By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
On July 10, 2019, one soldier was killed and another five were injured in two separate bomb explosions in the North Waziristan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
The first incident occurred near Kharqamar check-post in Data Khel tehsil (revenue unit). Officials disclosed that a bomb disposal squad was searching the area when a remote-controlled Improvised Explosive Device (IED) went off. Four security personnel were injured. One of the injured personnel later succumbed to his injuries.
The second blast took place near Mir Ali town, when a Security Forces’ (SFs) vehicle hit the IED while they were on their way to the Army’s Golden Arrow School, which had been struck by a rocket. Two SF personnel were injured in the blast.
On June 7, 2019, three Army officers and a soldier were killed while another four soldiers sustained injuries when militants targeted a military vehicle through an IED planted on the roadside in the Kharqamar area of North Waziristan District of KP.
On June 6, 2019, two Frontier Corps (FC) personnel were killed in an IED explosion in the Khost tehsil of Harnai District in Balochistan. A statement released by ISPR noted, “terrorists targeted FC troops during their patrolling on Eid security duties.”
On June 1, 2019, at least one Pakistan Army soldier was killed in a gun and bomb attack on a military vehicle in the Boya area of North Waziristan District in KP. The terrorists first opened fire on the Army vehicle, which was on routine patrolling in the area, before they attacked it with an IED.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Pakistan has already recorded a total of at least 11 incidents of IED attacks resulting in 12 deaths and over 49 persons injured in 2019 (data till July 21).
These incidents have been registered in two provinces: Balochistan (six incidents, seven killed and 40 injured) and KP (five incidents, five killed and nine injured).
Since March 6, 2000, the number of such explosions stands at 498. These incidents have resulted in 1,026 deaths and 2,447 persons injured. The maximum number of incidents have been reported from FATA (172), followed by KP (132), Balochistan (83), Sindh (70) and Punjab (45).
In terms of fatalities, FATA (371) comes first, followed by KP (360), Balochistan (117), Sindh (133) and Punjab (45). [Since media access is heavily restricted in the most disturbed areas of Pakistan, and there is only fitful release of information by Government agencies, the actual figures could be much higher.]
IED attacks in Pakistan: 2000-2019*
|Source: SATP, * Data till July 21, 2019.|
Further, during the period of Taliban control over the tribal areas, the terrorists had planted innumerable IEDs. There have been a continuous trickle of incidents of accidental explosions of such IEDs in the tribal areas. According to the SATP database, there have been at least 118 such incidents resulting in 248 fatalities and 263 persons injured since 2000.
Accidental IED Explosions in Pakistan: 2000-2019*
|Source: SATP, * Data till July 21, 2019.|
IEDs pose a particularly serious threat in the KP Districts and erstwhile FATA. When the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) started returning to their homes in 2017 after a series of military operations in the tribal areas of KP and erstwhile FATA — they found their villages and areas surrounding their homes littered with deadly landmines.
Mohammad Mumtaz Khan, an IDP from South Waziristan, describing his personal horror story about IEDs, stated, on April 26, 2018: “I am lucky that I got away with a small injury. It may not be so the next time around. He added, further, that the mountains and valleys were “teeming” with improvised explosive devices (IED) and explosive remnants of war (ERW).” Raza Shah, who heads the Sustainable Peace and Development Organization, an active member of the global Control Arms Coalition and International Action Network on Small Arms, agreed: “Despite having cleared the area of militants, it is not possible for many to move about freely as the place remains infested with landmines.”
The Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS) noted that deaths in IED attacks are the third highest in any specific type of attack (physical assaults caused highest fatalities followed by suicide attacks). IEDs have, consequently, worried the Pakistani security establishment for long certain measures have been adopted to counter the threat.
In 2012, the Army established the Counter IED Explosives and Munitions School (CIEMS) to help train responders to reduce the IED threat. The then CIEMS Chief Instructor Brigadier Basim Saeed had claimed, on April 22, 2014, that the School helped the country slash the frequency of IED incidents by 20 per cent since its establishment.
An inter-agency meeting, headed by Lieutenant General Rashad Mahmood, the then Chief of General Staff (CGS), was held on February 11, 2013. During the meeting it was decided to create a new force to combat the increasing use of IEDs in terrorism incidents. Later, a March 2, 2014, media report quoting an unnamed defence official claimed that the anti-IED Division established within the armed forces had become fully functional in multidimensional anti-IED operations in various cities and troubled areas of the country. At the same time, comprehensive awareness campaigns were also in the process of being launched. According to the official, extra security measures had been taken at all levels and on all tiers in order to curb the incidents of IED attacks in market places, civilian gatherings and religious processions.
Further in 2015, the Police School of Explosive Handling (PSEH), a first of its kind, was established at Nowshera in KP, to administer different courses on explosive handling. 3,171 personnel, including 86 ladies, had been trained in 130 courses till 2018.
Also, an unnamed senior security official said on December 15, 2018, that 22 demining teams were being formed by the Army to defuse and remove IEDs and landmines in KP and the erstwhile FATA. The official disclosed that these de-miners would be in addition to the 43 teams already working in the seven former tribal agencies. The de-mining teams were active in all the tribal districts, particularly in North Waziristan and South Waziristan. The Bomb Disposal Unit (BDU) of KP Police continued to play a vital role in combating the IED menace. The KP-BDU successfully defused 201 IEDs during 2018.
Though the de-miners have cleared mines many places, a great deal of work remains in certain areas, as explosions continue occur regularly causing loss of life and injuries. Despite adopting a number of measures to dry up supplies of raw material for IED manufacture, moreover, Pakistan continues to struggle to control IED attacks.
*Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate; Institute for Conflict Management