Pakistan: Extremism and Terrorism

On April 21, 2021, a car bomb exploded in the parking lot of the Serena Hotel in Quetta, killing at least five and wounding 11. Chinese ambassador to Pakistan Nong Rong was staying in the hotel but was not present during the attack. Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility. “It was a suicide attack in which our suicide bomber used his explosives-filled car in the hotel,” the TTP said in a text message to Reuters. (Sources: Reuters, Associated Press)

On April 12, 2021, police in Lahore arrested Saad Rizvi, leader of the outlawed Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP). The arrest was reportedly to deter TLP supporters from further demanding the expulsion of France’s ambassador over the publication in France of cartoons featuring Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Rizvi had claimed the government had reached an agreement with his party to expel the ambassador by April 20, while government officials claimed they agreed only to discuss the issue in parliament. In response to Rizvi’s arrest, TLP supporters blocked highways and clash with police across the country over the course of two days, killing at least four people and wounding dozens of others, including at least 60 police officers. On April 18, TLP supporters attacked a police station in Lahore while rallying in the city against Rizvi’s arrest. The protesters took hostage 11 officers. The protesters released the hostages the following day after negotiations with the government. Photos released of the hostages during the negotiations showed they had been tortured. (Sources: Voice of America, Associated Press)

Since its independence from British colonial rule in 1947, Pakistan has been divided along ethnic, religious, and sectarian lines, a condition which has been exploited by internal and external organizations to foster extremism and terrorism. For example, Sufism––Islamic mysticism––is popular in Pakistan. However, religious fundamentalists and extremists, especially those influenced by Wahhabism, view Sufism as un-Islamic and its followers as heretics, which has led to religious tension and frequent attacks on Sufi shrines in Pakistan. (Sources: Asian Studies Association of Australia, International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Brookings Institution)

At the end of colonial rule in 1947, the British did not partition Kashmir, which created a rivalry between Pakistan and India that continues today.

The Pakistani state itself has also used Islamic extremism as a strategic tool to further its interests in the region. At the end of colonial rule in 1947, the British did not partition Kashmir, which created a rivalry between Pakistan and India that continues today. The two countries have fought three wars over the control of Kashmir, a disputed territory over which India, Pakistan, and China all claim partial or complete ownership. India and Pakistan also engaged in a fourth conflict over the liberation of East Pakistan––now known as Bangladesh. India––whose 1.2 billion population far outnumbers Pakistan’s 182 million––defeated Pakistan in all four conflicts. Pakistan not only contests India over territorial claims, but perceives the country as an existential threat aiming to wipe it off the map––a sentiment exacerbated by the fear of India’s vast manpower in comparison to its own. Pakistan therefore has tolerated and sometimes supported the activities of militant extremist groups that target Indian interests. Pakistan has also supported groups that operate in Afghanistan in order to deny Indian influence there. (Sources: CNN, Foreign Policy, South Asia Terrorism Portal, Long War Journal, Brookings Institution, BBC News, Brookings Institution)

Extremist groups that Pakistan has tolerated or supported in the past include Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), Hizb-il-Mujahideen (HM), the Mullah Nazir Group, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), and the Afghan Taliban and its affiliated Haqqani network. Pakistan has instead focused most of its counterterrorism operations against groups that seek to challenge and overthrow the Pakistani state. These groups, which pose a more direct threat to the state, include the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP)––a subset of the Pakistani Taliban and the deadliest of indigenous Pakistani extremist groups, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). (Sources: Long War Journal, Brookings Institution, RAND Corporation, Stanford University)

In March 2019, the Pakistani government promised to crack down on extremist groups operating in the country. The following month, Prime Minister Imran Khan accepted Pakistan’s responsibility in creating multiple militant groups but said that they no longer served Pakistan’s interests and fighting violent extremism was necessary for Pakistan’s stability. Pakistan’s past counter-extremism efforts have generally been insufficient. In a 2016 report, the U.S. Department of State assessed that Pakistan was not doing enough to disrupt the activities of LeT and JeM––both of which continue to operate, train, organize and fundraise within Pakistan. Although terrorism-related violence has been on the decline in Pakistan in recent years––with only 600 terrorism-related civilian deaths in 2016 compared with 3,000 in 2012––many local scholars claim that intolerance and extremism in the country are on the rise. Pakistan’s poor performance on countering violent extremism has been attributed to domestic political constraints such as weak governance, civilian-military divides, and economic obstacles, as well as Pakistan’s reluctance to target extremist groups that serve its strategic interests. Most counter-radicalization efforts in Pakistan have been initiated by foreign or civil society organizations or donors, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development. (Sources: Reuters, Asian Studies Association of Australia, U.S. Department of State, Brookings Institution, Reuters, New York Times)

Public opinion on extremism in Pakistan is mixed. A majority of Pakistanis reportedly condemn violence, but many still support extremist ideology, especially when based in religious rhetoric. Many Pakistanis trust the country’s religious scholars and faith-based networks, which have significant influence on shaping and molding public opinion. A January 2015 Brookings Institution study concluded that the government of Pakistan has been “largely unsuccessful” in mobilizing public support for its countering violent extremism (CVE) initiatives. (Sources: International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Brookings Institution)

The Pakistani state has supported some extremist groups for strategic reasons and at times has leveraged Islamic extremist movements for internal political mobilization. Additionally, socio-economic disparities, competing sectarian agendas, and political marginalization contribute to radicalization in Pakistan. In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), radicalization can largely be attributed to the influence of militant Islamist organizations that operate there, including the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Growing radicalization on Pakistani university campuses also poses an increasing challenge to Pakistani counterterrorism efforts. Since December 2014, Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) officials have been monitoring universities for signs of recruitment by extremists. (Sources: South Asia Terrorism Portal, Long War Journal, Asian Studies Association of Australia, International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Brookings Institution, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point)

Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan

Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is a subset of the Pakistani Taliban, which is a general term for Pakistani groups that support and share the ideology and objectives of the Afghan Taliban. The TTP is an umbrella organization comprised of 13 distinct Pakistani Taliban factions––approximately half of all Pakistani Taliban factions. Established in December 2007, the TTP seeks to expel the Pakistani military from the FATA, wage defensive jihad against the Pakistani government, establish an Islamic state under sharia law in Pakistan, and finally, expel U.S.-led coalition forces from Afghanistan. Based in the South Waziristan Agency of the FATA, the TTP contains more than 30,000 members and is the deadliest of indigenous Pakistani extremist groups. The TTP was banned in Pakistan in August 2008, designated as a terrorist organization by the United States in 2010, and sanctioned by the United Nations in 2011. (Sources: South Asia Terrorism Portal, Stanford University, CNN, U.S. Department of State)

Unlike the Afghan Taliban, which targets mostly U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, the TTP focuses its attacks on the Pakistani state and security apparatus. However, the group has also sought to negotiate with the Pakistani state. For example, in January 2014, the TTP began a dialogue with the Pakistani government aimed at achieving peace, but the negotiations collapsed the following month when the group executed 23 Pakistani soldiers. (Sources: Stanford University, South Asia Terrorism Portal, Telegraph)

The TTP recruits masses of teenage boys to become suicide bombers through youth-targeted propaganda. The TTP also recruits from Internally Displaced Persons camps, where many occupants harbor grievances against the Pakistani army. The group has also pledged its support to the Afghan Taliban in the aim of attracting recruits from among Taliban supporters. New recruits are sent to training facilities in the FATA, where they to learn how to conduct guerrilla warfare and carry out bombings––the TTP’s preferred method of attack. The TTP frequently conducts attacks designed to wear down the morale of its enemy––such as attacks targeting schools for girls or for military children. The TTP also draws support from conservative and hardline religious Pakistanis due to its efforts to rid cities like Karachi of so-called “immoral” activities such as drugs and prostitution. (Source: Stanford University)

The TTP frequently conducts attacks designed to wear down the morale of its enemy––such as attacks targeting schools for girls or for military children.

Nevertheless, the group’s frequent and increasingly indiscriminate terror attacks are reportedly strongly opposed by the vast majority of Pakistanis. On August 31, 2012, the TTP released a video showing the severed heads of 12 missing Pakistani soldiers arranged on the ground. On October 9, 2012, a TTP gunman shot Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old advocate for female education, though Yousafzai survived the gunshot wound to her head and the incident sparked international attention and outrage. The TTP has conducted joint attacks with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), including a June 2014 raid on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi that killed 18 people. A December 16, 2014 massacre on a Pakistani Army-run school in Peshawar killed 143 individuals––including 134 children. More recently, suicide bombings targeting two Shiite markets in Kurram Agency in June and July of 2017 killed over 120 people altogether, and a December 1, 2017 attack on the Agricultural Training Institute in Peshawar killed nine people––including six students. (Sources: Stanford University, South Asia Terrorism Portal, Al Jazeera)

The TTP has also expressed hostility toward the United States. In December 2009, the TTP carried out a suicide bombing on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, allegedly in retaliation for TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud’s death in a U.S. drone strike. A few months later, the TTP released a video message in which it threatened to attack U.S. cities in response to further drone strikes. In May 2010, U.S. law enforcement authorities linked the group to an attempted terror attack in New York City’s Times Square. In November 2013, Hakimullah Mehsud, who assumed TTP leadership after Baitullah Mehsud’s death, was also killed in a U.S. drone strike. (Source: Stanford University)

The TTP funds its operations through kidnappings for ransom, smuggling natural resources such as gems and timber, collecting taxes from local populations, and receiving donations from benefactors both in Pakistan and abroad. TTP has also received funding and logistical support from other extremist groups, such as LeJ, HuM, and even al-Qaeda––who reportedly contributed $15 million to the TTP through the Saudi-based Al-Haramain Foundation. In April 2017, the TTP’s former spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed that Afghan and Indian intelligence agencies provide funding and intelligence to TTP to fight the Pakistani government, though both the Afghan and Indian governments rejected the accusations. (Source: Stanford University)

In 2014, the Afghan Taliban condemned as “un-Islamic” the TTP attack on a Pakistan Army-run school that killed 134 children. Nevertheless, the two groups cooperate in order to maintain control over the tribal regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and TTP has pledged its support to the Afghan Taliban in the hopes of attracting new recruits from among Taliban supporters. Likewise, extending some measure of goodwill to the TTP helps the Afghan Taliban maintain safe havens and sanctuaries in Pakistan, and to recruit Pakistani Pashtun tribesmen as fighters. (Sources: South Asia Terrorism Portal, Stanford University)

Lashkar i-Jhangvi

Formed in 1996, Lashkar i-Jhangvi (LeJ) is a Sunni terrorist organization that splintered off from the militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) due to ideological disagreements. The group aims to transform Pakistan into a Sunni Islamic state and drive Western influence from the region. LeJ leadership mainly consists of jihadis who fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, and a majority of its members are recruited from Sunni religious schools in Pakistan. LeJ was outlawed in Pakistan on August 14, 2001, by then-President Pervez Musharraf, and was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States in 2003. LeJ often cooperates with the TTP, and one of its cells officially merged with the TTP in May 2015. (Sources: South Asia Terrorism Portal, Stanford University, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Long War Journal, Diplomat)

LeJ’s attacks have mostly targeted Shias within Pakistan, including targeted killings of Shia religious and community leaders. LeJ has carried out several deadly attacks in recent years, including a January 2013 double bombing of a pool club in Quetta that left more than 100 dead, and a June 2013 attack in which female suicide bomber targeted a bus full of female university students, killing 14. LeJ’s targets have also included U.S. interests. In 2002, LeJ kidnapped and beheaded American journalist Daniel Pearl. The U.S. issued a $5 million reward for the capture of former LeJ commander Qari Zafa due to his alleged involvement in a March 2, 2006 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Karachi that killed two Pakistani nationals employed there. However, Zafar was reported killed in an IED blast in June 2010. (Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal, Stanford University, Guardian)

LeJ also has links to other Pakistan-based terrorist organizations, including Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). Many LeJ members reportedly receive military training in HuM camps in Afghanistan. In February 2015, LeJ reportedly requested assistance from al-Qaeda amid a crackdown on its activities by Pakistani security forces but was rejected. LeJ then appealed to and successfully received financial assistance from the TTP. LeJ has also reportedly received substantial funding from wealthy benefactors in Karachi. (Sources: South Asia Terrorism Portal, South Asia Terrorism Portal, Stanford University)


Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is a Sunni militant group that was founded in 1990 in Afghanistan’s Kunar province and is currently based near Lahore, Pakistan. LeT seeks to refute Indian sovereignty in Jammu and Kashmir––an Indian state that makes up about 45 percent of the disputed territory of Kashmir—and to extend Islamic rule to parts of India and to other regions surrounding Pakistan. It is active in Kashmir, Chechnya, and other parts of Central Asia. LeT leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed has stated that he considers India, Israel, and the United States to be his prime enemies, and has threatened attacks on U.S. interests. However, LeT refrains from targeting Muslims and the Pakistani state. The group was designated as a U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization in December 2001 and is also outlawed in both India and Pakistan. However, Pakistan has continued to tolerate and at times, directly support LeT, as the government benefits from the militant group’s anti-Indian activities. (Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal, Stanford University, Long War Journal, Washington Post, CNN)

Within Pakistan, LeT maintains a vast network of training camps and branch offices. LeT openly fundraises, holds rallies, recruits, and trains within Pakistan, and has even been funded, armed, and trained in part by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). LeT also operates a large social service infrastructure––Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD)––which includes 135 secondary schools, an ambulance service, mobile clinics, and blood banks. The group publishes an Urdu-language monthly journal, al-Dawa, as well as publications in English and Arabic. The group receives substantial funding from global charitable donations, and has received direct support from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Gulf states. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, South Asia Terrorism Portal, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Long War Journal)

LeT has targeted U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan since 2004. The United States also holds LeT leader Hafiz Saeed responsible for masterminding the November 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans. After Pakistan released Saeed from house arrest on November 24, 2017, the White House criticized Pakistan and called for his immediate re-arrest and prosecution, stating that his release “sends a deeply troubling message about Pakistan’s commitment to combatting international terrorism and belies Pakistani claims that it will not provide sanctuary for terrorists on its soil.” Following his release, Saeed announced that LeT’s political wing, the Milli Muslim League, would run in the 2018 general election, though the party has yet to be recognized by Pakistan’s electoral commission. No LeT members have been prosecuted in Pakistan for involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attack, though at least three Pakistani military officials have been implicated by Interpol for their involvement. (Sources: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, The White House, Jamestown Foundation, Long War Journal)


Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) is a Pakistan-based extremist group that aims to undermine Indian control in Kashmir, impose sharia law in Pakistan, and expel U.S.-led coalition forces from Afghanistan. JeM was founded by Masood Azhar, a former member of Harakat al-Mujahedeen (HuM), reportedly with the support of Osama bin Laden, the ISI, and the Afghan Taliban. JeM initially conducted attacks in Indian-controlled Kashmir, but later began operating in other parts of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The United States designated JeM as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in December 2001, and Pakistan banned JeM in 2002. However, JeM is still able to freely hold rallies, raise money, recruit, and train inside Pakistan. (Sources: Stanford University, Long War Journal, U.S. Department of State)

JeM carried out multiple deadly attacks in the early 2000s. In October 2001, JeM attacked the legislative assembly building in Indian-controlled Kashmir, killing 30 people. That December, JeM collaborated with LeT in an armed assault on the Indian parliament that killed 14, according to Indian authorities. A JeM member was also implicated in the 2002 abduction and beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl, carried out by LeT. In December 2003, Pakistani officials implicated JeM members in two 2002 assassination attempts against then-President Musharraf. JeM has received funding for its militant activities through charitable foundations, such as the Al-Rashid Trust, a trust fund designated by the United States as a financial facilitator of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as through personal donations. (Sources: Stanford University, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State)

JeM splintered into two factions––Khuddam ul-Islam (KUI) and Jammat ul-Furqan (JUF)––in 2003, although sources have continued to refer to both factions as JeM. The group faced setbacks in the mid-2000s after many senior leaders were arrested by the Pakistani government. In June 2008, JeM reportedly refocused its efforts on expelling foreign forces from Afghanistan, though JeM attacks in Kashmir continued. (Source: Stanford University)

JeM claimed responsibility for a February 14, 2019, suicide car bomb in the Pulwama district of India-controlled Kashmir that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police officers and wounded five others. The Indian government accused Pakistan of having a “direct hand” in the attack. On February 26, India launched air strikes on JeM training camps inside Pakistan, allegedly killing hundreds of JeM militants. It was India’s first direct air strike in Pakistan since 1971. Pakistan retaliated on February 27, resulting in aerial combat between Indian and Pakistani forces and the capture of Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman. The Pakistani government returned Varthaman on March 1 and pledged to crack down on JeM. India reportedly sent the Pakistani government a dossier on JeM militants, training centers inside Pakistan, and evidence of JeM’s complicity in the February 14 bombing. After Pakistan arrested 44 militants, including the son and brother of JeM leader Masood Azhar, on March 5, Pakistani military authorities said the crackdown was part of ongoing domestic policy and not in response to tensions with India. All 44 of the JeM militants arrested were listed in the Indian dossier. The Pakistani government has also denied that India struck a JeM camp in its February 26 airstrike. (Sources: CNN, Washington Post, NDTV, Reuters, BBC News, CNN)

India also shared that dossier with all 15 members of the U.N. Security Council in an effort to have JeM leader Azhar added to the council’s list of designated terrorists. The United Nations designated JeM as a terrorist organization in 2001, but permanent Security Council member China vetoed past efforts to designate Azhar. According to Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in a February 28, 2019, CNN interview, Pakistani authorities know Azhar is in Pakistan but he is “very unwell” and unable to leave his house. Asked why Pakistan does not arrest Azhar, Qureshi said that India should provide “acceptable” evidence that Pakistan can use to convince the Pakistani people and the Pakistani judiciary. Asked directly if he doubted accusations against Azhar and JeM, he said “there is a legal process and you have to satisfy that legal process.” On March 5, the Pakistani Foreign Minister said it was ready to take action against the assets and bank accounts of militant groups within its borders and within Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. (Sources: CNN, CNN, CNN, Times of India)

As of July 2020, Indian has continued its investigation into the 2019 Pulwama attack. On July 7, 2020, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested Bilal Ahmed Kuchey in Pulwama, for harboring and providing logistical support to JeM members who were involved in the attack. Additionally, on July 2, 2020, NIA forces arrested Mohammad Iqbal Rather in Budgam, Jammu and Kashmir, for allegedly facilitating the movement of Muhammad Umar Farooq into the Indian territory of Jammu. Farooq, a member of JeM, was a key conspirator in the 2019 Pulwama bombing.  (Sources: New Indian Express, The Indian Express)

Jaish al Adl

Jaish al Adl (“Army of Justice”) is a Sunni extremist group founded in 2012 and based in Pakistan’s Balochistan region. It claims to champion the rights of Iranian Sunnis whom they say are persecuted by Iran’s Shiite government. The group has carried out multiple cross-border attacks against the Iranian government and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The group claimed responsibility for a February 13, 2019, suicide bombing in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province near the Pakistani border, which killed at least 27 Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp members and wounded 13 others. Iran has repeatedly called on Pakistan to crack down on Jaish al Adl and other groups operating in its territory. (Sources: Reuters, BBC News, Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium)


Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) broke off from the TTP in August 2014 due to a disagreement over the TTP’s participation in peace talks with the Pakistani government. JuA leader Omar Khalid Khorasani, who had links to al-Qaeda, criticized the TTP for straying from its goal of establishing a global Islamic caliphate. JuA’s main base of operations is in Mohmand Agency in the FATA, and the group recruits from tribal districts along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as well as from TTP factions across Pakistan. JuA has reportedly received funding from al-Qaeda due to Khorasani’s links with the organization. JuA spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan has also claimed that the group receives assistance from Indian and Afghani intelligence and security services, although both countries have denied the claim. (Source: Stanford University)

After splitting from the TTP, JuA conducted its first suicide attack in November 2014 in Wagah, a village outside of Lahore. The attack killed 60 people and injured 100 others. JuA has since stated that it opposes attacks on Islamic places of worship and public gathering places, such as markets, though the group has not always adhered to this claim. For example, in March 2017, JuA conducted a suicide bombing at a market in Parachinar near a nearby women’s mosque, killing 22 and injuring 57. (Source: Stanford University)

In March 2015, JuA re-unified with the TTP following Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a major Pakistani government counterterrorism offensive. However, JuA has continued to retain some degree of independence, releasing its own publications and attack claims. In July 2016, Khorasani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in eastern Nangahar Province, though the group has successfully continued to mount attacks since. (Source: Stanford University)

On August 3, 2016, the U.S. Department of State designated JuA as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. In its designation, the State Department cited the group’s March 2016 attack on the U.S. consulate in Peshawar, which killed two Pakistani employees, and Easter Sunday 2016 suicide bombing at an amusement park in Lahore that killed over 70 people, including many women and children. JuA has also recently conducted joint attacks with ISIS, such as a June 2017 attack on the office of the police chief of Balochistan that killed 13 people. Despite the ideological differences between al-Qaeda and ISIS, JuA leverages and maintains relationships with both groups. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, Stanford University)

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) is a U.S.-designated terror group and al-Qaeda’s newest affiliate that seeks to wage jihad and impose Islamic rule by sharia law on the Indian subcontinent. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced its formation in September 2014. AQIS reportedly operates in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. The group has claimed numerous attacks in the region, although it has gained the most traction within Pakistan. AQIS conducted a few assassinations of Pakistani professors and military personnel in 2014 and 2015, but has been unable to conduct larger-scale attacks typical of al-Qaeda. Analysts generally believe that AQIS was formed as an attempt to take attention away from ISIS and to preserve al-Qaeda’s safe havens in Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Sources: Stanford University, Australian National Security, New York Times, Voice of America, Long War Journal, Long War Journal, Long War Journal, Diplomat)

The group has claimed numerous attacks in the region, although it has gained the most traction within Pakistan.

AQIS works with al-Qaeda Central and the Taliban, and its fighters have sometimes fought under the flag of the Taliban. In June 2017, the group released a 20-page “Code of Conduct” reiterating its allegiance to those groups, as well as its intentions to conduct attacks against military targets in its countries of operation as well as American targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Source: Long War Journal)

In addition to AQIS, senior leaders of al-Qaeda Central continue to operate in Pakistan despite an ongoing multinational effort that has degraded the group’s capabilities, and maintain links to multiple extremists groups. For example, the TTP provides al-Qaeda members with a safe haven in parts of Pakistan, while al-Qaeda provides the TTP with logistical support. The Pakistani military continues to battle al-Qaeda militants in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri reportedly enjoys sanctuary in Pakistan––likely in the southwest corner of Balochistan. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, Stanford University, New York Times, Long War Journal)

Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban

Founded in Afghanistan the 1970s, the Haqqani network is a Sunni militant organization that now operates in southeastern Afghanistan and North Waziristan, Pakistan, where it runs the notorious Manba Ulom madrassa. The Taliban was founded as a Sunni militant organization in 1994 and as the predominant umbrella group for the Afghan insurgency. The Haqqani network is officially considered to be under the umbrella of the Taliban, although it retains its own independent structure. Both the Taliban and Haqqani conduct attacks in Afghanistan, as they seek to expel U.S.-led coalition forces from the country and establish Taliban rule under sharia law there. Both groups maintain close links to al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States.  (Sources: Stanford University, Stanford University, Institute for the Study of War)

Pakistan’s ISI has reportedly provided both the Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban with extensive funding, weapons, and sanctuary. Most early Taliban members were also trained the Deobandi or Saudi-funded Wahhabi madrassas of Pakistan, and the group continues to recruit from madrassas there. While the Afghan Taliban still thrives in Afghanistan––reportedly controlling up to 43 percent of the country in 2014­­––the Afghan government and U.S.-led coalition forces have inflicted great damage on the Haqqani network in recent years, bringing its total size from 10,000 members in 2011 to around 2,000 in 2012. Furthermore, since 2014, Pakistan has carried out extensive counterterrorism operations against the Haqqani network. However, many of the group’s fighters have reportedly relocated from North Waziristan to other parts of Pakistan, such as the Kurram tribal area. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, reportedly moved freely around Pakistan as of February 2016 and has even visited Pakistani intelligence offices in Rawalpindi. (Sources: Stanford University, Reuters, Long War Journal, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, BBC News, Brookings Institution, Long War Journal)

According to U.S. and Afghani officials, both the Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban take shelter and launch attacks from the Pakistani side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. As of 2016, Pakistan was supporting Afghan efforts to bring the Haqqani network, Taliban, and Afghan government into peace talks, but the U.S. State Department assessed that it was not doing enough to prevent their attacks on Afghan and U.S. targets inside Afghanistan. (Source: Stanford University, Washington Post, U.S. Department of State)


Established in January 2015, the Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) is ISIS’s formal branch in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The group was led by former TTP commander Hafiz Saeed Khan, who was killed in a July 2016 U.S. drone strike. The group has since lost hundreds of fighters and control of some territory due to counterterrorism operations by Afghan and U.S. forces, but it remains active in the region. In addition to a number of high-profile, mass-casualty attacks in Kabul, Afghanistan, ISIS-K has claimed a number of mass-casualty attacks inside Pakistan, many of which were conducted in collaboration with Lashkar i-Jhangvi (LeJ). (Source: Long War Journal, U.S. Department of State)

On September 1, 2016, the Pakistan military announced that it had arrested more than 300 ISIS members and disrupted the group’s efforts to establish itself in Pakistan. However, subsequent attacks inside Pakistan have been claimed by ISIS-K­­––for example, a December 2017 double suicide bombing at a church in Quetta that killed nine. (Source: U.S. Department of State, Associated Press)


Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM)––a.k.a. Jamiat ul-Ansar––is a Sunni militant organization founded in 1985 to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The group has since changed its focus to waging jihad against Indian forces in Kashmir. HuM’s primary aim is to unite Kashmir with Pakistan and establish an Islamic state in Pakistan under sharia law. The United States designated HuM as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997. HuM maintains extensive ties to al-Qaeda and is allied with several other Pakistani terrorist groups, including Hiz-il-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. HuM targeted the United States in a 2002 attack outside the U.S. consulate in Karachi that killed 11, but has mostly conducted attacks against Indian targets. The group has allegedly received support from Pakistan’s ISI as recently as 2011. (Sources: Stanford University, Long War Journal)


Hizb-il-Mujahideen (HM) is one of the largest and most powerful militant groups operating in Kashmir. It seeks the integration of Kashmir with Pakistan. The group formed in September 1989 as the military wing of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeL), a conservative Islamist political party in Pakistan. It aimed to counter the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, which advocated for complete independence for Kashmir. The group is headquartered at Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and has an estimated 1,500 members. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa both glorified slain HM commander Burhan Wani as a leader of the “freedom struggle in Kashmir.” HM was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States on August 16, 2017. (Sources: South Asia Terrorism Portal, Hindustan Times, U.S. Department of the Treasury)

HM has received support from Pakistan’s ISI and its leader, Syed Salahuddin, is allowed to operate with relative impunity in Pakistan. Most of HM’s fighters are from Pakistan, and Salahuddin has stated that the Pakistani military allows him to run “hundreds of training camps” in the country. In recent years, HM has also utilized social media and video tutorials in an attempt to recruit and train Kashmiri youth. (Sources: Long War Journal, BBC News, Hindustan Times, International Business Times India)

Mullah Nazir Group

The Mullah Nazir Group is a faction of the Pakistani Taliban operating within South Waziristan. It seeks to expel U.S.-led coalition forces from Afghanistan, and establish an Islamic state ruled by sharia law in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and eventually, around the world. The Mullah Nazir Group merged with the TTP for a brief time in 2007, but broke away the following year due to ideological disagreements. The group has extensive ties to al-Qaeda, and in 2013, was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States. Although the Mullah Nazir Group eventually seeks to overthrow the Pakistani government, its immediate focus is on Afghanistan, and Pakistan has viewed it as an ally against other groups in the FATA that pose an immediate threat to the Pakistani state and has even provided it with direct support. (Sources: Long War Journal, Stanford University, Jamestown Foundation

Balochistan Liberation Army

The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) is an armed separatist group based in Pakistan’s Balochistan region with activities also in Afghanistan and Iran. After Pakistan’s 1947 partition from India, Balochistan was divided between Pakistan’s Balochistan province, Afghanistan’s Balochistan region, and Iran’s Sistan province. The BLA seeks to create an independent Balochistan nation in the Baloch regions of those countries. Pakistan, the United States, and the United Kingdom have designated the BLA as a terrorist group. The group rose to prominence in 2000 after it claimed credit for a series of bomb attacks on Pakistani authorities. The BLA has since claimed responsibility for multiple terror attacks in Pakistan, including an August 2018 suicide car bombing that wounded five, a November 2018 attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi that killed four, and a May 2019 attack on a luxury hotel in Balochistan that killed five. The BLA views Chinese investment in Pakistan as a Chinese attempt to colonize Balochistan. As such, the BLA has conducted multiple attacks on the Chinese consulate in Pakistan and China-owned businesses and other interests. (Sources: Kootneeti, Express Tribune, Al Jazeera, New York Times, New York Times, Reuters, BBC News, U.S. Department of State, Gov.UK)

Pakistan accuses India of supporting Baloch separatists. After a June 2020 attack on the Stock Exchange building in Karachi, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told the Pakistani parliament there was no doubt India had supported the attack. The Pakistani government has also specifically accused the Indian spy agency Research and Analysis Wing of supporting the BLA. India denies the allegations. (Sources: Al Jazeera, India Today)

2018 Elections

Several candidates in Pakistan’s July 25, 2018, national elections were reportedly linked to extremist groups. According to news reports, 1,500 right-wing candidates have promoted fundamentalist ideals. For example, 566 candidates were aligned with Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, whose platform included increased enforcement of a law proscribing the death penalty for those convicted of insulting Islam. The Milli Muslim League is banned from participation in Pakistan’s politics because the party’s spiritual leader, Hafiz Saeed, is a U.N.-designated terrorist suspected of orchestrating the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Nonetheless, the party fielded 260 candidates in the election, either as independents or under other parties. The Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) party is the accused political wing of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a terror group that has at times allied with both al-Qaeda and ISIS and is responsible for killing hundreds. More than 150 LeJ candidates ran in the election under the Pakistan Rah-e-Haq party or as independents. A month before the election, the Pakistani government removed ASWJ leader Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi from its terrorism watch list. The Islamist parties ran under a joint political alliance called Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal. (Sources: CNBC, Reuters, Reuters)

Pakistani voters largely rejected extremism in the election. Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal failed to win a significant number of seats. Former cricket star Imran Khan’s conservative Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party won 116 of the 270 parliamentary seats. Khan has reportedly expressed sympathy for the Taliban and support for Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Khan’s opponents and other protesters have alleged voter fraud and called for a new election. (Sources: New York Times, Hindustan Times, Dawn, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)

Foreign Fighters

As of December 2014, as many as 300 Pakistani foreign fighters were reportedly in Syria fighting against Bashar al-Assad’s government forces. In August 2016, Pakistani intelligence officials reportedly assessed that as many as 650 Pakistani foreign fighters were fighting for several extremist groups in conflict zones including Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Central Asian states. Pakistani intelligence agencies were able to identify 132 of them, and expressed concern over the security risks that these “radicalized, trained, and experienced” fighters could present upon returning to Pakistan. In November 2017, Afghan officials claimed that many Pakistanis were included in the 3,000 foreign fighters fighting on behalf of ISIS in Afghanistan. (Sources: Dawn, U.S. Library of Congress, New York Times, Voice of America)

In May 2011, foreign fighters from other countries reportedly amassed in Pakistan’s tribal areas to prepare cross-border attacks on U.S.-led coalition troops in Afghanistan. A Moroccan man who had traveled to Afghanistan told British authorities upon arrest that some of the fighters converging in Pakistan were from France and Saudi Arabia. Foreign fighters have also joined some of Pakistan’s most prominent extremist groups, such as Laskhar-e-Taiba (LeT), which reportedly includes members from Afghanistan, Sudan, Bahrain, Central Asia, Turkey, and Libya. (Sources: Telegraph, South Asia Terrorism Portal)

During the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan provided logistical support to NATO forces there. Some militant religious groups previously supported by the Pakistani state opposed this decision and subsequently began to attack foreign targets inside Pakistan. As a result, Pakistan launched military operations against these groups, who were mostly based in the country’s tribal areas. These terrorists then began to direct attacks against the Pakistani state and the general public in revenge. For example, after the May 2, 2011 death of Osama bin Laden, the TTP accused Pakistan of complicity in the raid that killed him and mounted several high-profile attacks in revenge throughout the month––such as a double suicide bombing the following week that killed more than 80 people. (Source: Defense & Security Analysis, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Guardian, Reuters)

In addition, terrorist groups operating in Pakistan continue to target civilians, officials, and religious minorities at venues such as schools, markets, government institutions, and places of worship. (Source: U.S. Department of State)

Pre-Election Violence

Less than a week before Pakistan’s July 25, 2018, elections, Pakistan’s Election Commission ordered the army to deploy approximately 371,000 troops around the country to guard election sites. The commission also granted the army judicial power to immediately try and sentence anyone found to be breaking election laws. The army deployment was triple that for the 2013 elections. At least 158 people were killed and 670 wounded in attacks in the six weeks ahead of Pakistan’s July 25, 2018, elections, according to the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies. Most prominently, an ISIS suicide bomber killed at least 149 and wounded more than 180 at a political rally in Balochistan on July 13, 2018, in the third deadliest attack in Pakistan’s history. The bombing targeted the anti-Taliban Awami party, which was also the subject of a July 10, 2018, attack that killed 20 people in Peshawar. Among the fatalities was Awami National Party provincial candidate Haroon Bilour, whose father, Bashir Bilour, was killed in a December 2012 Taliban bombing ahead of Pakistan’s 2013 elections. According to the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, 170 people were killed during the 2013 election period. (Sources: Reuters, Al Jazeera, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Al Jazeera, Reuters, New York Times)

Attacks on Schools

In one of the TTP’s most notorious attacks on December 16, 2014, militants stormed an Pakistani Army-run children’s school in Peshawar, killing at least 143 people––including 134 children––and wounding more than 121 others. In October 2012, in an incident that spurred international outrage, a TTP gunman shot Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old advocate for female education, on a school bus. The TTP has also attacked the Agricultural Training Institute in Peshawar, Bacha Khan University in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and other schools and school-related targets across Pakistan. (Sources: South Asia Terrorism Portal, Al Jazeera, Stanford University, Guardian, Indian Express)

According to Human Rights Watch, the TTP and other militant groups in Pakistan target schools and universities in order to foster intolerance, attack symbols of the government, and enforce gender discrimination by preventing the education of girls in particular. There were reportedly 867 attacks on education institutions in Pakistan between 2007 and 2015, and as of 2017, an estimated 25 million Pakistani children were not enrolled in school. Human Rights Watch predicts that such a devastating impact on education will have negative long-term effects on Pakistani society. (Sources: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch)

Attacks in Kashmir

Kashmir has been a contended territory since the end of colonial rule in 1947, when the British did not partition the territory but left its princes to choose allegiance to either Pakistan or India, creating a rivalry between the two countries that continues today. The present insurgency in Kashmir began in 1989, and continues today, with death toll estimates well over 40,000. Several Pakistan-based extremist groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), and Hizb-il-Mujahideen (HM), conduct attacks on Indian targets in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which makes up 45 percent of the overall Kashmir region. For example, a February 14, 2019, suicide bombing in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police officers and resulted in India’s first direct air strike into Pakistan since 1971 as the country bombed what it called a JeM training camp. (Sources: CNN, Foreign Policy, Hindu, Hindustan Times, CNN, Washington Post, Reuters, BBC News)

Pakistan has long faced international criticism that it allows violent extremist groups to operate within its territory. In March 2019, the Pakistani government pledged to take action against these groups and actuate an idled 2014 Plan of Action against extremism. That month, the government took control of at least 182 religious schools affiliated with extremist groups, as well as dozens of hospitals and other charities. The crackdown came in response to a February 14, 2019, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) attack in India that killed at least 40 and sparked international criticism that Pakistan has harbored violent extremist groups. The Pakistani government claimed the crackdown is part of a long-planned strategy and not in response to pressure following the attack in India. In April 2019, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan declared that the push against violent extremism was necessary for Pakistan’s stability and the country “will not allow armed militias to operate.” He further stated that the government is seeking to bring the country’s 30,000 madrassas under government control and rehabilitate thousands of former militants. Nonetheless, the U.S. State Department has declared Pakistan is still doing too little to confront terrorist groups. (Sources: Reuters, Reuters, Reuters, Associated Press)

Although Pakistan has in the past taken action against some extremist groups that have threatened the state or its interests, most of its responses have been reactionary, according to the Asian Studies Association of Australia. Furthermore, Pakistan continues to tolerate and even encourage the activities of other extremist groups that serve its greater strategic interests. According to Foreign Policy, Pakistan not only contests India over the control of Kashmir, but fears that India aims to challenge Pakistan’s very existence. Pakistan has therefore tolerated and even supported extremist groups that attack Indian targets and contest India’s control of the Kashmir region. The Brookings Institution also attributes Pakistan’s inadequate countering violent extremism (CVE) performance to additional domestic political constraints such as weak governance, civilian-military divides, and economic obstacles. Local scholars have reported that extremism is on the rise, which makes Pakistan’s deficient CVE efforts especially concerning. (Sources: South Asia Terrorism Portal, Asian Studies Association of Australia, Foreign Policy, Long War Journal, Brookings Institution, Brookings Institution)

While the Pakistani government has touted its assistance to the United States in brokering a ceasefire with the Taliban, the government faces international criticism of its counterterrorism efforts. In June 2020, the U.S. government criticized Pakistan for doing too little to combat terrorism, particularly the Haqqani network and groups targeting Indian interests. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) maintains that Pakistan has not done enough to combat terror financing. And despite objections by the Pakistani government, the Pakistani Supreme Court in January 2021 acquitted Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who had spent the previous 18 years on death row for the 2002 death of American-Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl. The United States intends to Sheikh’s his extradition. The court also ordered the release of Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil, and Salman Saqib, who had all been sentenced to life in prison for roles in Pearl’s murder. (Sources: Associated Press, Guardian, BBC News, Associated Press)


Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), provincial counterterrorism departments, and a National Action Plan on Preventing Violent Extremism aim to regulate madrassas, block extremist communications, and curb terrorist financing. However, according to the U.S. State Department, the plan has not been consistently implemented. For example, although Pakistani authorities announced in September 2016 that they had frozen the bank accounts of 8,400 individuals suspected of having links to terrorism, the following month, members of the multi-national Financial Action Task Force (FATF) expressed concern over terrorist financing in Pakistan. Furthermore, the U.S. State Department has expressed concern over the lack of information sharing between Pakistan’s counterterrorism agencies. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research)

Pakistan’s legal code includes anti-terrorism legislation, including the Antiterrorism Act (ATA) of 1997, which bans membership, support, and funding for certain terrorist groups. It was amended in 2014 to expand its definition of terrorism to groups that act against foreign or international targets. However, acquittal rates in ATA courts are reportedly high due to bureaucratic disagreements between military and civilian security agencies and bribery by terrorist groups. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, U.S. Library of Congress)

Pakistan unveiled its National Action Plan in 2014 in the wake of that December’s TTP attack on the Army Public School. The 20-point plan calls for strengthening existing anti-terrorism authorities, creating and deploying a specific counter-terrorism force, enforcing the death penalty for convicted terrorists, registering and regulating religious seminaries, addressing terror financing and propaganda, and “dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists.” The plan called on the minister of interior to design a mechanism to implement the plan. In his first address as prime minister in August 2018, Imran Khan recognized that many parts of the NPA called for the National Action Plan’s implementation. He declared that Pakistan “cannot progress without combating terrorism.” (Sources: National Counter Terrorism Authority Pakistan, The News)

Terror Financing

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has placed Pakistan on its “grey list” of nations that maintain insufficient anti-money laundering/counter terror financing (AML/CTF) mechanisms. In June 2018, Pakistan committed to work with FATF to improve its AML/CTF policies. In February 2019, FATF reported that Pakistan has made “limited progress.” According to FATF, Pakistan “does not demonstrate a proper understanding” of the terror financing risks posed by al-Qaeda, ISIS, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and other terror groups. FATF called on Pakistan to demonstrate that sanctions are being applied to money laundering and terror financing cases, improve effectiveness and cooperation among authorities, and increase support for prosecutors. (Sources: Reuters, FATF)

On April 20, 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported that Pakistan removed thousands of names from its terrorist watch list over the past 18 months. Among the names removed were senior members of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The proscribed persons list, maintained by Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), provides a guideline for financial institutions to avoid doing business with or processing transactions of suspected terrorists. The amendments were made in an effort to correct and update the list for the FATF. (Sources: Wall Street Journal, Times, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project)

In September 2020, the Pakistani senate rejected legislation that would have expanded the investigative powers of authorities to combat terror financing by allowing them to conduct undercover operations, intercept communications, and access computer systems. On February 25, 2021, FATF recognized Pakistan had made “significant progress” in updating its policies but “serious deficiencies” remained in its terror financing laws. Specifically, FATF said Pakistan still needed to better demonstrate that terror financing investigations and prosecutions target people and entities acting on behalf of designated individuals and entities; demonstrate that terror financing prosecutions result in effective, proportionate, and dissuasive sanctions; and effectively implement targeted financial sanctions against designated terrorists and those acting on their behalf. The FATF granted Pakistan an extension until June 2021 to address the remaining deficiencies. (Sources: Hindustan Times, Hindustan Times, FATF, Reuters)


Pakistan has also launched military operations against terrorist groups within the country, with mixed results. The Pakistan military has killed hundreds of terrorists in raids in Khyber, North Waziristan, and elsewhere, reducing the number of terrorism-related civilian deaths in Pakistan, according to the U.S. State Department. For example, in February 2017, the Pakistan military launched Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad (“Reject Disorder”), which targeted three ISIS-linked terror groups: Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, the TTP, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Although 100 militants were killed in the first week of the operation and a large cache of weapons and ammunition were recovered, an analysis published by NATO Association of Canada assessed that such military operations would be insufficient to root out terrorism in Punjab without accompanying efforts to target radicalization at its source. In July 2017, the Pakistani army launched a new operation in Khyber Agency called “Khyber 4,” which aimed to stop ISIS from making inroads into the area. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, Asian Studies Association of Australia, Washington Post, NATO Association of Canada, CNN, Dawn, Reuters)

Countering Violent Extremism

Pakistan does have several initiatives underway to counter radicalization and recruitment. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Swat valley, a region occupied by the Taliban from 2007 to 2009, the government has implemented a rehabilitation program for former militants, including teenagers trained as suicide bombers. Between 2009 and summer 2015, 2,500 former Taliban militants were de-radicalized and reintegrated back into society, including 1,400 individuals between the ages of 12 and 25. In 2011, over 900 ex-militants from groups including LeT, JeM, and LeJ participated in a rehabilitation program run by the Counter Terrorism Division of the Pakistan police in Punjab. The program offered psychological assessment, religious rehabilitation, and vocational training, but was shelved the following year due to lack of funding. Programs are also underway in religious institutions and schools, especially in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, to counter the influence of extremism and promote religious tolerance. Pakistan’s military also runs a radio station which, in cooperation with the government, broadcasts counter-propaganda messages. (Sources: International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, New York Post, Brookings Institution, Asian Studies Association of Australia)

On January 31, 2018, NACTA announced the finalization of a Pakistani national narrative on extremism, sectarianism, terrorism, and militancy. According to NACTA coordinator Ihsan Ghani, the narrative will be the “cornerstone of the country’s response to non-traditional threats and to deal with extremist ideology,” and discuss topics such as coordination of government institutions, rehabilitation of extremists, and creation of interfaith harmony. Ghani also indicated that NACTA had finalized a set of National Counter Extremism Guidelines, which outline strategies and action plans for CVE initiatives. (Source: Express Tribune)  

Pakistan has also sought to reform and regulate madrassas (Islamic religious schools). According to analysis published by the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, the growth of extremism in Pakistan is “closely linked” with the proliferation of radical madrasas, of which there were about 35,000 in 2016. In 2008, President Musharraf issued an ordinance requiring that madrassas register with the government and teach curriculum which does not preach militancy, hate, or sectarianism. In 2010, the government signed an agreement with an umbrella organization of madrassa oversight boards that prohibited madrassas from publishing extremist literature, but the agreement was ultimately not passed by Pakistan’s parliament due to bureaucratic difficulties. Despite these efforts, extremist groups such as JeM reportedly run hundreds of madrassas throughout Pakistan. The charitable network Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which the U.S. government classifies as a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, reportedly runs 300 madrassas, as well as hospitals and ambulances. The Pakistani government banned JuD in February 2019. In March 2019, provincial governments took control of 182 madrassas affiliated with banned organizations. (Sources: International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Reuters, Reuters)

Non-governmental organizations in Pakistan have also undertaken domestic CVE initiatives. For example, advocacy groups such as the Jinnah Institute conduct public awareness campaigns, including peace rallies, in an effort to reduce public support for extremist organizations. The National Flag Day March brings together cross-sections of civil society to demonstrate public support for military operations targeting extremists. Other groups have organized sit-ins to denounce attacks on civilian targets and sites significant to culture heritage. (Sources: Brookings Institution, Jinnah Institute)

Pakistan has not joined the U.S.-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. However, it has designated ISIS as a terrorist group and has detained and killed a substantial number of ISIS-affiliated militants, according to the U.S. State Department. (Source: U.S. Department of State)

On November 23, 2017, the sixth round of the Pakistan-EU Political Counter-Terrorism dialogue was held in Islamabad, during which both sides reiterated their resolve to jointly combat terrorism “in all its forms,” promote inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue and understanding, and exchange CVE best practices. Specifically, all sides reaffirmed their determination to work together in promoting international cooperation through forums such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), as well as their commitment to the U.N. Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. (Source: European Union)

U.S.-Pakistan Cooperation

Although the United States has acknowledged Pakistan to be an “important counterterrorism partner,” it has repeatedly urged Pakistan to improve its CVE efforts. On December 4, 2017, during a visit to Pakistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called on Pakistani security officials to “redouble” efforts to prevent Islamist militants from using Pakistan as a refuge and launchpad for attacks in Afghanistan and elsewhere. On an October 24, 2017, visit to Islamabad, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to eliminate safe havens for extremists in Pakistan, and to increase efforts to eradicate terrorists operating within Pakistan. In response to U.S. criticism, Pakistan issued a “fact sheet” in December 2017 detailing its counterterrorism efforts and successes, such as its efforts to strengthen the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA). (Sources: Washington Post, Dawn, Wall Street Journal, U.S. Department of State, Pakistan Today)

Between 2001 and 2016, the United States provided more than $30 billion in civilian and military assistance to Pakistan, which included funding for CVE efforts.

Between 2001 and 2016, the United States provided more than $30 billion in civilian and military assistance to Pakistan, which included funding for CVE efforts. Additionally, the United States aids Pakistan through government programs designed to counter extremism. The U.S. Agency for International Development, for instance, runs programs in Karachi and southern Punjab that provide recreational opportunities and vocational training to promote counter-narratives and mitigate social and political factors that facilitate recruitment of youth into extremist groups. Other U.S. government programs in the FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa aim to build trust between the Pakistani government and community organizations in order to create community resilience against extremism. (Sources: Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution)

The United States has conducted several covert military operations within Pakistan. U.S. Special Operations Forces have conducted ground raids and joint operations with the Pakistani military targeting militant groups in Pakistan’s tribal regions. Notoriously, U.S. Special Operations Forces killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a May 2, 2011 raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The United States has also conducted drone strikes on Pakistani soil, though not always with the consent of the Pakistani government. On October 16, 2017, at least 20 suspected militants were killed in a U.S. drone strike on an unidentified compound in Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan in the FATA. Another U.S. drone strike killed a Haqqani network leader and two of his aides in northwestern Pakistan on January 24, 2018. However, Pakistan condemned the latter drone strike as a violation of the country’s sovereignty. (Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, Nation, CNN, South Asia Terrorism Portal, New York Times)

In February 2019, the Taliban announced that a delegation would meet with U.S. representatives for peace talks in Pakistan later that month in response to a “formal invitation” from the Pakistani government. The talks were later canceled due to “US and UN travel restrictions” on the Taliban representatives. It would have been the first meeting of Pakistani leaders with the Taliban since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban government. In February 2020, the Taliban and the United States reached an agreement to reduce violence in Afghanistan. In its annual terrorism report in June 2020, the U.S. State Department recognized Pakistan had played a “constructive role” in aiding a ceasefire agreement between the United States and the Taliban. In April 2021, Pakistani President Arif Alvi said Pakistan continues to use its influence over the Taliban and wants to play “a peaceful role,” but does not want to “become a base for U.S. actions in Afghanistan.” (Sources: Al Jazeera, Washington Post, Express Tribune, Associated Press, Associated Press, Voice of America)

Regional Cooperation

Pakistan participates in various multilateral groups that discuss counterterrorism issues, including the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and the Global Counterterrorism Forum. Pakistan has also participated in U.N. Security Council meetings on counterterrorism. (Source: U.S. Department of State)

On November 27, 2017, according to the Kazakhstan Defense Ministry, Pakistan and Kazakhstan completed a two-week counterterrorism exercise aimed at bolstering military readiness. About 100 military personnel from Pakistan and Kazakhstan reportedly participated in the training held at Pakistan’s National Counter-Terrorism Center in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. (Source:

At a November 7, 2017 meeting in Beijing, China, Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan reportedly agreed to “step up” cooperation on counterterrorism. China expressed gratitude to both Pakistan and Afghanistan for “constantly and steadfastly supporting” China in fighting the East Turkistan Islamic Movement and other terrorist forces. (Source: Pakistan Today)

Public opinion on extremism in Pakistan is mixed. In a spring 2014 public opinion poll, 8 percent of respondents reported favorable views of the Pakistani Taliban while 12 percent reported favorable views of al-Qaeda. Respondents were more concerned by the threat that India poses to Pakistan than the threat posed by terrorist groups. Slightly more than half (51 percent) identified India as the greatest threat to Pakistan, while only a quarter (25 percent) identified the Taliban as the greatest threat. A January 2015 Brookings Institution study concluded that the government of Pakistan has been “largely unsuccessful” in mobilizing public support for its CVE initiatives. (Sources: U.S. Institute of Peace, Brookings Institution)

As of March 2019, extremist groups such as JeM reportedly maintained public support among the Pakistani population, primarily due to their civic outreach efforts. JeM and other extremist organizations run mosques, hospitals, schools, and other charities that influence public opinion. Pakistanis interviewed by the Associated Press believe that JeM militants “just want to spread Islam.” According to a 2015 report by the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, a “moderate majority” in Pakistan rejects violence, yet many still support extremist ideology, especially when based in religious rhetoric. Many Pakistanis trust the country’s religious scholars and faith-based networks, which have significant influence on shaping and molding public opinion. However, in an early 2016 public opinion poll conducted by Gallup Pakistan, 87 percent of Pakistanis agreed that “Islam preaches peace and love instead of extremism.” (Sources: International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, The Muslim Post, Associated Press)

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

In Their Own Words:

The current stage demands that we exhaust the enemy until it whines and moans due to economic and military bleeding. It is in this context that the operations outside the theatre in which the enemy expects us to strike, operations on enemy soil and beyond enemy lines becomes evident.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, Leader of al-Qaeda Sept. 11, 2021
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