By Ajit Kumar Singh
In a development heavy with irony, on March 7, 2013, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani – who effectively oversees all internal and external security dispensations in the country, notwithstanding the visible pretence of a ‘civilian’ and ‘democratically elected’ Government – conveyed the Army’s ‘concerns’ to the President, Asif Ali Zardari, about ‘rapidly deteriorating law and order’ and about ‘improper and inefficient utilisation of civilian law-enforcement agencies by the federal and provincial governments in dealing with terrorism’. While Kayani sought to distance himself from years of military misrule and manipulation, his ‘briefing’ to the President does confirm the rising tide of terrorism and disorders in the country, and growing loss of control that is now being experienced in every sphere of governance.
Through 2012, Pakistan continued to face the brunt of the Islamist extremism and terrorism that it has long produced and exported. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the country recorded a total of at least 6,211 terrorism-related fatalities, including 3,007 civilians, 2,472 militants and 732 Security Forces (SF) personnel in 2012 as against 6,303 fatalities, including 2,738 civilians, 2,800 militants and 765 SF personnel in 2011. [Since media access is heavily restricted in the most disturbed areas of Pakistan, and there is only fitful release of information by Government agencies and media reportage, the actual figures could be much higher]. The first 69 days of 2013, have already witnessed 1,537 fatalities, including 882 civilians, 116 SF personnel and 539 militants.
The marginal decline of 1.45 percent in total fatalities in 2012 over the preceding year is principally the result of Islamabad’s continued approach of going soft on terror. Significantly, while militant and SF fatalities decreased by 11.78 and 4.31 percents, respectively, civilian fatalities witnessed an increase of 9.82 percent over 2011. 2011 had registered the highest civilian fatalities (2,738) since 2003. Indeed, the number of civilian deaths in Pakistan exceeded neighboring and war ravaged Afghanistan (2,754), which many consider is the most volatile and unstable country in South Asia.
Pakistan has already recorded 882 civilian fatalities in 2013, significantly higher than the combined fatalities (655) of SF personnel and terrorists.
October 2012 was also witness to the one attack targeting a civilian victim, which shook the nation and shocked the rest of the world, when fourteen year old children’s rights activist and Pakistan’s first National Peace Prize winner Malala Yusufzai, was attacked while returning from school in Mingora, the headquarters of Swat District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Yusufzai was critically shot in the head, but survived and recovered after intensive treatment in UK.
2012 also saw heightened sectarian violence with at least 507 recorded fatalities in 173 incidents, as against 203 killings in 30 such incidents in 2011. 2012 saw the worst-ever carnage against Shias across Pakistan. SATP data registered at least 396 Shias killed in 113 targeted attacks through the year, as against 136 Shias in 24 incidents in 2011. Regrettably, the Pakistani state is widely believed to be collusive with the perpetrators of these attacks. Ali Dayan Hasan, the head of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Pakistan, on January 11, 2013, observed,
As Shia community members continue to be slaughtered in cold blood, the callousness and indifference of authorities offers a damning indictment of the state, its military and security agencies. Pakistan’s tolerance for religious extremists is not just destroying lives and alienating entire communities, it is destroying Pakistani society across the board.
Political accusations and counter-accusations confirmed the regime of collusion that continued to back terrorist and sectarian excesses in the country. On February 25, 2013, Federal Minister of the Interior Rehman Malik claimed that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)-led Punjab Government was backing Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), as it was in an electoral alliance with the group principally responsible for sectarian attacks, and asked why a case was not registered against LeJ founder Malik Ishaq when he described the Shias as ‘infidels’. On the other hand, Rana Sanaullah, the Home Minister of Punjab and PML-N leader, alleged that Ishaq and his son Malik Usman were given 14 heavy weapon licenses by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Governments in Sindh and Balochistan.
Ishaq, in an interview with Reuters in October 2012 called Shias the “greatest infidels on earth”, and urged that “the state should declare Shias as non-Muslims on the basis of their beliefs”. After spending 14 years in prison on 34 counts of culpable homicide and terrorism, Ishaq was released in July 2011. Officials had then stated that he was released because the charges could not be proven. The LeJ chief was, however, arrested again on February 22, 2013, in the wake of the February 16, 2013, incident in which 84 Shias were killed and more than 200 were wounded in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan.
2012 also saw a surge in the beheading of SF personnel by the terrorists, with 34 such killings recorded in the year, as against 18 beheading in 2011. In one such incident, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants executed 22 Levies personnel on December 29, 2012, three days after they were abducted during synchronized attacks on three security checkpoints in Frontier Region Peshawar, FATA.
Meanwhile, other parameters of violence such as the number of suicide attacks, explosions, major incidents remained more or less at the same level as the preceding year. 2012 recorded 39 suicide attacks resulting into 365 deaths, as against 41 such attacks in 2011, though fatalities were at a much higher 628. 451 major incidents (each resulting in three or more fatalities) resulted in 3,396 deaths in 2012, in comparison to 476 such incidents leading to 4,447 deaths, the preceding year. The number of explosions increased from 639 in 2011 to 652 in 2012.
As in 2011, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) remained the worst affected region, in terms of fatalities, followed by Sindh. However, Balochistan, which was ‘ranked’ fourth and KP, which was at the third position in 2011, reversed their respective positions in 2012. The Punjab Province remained at its earlier position, the fifth and least afflicted region of the country.
Not surprisingly, on January 14, 2013, Prime Minister (PM) Raja Pervez Ashraf announced, in principal, the invocation of Article 234 of the Constitution and imposed Governor’s rule in Balochistan.
The volatile region of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) recorded 42 killings, including 27 civilians, in 2012, as against a total of four fatalities (all civilians) in 2011. The region remained tense all through the year, with at least four attempts to orchestrate sectarian violence in GB. On August 16, 2012, for instance, 25 Shias from Gilgit-Baltistan were killed in a targeted attack at Babusar Top, which connects GB to the rest of the country, in the Naran Valley of Mansehra District of the neighboring KP Province.
Meanwhile, the TTP and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) joined hands to form Ansar-Al- Aseer (supporters of prisoners) on February 6, 2013, proclaiming that its prime mission was to secure the freedom of imprisoned militants by executing jail break operations all over Pakistan. Adnan Rasheed, the mastermind of an assassination attempt on former President General (Retired) Pervez Musharraf, was appointed the ‘chief operational commander’ of the fidayeen (suicide) unit. Adnan himself was freed in an unprecedented jailbreak operation on April 15, 2012, when around 200 TTP militants armed with guns, grenades and rockets attacked the high-security Central Jail in KP’s Bannu District, and released 384 prisoners. Earlier, on December 28, 2012, the chief of TTP Hakimullah Mehsud, while asserting the unity of all Islamist extremist formations in the region, declared, “We are Afghan Taliban and Afghan Taliban are us. We are with them and al Qaeda. We are even willing to get our heads cut off for al Qaeda.”
Disturbed by the rising graph of violence and the spectre of growing unity among terrorist groupings, Islamabad appears to have initiated some measures to confront domestically directed terrorism. On March 8, 2013, the National Assembly unanimously passed the National Counter Terrorism Authority Bill‚ 2013, creating an Authority intended to coordinate counter terrorism and counter extremism efforts in view of the nature and magnitude of terrorists’ threat; and to present strategic policy options to the government for consideration/ implementation by the stakeholders after scientifically studying the phenomenon of extremism and terrorism in historic and professional perspective. The National Counter Terrorism Authority is to play a pivotal role in coordinating with all law enforcement agencies to take effective action against those who carry out acts of terrorism in the country. Meanwhile, January 2013 reports indicate that realizing home-grown terrorism as the “biggest threat” to national security, Pakistan Army has changed its operational priorities. Accordingly, a new chapter, titled ‘Sub-Conventional Warfare’, has been added to the revised ‘Army Doctrine’. Commenting on the development, Defence analyst Lieutenant General (retired) Talat Masood told the BBC, “It’s a fact that before the new army doctrine, India was Pakistan’s No 1 enemy. All military resources were focused on India. For the first time it has been realized that Pakistan faces the real threat from within…”
Unsurprisingly, however, the Army and the state continued to maintain their dual policy on terrorism, targeting domestically active groups, even as it allowed terrorist leaders such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) chief and head of United Jihad Council (UJC) Mohammed Yusuf Shah alias Syed Salahuddin, and others, to thrive under implicit state protection. These terrorist groups openly staged several rallies in different parts of the country, issuing threats to various ‘enemies of Islam’, including the US, India and Israel. On February 13, 2013, for instance, these terrorist leaders participated in a conference organized by the UJC at the National Press Club in Islamabad and openly vowed to take “revenge” for the February 9, 2012, execution of Afzal Guru (in New Delhi’s Tihar jail), convicted for the December 13, 2001, attack on the Indian Parliament, and to step up their jihad in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
Reports indicate that Pakistan still remains a major destination for radicalised Muslims committed to jihadi terrorism. The number of foreign recruits smuggled into the north western tribal belt is believed to be increasing, with recruits coming in from a multiplicity of countries. Estimates indicate that there could be around 2,000 to 3,500 foreign fighters in Pakistan’s border areas, drawn from some 30 countries. These terrorists, presently operating principally in Afghanistan, continue to support the Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI) strategy of backing Afghan militant formations in their fight against the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
Significantly, the Afghan National Security Council (ANSC) on March 3, 2013, strongly demanded that Pakistan’s ISI should be declared a terrorist entity. Rehmatullah Nabil, Afghanistan’s Deputy National Security Adviser (NSA) declared, in a direct reference to the ISI, “The interesting question is why is a terrorist blacklisted but the person who issues the Fatwa for them [to act] or who provides havens to them not blacklisted? Against these people, organisations at a global scale should unite.” He went on to add:
People of Afghanistan and the Government of Afghanistan will continue their voice of peace, but unfortunately there is not much hope from Pakistan’s side and therefore we should rely more on the inside and be more united, more mobilised, and not be deceived by them. The Government of Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan have endeavoured to their last breath to have a good relationship with the Government of Pakistan based on a virtue of neighbourliness. However in return, what did we see from Pakistan? They fire rockets, they send terrorists to our soil, they destroy our jihadi leaders, clerics, influencers, our mihrabs (religious places), our tribe, our mothers, sisters, brothers, students, children, soldiers and police.
Earlier, the chief of the Pakistan Ulema Council Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi had declared that the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan was “legitimate”.
According to the South Asia Media Commission’s (SAMC) Media Monitor 2012 report, Pakistan remained the most dangerous country for journalists in South Asia. 25 journalists were killed in South Asia in the line of duty in 2012, with Pakistan registering the killing of 13 journalists, followed by India (five), Bangladesh (three) and Nepal and Afghanistan (two each). Out of 17 journalists killed in the region in 2011, Pakistan accounted for 12, followed by India (three) and Afghanistan (two).
Amidst continued violence, Pakistan also experienced a major political upheaval, when the country’s Supreme Court, on June 19, 2012, disqualified then Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani “from being a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) in terms of Article 63(1) (g) of the Constitution on and from the date and time of pronouncement of the judgement of this Court dated 26.04.2012 [April 26, 2012] with all consequences, that is, he has also ceased to be the Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan with effect from the said date and the office of the Prime Minister shall be deemed to be vacant accordingly.” Through its April 26 judgement and the subsequent detailed reasons released on May 8, 2012, the Apex Court had found Gilani guilty of contempt of court, as he had declined to follow the Court’s instructions to pursue corruption allegations against President Asif Ali Zardari. Since no appeal was filed against the judgement, the conviction attained finality. Raja Pervez Ashraf, who succeeded Gilani, took oath on June 22, 2012. Recently, on January 15, 2013, the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of incumbent PM Ashraf and 15 others over allegations of corruption. However, no further development has taken place so far in this regard.
Meanwhile, the founder of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Doctor Tahirul Qadri, on December 20, 2012, returned to Pakistan to pursue what he termed as a “democratic revolution”, taking the nation by storm. On December 23, 2012, he staged a rally in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab, which attracted hundreds of thousands of people. Later, on January 13, 2013, he launched a “long march”, from Lahore to Islamabad, and finally succeeded in forcing the Government to sign the Islamabad Long March Declaration, on January 17, 2013, which states that “the National Assembly shall be dissolved at any time before March 16, 2013, (due date), so that the elections may take place within 90 days”. The agreement further declares that “the treasury benches in complete consensus with Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) will propose names of two honest and impartial persons for appointment as Caretaker Prime Minister”. The implementation of undefined ‘electoral reforms’ was also agreed upon.
Reports indicate that former President Pervez Musharraf, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Dubai for the last four years, has decided to return to Pakistan on March 17, 2013, to participate in the elections.
Rampant corruption continues to afflict Pakistan, ranked 134th (out of 183 countries) on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2011 (CPI). In the 2012 Index, Pakistan’s position dropped to 139th (out of 174 countries). A volatile political scenario, approaching elections, sharp sectarian and political polarization, growing institutional confrontation between various branches of Government, and Islamabad’s reluctance to end the export of terror, suggest that there is no proximate end to Pakistan’s ongoing march towards its own devastation.
Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management