Terrorism in Pakistan has already resulted in at least 460 fatalities, including 241 civilians, 86 Security Force (SF) personnel and 133 militants in just the first month of 2014, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP). 38 major incidents (each resulting in three or more fatalities) have inflicted at least 309 fatalities, and 70 explosions have also been recorded, accounting for 167 deaths. In one of the worst attacks of 2014 targeting civilians, at least 24 Shia pilgrims returning from Iran were killed and another 40 were injured in a bomb attack targeting their bus in the Khusak area of Kanak in the Mastung District of Baluchistan Province, on January 21, 2014. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for the attack.
Clearly, the ‘terror industry’ that was established by Islamabad decades ago with the primary intention of exporting mujahideen into neighbouring countries, including India and Afghanistan, to secure Pakistan’s perceived ‘strategic interests’, continues to thrive. This vast misadventure, however, turned progressively against its very creators, and, since 9/11, Pakistan has itself become the increasing target of several formerly state sponsored terrorist formations that have ‘gone rogue’, even as international pressure has forced Islamabad to undertake visibly reluctant operations against some of these groups. The process escalated after the creation of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the aftermath of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) operations in 2007, causing a spiral of violence that now threatens the very existence of the country. Pakistan’s undiminished tolerance for religious extremists has not just destroyed lives and alienated entire communities; it is destroying Pakistani society and the very idea and edifice of the nation.
Despite continuing terrorist depredations, according to a survey by the British Council published in April 2013, a majority of respondents – 38 per cent – expressed the opinion that Islamic Sharia was the best system for Pakistan, and another 32 per cent backed military rule. The smallest proportion, just 29 per cent, favoured democracy. The survey covered over 5,200 youth across the country. Ironically, more than 90 per cent of the youth surveyed also believed that the country was heading in the wrong direction.
That direction is dramatically illustrated by trends in terrorist violence, including one of the most glaring among its various parameters – the suicide attack. Before 9/11, Pakistan had witnessed just one suicide attack, when a suicide bomber rammed a pickup truck packed with explosives into the gate of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, killing 15 and wounding 59, on November 20, 1995. Since 9/11, however, the country has recorded at least 387 suicide attacks, resulting in 5,964 fatalities and 12,379 injuries. Five such attacks have already been executed in 2014, killing 28 and injuring 71. Indeed, the number and lethality of such attacks appears to be increasing again, with 43 such incidents resulting in 751 fatalities and 1,411 injuries, recorded through 2013, as against 39 such attacks resulting in 365 deaths and 607 injuries in 2012. A very dramatic decline had been recorded in 2011, with 628 killed in 41 incidents, after the peak of 2010, with 1,167 killed in 49 incidents. In one of these attacks, the Superintendent of Police, Crime Investigation Department, Karachi Police, Chaudhry Aslam Khan, was killed, along with another two Policemen, when a suicide cadre of the TTP rammed his explosive-laden car into Khan’s convoy near Essa Nagri on the Lyari Expressway in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh, on January 9, 2014.
Though total terrorism related-fatalities have shown some decline over the past years, current levels remain alarming, and much of the decline is accounted for by the diminution of terrorist fatalities, the result of operational paralysis among state Forces. According to SATP’s partial data, at least 5,379 terrorism-related fatalities were recorded across Pakistan in 2013, as compared to 6,211 fatalities in the preceding year, a decline of 13.39 percent [since media access is heavily restricted in the most disturbed areas of Pakistan, and there is only fitful release of information by Government agencies, the actual figures could be much higher]. Much of the decline was accounted for by the 31.14 per cent drop in terrorist fatalities, from 2,472 terrorists killed in 2012, to 1,702 killed in 2013. Confirming the reluctance of state Forces to confront the terrorists is a significant drop in SF fatalities as well, with 676 SF personnel killed in 2013, as against 732 in 2012, a decline of 7.67 per cent. Civilians, however, continue to pay the price for state inaction, with 3,001 killed in 2013, almost the same as the 3,007 killed in 2012. Crucially, the number of civilian fatalities in Pakistan now exceeds the number of civilian fatalities in neighbouring ‘war torn’ Afghanistan (an estimated 2744 in 2013), widely regarded as the most volatile and unstable country in South Asia.
Pakistan recorded 355 major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) resulting in 3,268 fatalities, through 2013; as compared to 451 such incidents, resulting in 3,396 deaths, in 2012. While the total number of incidents and total fatalities declined, the lethality of these attacks has risen from an average of 7.53 fatalities per attack in 2012, to 9.21 fatalities per attack in 2013. Similarly, the number of explosions and resultant fatalities stood at 574 and 1624, respectively, in 2013, as against 652 explosions resulting in 1,007 fatalities in 2012, indicating a dramatic rise in lethality, from an average of 1.55 to 2.83 fatalities per incident. At least 128 sectarian attacks, resulting in 525 deaths, were also recorded in Pakistan through 2013, as compared to 173 such attacks and 507 killed in 2012, once again demonstrating a substantial rise in lethality, from 2.93 to 4.11 fatalities per attack, though the overall incidence declined.
The worst attack targeting civilians in 2013 occurred on January 10, when at least 105 persons were killed and over 169 were injured in two separate bomb blasts on Alamdar Road in Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan. The worst attack targeting SFs in 2013 was on August 8, when 38 persons, including 21 Police officials, were killed, and another 40 were injured in a suicide blast at a funeral at the Police Lines in Quetta. January 19, 2014, has already recorded a massive attack targeting SFs, with at least 20 soldiers killed and another 30 injured when a bomb ripped through a military convoy in Bannu Town, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
Pakistan maintained its ‘status’ as the most dangerous country for journalists in South Asia, with a total of 10 journalists killed in 2013, according to the South Asia Media Commission’s Media Monitor Report. 13 journalists were killed in the country in 2012.
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) remain the worst affected region in Pakistan recording at least 1,716 fatalities, followed by Sindh (1,668 fatalities), Baluchistan (960 fatalities) and KP (936 fatalities). The Punjab Province remains the least afflicted region of the country with 81 fatalities. In terms of civilian fatalities, however, Sindh maintains primacy, accounting for 1,285 deaths. Further, the volatile region of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) recorded 18 killings, including 12 civilians, through 2013.
The pervasive and unbridled terrorism related violence has belied expectations that had been aroused with the formation of the new Government under the premiership of Nawaz Sharif, on June 5, 2013, after Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) secured a convincing victory in the May 2013 General Elections. In evidently misplaced optimism world leaders and pundits had conveniently overlooked Sharif’spast misadventures, his entrenched connections with terrorist formations, as well as his obsession with Kashmir and India. Nawaz Sharif brought this obsession out into the open once again, in his speech at the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2013, declaring, “Suffering of the people of Jammu and Kashmir cannot be brushed under the carpet. Kashmiris should be given the right to self-determination.” He remained silent, of course, on the comprehensive denial of rights and the abysmal conditions prevailing in Pakistan occupied Kashmir.
Sharif’s unchanged orientation was also reflected in one of his first major steps, on June 12, 2013, with the announcement of a substantially augmented defence budget of PKR 627 billion for the current fiscal, year as compared to PKR 545 billion in the previous year that ended on June 30, a hike of 15 per cent.
On the other hand, describing the situation in Baluchistan, Major General Ejaz Shahid, Inspector General, Frontier Corps (FC), complained, on January 22, 2014, that, out of PKR 28.5 billion promised to the FC in Baluchistan for 2013-14, the Government had released only PKR 15 billion. He added that a further 30 per cent had been slashed by the Finance Division, even while “we are struggling to establish the writ of the Government along Baluchistan’s western border. We are quite far away from even playing the national anthem in state-run schools in Panjgur, Turbat [Kech] and adjacent cities in Makran Division.”
Conspicuously, despite vaunting rhetoric on fighting a ‘full throttle war’ against the TTP and its affiliates, and arguing that the “cancer of terrorism needs to be treated before it eats up our country”, Sharif’s overwhelming emphasis has been on talks with the terrorist outfits. His latest initiative in this direction was announced on January 29, 2014, with the formation of a new four-member non-political team to help Government in its efforts for peace with TTP. Sharif told the National Assembly, “Entire nation will stand by Government if it decides to eliminate terrorists by force, I know it. However, we want to give peace another chance since offer of talks has come from the other side.” Sharif, however, conveniently ignored the fact that the TTP had earlier declared, “Democracy is the system of the infidels… If we believed in democracy, we would enter the political arena.” Crucially, TTP’s long-standing objective has been the enforcement of Shari’ah (Islamic Law) in the country “whether through peace or war”.
Moreover, Sharif has stalled operations against terrorists in the North Waziristan Agency, the epicenter of terror in the country. During a meeting with Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) General Raheel Sharif on January 28, 2014, Sharif asserted that no decision on launching an offensive in NWA could be taken without consensus among ‘all stakeholders’ and that any such decision must be in the best ‘national interest’.
While the Prime Minister appears conciliatory in his approach to terrorist formations in the country, his Government is pushing hard in its efforts to prosecute former President General (Retd.) Pervez Musharraf for ‘high treason’, among other charges. The Federal Government has leveled five charges against Musharraf, praying to the Special Court to award the former military ruler the death penalty or life imprisonment, setting the stage for a major potential confrontation between the civilian Government and the Army. In an effort to safeguard himself against any military misadventure in this context – his nemesis during both his earlier tenure as Prime Minister – Sharif appointed General Rashid Mehmood as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) and General Raheel Sharif as CoAS, on November 27, 2013. Both appointees are reported to be close to Sharif’s family. Significantly, however, Pervez Musharraf had been ‘hand-picked’ by Sharif to head the Army, superseding two senior Generals, before the coup of 1999, when he deposed and subsequently exiled Sharif.
As Sharif fails to take any effective action to rein in terrorist formations operating in and from his country, the international community, particularly the US, has once again intensified efforts to cajole Pakistan to shut down its ‘assembly lines of terror’. The US interest, however, is overwhelmingly to secure the safe withdrawal of its Forces from Afghanistan through Pakistan, and Washington continues with its policy flip-flops on Pakistan, despite overwhelming evidence, provided by its own officials, among others, of continuing Pakistani malfeasance. Indeed, on December 20, 2013, after long deliberation, the US Congress passed a USD 552 billion Defense Authorization Bill for 2014, providing for USD 80.7 billon for operations in Afghanistan and USD 1.5 billion for reimbursements to Pakistan, through 2014. The Bill is now pending with the White House for President Barrack Obama to sign into law. The White House has already indicated that the President will sign the Bill.
Reciprocating the US gesture, on December 27, 2013, Nawaz Sharif warned his political rivals against the ongoing anti-drone protests, and the growing isolation of the country, declaring, “Our effort is to transform the existing friendly ties (with other countries) into mutually beneficial partnerships. We live in a globalised world where no one can afford isolation at any level.”
Indeed, on December 4, 2013, the US had announced the suspension of NATO shipments to and from Afghanistan via the Torkham Gate route of KP, following violent protests across the Province by the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and its partners – Jama’at-e-Islami (JeI) and Awami Jamhoori Ittehad Pakistan (AJIP) – in the KP Government. The protests escalated following the killing of then-TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud on November 1, 2013. Significantly, the Federal Government had claimed, on October 30, 2013, that 2,160 suspected terrorists had been killed in 317 drone strikes since January 2008, while 67 innocent civilians had died in these attacks. Ministry of Defence data also claimed that no innocent civilian had been killed in a drone strike since January 2012, while more than three hundred terrorists had been targeted. The official data negates the claims by local political and religious parties that US drone strikes in Pakistan have mostly killed innocent civilians, including women and children.
Despite the overwhelming damage terrorism has inflicted on Pakistan, the country’s establishment shows no signs of abandoning this device as an instrument of state policy, particularly for its strategic ambitions in India and Afghanistan. It is useful, in this context, to note that, while Pakistan has lost an estimated total of 15,000 SF personnel in the four wars that it has fought with India since 1948, it has lost at least 50,943 lives to terrorism just since January 1, 2003, according to the SATP database, including 18,373 civilians, 26,992 terrorists, and 5,578 SF personnel.
Islamabad’s long sustained policy of appeasing the extremists and terrorists has promoted their unrestrained growth, even as some of these groups have gone renegade. This unmitigated trend has neutralized the limited positives that may have emerged after the restoration of democracy. The current regime’s overtures towards extremist formations in the midst of sustained waves of terrorism can only push the country into further chaos.