Overview: Pakistan experienced significant terrorist threats in 2020. The number of attacks and casualties was slightly higher than in 2019. Major terrorist groups that focused on conducting attacks in Pakistan included TTP and ISIS-Pakistan. Separatist militant groups conducted terrorist attacks against varied targets in Balochistan and Sindh provinces. Terrorists used a range of tactics to attack targets, including IEDs, VBIEDs, suicide bombings, and targeted assassinations.
Pakistan took steps in 2020 to counter terror financing and to restrain India-focused militant groups. The Pakistani government also continued to support the Afghan peace process. Pakistan made limited progress on the most difficult aspects of its 2015 National Action Plan to counter terrorism, specifically in its pledge to dismantle all terrorist organizations without delay or discrimination.
In February and again in November, a Lahore antiterrorism court convicted Lashkar-e-Tayyiba founder Hafiz Saeed on multiple counts of terrorism financing and sentenced him to five years and six months in prison. Pakistan did not, however, take steps under its domestic authorities to prosecute other terrorist leaders residing in Pakistan, such as JeM founder Masood Azhar and LeT’s Sajid Mir, mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
On April 2 the Sindh High Court overturned the 2002 convictions of Omar Sheikh and three co-conspirators for the 2002 kidnapping and murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl. While the Supreme Court of Pakistan sustained the Sindh High Court’s April decision, provincial and federal officials’ appeals continued through the end of the year.
At the October FATF plenary, FATF member states acknowledged Pakistan’s progress on its action plan and agreed to keep Pakistan on the FATF gray list through the 2021 plenary.
2020 Terrorist Incidents: Pakistan experienced numerous terrorist attacks in 2020, including the following:
- On January 10, a suicide bombing in a Taliban-linked mosque in Quetta killed at least 15 people and wounded 18 others. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
- On June 29, four Balochistan Liberation Army militants carrying guns and grenades charged the security barrier of the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi. In the ensuing gun battle with security personnel, eight persons — the four terrorists, three security guards, and a police official — were killed, while seven others were injured.
- On October 27, a five-kilogram IED with ball bearings exploded in Peshawar’s Spin Jamaat Sumeria Madrassa during a religious lecture, injuring 136 present and killing 8. No group has claimed responsibility.
- On November 24, Counterterrorism Division (CTD) police killed a suspected terrorist carrying an explosive vest, a pistol, and two hand grenades as he tried to force his way into a Lahore CTD police station. There were no other casualties. TTP claimed responsibility for the thwarted attack.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The Pakistani government continued to implement the Antiterrorism Act of 1997, the National Counterterrorism Authority (or NACTA) Act, the 2014 Investigation for Fair Trial Act, and major 2014 and 2020 amendments to the Antiterrorism Act, all of which give law enforcement, prosecutors, and courts enhanced powers in terrorism cases.
Military, paramilitary, and civilian security forces conducted CT operations throughout Pakistan against anti-state militants. Pakistani law allows for preventive detention, permits the death penalty for terrorism offenses, and authorizes specialized courts to try terrorism cases.
Pakistan collects biometric information at land crossings through its International Border Management Security System. Authorities had limited ability to detect smuggling by air travel. The Customs Service attempted to enforce anti-money laundering laws and foreign exchange regulations at all major airports, in coordination with other agencies. Customs managed the entry of dual-use chemicals for legitimate purposes through end-use verification, while also attempting to prevent their diversion for use in IEDs.
Consistent with UNSCR 2178, returning FTFs may be prosecuted under Pakistani law.
In 2019, Pakistan implemented the World Customs Organization’s Global Travel Assessment System and is collecting API data from at least two airlines.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Pakistan is a member of the APG. In 2018, FATF identified Pakistan as a jurisdiction with strategic deficiencies in its AML/CFT system and agreed to an action plan with the government to address deficiencies. At the October FATF plenary, FATF member states acknowledged Pakistan had largely addressed 21 of its 27 action plan items and partially addressed the remaining 6. FATF member states agreed to keep Pakistan on the FATF gray list through FATF’s 2021 plenary.
Countering Violent Extremism: The government operated five “deradicalization” camps offering “corrective religious education,” vocational training, counseling, and therapy. A Pakistani NGO administered the juvenile-focused Sabaoon Rehabilitation Center in Swat Valley, which it founded in partnership with the Pakistani military.
Some madrassas continued to teach violent extremist doctrine. While the government continued efforts to increase madrassa regulation, some analysts and madrassa reform proponents observed that many madrassas failed to register with the government, provide documentation of their sources of funding, or comply with laws governing acceptance of foreign students.
The Pakistani cities of Nowshera, Peshawar, and Quetta are members of the Strong Cities Network.
International and Regional Cooperation: Pakistan participated in several multilateral fora where CT cooperation was discussed, including the GCTF, the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, and the ASEAN Regional Forum.