Incidents of terrorism in Pakistan have been growing steadily since last year. A month ago, the Voice of America reported on the annual Global Terrorism Index, released by the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace, which said Pakistan recorded the second largest increase in terrorism-related deaths worldwide in 2022, after Burkina Faso.

According to the report, the toll in Pakistan – at 643 – was slightly higher than that of Afghanistan, which had held fast to this number two position for the past few years, before it was displaced. And there seems to be no reprieve in 2023.

A report about terrorist attacks produced by a local organisation claimed January was the deadliest month since July 2018 – this was the month of the heinous attack on the mosque in Peshawar which took close to 100 lives, injuring even more people.

While the attacks are focused mostly in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in the former they tend to be carried out by the Baloch insurgents.

It is the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan which is behind many of the attacks in the latter; the military as well as the police have been targeted. However, in recent attacks the police are proving to be a soft target in more than one way. The Peshawar attack which was followed by protests by the police was a case in point.

But more than just a soft target, the attacks now follow a new strategy.

Ihsanullah Tipu, director Khorasan Diary, a news web portal, told me that recent attacks have followed a pattern especially in South Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – police stations are attacked, and then there is a second attack on the reinforcements rushing in. This is what happened in Lakki Marwat in March, for instance. A police station was attacked in the early hours of the morning; and later a contingent headed by a deputy superintendent of police which was headed to the station was struck by an improvised explosive device, leading to the death of the senior police officer as well as three constables.

In addition, many of these assaults are said to have included the use of sophisticated weaponry such as night-vision goggles, which have allowed attacks to be launched in the dark. This weaponry has come the way of the militants since the departure of the American forces next door.

Meanwhile, there is little clarity about what the state is planning in response. So far, it had seemed, especially till the recent National Security Committee meeting, that there was no plan to launch any large-scale military operations as we saw in the post-2007 period.

Just consider that an apex committee meeting held in January in Peshawar led to a press release which spoke of a national resolve; a uniform policy between the centre and provinces; National Action Plan; and efforts to improve the working of the Counter-Terrorism Department in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

It was hard to tell if domestic compulsions had shaped the announcements, for the press release did hint indirectly at the tenuous relationship between the centre and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which had till recently been headed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, a political rival of the Pakistan Democratic Movement government in Islamabad. This could be one interpretation of the need for better coordination, a uniform policy and even announcements about building a forensic laboratory in the province and improving the capacity of the Counter Terrorism Department.

However, these remain questions at best.

But the National Security Council meeting held a few days ago was more obviously driven by domestic political compulsions, for it did not follow any major terror attack; though there were significant political developments with regard to the elections. And it is hard not to link this with the shape the press release took.

It spoke of launching an all-out comprehensive operation, adding that a committee had been formed to submit recommendations within two weeks for the implementation of this operation. The news reports did not mention any details of who is part of this committee and when it will begin to meet.

More importantly, the press release ended with criticising the previous policy of talks with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, without actually hinting or declaring whose policy it was.

Maybe, one can stick one’s neck out and say the second statement, perhaps more than the first, was as driven by domestic politics as by security. For it once again blamed the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which had headed the government when talks had begun with the Taliban, for shaping this policy, even though the matter had been put before the larger political leadership.

But this is simply domestic politics playing out.

Be that as it may, the larger economic situation is linked to the security policy at work. Many have pointed out that even if a need is felt for a larger operation, at the moment the fiscal space is just not available for military operations of the kind we witnessed from 2007 onwards.

Speaking of Pakistan’s “deteriorating economy”, Asfandyar Mir, a Washington-based expert, in his analysis for the United States Institute of Peace said: “That limits Pakistan’s military options. Pakistan can carry out raids and undertake defensive actions inside the country, but it doesn’t have the resources for a sustained high-intensity campaign.”

It is also noteworthy that the people from the affected areas are now more than wary of the idea of military operations which have caused displacement and devastating suffering for them. And their wariness is being expressed openly, with political parties also expressing the same views – military operations are not acceptable.

What this means is that the security forces will have to continue with intelligence-based operations and such efforts for the moment. Even talk of cross-border raids, which did the rounds some time ago, has died down.

What complicates this further is the relationship with the Afghan Taliban, whose takeover of Kabul has led to the increasing attacks by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

However, Pakistan continues to engage with the Afghan Taliban rather than push them too hard on this issue. In fact, many in Pakistan continue to insist that the Afghan Taliban are different from the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

But all this means that the security situation in Pakistan remains as tenuous as the domestic political situation. How long the current state of affairs can be maintained is anyone’s guess.

This article first appeared in Dawn.