At least 22 Shias were killed and another 50 were injured when a three member suicide squad attacked an Imambargah (Shia place of worship) in the Phase-5 locality of the Hayatabad area in Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), on February 13, 2015. As the entrance of the Imambargah is heavily guarded, the terrorists dressed in Police uniforms entered the Imambargah from the other side of the mosque, cutting through barbed wire, and carried out the attack when around 800 worshippers were offering Friday prayers. Of the three suicide bombers who entered the mosque, only one was able to blow himself up. A second was killed by Security Force (SF) personnel, while the third was arrested in an injured condition.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) ‘spokesperson’ Muhammad Khorasani claimed responsibility for the attack declaring, “It is the revenge of Dr. Usman who was hanged for attack on the Army’s headquarters.” Earlier, on August 19, 2013, Asmatullah Muavia, Ameer (chief) of the Punjabi Taliban, had warned, “Aqeel alias Dr. Usman is our Mujahid and we would never let our Mujahid be hanged”. Mohammed Aqeel aka Dr. Usman was among the two convicted terrorists who were hanged at the Faisalabad District Jail in the night of December 19, 2014. After the December 16, 2014, Peshawar Army Public School (APS) carnage, in which 134 school children, ten school staff members, including the Principal, and three soldiers were killed, the Government on December 17, 2014, decided to end the moratorium on executions in the country, which had been in place since 2008, when then President Asif Ali Zardari imposed the unofficial moratorium. Since the end of the moratorium, at least 24 prisoners have been executed, including at least two with no connection to terrorism.
At least 55 persons, including 36 civilians, 15 terrorists and four SF personnel, have already been killed in KP in terrorism-related violence in 2015 (till February 15), according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP). During the corresponding period of 2014, terrorism-linked fatalities stood at 156, including 103 civilians, 41 SF personnel and 12 terrorists, indicating a decline of 66 per cent.
KP has recorded a continuous decline in fatalities, year on year, since 2010, with the exception of 2013. Fatalities through 2014 stood at 617, including 406 civilians, 108 SF personnel and 103 terrorists; as compared to 936, including 603 civilians, 172 SF personnel and 161 terrorists in 2013.
Other parameters of violence, such as major incidents, suicide attacks and explosions also remained low through 2014. The Province accounted for 49 major incidents of violence (each involving three or more fatalities) resulting in 436 deaths in 2014, as against 65 such incidents, accounting for 694 fatalities in 2013. As against 21 suicide attacks in 2013, in which 350 persons were killed and another 635 were injured, 2014 registered nine attacks resulting in 196 deaths and 260 persons injured. Similarly, there was a considerable decrease in incidents of explosion. In comparison to 189 blasts resulting in 598 fatalities in 2013, 2014 recorded 109 blasts resulting in 354 fatalities. Though the number of incidents of sectarian attack in 2014 was the same, at nine, as in 2013, the resultant fatalities decreased from 51 in 2013 to 18 in 2014. The number of such incidents and resultant fatalities stood at 10 and 58 respectively in 2012; one incident and 11 fatalities in 2011; and 12 incidents and 139 fatalities in 2010.
Violence was recorded in 22 of KP’s 25 Districts in 2014, an improvement over 2013, when violence was reported from all 25 Districts. As in 2013, Peshawar, the provincial capital, remained the worst affected District through 2014, recording 169 terrorism-related incidents, in which 348 people were killed and another 482 were injured.
The Investigation Wing of KP Police confirmed, on November 25, 2014, that terrorist attacks had recorded a decrease in 2014, as compared to 2013. According to the Police, the total number of terrorist attacks declined to 438, as against 468 reported during the corresponding period in 2013. 10 incidents of suicide attack were recorded in 2014, down from 18 such attacks in 2013.
While these numbers alone suggest an improvement in this lawless region of Pakistan, a range of compounding factors indicate that stability and state control remain as elusive as they were in earlier years. Indeed, as against 210 incidents of killing in 2013, there were 358 such incidents in 2014. More worryingly, 2014 witnessed the Peshawar carnage, one of the worst and most “barbaric act of terror” in Pakistan. This single attack demonstrated that though the fatalities in the Province had declined due to various reasons, the terrorists retained the motivation and wherewithal to execute devastating attacks and, indeed, that they were willing to cross over into levels of viciousness that they had not employed before.
Reacting to the December 16 Peshawar attack, the KP Government enacted three special laws: the KP Restriction of Rented Buildings Act (2014) is to provide mechanism for monitoring the business of rented buildings for the purposes of counter-terrorism and effectively combating crime in the Province; KP Restriction of Hotel Businesses Act (2014), to provide mechanisms for monitoring the business of hotels and guests staying in the hotels for the purposes of counter-terrorism and effectively combating crime; and the KP Sensitive and Vulnerable Establishments and Places (Security) Bill (2014), to curb the terrorist activities and to provide for the security of sensitive and other vulnerable establishments and places. The passages of these three Bills had been pending since February 2014.
On January 14, 2015, in a bizarre response to the Peshawar massacre, the KP Government granted male teachers permission to carry licensed weapons in school. Acknowledging the Government’s inability to station Police at all of KP’s more than 30,000 schools, Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, asked the schools to make some security arrangements on their own.
Earlier, on January 5, 2015, the KP Government announced a PKR 10 million reward for information leading to the arrest or death of TTP ‘chief’ Mullah Fazlullah. Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asim Bajwa, at a media briefing at the General Headquarters on February 12, 2015, had asserted that Mullah Fazlullah was the ‘mastermind’ of the December 16 attack.
These steps are no more than notional, given the capacities and morale of the Police Force in the province. According to SATP, at least 664 Policemen have been killed in KP since 2006. KP Police Chief Nasir Khan Durrani on December 10, 2014, observed, “More than 1,100 KP Police officers and men have sacrificed their lives in this war against terror [during the last one decade]. It is, therefore, impelling that the preparedness and capacity of Police Department is enhanced to enable it in dealing with the challenges of terrorism in a more professional and effective manner”.
Through 2014, 66 Policemen were killed in 48 incidents, in addition to 91 Policemen killed in 89 incidents in 2013. In the worst attack on Policemen in 2014, a suicide bomber in the Sarband area of Peshawar blew himself up, killing 11 Policemen and injuring another 45. In the latest of series of such attacks, on February 3, 2015, unidentified terrorists shot dead five Customs officials patrolling overnight in the Kohat District, KP. A day earlier, two Policemen, including an Additional Station House Officer (SHO), were killed in an explosion near the Lorry Adda area of Mansehra District. The explosion took place when a convoy of vehicles escorted by a Police van set off for Gilgit Baltistan.
Little can be expected from the Federal Government as well, given the steps that were taken in the aftermath of the Peshawar attack. Islamabad has chosen to intensify selective operations against domestically oriented terrorist formations, even as it continues to support a range of terrorist groups operating against Afghanistan and India, or who support ‘global jihad’. Unfortunately, these distinctions are far from sustainable, as most state sponsored groups in Pakistan maintain some contact with the anti-state formations and, crucially, share a common ideology with these. Eventually, as long as any such groups are allowed to flourish – and, indeed, are supported by state institutions – at least some of them will break away from their masters in the establishment and target state institutions. Incipient evidence of the entry of the even more radical Islamist State (IS) ideology and networks in the region can only constitute an even greater danger for Pakistan. Indeed, the Government of the neighbouring province, Balochistan, in a ‘secret information report’ dated October 31, 2014, conveyed to the Federal Government and law enforcement agencies a warning of increased footprints of IS. The report disclosed that IS had claimed to have recruited 10,000 to 12,000 followers from the Hangu District of KP and Kurram Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). According to a September 23, 2014, report, moreover, terrorists supporting IS distributed hundreds of pamphlets in Afghan refugee camps and madrassas (seminaries) in Peshawar and other regions of KP. The pamphlets read, “Every Muslim must follow the orders of Caliph and should contribute in whichever capacity he or she can to assist the Islamic State against Taghoot (those who transgress limits of Islam).”
Unfortunately, however, Pakistan’s duplicity on the issues of Islamist radicalization and terrorism continues.