During the entirety of Pakistan’s struggle against terrorism, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and its parent group, Al-Qaeda, have been portrayed as the main nemesis – against which action is prioritised. For the most part this characterisation was correct as they carried out the majority of the attacks taking place in the country; reality and priority were in line.

However, the group’s position as public enemy number one is under threat, and has been for a while. While the TTP went through a process of dissolution similar to the one faced by its sister group – the Afghan Taliban – and was squeezed out of its traditional strongholds, a more violent and radical group has taken up the mantle of spreading terror, and has been doing that virtually unchecked.

Jamaatul Ahrar, (JuA) a relatively unknown splinter group, has now firmly established itself in Pakistan’s security narrative by carrying out a series of deadly attacks, most of them against soft targets. The frequency and high profile nature of its actions is startling. It claimed the September 2nd attack on a court in Mardan, which left at least 14 people dead and 50 others injured. The group also said it was behind the Aug 8 attack on lawyers in Quetta, which killed 73 people, as well as the Lahore Easter bombing that left 75 dead in what was the deadliest attack to hit the country this year. These attacks are not the only ones. The JuA menace is real, and at this point, stronger than the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, or the TTP threat to the country.

The recent suicide attack on a mosque in Mohmand’s Payee Khan village during Friday prayers, leaving at least 35 worshipers dead and over 30 injured – also claimed by the group – should make us reconsider our priorities, and force us to introspect and ask hard questions.

Why has the group continued to enjoy the freedom to carry out bombings – that too in the tribal regions, which have been ostensibly “cleansed” from terrorist elements? Why have the group leaders not been identified and captured? Why have we not reoriented our narrative towards our most exigent threat? What does the failure to rein in this group say about the success of the military operations and the National Action Plan (NAP) – nothing positive it seems.

Refusing to acknowledge the problem – like the ruling PML-N is doing – will not make the threat go away. The JuA needs to be recognised for what it is and we need to act accordingly.