By Ajit Kumar Singh*
On March 17, 2019, at least five passengers were killed and seven others wounded in an explosion inside a moving train near Shaheed Aziz Billo checkpost in Naseerabad District of Balochistan.
On March 15, 2019, a Police Constable attached to the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) was killed by unidentified assailants in the Muddy Area of Kulachi tehsil (revenue division) in the Dera Ismail Khan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
On March 14, 2019, two persons were killed and nine injured in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion in the Chatkan area of Panjgur District in Balochistan.
On the same day, a Doctor was killed by assailants in the Zangal Khel area of Kohat District in KP.
On March 8, 2019, four Defence Service Guard (DSG) personnel were killed while two local employees were injured in an explosion in a gas pipeline in the Sui area of Balochistan.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Pakistan has recorded at least 71 fatalities (25 civilians, 29 Security Force (SF) personnel and 17 militants) in 2019 (data till March 17, 2019). During the corresponding period of 2018, there were at least 134 fatalities (36 civilians, 49 SF personnel and 49 militants). Through 2018, Pakistan recorded a total of 691 terrorism-linked fatalities. There were 1,260 such fatalities in 2017; 1,803 in 2016; 3,682 in 2015; 5,496 in 2014 and 5,379 in 2013. A sharp fall in overall fatalities is evident since 2015.
The number of major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) and resultant fatalities have also witnessed declining trends. There were a total of 446 major incidents and 3,737 fatalities in 2014; 310 incidents and 2,495 fatalities in 2015; 149 incidents and 1,169 fatalities in 2016; 143 incidents and 994 fatalities in 2017; and 67 incidents with 534 fatalities in 2018. At least nine such incidents with 48 fatalities have already occurred in 2019 (data till March 17, 2019).
Incidents of explosion and resultant fatalities have also declined. There were a total of 429 incidents with 1,019 fatalities in 2014; 232 incidents with 548 fatalities in 2015; 148 incidents with 538 fatalities in 2016; 119 incidents with 528 fatalities in 2017 and 78 incidents with 352 fatalities in 2018. 2019 has so far recorded 10 such incidents resulting in 22 fatalities (data till March 17, 2019).
Meanwhile, the number of suicide attacks has also declined, with an aberration in 2017. There were 38 suicide attacks in 2014; 31 in 2015; 23 in 2016; 25 in 2017; and 19 in 2018. Resultant fatalities in such attacks stood at 556 in 2014; 235 in 2015; 371 in 2016; 318 in 2017; and 302 in 2018. There has already been one incident in 2019, with 12 fatalities. While the number of suicide attacks has been declining, their intensity, in terms of fatalities, has increased.
A comparative analysis of the proportion of civilian fatalities in total fatalities registered in the country during this period, indicates that civilians are increasingly bearing the brunt of terrorist violence. Of 3,682 fatalities 2015, 940 were civilians, i.e. 25.52 per cent. This percentage increased to 33.94 in 2016 (612 civilians in a total of 1,803); 42.85 in 2017 (540 civilians in a total of 1,260), and 53.40 per cent in 2018 (369 civilians in a total of 691).
On the other hand, the proportion of militant fatalities has declined considerably. Militants accounted for 65.26 per cent of total fatalities in 2015 (2,403 militants in a total of 3,682); 49.80 per cent in 2016 (898 militants in a total of 1,803); 40.63 per cent in 2017 (512 militants in a total of 1,260); and 22.72 in 2018 (157 militants in a total of 691).
At peak in 2009, Pakistan recorded 11,704 terrorism linked fatalities; with the proportion of militants killed at 71.67, as against 19.85 per cent of civilians. In the subsequent years, even as overall fatalities started declining, the proportion of militant fatalities also declined, while that of civilians has been on the rise. This trend continued recorded aberrant reversals in 2014 and 2015.
2018 witnessed at least three prominent incidents targeting civilians:
November 23: At least 33 people, including 22 Shias, were killed and more than injured in a suicide attack at a crowded marketplace near an imambargah (Shia place of worship) in the Juma Bazar (Friday Market) of Kalaya town in the Lower Orakzai District of KP.
July 13: A suicide bomber targeting a political rally of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) killed at least 149 people and injured over 200 at Dringarh village in Mastung District, Balochistan.
July 10: At least 22 persons, including Awami National Party (ANP) leader Haroon Bilour, were killed in a suicide blast which targeted an ANP election gathering in the Yakatoot area of Peshawar, the provincial capital of KP.
While the decline in fatalities is indicative of sweeping gains across the country, deep concerns remain. In Balochistan, though levels of violence have been relatively low, a smoldering discontent continues to feed the fires of rebellion. In Sindh, the Pakistan Rangers’ operations have marginalised terrorist and organized criminal gangs, but persistent street crime remains significant and retains the potential for resurgence once the operational deployment of the Rangers is withdrawn. In KP, while the fruits of successful SF operations are visible in terms of declining terrorism and related fatalities, irritants persists, with violence disrupting tranquility at regular intervals. People’s grievances remain unaddressed in Gilgit Baltistan, where Islamabad has ensured ‘peace’ only with the help of draconian laws and brutal military repression, and is likely to use the provisions of the Gilgit Baltistan Order 2018 (with the Supreme Court’s stamp of approval) to intensify the use of brute force, this time ‘more legally’. In Punjab, radicalized forces continue to find fertile ground, support and a feeder line of recruits.
Meanwhile, Islamabad’s open support to terrorist formations operating out of its soil remains intact, creating mayhem in neighboring countries. They prominently include the Hafiz Muhammad Saeed-led Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the front organisation of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), which openly engages in anti-India activities and operates out of its Headquarters in Murdike in the Sheikhupura District of Punjab. Saeed operates freely across the country, holding rallies dominated by anti-India and Islamist hate speech, inciting cadres to wage jihad against India. For instance, on December 18, 2018, addressing a rally at Mall Road in Lahore under the banner of Difa-e-Pakistan Council, Saeed threatened, “You forgot Somnath, (Prime Minister) Modi. The time is near when this war will be fought in your cities not at the borders. You will not be able to hide your terrorism behind curtains.” Most recently, following the February 5, 2019, rally in Lahore addressed by Saeed, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on February 6 issued a note verbale to the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi and registered India’s strong protest at the “continued use of Pakistan controlled territory by extremist and terrorist elements” to freely propagate and promote violence and terror against India.
Similarly, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) ‘chief’ Maulana Masood Azhar, the architect of the February 14, 2019, Pulwama attack, continues to operate freely out of Pakistani soil. In an audio tape he is heard threatening, “If Kashmir is not surrendered, the fire will reach Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and subsequently engulf the entire country.” On March 6, 2019, former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf admitted that JeM was a terror outfit and his his country’s intelligence, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), had used it to carry out attacks in India during his tenure. Making the disclosure in a telephonic interview to Pakistani journalist Nadeem Malik of Hum News in his talk show, Musharraf added that JeM had tried to assassinate him twice in December 2003.
Recent cosmetic actions again these groups and their front organizations in the wake of the Pulwama attack are no more than another eyewash, as Pakistan has taken several such measures in the past as well, without any real impact on ground and even as these terrorist formations and their leaders continue to be protected by the state and military intelligence apparatus. Both Rawalpindi and Islamabad continue to treat these groups as state assets in their geostrategic overreach into India.
There is, however, no guarantee that these groups will not turn rogue and start targeting Pakistan, joining groups of domestically oriented terror groups operating in Pakistan. This happened with elements within JeM, when it targeted Parvez Musharraf, though the group was subsequently purged and its leadership reinstated.
Pakistan continues, moreover, to support terrorist adventurism against its other neighbours as well, with the continuing and bloody campaigns of the Taliban and Haqqani network drawing resources from and receiving safe haven in Pakistan. Similarly, Iran has suffered attacks by the Jaish-al-Adl, again from Pakistani soil, the most recent of which was the February 13, 2019, Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) attack on the Revolutionary Guard Corps bus, which killed 27 soldiers and injured another 17.
Towards the latter part of 2018, some analysts had been hoping that Pakistan would change for the better under the new Prime Minister Imran Khan, who took the oath of office on August 13, 2018. Very quickly, it has become apparent that Khan is a product of the deep state driven democracy, essentially a nominee of the Army establishment, and, expectedly nothing has changed on the ground.
Despite the sustained decline in terrorism-linked fatalities and incidents over the last four years, a festering wound continues to afflict Pakistan. Islamabad continues use terrorism as an instrument to fulfil its ‘national goal’, exporting terror in neighboring countries including India, Afghanistan and Iran, and well beyond, even as wide spaces remain for domestic and renegade groups to engineer a resurgence, despite their present and substantial repression. America’s imminent flight from Afghanistan and the absence of effective international pressure to compel Islamabad to reorient its policies, have enormously encouraged the establishment in Pakistan to stay the course in its support to terrorism, particularly in the immediate neighbourhood.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management