FATA Assessment - 2015
At least 48 ‘terrorists’ were killed [with media access severely restricted, no independent confirmation is available, and the categorization of those killed cannot be verified] on March 13, 2015, as Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jets pounded alleged terrorist hideouts in the Kukikhel area of the Tirah Valley in the Khyber Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Military sources claimed that another 15 terrorists were also injured in the jet bombing. The attack comes after exactly a month of silence in the ongoing Operation Khyber-I in the Khyber Agency. On February 12, 2015, seven suspected terrorists were killed and another 15 were injured in PAF air strikes on terrorist hideouts in the Dwa Thoe, Sarrai, Sheikh Kot, Tor Darra, Nangrosa and Speen Drand areas of Tirah Valley in the Khyber Agency. The air strikes were part of Operation Khyber-I in the Khyber Agency launched on October 16, 2014, alongside the full-fledged Operation Zarb-e-Azb (Sword of the Prophet) going on in the North Waziristan Agency (NWA).
The air attack occurs at a time when various splinter groups of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are merging to counter the ongoing military operations in NWA and Khyber Agency. According to a statement issued by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) ‘spokesman’ Ehsanullah Ehsan on March 12, 2015, the reorganized TTP would consist of members of his group, Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) and the remaining TTP elements. The head of the new set-up is yet to be named. Ehsan congratulated the “Mujahideen of Pakistan” on the unification of the various militant groups and disclosed that the decision was taken at a meeting attended by Mullah Fazlullah, Omar Khalid Khurasani and Mangal Bagh. Ehsan added that an organising committee had been formed to constitute a central supreme Shura (Council) and an organising body.
Earlier on the same day, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif and Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt together visited NWA, and were briefed about the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb. General Sharif declared that the fleeing terrorists would be chased and eliminated, as there was no place for them to hide now. He added that Operation Zarb-e-Azb would not stop till the job was finished.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched on June 15, 2014, in the aftermath of the attack on the Jinnah International Airport, Karachi, on June 8-9, 2014. At least 33 persons, including all 10 attackers, were killed in the Karachi attack. Operation Zarb-e-Azb has, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), thus far killed more than 1,516 terrorists and 204 soldiers (no independent verification of fatalities of identities of those killed is available, as media access to the areas of conflict is severely limited). Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa, Director General (DG) of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), on January 16, 2015, claimed that SFs had killed 2,000 ‘terrorists’ under Operation Zarb-e-Azb, and also disclosed that 200 soldiers had been killed and another 800 had sustained injuries.
At least 411 persons, including 356 terrorists, 35 civilians, and 20 SF personnel, have already been killed in FATA in terrorism-related violence in 2015 (till March 15), according to partial data compiled by the SATP. During the corresponding period of 2014, terrorism-linked fatalities stood at 282, including 213 terrorists, 44 SF personnel and 25 civilians, indicating a rise of 45.74 per cent.
Though civilian and SF fatalities in FATA have recorded a seven years decline, overall fatalities have been higher due to the increase in terrorist fatalities under the ongoing military Operations in NWA and Khyber Agency. Total fatalities through 2014 stood at 2,863, including 2,510 terrorists, 194 SF personnel and 159 civilians; as compared to 1,716, including 1,199 terrorists, 319 civilians and 198 SF personnel in 2013.
Fatalities in FATA: 2006-2015*
The number of major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) in the Province in 2014 increased by 48.87 per cent in comparison to the previous year, principally due to the counter-insurgency operations. The Province accounted for 198 major incidents of violence resulting in 2,709 deaths in 2014, as against 133 such incidents, accounting for 1,534 fatalities in 2013.
However, other parameters of violence, such as suicide attacks, explosions and sectarian attacks remained low throughout 2014. As against nine suicide attacks in 2013, in which 164 persons were killed and another 256 were injured, 2014 registered only three such attacks, resulting in 17 deaths and 17 persons injured. Similarly, there was a considerable decrease in incidents of explosion. In comparison to 122 blasts resulting in 385 fatalities in 2013, 2014 recorded 101 blasts resulting in 179 fatalities. Sectarian violence in the region also registered a steep decline. While both the year 2013 and 2014 had recorded only one such incident, the 2014 incident registered two fatalities and 28 injuries, while 62 were killed and 180 injured in the 2013 incident.
Under pressure from the United States (US) to act against terrorists, Pakistan resumed drone strikes in NWA on June 12, 2014, after a hiatus of nearly five and half months. The last drone target before this had been hit on December 25, 2013. The silencing of US drones coincided with Islamabad’s Government’s process of peace-talks with TTP, while the resumption of strikes followed the collapse of talks with TTP. Pakistan announced of long-pending military operations in NWA, where dreaded terrorists of al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network and Hafiz Gul Bahadur faction of TTP were sheltered, though reports indicate that the strikes have targeted TTP alone. All 19 drone strikes in 2014 have been concentrated in FATA, around the areas where the Army has been conducting its Operation. Nevertheless, Pakistan continues with its duplicitous policy on drone strikes, implicitly approving these, while it registers complaints at every possible international forum.
Meanwhile, terrorist attacks on NATO supply convoys through Pakistan continued, though, with the continuous decline in the Western presence in Afghanistan, and the consequent reduction of dependence on supplies through Pakistan, the numbers have reduced significantly. Out of 18 attacks on NATO supply trucks in 2014, nine incidents were reported from FATA alone. In 2013 FATA accounted for 10 out of 31 such attacks across the country.
TTP's attacks on educational institutions in the region also registered a decline. As against 12 such attacks in 2013, there were six such attacks in 2014. On April 1, 2014, the Government claimed a limited increase in literacy rates in FATA. A handout quoting an official document stated: "Literacy rate for girls stands at a modest 10.5 per cent compared to 36.66 per cent for boys, despite considerable expenditure incurred by the FATA Secretariat to improve education statistics in the area." Earlier, literacy rates for girls and boys were three per cent and 29.51 per cent, respectively.
An estimated 150,000 families displaced by the military operations in the NWA and Khyber Agency are still languishing in make shift camps at Bannu. More than 10 months have passed since the military operation began and Pakistan has failed to provide adequate assistance to the affected internally displaced persons (IDPs). While Army authorities had claimed the clearing of 90 per cent areas of terrorists by November 16, 2014, the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) observed, on March 2, 2015, that it had decided to tentatively send back IDP families to just 29 NWA and Khyber Agency villages by the end of March 2015.
Government infrastructures worth PKR one billion have been turned into rubble in conflict-stricken NWA, according to a FATA Line Departments (combining the Health, Education, Irrigation and Agriculture Departments) report of December 31, 2014. The Line Departments of the Civil Secretariat, FATA, carried out a damage need assessment survey of Government owned properties in Mir Ali and Miranshah sub-divisions of NWA. The survey of damaged infrastructure was conducted after SFs had cleared these areas of terrorists. The report claimed that 115 facilities, including education and health establishments, and 102 kilometres of roads, had been either completely or partially damaged in the areas surveyed.
Terrorism and the disproportionate use of force by the state have caused massive collateral damage to property (and to life) in other tribal agencies as well. In August 2014, a damage need assessment survey carried out under the supervision of the FATA FDMA revealed that over 60,000 houses had been damaged in Orakzai, Khyber, South Waziristan and Kurram agencies. A total of 31 educational institutions (six institutions 100 per cent damaged, nine institutions 50 per cent and 16 institutions 20 per cent), eight health facilities, two buildings of the works and services department, 13 facilities of livestock, seven agriculture, eight public health engineering, 35 municipal committee buildings, including 21 shops, two sports facilities and 19 irrigation department establishments had also been damaged.
Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar disclosed, on February 18, 2015, that the cost of ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan may exceed USD 1.3 billion. Dar claimed that the Pakistani Government had already spent USD 400 million on the operation and IDPs.
Despite the hype, the Operations in NWA and Khyber Agency have failed to destroy the organisational network and leadership of the terrorists. This has repeatedly been demonstrated in their capacity to perpetrate carnage, as in the Peshawar Army Public School attack and the bloodbath of innocent Shias at Imambargah (Shia place of worship) in Peshawar. Pakistan is yet to make a decisive break from its long sustained strategy of supporting terrorist groups operating against Indian and Afghanistan, and the linkages of these groups with domestic terrorists operating within the country are growing progressively deeper and more complex. Despite some losses that TTP has suffered, it is likely to rise again out of the rubble that bombardments and drone strikes have created in FATA.