Attack On Mianwali Air Base: Pakistan’s Security Crisis And The Imperative Of A Holistic Approach

Attack On Mianwali Air Base: Pakistan’s Security Crisis And The Imperative Of A Holistic Approach


The recent terrorist attack on Pakistan’s Mianwali Air Base highlights a grave security crisis. The assault follows a series of attacks resulting in 17 soldier fatalities in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan (TJP) claimed responsibility for this attack, an enigmatic group aspiring to establish an Islamic system through armed jihad. Security forces neutralized at least nine terrorists during the attack. A Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) report reveals an eight-year high in security force fatalities, with 386 personnel lost in the first nine months of 2023. The Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS) notes a surge in militant attacks in August, with 99 incidents causing significant casualties. This security crisis coincides with Pakistan’s Afghan refugee repatriation efforts and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) suspected role. The situation demands Pakistan’s urgent attention to tackle ongoing violence and militancy effectively.

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Mianwali Training Base of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in Punjab was attacked by terrorists in the wee hours of November 4. This terror attack, comes on the heels of a series of incidents that left at least 17 soldiers dead in provinces of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The incidents include a militant attack in Gwadar, a remote-controlled bomb explosion in Dera Ismail Khan and a security operation in KP’s Lakki Marwat. A fourth incident, another remote-controlled blast in Dera lsmail Khan, had left five people dead and at least 24 injured, including police officials.[1]

Apparently, at least nine terrorists were killed by security forces in Mianwali. The attack has been claimed by the TTP-linked terror group, Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan (TJP).[2] TJP claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement sent to journalists by its spokesperson.[3] The outfit is under the leadership of its Amir, Maulana Abdullah Yaghistani.[4] The TJP came to the fore very recently, and little is known about the group, which has carried out a string of high-profile attacks in the country, including martyring 12 soldiers at a Pakistani military base of Balochistan in July, 2023.[5]

TJP created its account on Twitter in February, 2023 and has approximately 2,293 followers.  The account tweeted for the first time on February 24. The tweet included a graphic with Urdu-text defined as an “Announcement of the Establishment of Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan.” It named Mullah Muhammad Qasim as its spokesperson, who now issues all TJP statements. The February 24 statement mentioned TJP’s goals also. It stated ‘Sheikh-ul-Hind’ as an inspiration for jihadi ideology. Sheikh-ul-Hind is a title used for Indian Islamic scholar Mahmud Hasan Deobandi (1851-1920) whom the British colonial rulers imprisoned in Malta after he launched a jihadi movement. The statement thus read, “We want to convey the good news to the religious circles of Pakistan that after long discussions with elder Islamic scholars and requests from sincere people, we have reached the conclusion that the objective for which the movement of Sheikh-ul-Hind emerged was destroyed after the independence of Pakistan.”[6]

Like all other Islamist terror formations and groupings operating within Pakistan, the goal of TJP is to enforce an Islamic system in the country through armed jihad. The February statement mentioned, “For the achievement of this objective, for the time being hundreds of mujahideen and dozens of fidayan [martyrdom-seekers] of Islam are ever-ready to sacrifice with money and body…Our targets are the security institutions thrust on Pakistan who are our opponents in this anti-shari’a system.”[7]

Apart from the important and all pervasive component of Shari’a based Islamic Jihad, the fatalities incurred by Pakistani security forces has reached an all-time eight year high in the first nine months of 2023, according to Islamabad based Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS). “Pakistan’s security forces lost at least 386 personnel, 36% of all fatalities – including 137 army and 208 police personnel – in the first 9 months of 2023, marking an eight-year high as the country continues to battle proxy terrorism, largely in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. With 1087 violence-related fatalities recorded so far during the year, the outlaws suffered 368 (34%), followed by civilians with 333 (31%) fatalities”, stated CRSS Security Report – Q3 2023.[8]

Furthermore, the dismal security situation in Pakistan has been analyzed by the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS) in its ‘PICSS August Security Assessment: Notable Findings.’ The report states, ‘Pakistan witnessed a sharp rise in militant attacks in August, with 99 incidents reported across the country, the highest number in any single month since November 2014. These attacks resulted in 112 deaths and 87 injuries, mostly among security forces personnel and civilians. There was an 83-percent rise in militant attacks compared to July when 54 attacks were reported. The month of August also saw four suicide attacks, three in tribal districts of erstwhile FATA and one in mainland KP. In July, there were five suicide attacks, the highest for this year. Overall, the country has witnessed 22 suicide attacks in the first eight months of 2023, resulting in 227 fatalities and 497 injuries.

The tribal regions of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan have served as haven for terror organisations for decades. But Pakistan’s army carried out massive operations against the groups along the Afghan border after the terror attack on Army school of Peshawar in 2014, killing more than 150 people, mostly children. The tribal regions have also been transformed into fully controlled districts in recent years, and Pakistan’s army announced it had cleared the region of local and foreign fighters. However, occasional attacks do continue.[9]

Post-Mianwali attack, unverified photos circulating after the airbase attack show American weapons were seized, which likely fell into the TTP’s hands after the US troops’ Afghanistan withdrawal. Although the Taliban deny it, most official and independent assessments indicate the TTP use Afghanistan and has the new government’s backing. Most notably, all the above mentioned attacks, have occurred as Pakistan carries out its repatriation plan for Afghans refugees, which has been opposed by Afghanistan.[10] Crucially, TTP was the first militant group to officially rejoice the Taliban takeover within hours of the Taliban entering Kabul. In a statement released on August 17, 2021, TTP professed the Taliban’s return to power as a great victory for the jihadi project. TTP Chief, Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud publicly renewed his group’s pledge of loyalty to the Taliban Amir Hibatullah Akhundzada and sworn to continue unqualified support to the Afghan Taliban.[11]

Critically speaking, Mianwali incident gives a fair idea that non-state actors have not been intimidated or threatened by the measures of the Pakistani state to uproot them. Similarly, the working between Afghan and its Pakistani counterpart is not seen as a success in preventing terrorist activities. In fact TTP now has 12 administrative units in Pakistan: seven in KP; one in Gilgit-Baltistan; and two each in Punjab and Balochistan.[12]

As numerous politicians, rights organisations and other groups have condemned Pakistan government’s decision of sending the refugees, saying it singles out susceptible Afghan citizens for whom returning might not be safe, and many, have been threatened with deportation in spite of having government-approved identification documents.[13]

Pakistan is undeniably grappling with the challenge of militant offensives on its soil, compounded by the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan. Recent terror attacks vividly expose the Pakistani establishment’s struggles in dealing with these groups and in negotiating with Kabul. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliates remain steadfast in their pursuit of establishing a Sharia-based political order in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Consequently, whether Pakistan is willing or not, militants are likely to persist in carrying out relentless violent attacks on the country’s security forces.

In a broader context, the data underscores the formidable challenges confronting Pakistan in its battle against militancy and the imperative of safeguarding the well-being of its citizens. These findings raise pertinent questions about the efficacy of counter-terrorism strategies, compelling us to recognize the urgency of adopting a holistic approach to redress the fundamental causes of militancy. The sobering impact on both security forces and civilians underscores the pressing need for fortified security measures and enhanced protection for the most vulnerable segments of the population.

The findings revealed by PICSS should act as a clear and urgent warning, alerting not just Pakistan’s government but also the global community. It is of paramount importance to confront the entrenched issues that serve as fertile breeding grounds for extremism and violence. These underlying concerns include economic disparities, simmering political grievances, and the dire shortage of educational opportunities. Neglecting these foundational factors would leave Pakistan ensnared in an unrelenting cycle of security crises and the dire consequences of militant assaults.

A comprehensive approach that actively addresses these root causes is not merely desirable; it is an absolute necessity to quell the persistent threat of terrorism. This approach demands unwavering commitment to security measures but also an unreserved dedication to promoting social and economic equity. It hinges on engaging in meaningful political dialogue and ensuring that education becomes a unifying and empowering force accessible to all. Only through this multi-faceted and resolute approach can Pakistan aspire to break free from the relentless cycle of violence and chart a course towards enduring peace and stability.

*Dr. Jalis Akhtar Nasiri is a leading scholar and journalist. He contributes regularly on the issue of utmost importance.














Nadia Abdel

Nadia Abdel

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