A fragile democratic transition faces the dual challenges of political instability and poorly designed counter-terrorism strategies that sacrifice long-term peace for perceived short-term security goals, fuelling militancy in various parts of the country. Across the border, rival India accuses Pakistan of harbouring terrorists and even sponsoring deadly attacks on Indian soil. There is no resolution in sight to the two countries’ dispute over Kashmir, which continues to claim soldiers’ and civilians’ lives along the Line of Control. Crisis Group monitors Pakistan’s domestic politics and security, with the aim of informing Pakistani leaders and international stakeholders about effective strategies for countering instability within the country and preventing its spillover abroad. 

Read our CrisisWatch entries on India-Pakistan (Kashmir) here.

CrisisWatch Pakistan

Deteriorated Situation

Military launched first acknowledged airstrikes in Afghanistan since Taliban takeover after deadly militant attack, triggering Taliban retaliation.

Military launched airstrikes in Afghanistan, raising risk of armed conflict. Amid mounting tensions between govt and Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, six militants 16 March rammed explosive-laden vehicle into military checkpoint in Khyber Pakhthunkwa province’s North Waziristan before conducting suicide bombings, killing seven soldiers; Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) Hafiz Gul Bahadur affiliate claimed responsibility. Blaming Taliban for arming and hosting militants and “being involved in incidents of terrorism”, Pakistan 18 March launched retaliatory airstrikes, claiming targets were TTP groups in Afghanistan’s Paktika and Khost provinces (east); strikes mark first Pakistan has acknowledged carrying out on Afghan territory since Taliban takeover in 2021 (previously suspected cross-border attacks such as in April 2022 were unclaimed). Taliban authorities same day retaliated by firing heavy weaponry into Pakistan’s Kurram district, killing Pakistani captain. While relative calm late March returned to border, risk of resumption of hostilities remained high, particularly if TTP launches another major attack in Pakistan; statements by Islamabad vowing to deport Afghan citizen card holders from 15 April also bode ill for relations. Meanwhile, suicide bombing on bus carrying Chinese engineers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Bisham sub-district 26 March killed five.

Political turmoil continued following disputed elections in Feb. Formation of new govt following 8 Feb elections was accompanied by claims of widespread electoral manipulation by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by imprisoned former PM Imran Khan. Security forces 3 March detained scores of PTI supporters staging protests countrywide against “theft of the public mandate”; Shebhaz Sharif of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) same day won PM election in national assembly. Election Commission 4 March ruled that newly-formed Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) party – which PTI-backed independent parliamentarians joined in mid-Feb – was not eligible for dozens of reserved seats; after seats were redistributed, PML-N tally in parliament rose to 123 seats, overtaking PTI as largest party. U.S. Assistant Sec of State Donald Lu 20 March said if election commission fails to investigate irregularities, it would “retard our ability to have the type of relationship we want” with Pakistan.

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In The News

22 Aug. 2023
As Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban severed, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has also gotten cold feet in their engagement [with the Taliban]. The Cradle

Ibraheem Bahiss

Analyst, Afghanistan

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