By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
On July 21, 2019, a group of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants on four motorcycles opened fire on Policemen at the Kotla Saidan checkpost in Dera Ismail Khan town of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
Two Policemen were killed in the attack. Following the gun attack, a suicide blast took place at the hospital where the victims were shifted. The female fidayeen (suicide bomber) struck at the entrance to the hospital, killing four Policemen and three civilians who were visiting their relatives. 30 others were injured in the two incidents.
The TTP ‘spokesperson’ Muhammad Khorasani, in a statement, claimed the attacks were carried out in retaliation for the killing of a suspected terrorist by the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) in Dera Ismail Khan District on June 23, 2019. Security Forces (SFs) had killed a militant and arrested another after they threw hand-grenades at the Cantonment Police Station in Dera Ismail Khan on June 23.
On March 18, 2019, at least three persons, including two Policemen, were injured in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion near a Police vehicle in the Parowa Sub-District of Dera Ismail Khan. The Police van was on a routine patrol in the Parowa area when the bomb, planted on a bicycle, went off.
On March 15, 2019, a CTD Police Constable was killed when unidentified assailants opened fire on him in the Muddy area in Kulachi tehsil (revenue unit) of Dera Ismail Khan District.
Sources stated that the Constable was on his way home after offering Friday prayers, when unidentified motorcyclists opened fire on him, killing him on the spot.
On February 12, 2019, at least four Policemen were killed and a Station House Office (SHO) was injured in an ambush in the Maharah area of Parowa Sub-District in Dera Ismail Khan District. District Police Officer (DPO) Mohammad Iqbal disclosed that suspected militants targeted a Police van patrolling the area.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Dera Ismail Khan District has recorded at least 17 terrorism-related fatalities (11 SF personnel, four civilians and two terrorists) in 2019, thus far (data till July 28, 2019).
During the corresponding period of 2018, the Province registered eight terrorism-related fatalities (three terrorists, three SF personnel and two civilians).
During the corresponding period of 2017, there were 11 such fatalities (four civilians, four SF personnel and three militants), while these numbers stood at nine (six civilians and three SF personnel) in the same period of 2016.
Militancy-related Fatalities in Dera Ismail Khan: 2000*-2019**
|Year||Incidents||Civilians||Security Forces||Militants||Not Specified (NS)||Total|
|*March 6, 2000; **July 28, 2019; Source: SATP|
More worryingly, total fatalities in first six months and 28 days of 2019 have already crossed the total number of terrorism-related fatalities recorded each year, since 2016.
Dera Ismail Khan has accounted for a total of 492 fatalities [245 civilians, 107 SF personnel, 104 terrorists and 36 not-specified (NS)] since March 6, 2000, when SATP commenced compiling data on Pakistan. These fatalities have been recorded in a total of 134 incidents of killing. 43 of these 134 incidents were ‘major (involving three or more fatalities). These major incidents resulted in the death of 362 persons (182 civilians, 72 SF personnel, 84 militants and 24 NS).
The District has recorded a total of 243 violent incidents since March 6, 2000. These include 89 incidents of explosion and 16 suicide attacks.
According to Dera Ismail Khan Police data, 111 Policemen were killed and 180 sustained injuries in acts of terrorism and targeted attacks, between January 2008 and December 2018. During the same period, seven Army soldiers were killed and 14 were injured. Besides, five personnel of the Frontier Constabulary were killed and one was injured. 474 civilians were killed in the 10-year period ending December 2018.
With a population of more than 1.6 million people, Dera Ismail Khan has long been a centre of terrorist activities due to its strategic location. It shares borders with South Waziristan, Tank and Lakki Marwat Districts in KP; Mianwali, Bhakkar and Dera Ghazi khan Districts in Punjab, and the Zhob District of Balochistan. Two of these neighbouring districts, South Waziristan and Zhob, share borders with Afghanistan. Dera Ismail Khan has served as a transit point for militants operating in these areas.
Analyst Syed Kashif Ali in a February 5, 2017, column, noted that, owing to its geo-strategic importance, Dera Ismail Khan served as a gateway for Punjabi militants fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s. During the 1990s, the District became a recruitment-centre for terrorist organisations operating out of Pakistan occupied Kashmir, such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI), which have organisational structures, recruitment centres and offices operating openly in the Dera Ismail Khan city.
The District, which had earlier served as a transit route for militants, progressively transformed into a terror hub after the emergence of TTP. The other major extremist group operational in the District is the sectarian Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). These outfits began creating havoc in the District in 2007, as in the rest of the Pakistan. Like other parts of Pakistan, Dera Ismail Khan has witnessed relative improvement, after the peakof 2007-09. However, the threat persists, as indicated by the recent surge in fatalities. As Dar Ali Khattak, Regional Police Officer (RPO) for Dera Ismail Khan, notes, “The situation is now under control, but we have to stay alert to cope with the threat.”
Though a semblance of peace has been established in Dera Ismail Khan District, as a result of several operations launched against domestically oriented terror formations over the years, no steps have been taken to de-radicalise the wider society, which continues to serve as a fertile ground for extremists to breed and thrive.
*Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate; Institute for Conflict Management