Due to its location between hostile neighbours, Pakistan has faced the threat of terrorism on its soil since its inception as a state. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, India helped to foment separatist extremism in what was then East Pakistan. After India fought against Pakistan in 1971 which resulted in the political severance of East Pakistan from the West, New Delhi and other international powers began financing separatist terror groups in Pakistan’s south western Balochistan province. Although less powerful than they were in the 20th century, terror groups like the BLA (“Balochistan Liberation Army”) continue to pose a grave danger to the safety of Pakistani civilians.
Throughout this entire time, successive Afghan regimes failed to recognise Pakistan’s otherwise internationally recognised western border. This became particularly problematic both during the 1980s when the Soviet Union waged war in Afghanistan and also after 2001 when the United States followed a similarly disastrous path as the USSR did in the 1980s.
But while Pakistan’s north western border with Afghanistan has become stabilised after years of effort by the Army and ISI, along with a programme for political and social renewal in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, today’s train bombing in Balochistan makes it clear that traditional terror groups in that province have yet to breathe their final breath.
At least four people have been killed by a bomb that was detonated on a passenger train in the Dera Murad Jamali area in Balochistan province. The terrorist attack has all the hallmarks of the BLA, a group that for decades has been supplied by foreign regimes including India via Afghan proxies. These proxies have recklessly crossed from Afghanistan into Pakistan over the decades, with the intention of taking innocent lives in Pakistan.
And yet, while Pakistan continues to fight terror on many geographical fronts and against groups funded and armed by a myriad of foreign entities, Pakistan’s penultimate war on terror will be a psychological one. Decades of propaganda, mainly by India but also by others, has sought to portray Pakistan as a country that foments terrorism when in reality, from its very inception, Pakistan has been the victim of state aggression, state sponsored terror and non-state terrorism that often still maintains links with foreign intelligence agencies.
Throughout these difficult decades – decades whose turmoil has often led to a lack of political stability in Islamabad, the country has remained resilient due mainly to a professional army and intelligence service that has been able to survive and protect the nation in spite of being constantly undermined both from without and from within.
For some nations, having a strong army and intelligence service are matters of prestige. For others, it is merely a way to show off new weapons that can be sold to other nations. For others yet, having a strong army and intelligence service is about preparing for unrealistic wars that never come. But for Pakistan, the Army and ISI are a question of life or death.
Today, even in places like Balochistan that have been historic hotbeds for foreign funded terrorism, the trend remains for extremism to decline. Today’s tragic terrorist attack is therefore an exception to the rule, but it is nevertheless a national tragedy as well as a wake-up call to those who believe that some of Pakistan’s neighbours have somehow ceased resorting to the savagery of terrorism in order to try and undermine Pakistan’s political and territorial unity.
In addition to fighting against what remains of foreign backed terror on Pakistan’s soil, Islamabad must continue to voice the realities of regional extremism with ever more clarity and volume. The reason that Pakistan has been maligned by its neighbours is not because their propaganda is extremely sophisticated, but it is because Pakistan has been enraptured by silence as those for decades the tongues of Pakistan’s leaders had been tied by some wicked invisible force.
Today, under Imran Khan’s PTI government, things are improving dramatically but more must be done. The world tends to automatically sympathise with victims of terrorism and Pakistanis have for too long been the silent victims. The world must know the truth and when the truth is known, the situation will begin to be viewed more objectively by those outside of south Asia.