Transnational Influences and Militancy

With Afghanistan and Iran on its western front, India to its East, China to the north and the Arabian Sea to its south, Muslim majority and nuclear armed Pakistan has been a strategically important country since its independence in 1947. Its relations with its neighbors, primarily its interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs and its rivalry with India over Kashmir, have deeply impacted the politics of South Asia and beyond. Pakistani relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran, particularly Saudi Arabia’s religious influence on the country since the 1980s, also remain critical in shaping geopolitical alliances and Muslim relations on a transnational scale. 

Additionally, the US has exerted an important influence on Pakistan’s and the region’s political dynamics. Pakistan was a frontline ally of the US during the cold war and the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan. The US has also been engaged in the region since 2001 on account of its operations against the remnants of al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s cooperation is key to the process. However, the presence and expanding influence of transnational terrorist/militant groups on Pakistani soil and its historical military links with Islamist groups has the potential to destabilize the security of the country and the region. Growing radicalization, increasingly referred to as “Talibanization” of the country, also remains a concern.

Post 9/11, Pakistan has frequently been viewed as a hub of transnational militant activity.  Operating out of Pakistan, radical Sunni Deobandi groups, such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Punjab based and India/Kashmir centric ones Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jasih-e-Mohammad (JeM), transnational networks of al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban and their local variant the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have contributed to an upsurge in violence in the region, threatening the stability and security of the country and beyond. The Pakistani military has tended to differentiate between these militant groups, willing to clamp down on al-Qaeda but not on homegrown jihadi groups such as the LeT. However, post 9/11 the lines of distinction between these different groups have become increasingly blurred. Radical Sunni groups are no longer simply engaged in waging internal sectarian struggles but are increasingly involved in regional conflicts in India and Afghanistan and in a broader struggle against the “West” (ICG Asia Report No. 164, March 2009, p. 1). Local and international groups frequently combine “resources and recruits” in their operations (ICG 2009, p. 1). While Pakistan’s tribal areas (seven administrative districts located along the border with Afghanistan)1 are seen as the epicenter of religious militancy, Deobandi madrassas, mosques and training camps across Pakistan provide recruits, funds and resources for groups such as the TTP and al-Qaeda (ICG 2009, p.7).

U.S. military operations in Afghanistan in 2001-2002 led to al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders fleeing across the border into Pakistan where they established sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal areas and developed linkages with domestic militant groups such as the SSP and the LeT (ICG Report, 2009, p.4). Their presence on Pakistani territory and their ability to launch cross-border attacks into Afghanistan has threatened US operations against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and has been a constant source of friction in Pakistan-US relations. Attacks on Indian soil traced back to militant groups functioning from Pakistan, such as the LeT, have on numerous occasions derailed peace efforts between the two countries. Domestically it has had serious ramifications for the Pakistani state and society. The country has seen an upsurge in violence, reflected in a growing number of suicide bombings and terrorist attacks. According to a 2008 security report by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, there were 2,148 terrorist, insurgent and sectarian attacks in 2008 alone, an increase of almost 746 per cent since 2005. Growing linkages between Punjab-based militant Sunni groups such as the SSP and the TTP have led to increasing incidents of Sunni-Shia violence and terrorist attacks across the country. It has also contributed to increasing “Talibanization” of the Pakistani society, particularly in the tribal areas and the Khyber Pukhtukhwa province where the TTP has frequently attacked girls schools, barber shops and DVD and CD stores. In the Swat district alone, the Taliban destroyed approximately 200 boys’ and girls’ schools and in December 2008 “banned” female students from attending classes.

Post 2001-2002, the activity and influence of militant groups in Pakistan witnessed an increase. It was also during this period that linkages between local Sunni militant groups such as the Punjab based SSP and LJ, FATA based Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and transnational groups such as al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban affiliates operating out of the tribal areas and Balochistan were strengthened. 

The following five pages of this section outline key militant groups with transnational networks operating in Pakistan:

Continue Reading on Transnational Influences and Militancy:

  • 1. The FATA includes the seven tribal agencies of South and North Waziristan, Orakzai, Kurram, Khyber, Mohmand, and Bajaur, as well as several  “frontier regions” which include Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan (Darazinda), Kohat (Darra Adam Khel), Lakki Marwat, Peshawar, and Tank (Jandola).