and fight against the menace of terrorism and extremism. The war on terror is not an easy or a short-term endeavor, but a long-term and a multi-dimensional challenge that requires a sustained and a holistic approach. Pakistan has to continue its efforts and sacrifices in the war on terror, while also seeking the support and cooperation of the regional and international partners. The war on terror is not only a matter of security, but also a matter of survival and dignity for Pakistan.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.