By Ajit Kumar Singh*
On December 1, 2017, at least four fidayeen (suicide attackers) of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) stormed the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) in Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), killed at least nine persons, including six students, and injured another 37. Two soldiers were also injured in the rescue operation.
According to reports, about 120 college residents, out of a total of nearly 400, were present at the time of the attack.
Most of the others had gone home for a long holiday weekend.
On November 25, 2017, at least six civilians, including a woman and a child, were killed and another 17 were injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up, targeting Frontier Corps personnel in the Sariab Road area of Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. Two FC vehicles were also damaged in the blast.
On November 24, 2017, Additional Inspector-General of Police, KP, Muhammad Ashraf Noor, was killed while seven other Policemen were injured, when a suicide bomber crashed his motorcycle into the vehicle carrying the AIG, near Zarghoni Mosque in the Hayatabad area of Peshawar. Chief Capital Police Officer Tahir Khan disclosed that about 20 kilograms of explosive material was used in the attack.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 22 fidayeen attacks, resulting in 369 deaths and 1,052 injuries, have been reported in the current year so far (data till December 10, 2017).
During the corresponding period of 2016, there were 19 such incidents resulting in 401 deaths and over 935 injuries.
There were no more suicide attacks in the remaining period of 2016. Pakistan has recorded at least 468 suicide attacks resulting in 7,230 fatalities and over 15,306 injuries since 2002.
Total Terrorism Related Fatalities in Pakistan
Source: SATP, *Data till December 10, 2017
The increase recorded in such attacks in the current year suggests that, though Pakistan has of late succeeded in containing terrorist depredations in significant measure, the Pakistani establishments’ ‘strategic policy’ of differentiating between terror groups, supporting some while others are targeted by Security Forces (SFs), continues to work to the detriment of an enduring peace in the country. Significantly, overall terrorism-linked fatalities since 2010, on year on year basis, with an exception of 2014 which registered minimal increase, have declined considerably, as the Pakistan military has targeted domestically oriented terrorist formations.
On the contrary, the Pakistani establishment has allowed terrorist formations targeting other countries, prominently including Afghanistan and India, among others, to operate from its soil. The Pakistani establishment support to radical/extremist groups has created an environment where terror groups continue to thrive, and radicalized sections of the population are committed to a takfiri notion of jihad, which rejects nationalism and attacks any individual or institution that is seen as an obstacle to their ideology and dominance. After decades of state backed radicalization, it is unsurprising that all terrorist formations – those operating within Pakistan and those operating out of Pakistan – have no dearth of ‘committed cadres’ to die for the ’cause of jihad’.
In the most recent assertion of radicalized groups in the country, the Federal Government bowed down before violent Islamist protesters. On October 2, 2017, the National Assembly passed the ‘Election Bill 2017’, making changes in the Khatm-e-Nabuwat [finality of Prophet-hood] clause of the earlier Bill. Soon after, countrywide protests led by Tehreek-e-Labaik of Pakistan (TLP), an Islamist party, erupted against this change. Other pro-Muslim parties, such as Pakistan Sunni Tehreek and Tehreek-e-Khatme Nabuwwat (Movement for the Finality of Prophet-hood) also lent their support, demanding the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid for removing the clause which, according to these groups undermined Islamic beliefs and amounted to blasphemy. Mounting pressure, the protestors began camping at Islamabad’s Faizabad Traffic Interchange from November 6, 2017. The Government restored the original clause on November 17, 2017, but the Islamists continued with their protest. Eventually, on November 25, 2017, bloody clashes took place just outside Islamabad in which at least six people were killed and another 200 were injured. Speaking from the site of the clashes, TLP ‘spokesman’ Ejaz Ashrafi declared, “We are in our thousands. We will not leave. We will fight until end.” Clashes also took place elsewhere in the country and continued on November 26 as well.
On November 29, 2017, the Islamabad Police told Pakistan’s Supreme Court that the November 25 clashes were primarily caused because “they had hurt the religious sentiments of security forces with their inflammatory speeches.” A nine-page report submitted by the Islamabad Police stated that the protesters were religiously motivated and that their speeches were targeted at hurting religious sentiments of SFs keeping vigil. It also said that close to 2000 protesters, mostly armed with stones, pistols, axes, and rods, were present at the protest site.
The protests came to an end with the resignation of the Law Minister Zahid Hamid on November 27, 2017. Hamid stated, “The decision to resign was taken in a bid to steer the country out of the prevailing critical situation.” The resignation, according to reports, came as part of an agreement reached between the Government and the protesters.
In a similar act of appeasement, Jammat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief and founder of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) Hafeez Muhammad Saeed was released from house arrest at midnight on November 24, 2017. The Judicial Review Board of Pakistan’s Punjab province had ordered the release on November 22, 2017, on the grounds that “the government was not able to present any evidence to justify [Saeed’s] continued detention”. Saeed, along with another four JuD members, had been put under house arrest in Lahore on January 30, 2017. They were detained under Section 11-EEE of Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act, which gives the Government the power to arrest or detain terrorism suspects for up to 12 months. The other four included Abdullah Ubaid, Zafar Iqbal, Abdur Rehman Abid and Qazi Kashif Niaz. Saeed’s four JuD colleagues were released on October 18, 2017. Significantly, Saeed had been put under ‘house arrest’ soon after Donald Trump assumed power in the US on January 20, 2017.
As SAIR noted earlier, religious extremism continues to increase across Pakistan, with continuing manifestation in killings in the name of god. According to the latest World Report, 2017, published by Human Rights Watch (HRW), at least 19 people remained on death row after being convicted under Pakistan’s draconian Blasphemy Law, and hundreds awaited trial. Most of those facing blasphemy charges are members of religious minorities, often victimized due to personal disputes. Further, the HRW 2015 Report suggested that, since 1990, 60 people have been murdered after being accused of blasphemy. In 2015, Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) reported that a total of 724 Muslims, 501 Ahmadis, 185 Christians and 26 Hindus, had been accused under clauses of the Blasphemy Law since 1987. The majority of these cases were for alleged desecration of the Quran, followed by blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad.
With religious/extremist formations gaining more space in Pakistan’s electoral ambit, extremism is bound to increase. This can only help terrorist formations inside Pakistan with an uninterrupted supply of committed jihadis ready to die for a cause. The fidayeen terror will continue to feed and fatten on extremism in the broader social context, despite the SFs’ operational successes against domestic terrorism.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management
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