Islamabad — “Pakistan, by joining the US after 9/11, committed one of the biggest blunders,” Prime Minister Imran Khan said during a talk at the Council of Foreign Relations on 23 September. “…Pakistan took a real battering in this (US-led war on terror).”
Mr. Khan has maintained a consistent position in opposing Pakistan’s decision to join the US invasion of Afghanistan. But did Pakistan really have a choice not to participate in this war?
Not Really A Choice
Participation in the war on terror was a systematic compulsion for Pakistan, says Abdul Basit, a security expert.
“The global opinion was in favor of going after Al-Qaeda and mandated by the UN resolution,” Mr. Basit, who is a research fellow at the Singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, says. “Had Pakistan not allied with the US, the latter would have bombarded the former just like Afghanistan and destruction caused would have been worse than the price Pakistan paid by participating.”
Tughral Yamin, the Associate Dean of the National University of Science and Technology’s Centre for International Peace and Stability agrees that Pakistan had no choice.
“Our leadership was afraid of repercussions and consequences of saying no to the US at that time,” Mr. Yamin says. “Unfortunately, we never went for the course correction afterwards.”
The Human Cost
Thousands of Pakistanis lost their lives in the terrorist attacks that shook the country after the US war in Afghanistan. While there are no comprehensive official figures available, there is consensus among local civilian and military officials and experts that more than 70,000 Pakistanis died in terror-related incidents. A report by Brown University’s Costs of War Projects in 2018 notes that since 2001 war-related violence has killed 65,000 people in Pakistan.
Terrorist incidents have declined significantly in recent years in the country, owing in part to consistent military operations, improved institutional capabilities, the formation of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), and the use of national internal security policies.
According to the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2018, Pakistan is ranked fifth among 163. It has only marginally improved its position on the index from fourth place in 2007.
According to the annual reports of the Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), the intensity of the war has declined significantly. Pakistan has seen a decrease of 85 percent in terrorist attacks from year 2009 to 2017, according to PIPS. In 2009, 3,021 citizens were killed in 2,586 terrorist attacks in Pakistan. Nine years later, PIPS data shows the number of fatalities is down to 815 people and the number of attacks has reduced to 370 in 2018.
The 2017 Economic Survey of Pakistan stated that the direct and indirect costs incurred by Pakistan due to incidents of terrorism over the past 16 years amounted to US$ 126.79 billion or around Rs. 10,763 billion.
“Normal economic and trading activities were disrupted, resulting in higher costs of doing business including cost on insurance and significant delays in meeting the export order around the globe,” the economic survey document stated about the economic impact of the war in Afghanistan and associated terrorism in Pakistan.
No End To War?
There is no fixed timeline for total elimination of terrorism in Pakistan, Mr. Basit says.
“The situation is improving but at the same time, new challenges have also emerged,” he says. “For instance, the rise of the Islamic State affiliates in Pakistan and Afghanistan is a new militant threat to Pakistan’s internal security and stability.”
Mr. Basit says the situation in Kashmir is also a major challenge and can affect Pakistan’s counter-terrorism achievements. The developing situation in Afghanistan also has impact on Pakistan’s internal security.
“If a peace deal is reached between the Taliban and the US, then things are likely to improve further but if peace remains elusive then the situation will negatively impact Pakistan,” he says.
Mr. Yamin says the end of terrorism in Pakistan cannot be predicted.