The state of internal security in Pakistan is a potentially disruptive factor for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Even if there is no threat posed to the U.S. and/or American interests by Pakistan-based militant groups, the United States is concerned by the rise of religious militancy in Pakistan and the risks it poses to the state, to its ability to govern effectively, and the toll it is taking on the civilian population.
The focus of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship in recent years has been on the Haqqani network, and to a lesser extent, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which are based in Pakistan’s tribal areas. These groups have been the target of the controversial C.I.A.-run drone program, which is largely the prism through which the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is seen. Homegrown militancy in Pakistan’s urban areas has not been a major issue in the bilateral relationship, though it has been a source of contention. But drone strikes – including the legality of the program and the issue of civilian casualties– have overshadowed the U.S.-Pakistan relationship and discussions on counter-terrorism.
However, the fact that Pakistan is still a training and recruitment ground for militants who would seek to attack the United States, and that transnational terrorism plots have been traced back to Pakistan, is a key concern. Additionally, this is a concern because of the intensive growth of militant networks in urban Pakistan. This concerns the United States because these factors together enable a network for anti-American militancy in addition to the existing threat from insurgent groups based in Pakistan’s tribal areas. This was underscored by the failed bombing attempt on Times Square in New York in 2010 that combined both homegrown radicalization and the supporting apparatus of Pakistani militant networks based in the tribal areas.
The main purpose of this paper is to examine the current U.S. assessment of the threat posed by homegrown militancy in Pakistan’s urban centers to American interests in South Asia, as well as to the American homeland. It will also comment on the reported resurgence of groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad, which for several years went dormant but today appears to be rebuilding a public profile; implications for the future of homegrown militancy groups are also assessed. It will also look at the role Pakistan-based, homegrown militant groups could play in destabilizing South Asia, as seen by American analysts and experts on the region. It will also briefly analyze the growing transnational ambitions of groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has signaled that it could take its campaign of attacking Shi’ites elsewhere in the region.
There is also the potent question of Pakistan’s complicity in allowing militant groups to operate within the country. The long-standing view in Pakistan is that anti-India militant groups pose no imminent or internal threat to Pakistan – yet could be a useful proxy force in India and Afghanistan – is still ingrained in its military establishment and political sphere. There is little belief amongst U.S. experts in Pakistan and former and current policymakers that this policy has changed. However, many do see a growing realization in Pakistan that there is a problem with homegrown militancy, yet no understanding of how to resolve it.
For the purpose of this paper, I am studying the threats posed specifically by two strains of homegrown militancy in urban areas. The first is the ‘traditional’ anti-India groups that have or could potentially morph into anti-state groups. The second is the sectarian groups that have yet to express any aims of attacking the U.S. but contribute to militancy in Pakistan.
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