Pakistan-Afghanistan Tensions Heighten After Suicide Attack

Pakistan has launched multiple raids and attacks against militants, allegedly killing 100, in response to a recent suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine. The suicide attack on the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine killed at least 88 people and wounded over 200, making it the deadliest attack of the past two years in Pakistan. ISIS has declared responsibility for the bombing. This is the latest in a string of terrorist attacks, including a recent bombing at a protest rally and an attack that killed two police officers. Most of these prior attacks were carried out by the Pakistani Taliban. Protestors and critics are furious at the Pakistani government for failing to protect the shrine. Questions are being raised about the ability of authorities to keep the Pakistani people safe. General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s army chief, has vowed retaliation for the suicide attack, stating: “Each drop of the nation’s blood shall be avenged, and avenged immediately. No more restraint for anyone.”

The government in Islamabad has criticised Kabul with accusations that they have tolerated terrorism, allowing Afghanistan to be used as a base of operations for attacks carried out in Pakistan. Numerous militant organisations moved to a remote part of eastern Afghanistan as a result of the Pakistan military’s counter-terrorist operations in the insurgent stronghold of North Waziristan in 2014. Troublingly, the influence of ISIS in Pakistan and Afghanistan appears to have spread. Over the past two years, ISIS has been expanding its “Khorasan province”, which stretches across parts of both countries.

Following the terrorist attack, Pakistan demanded that neighbouring Afghanistan hand over 76 suspected terrorists on their territory. Two border crossings between the countries were closed and Pakistan shelled Afghanistan’s eastern provinces, killing at least two people. The Pakistani military summoned diplomats from the Afghanistan embassy, protesting that the terrorists had used Afghanistan’s territory to launch their attacks. Likewise, the Afghan government has summoned Pakistan’s Ambassador for an explanation of the shelling.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan have a long record of blaming each other for attacks carried out in their respective territories. Afghanistan in particular points to the prior and current existence of a high number of senior terrorists in Pakistan, such as Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Akhtar Mansour, as proof that Pakistan has used terror organisations as proxies to carry out attacks in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Indeed, many members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban moved to Pakistan after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan forced them to flee.

The latest bombing in Pakistan will further erode levels of trust between the two governments. Neither country benefits from playing a blame-game between themselves. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan need to focus on the problems emanating from within their own countries. Both are victims of terrorism and both must find a way to cooperate in order to combat this threat. Business as usual is not acceptable.

Liam Robins