By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
At least two civilians were killed and another injured when a terrorist attacked a ‘checkpost’ of the peace committee in the Wana area of South Waziristan Agency (SWA) in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) on December 14, 2017. No group has, so far, claimed responsibility for the attack.
On December 6, 2017, one Ali Mohammad, a peace committee member, was killed by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists in Daggar village of the Chagmalai region in SWA. According to local media, an unnamed spokesman of the outfit claimed the attack and warned that members of the peace committee would continue to be targeted.
On December 2, 2017, a pro-Government tribal elder, Malak Ameer Rehman, was killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion in the Olai Shah area of Ambar tehsil (revenue unit) in Mohmand Agency. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far.
On November 30, 2017, five peace committee members were killed and two were injured in a remotely detonated bomb in the Spinkai area, near the Afghanistan border, in SWA. The Sajna faction of TTP claimed responsibility for the attack
The trend of declining civilian fatalities established since 2013 has been reversed in 2017, when selective attacks on peace committee members and civilians increased sharply, with fatalities witnessing an over two-fold jump. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) at least 170 civilian fatalities, including 12 peace committee members, were recorded in 2017, as against 76 such fatalities, including nine peace committee members, in 2016. More worryingly, fatalities in this category (civilian) recorded in 2017 were the highest since 2013, when such fatalities stood at 319. The worst attack targeting civilians in the year took place on June 24, 2017, when at least 67 persons were killed and more than 200 were injured in back-to-back explosions in the Turi Bazaar area of Parachinar in the Kurram Agency of FATA, when the market was crowed for Iftar (the evening meal that breaks the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan) and Eid (celebration that marks the end of Ramadan) shopping. The al-Alami (International) faction of LeJ claimed responsibility for the twin bomb blasts and declared in a statement that it was targeting Shias and threatened more attacks in response to “Pakistanis fighting against Sunni militants in Syria’s civil war”.
While civilians faced the increased brunt of terror through 2017, the terrorists also increased their attacks against SFs. Fatalities among SFs increased from 39 in 2016 to 54 in 2017. Here also, as in case of civilians, the trend of declining fatalities, established since 2013, was reversed.
On the contrary, terrorist fatalities continued their steep decline through 2017. The number of terrorist fatalities was 315 in 2016, and declined dramatically to 167 in 2017, the lowest since 2006. Fatalities in this category recorded a remarkable decline in 2016 as well, as there were 1,642 such fatalities in 2015.
There were 391 total fatalities in 2017, as against 430 in 2016. FATA has, so far, recorded two fatalities, one civilian and SF each, in the current year (data till January 14, 2018).
Fatalities in FATA: 2006-2018
The Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS) in its annual report released on January 1, 2018, also recorded a rise in civilian and SF fatalities in 2017. The report shows that FATA recorded 206 civilian and 70 SF fatalities in 2017 as against 81 civilian and 60 SF fatalities in 2016. The number of terrorist fatalities, according to the report, was 152 in 2017, as against 51 in 2016. The number of terrorist attacks also registered an increase: from 119 in 2016 to 160 in 2017.
Meanwhile, the SATP database indicated that the number of major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) increased from 32 in 2016 to 34 in 2017. Though the number of suicide attacks in both these years (2017 and 2016) remained at three each, the resultant fatalities increased from 55 in 2016 to 99 in 2017.
Sectarian attacks also increased in FATA through 2017. As against one such incident recorded in 2016, in which 37 people died, year 2017 accounted for 117 fatalities in three incidents.
Pakistani authorities, nevertheless, claimed overwhelming successes in FATA. Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Major General Asif Ghafoor declared on August 21, 2017, that Operation Khyber-4, which was launched on July 15, 2017, in Rajgal and Shawal areas of Khyber Agency, has been successfully completed. He claimed that the ground targets had been achieved in Rajgal and Shawal areas and 253 kilometres of land had been cleared of terrorists during the operation, in which 52 terrorists were killed and one was arrested, while four terrorists blew themselves up. The Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa claimed, on October 11, 2017, that Pakistan had improved the security situation on the internal front and defeated the challenges to the writ of the State, though a ‘residual threat’ remained. Further, on January 13, 2018, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi declared that Pakistan had achieved remarkable success against terrorism: “The tide has been turned against terrorists and their capacity to conduct activities has been immensely curtailed.”
Not surprisingly, the international community, primarily the United States (US), continues to consider FATA as safe haven for terrorist formations. In a stern warning to Pakistan, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo on December 4, 2017, stated that if Pakistan did not eliminate the alleged safe havens inside its territory, the United States will do “everything we can” to destroy them. More recently, on January 10, 2018, the US Government issued a new travel advisory to it citizens cautioning them against travel to FATA, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The US State Department statement read:
Reconsider travel to Pakistan due to terrorism. Some areas have increased risk. Do not travel to Balochistan province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, (FATA) and the Azad Kashmir area due to terrorism and armed conflict.
Significantly, US drone attacks surged in 2017, in the terrorist badlands of FATA, where al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadur faction of TTP find shelter. There were two drone attacks in FATA, with just seven fatalities, in 2016; in 2017 this number jumped to eight, resulting in 43 fatalities, including some of the senior ‘commanders’ of the Haqqani Network, TTP and Islamic State (IS). Some of the prominent terrorist ‘commanders’ eliminated in these attacks in 2017 were:
December 26: A US drone strike killed two Haqqani network terrorists, including senior ‘commander’ Maulvi Jamiuddin, travelling in a vehicle in the Mata Sangar area, near the Afghanistan-Pakistan’s border, in Kurram Agency.
October 16: At least 20 Haqqani Network terrorists, including senior ‘commander’ Sangeen Wali Shah, were killed in a US drone strike on a compound near the border with Afghanistan in the Maqbal area of Kurram Agency.
July 3: Four IS terrorists, including ‘commander’ Pir Agha, were killed when a US drone fired two missiles at the vehicle they were travelling in, in the Marghalan village of SWA.
May 24: A US drone attack killed three terrorists, including a TTP ‘commander’ Abdullah Kashmiri, at an unspecified location close to the Afghanistan border in North Waziristan Agency (NWA).
April 27: A suspected US drone strike on a house in the Lawara Mandi area of NWA killed at least seven TTP terrorists, including senior ‘commander’ Abdur Rahman.
March 2: A US drone strike killed senior Afghan Taliban ‘commander’ Qari Abdullah Sabari and his associate Shakir’ when they were travelling on a motorcycle in the Sra Ghundai area, along the Pak-Afghan border, in Kurram Agency.
In spite of these confirmed kills on Pakistani soil, Pakistani authorities continue to claim that there were no terrorist safe havens in Pakistan. Indeed, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif argued that the decrease in US drone attacks over the preceding years proved that there were no more safe havens in Pakistan. The Foreign Minister shared a chart of drone attacks carried out over 12 years from 2005 till Oct 15, 2017, in the Pakistani territory. He tweeted: “12yrs drone attacks chart. If we have sanctuaries why frequency is sharply down? US won’t hesitate attacking funeral, weddings to get targets”.
Though total terrorism related fatalities in FATA declined in FATA in 2017, escalating fatalities in the civilian and SF categories are grounds for alarm, and the enormous burden of destruction faced by tribal people over years has made their lives miserable. Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) figure revealed on May 28, 2017, show that at least 5,740 people, including Paramilitary Forces’ officials, have lost their lives in FATA in terrorist attacks during the last six years. Moreover, an estimated 80,000 houses were damaged, of which the Government validated only 22,471 for compensation.
Despite Pakistan’s claim of eliminating terrorist sanctuaries and their bases in FATA, the persisting problem of terrorism has kept insecurities alive. Pakistan’s double standard in dealing with terrorism has provided opportunities to terrorist groups to continue their operation within as well from Pakistani territory. As long as Pakistan continues with its State policy of using terrorist groups as “strategic assets”, terrorism will continue to thrive in FATA in particular, and Pakistan at large.
*Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management
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