Pakistan Assessment 2016
On April 13, 2016, at least seven policemen and four ‘criminals’ were killed in an exchange of fire in the Kacha (riverbed) area of the Indus River between Districts of Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan in Punjab Province. While eight ‘criminals’ who sustained injuries managed to escape, 22 policemen were taken hostage by the 'criminals'. On April 14 four injured policemen were released but the remaining 18 were still in captivity.
On April 7, 2016, unidentified militants shot dead at least three Shias at the Najaf Imambargah (Shia place of worship) in North Karachi Town, in the provincial capital of Sindh.
On April 4, 2016, Feroze Shah, the personal assistant to Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Mohammad Ateeq, his daughter Tasbiha (8), and a city warden, Abid, were killed in a targeted attack while they were travelling in a van that looked like a Police vehicle near Furniture Market in the North Karachi Town.
On March 31, 2016, at least five people were killed and several others were injured when a blast occurred inside a vehicle on Kashmir Road in the Jani Khel area of Lakki Marwat District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
In the worst attack of 2016 so far (till April 17), at least 74 people were killed and more than 300 were injured in a suicide blast inside the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in the Iqbal Town area of Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab, on March 27, 2016. Significantly, a large number of people, mostly Christians were present in the park, celebrating Easter.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, 831 terrorism-linked fatalities have already occurred in Pakistan in 2016, including 222 civilians, 102 Security Force (SF) personnel and 507 terrorists/militants. The country has also recorded 82 major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) resulting in 715 fatalities (183 civilians, 68 SF personnel and 464 terrorists). Further, 43 blasts accounting for 176 deaths and over 520 injuries in the current year.
During the corresponding period of 2015, Pakistan had seen 1,334 terrorism related fatalities, including 351 civilians, 107 SF personnel and 876 terrorists. The country witnessed 111 major incidents resulting in 1,021 fatalities (147 civilians, 59 SF personnel and 815 militants) in this period, as well as 83 blasts accounting for 214 deaths and over 398 injured.
Through 2015, Pakistan recorded a total of 3,682 fatalities, including 940 civilians, 339 SF personnel and 2,403 terrorists/militants as against 5,496 fatalities, including 1,781 civilians, 533 SF personnel and 3,182 terrorists/militants in 2014. The number of major incidents also declined from 402 (accounting for 4,173 deaths) to 322 (resulting in 2,923 fatalities) over this period. Similarly, 2015 recorded 216 incidents of bomb blasts resulting in 495 deaths, down from 388 incidents resulting in 840 deaths recorded in 2014. Moreover, as against 25 suicide bombings accounting for 336 deaths in 2014, year 2015 recorded 19 such incidents resulting in 161 deaths.
Terror-related fatalities have sustained a declining trend in Pakistan since the peak of 2009 when fatalities totaled a staggering 11,704 (2,324 civilians, 991 SF personnel and 8,389 militants). 2014 saw a transient aberration in the trend, with 5,496 fatalities, a marginal increase, on year on year basis, from 5,379 fatalities recorded in 2013. All four Provinces of Pakistan – Balochistan, KP, Punjab, and Sindh – along with the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) recorded declines.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb (sharp and cutting) launched on June 15, 2014, in the tribal areas of Pakistan has been significant in bringing about this relative improvement. During the operation, domestically oriented terror groups have been targeted with full military might. Director General (DG) of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), Lt. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, claimed, on December 12, 2015, that since the launch of the operation “3,400 terrorists [were] killed, and 837 hideouts from where they were carrying out their terrorist activities [were] destroyed... Success came at a heavy price as 488 valiant officers and men of Pakistan Army, FC [Frontier Constabulary] KP [Khyber Pakhtunkhwa] and Bolan and Sindh Rangers sacrificed their lives, while another 1,914 were injured.”
Most recently, on April 3, 2016, ISPR claimed that SFs had ‘cleared’ 4,304 square kilometers of area in the North Waziristan Agency of FATA and “restored the writ of the Government in all areas especially in remote areas of FATA.”
Despite the rhetoric of "not discriminating among terror groups", however, Pakistani Forces have carefully avoided inflicting any harm on terrorist formations which serve perceived ‘state interests’. Islamabad’s policy of selective targeting of terror groups leaves the environment that breeds terrorism intact. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in its annual report released in March 2016 thus observes
Crucially, as SAIR has repeatedly emphasized, Islamabad continues to allow terrorist groups serving its supposed strategic interests in neighboring Afghanistan and India to operate with impunity from its soil. In the most recent and brazen move, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) founder and Jama’at-ud-Dawa (JuD) 'chief' Hafiz Muhammad Saeed reportedly set up a Sharia’h (Islamic law) court in Lahore to dispense "speedy justice", taking up citizens' complaints and issuing summons carrying a warning of strict action in case of non-compliance. This is the first instance of such a parallel judicial system to be established in the Punjab province. JuD claimed the ‘court’ only offers arbitration and resolves disputes in accordance with the Islamic judicial system, but failed to justify the summons. The impunity with which Saeed operates clearly confirms the support he receives from the Pakistani establishment. Saeed is the mastermind of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai (India) and in 2012 the United States (US) put a USD 10 million bounty on his head.
Further, despite repeated US calls to target the Haqqani Network – one of the most vicious terrorist formations operating from Pakistan into Afghanistan – in Operation Zarb-e-Azb, no visible action in this direction has been taken thus far. Significantly, according to an April 13, 2016, report published by the US National Security Archive, "a series of DIA cables (from January 11, 2010, and February 6, 2010) show that some funding for Haqqani [Haqqani Network] attacks are still provided by the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, including $200,000 for the December 30, 2009, attack on the CIA facility at Camp Chapman." At least 10 people, including two female American CIA agents, Jennifer Lynne Matthews, who commanded the base; and Elizabeth Hanson, a targeting analyst; were killed in the attack.
Meanwhile, the genuine grievances of people across Pakistan are being brutally suppressed. Specifically referring to Karachi (Sindh) and Balochistan, the HRCP report observed
Similarly, PaK continues to suffer under repressive measures administered by Islamabad. In a rare reaction, anti-Pakistan protests rise sporadically in the region. In a recent cycle of such protests, according to a September 29, 2015, video report, people in large numbers in several areas of PaK, including Muzaffarabad, Gilgit and Kotli, were seen protesting against the Pakistani establishment, demanding freedom, raising pro-India slogans, and asking for jobs and other rights. The Pakistan military, according to the video, used brutal force to suppress these protests. Further, an October 2, 2015, report quoted Senge Hasnan Sering of the Institute for Gilgit Baltistan Studies, based in Washington, DC., stating, "We are under a silent invasion from China. We are staring at ethnic cleansing: Pakistan since the late 1990s has already effected the settlement of around 3.5 lakh (350,000) Urdu-speaking Sunni Muslims in GB which makes for nearly a fifth of the population now. They also run terror camps here. China is into a lot of projects here from mining to highway-making and a huge number of Chinese workers have also settled here." Most recently, on April 14, 2016, anti-Pakistan protest erupted again in various parts of PaK over lack of employment to local youth. Protesters, owing allegiance to Jammu and Kashmir National Students Federation (JKNSF) and Jammu and Kashmir National Awami Party (JKNAP), raised slogans against the Pakistani Government and said that preference was being given to Pakistani youth over Kashmiri youth. They also raised slogans demanding an independent Kashmir. Police, meanwhile, resorted to a heavy baton charge on the demonstrators. Reacting to the latest round of protests and state responses in PaK, India’s Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju tweeted, on April 14, 2016, “Situation in Pak occupied J&K region is always disturbing. Pak has never given any value to maintaining human rights. Not 1st time that human rights violation is visible in PoK specially by Pak Army & their security people.”
Extra judicial killings by state agencies and their proxies remain rampant across Pakistan, more specifically in Balochistan. Through 2015, 247 civilians were killed in Balochistan, of which some 114 were attributable to one or other militant outfit. The remaining 143 ‘unattributed’ fatalities are overwhelmingly considered the work of the state apparatus and its surrogates. Of the 3,600 civilian fatalities recorded in Balochistan since 2004 [data till April 17, 2016], at least 922 civilian killings are attributable to one or other militant outfit. Of these, 361 civilian killings (205 in the South and 156 in the North) have been claimed by Baloch separatist formations, while Islamist and sectarian extremist formations – primarilyLashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Ahrar-ul-Hind (Liberators of India) – claimed responsibility for another 561 civilian killings, 554 in the North (mostly in and around Quetta) and seven in the South. The 361 civilian killings attributed to Baloch formations include at least 153 Punjabi settlers since 2006. The remaining 2,678 civilian fatalities – 1,621 in the South and 1,057 in the North – remain ‘unattributed’. A large proportion of the ‘unattributed’ fatalities, particularly in the Southern region, are believed to be the result of enforced disappearances carried out by state agencies, or by their proxies, prominently including the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Aman Balochistan (TNAB, Movement for the Restoration of Peace, Balochistan). The large number of unattributed civilian fatalities strengthens the widespread conviction that Security Agencies engage in “kill and dump” operations against local Baloch dissidents, a reality that Pakistan’s Supreme Court has clearly recognized.
Thus, the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) noted, on January 1, 2016, that approximately 463 people were forcibly ‘disappeared’ while 157 mutilated bodies were recovered from Balochistan in 2015. Nasrullah Baloch, Chairman of VBMP, observed, “The VBMPS report is based on documents received from Missing persons’ families, human rights organizations and political parties," adding that number of enforced disappeared persons in 2015 could be higher, as the Government recently admitted to having arrested 9,000 people under NAP from Balochistan in 2015.
More worryingly, seeds of religious intolerance that have been systematically sown in Pakistan since its inception in 1947 – and, indeed, even earlier, during the struggle for independence continue to yield their bitter harvest. According to the Annual Report, 2015, of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), between July 2013 and June 2014, 122 incidents of sectarian violence occurred in Pakistan, resulting in more than 1,200 casualties, including 430 fatalities. The report, noted, “Pakistan represents one of the worst situations in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated by the U.S. government as ‘countries of particular concern’… Pakistan continued to experience chronic sectarian violence targeting Shi’a Muslims, Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, and Hindus.” Similarly, the Jinnah Institute of Pakistan in a report titled State of Religious Freedom in Pakistan 2015, stated that, during the period 2012-2015, at least 543 incidents of violence were carried out against religious minorities in Pakistan. Shias were targeted on at least 288 occasions during this period, followed by Hindus (91 occasions), Christians (88 occasions), and Ahamadiyas (76 occasions). According to partial data compiled by SATP, Pakistan has recorded at least 3,021 incidents of sectarian attack leading to 5,233 deaths and 9,904 injuries since 1989. 53 of these incidents, resulting in 276 fatalities and 327 injuries, were reported in 2015 alone.
Unsurprisingly, Farahnaz Ispahani, media advisor to the president of Pakistan from 2008 to 2012, thus observed, in an interview published on January 2016, “When Pakistan was being formed in 1947, Pakistan’s population of non-Muslims was 23%, today we are somewhere between 3%-4%. So there has been a purification (sic) of minorities.” This ‘cleansing’ process continues unabated. According to an April 16, 2016, report, about 11,500 Pakistanis are currently seeking asylum in Thailand, a 51 percent increase over the previous year; with Christians constituting the majority among them. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is now reported to have begun issuing identity cards to Pakistani asylum seekers residing in Thailand. Separately, in another such development, the Government of India on April 17, 2016, announced that it proposes to simplify procedures for grant of Indian citizenship to minority Hindus who have fled Pakistan. Though the exact number of minority refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan living in India is not known, rough estimates suggest there could be as many as 200,000 such people, mostly Hindus and Sikhs and primarily from Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Pakistan now appears poised on the brink of another cycle of political turmoil in the wake of the Panama Papers revelations relating to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. [The Panama Papers are an unprecedented leak of 11.5 million files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The documents show the myriad ways in which the rich can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes. Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.] According to recent revelations Sharif’s three children own three residences in London’s Mayfair District, where the average price of an apartment is £1.8 million. Just one of these properties is worth more than 1,700 times the average national income of Pakistan, at 153,000 per annum. Soon the opposition began demand for resignation of Sharif and impartial probe. Amidst increasing political turmoil, Sharif left for London on April 13, 2016, for ‘medical treatment’, triggering speculation about an imminent military coup. Indeed, Imran Khan the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, Sharif’s most trenchant political opponent, and who had been making an effort for long to destabilize the regime, urging Pakistanis to rise against Sharif declared, “This is a godsend opportunity for us.” Hasan Askari Rizvi, a prominent political analyst based in Lahore, however, observed, “He (Sharif) is not threatened to that extent. However, if all political parties join hands, then Nawaz is in real trouble.”
Nevertheless, the bitter rivalry between the all powerful Army and the Sharif Government persists. This was evident in the manner in which Sharif’s dialogue with India was abruptly scuttled, astonishingly, by a Statement from Pakistan's High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, on April 7, 2016, declaring that the peace process between Islamabad and New Delhi had been ‘suspended’. Demonstrating the sharp divisions within the power centres in Pakistan, Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nafees Zakaria stated on April 8, 2016, that the peace dialogue between the two nations will continue.
Regrettably, despite continued and blatant violations of international norms, Pakistan continues to receive generous aid from US. The Pakistan Senate Defence Committee was informed on April 14, 2016, that the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) had disbursed USD 13 billion since 2002. The US Congress in 2015 also allocated USD 100 million for improving border control mechanisms between Pakistan and Afghanistan. During the Pakistan-US strategic dialogue in February 2016 in Washington, the Pakistani side sought a special package of USD Eight billion for security and development in the FATA over the next five years. CSF refers to money from the Defense Emergency Response Fund (DERF) that is eligible to be used to reimburse coalition partners for logistical and military support to US military operations. Pakistan started getting money under this scheme to help US in its war on terror launched in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The US Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) 2015 fourth quarter report on the CSF program shows that in the fourth quarter of 2015, the US reimbursed a total of USD 1.6 billion in CSF for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. Pakistan received the majority of the funds given in this quarter at a total of $ 712 million.
The US has also ‘reimbursed’ Pakistan another 7.95 billion for ‘other security-related expenditures’ since 2002, and continues to supply high-end military equipments to Islamabad. On February 12, 2016, the US Government disclosed that it had approved the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan. The deal includes up to eight F-16 fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp, radar and other equipment valued at USD 699 million. The Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees foreign arms sales, stated that it had notified lawmakers about the possible deal. Though the US argued that the F-16s will bolster Pakistan’s Air Force (PAF) ability to conduct counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations, experts have long argued that their principal use would be against India, in the event of war. Vikas Swaroop, Spokesperson of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, tweeted on February 16, 2016, “We are disappointed at the decision of the Obama Administration to notify the sale of F-16 aircrafts to Pakistan. We disagree with their rationale that such arms’ transfers help to combat terrorism. The record of the last many years in this regard speaks for itself.”
While USA is, by far, Pakistan’s most generous donor, Islamabad benefits from aid from a multiplicity of other sources as well, prominently including the International Development Association (IDA), Japan, the European Union, United Kingdom (UK) and Germany, among others. While such aid flows are now increasingly being questioned, they have not been interrupted. Notably, during a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 14th April 2016, on “Human Rights Situation in Pakistan: in particular the attack in Lahore,” Alberto Cirio, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), raised the issue of the killing of minorities, specifically Christians and Baloch, in Pakistan. Subsequent to the debate, in a private interview, Cirio, stated, “the world community has failed to call the Pakistani bluff of seeking financial support from the West to fight the very terrorists that it nurtures and supports.” He called on the international community to stand united against this Pakistani blackmail, before it acquired a more sinister edge, with Pakistan supplying tactical nuclear weapons that it is rapidly developing, to its favored terrorist groups, to target Europe.
The aid given to Pakistan to help US in its war on terror has long been misused by Islamabad to help terror groups subservient to its policy of exporting terrorism. Despite nearly 2,381 US troops, another 1,134 International Security Assistance Force personnel, and tens of thousands of Afghans killed as a result of this strategy by Pakistani proxies, the US and the ‘international community’ have failed consistently to hold Islamabad to account even for the money it receives from the West, purportedly to fight terrorism.
Pakistan continues to operate under the cover of global impunity, even as terrorism emanating from its soil targets the world community, mainly neighboring Afghanistan and India. The blowback of this policy of export of terror has brought untold misery upon the people of Pakistan, but the country’s establishment appears to continue to consider this an acceptable price to pay for its myopic ambitions.