SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Pakistan experienced its first Islamist terrorist suicide attack on March 22, 2002. In almost five years between this date and the end of 2006, there were a total of 22 suicide attacks in the country. In 2007 (till November 10) there have already been 44 suicide attacks. In the past three months, the fidayeen have ceaselessly targeted Army convoys and check-posts, police stations and training units, government officials, restaurants and mosques.
Militant violence across the country has assumed staggering proportions. At least 2,467 people, including 949 civilians, 467 security force (SF) personnel and 1,051 terrorists, have been killed in 2007 (till November 10). This adds to the 1,471 persons, including 608 civilians and 325 SF personnel, who died in terrorism/insurgency-related violence in Pakistan during year 2006. Crucially, the 2006 level already reflected well over a doubling in fatalities since 2005, when a total of 648 persons (including 430 civilians and 81 SF personnel) were killed in insurgent and terrorist conflicts.
The Army’s failure to dominate the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and particularly Waziristan, is now well known. But as President Pervez Musharraf struggles to contain the consequences of his ill-advised ‘second coup’, events in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) show signs of hurtling entirely out of control, providing disturbing indices of the magnitude of Pakistan’s slide into anarchy.
There has been a continuous and progressive strengthening of processes of Islamist radicalisation in the NWFP ever since the Islamist alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), secured an absolute majority in the Provincial Assembly in an election that Musharraf rigged in their favour in October 2002. The NWFP has now abruptly crystallized as the core of Islamist militant mobilisation in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, even as Islamist radicals rapidly expand their presence across Pakistan’s other provinces. It is significant that the NWFP is a region where the state’s presence has historically been relatively strong, and the situation has never been even remotely comparable to the traditionally ungoverned FATA.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal database, throughout 2006, approximately 163 people were killed in the NWFP in at least 84 incidents. In 2007 (till November 10), at least 651 people, including 262 civilians, 158 SF personnel and 231 terrorists, have already died in the province [the actual numbers may be significantly higher, as information flows and reportage in the region are severely restricted]. A significant proportion of these fatalities have occurred in suicide attacks, with at least 21 of the 44 suicide attacks in Pakistan in 2007 (till November 10) having occurred in the NWFP. There have been three instances in 2007 when the province witnessed two suicide attacks on a single day.
The NWFP is spread over an area of 74,521 square kilometres and is divided into 24 Districts, with a population of 17.7 million. Located on the banks of the Indus River, it stretches from the Himalayas in the north to the deserts of the south, bordering the Balochistan and Punjab provinces. Afghanistan lies along its extended Western border.
A pro-Taliban Government headed by the MMA alliance rules the NWFP. Fugitive Taliban chief, Mullah Mohammed Omar, and other leaders of the Taliban were schooled at the Haqqania seminary in the Nowshera District of NWFP, which is run by Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, leader of his own faction of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e Islam, one of the most prominent patrons of the Taliban. The Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and another stalwart of the militant Islamist movement, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, and his two brothers Maulana Ataur Rehman and Maulana Lutfur Rehman, reside in a compound adjacent to a madrassa (seminary) at Shorkot in the Dera Ismail Khan District of the province.
The Taliban are particularly active in NWFP’s southern Districts – Lakki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu and Karak. Escalating militant activity has also been reported from the Lower Dir, Upper Dir, Swat, Mardan, Malakand, Charsadda, Peshawar, Nowshera, Tank, Hangu, Kohat, Mansehra, Kohistan, Swabi and Chitral Districts. 19 of the 24 Districts in the Province are presently affected by various levels of militant mobilisation and violence. There have been at least 176 bomb blasts in the province during 2007 (till November 10). In fact, the situation in Dera Ismail Khan is so grave that "outsiders – that is, Pakistanis from other parts of the country – need police escorts to travel around." On the mounting violence in the NWFP, Musharraf was candid in his November 3 address to the nation: "… a lot was already going on and we have been dealing with it. Its impact has also reached settled areas and now we will also have to tackle with (sic) the situation in the southern Districts."
The pro-Taliban militants have ensured the closure of girls' schools, bombed shops selling video cassettes and music CDs and prohibited barbers from shaving beards. The extremists punish, often by killing, anyone who disregards their ‘social and moral’ codes. Moral policing has not spared even the polio vaccination campaign, which the forces of radical Islam consider to be an ‘American conspiracy to sterilise future Muslim generations’. The pro-Taliban militants oppose education for females and are also against women working. Girls’ schools have not only been closed in Peshawar but also in some Districts such as Mardan.
All hair cutting saloons in Timergarah, headquarters of the Lower Dir District, and Munda have discontinued shaving services since pamphlets advising them that it was an ‘Islamic duty’ to grow a beard were distributed by an unidentified group on March 13, 2007. Barbers "in both the Lower and Upper Dir districts have received pamphlets from the extremists directing them to stop shaving beards," failing which their shops would be destroyed. Fear prevails among the saloon, music and video shop owners, since there have been many bomb blasts and attacks on such establishments. Threat letters and pamphlets of Taliban-linked militants bear names such as the Sunnat-e-Nabvi Movement, Islami Sunnat-e-Rasool, Amar Bil Maroof-wa-Nahi Anil Munkar and Islami Janbaaz, all unfamiliar front organisations.
Administrative control in Districts like Tank, Swat, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat, Kohat and in other parts of the Province, has gradually been taken over by the forces of radical Islam. Indeed, a demoralised Police force is clearly no longer able to maintain law and order in these areas. The Tank District, located on the border of the beleaguered South Waziristan area of FATA, is one of the worst affected. With the abdication of the state, it is the Taliban who patrol the streets. Taliban-linked militants have established kangaroo courts for settling disputes in the area and are also arresting ‘criminals’ and parading and punishing them in the streets. The Police have reportedly abandoned four out of the five major Police posts in Tank. On March 28, 2007, Tank town was attacked by a group of more than 200 Taliban-linked militants, the first such incident in settled areas. Two Police Stations, a paramilitary fort and bank branches were damaged in the attack. Again, six people were killed and 15 others injured, in clashes between Security Forces (SFs) and militants in Tank city on May 16, 2007. People allege that the SFs fired on civilians instead of targeting militants, who were strutting freely around the city.
Taliban-linked militants also reportedly control Darra Adam Khel (DAK) in the Kohat District. Official reports suggest that the Taliban in Darra Adam Khel, widely regarded as Asia’s largest arms manufacturing hub, have a direct link with the Taliban in North Waziristan, where they are sending young recruits for training, while weapons are being supplied to militants in North Waziristan from DAK. The sale and prices of weaponry in DAK have reportedly increased as the Taliban gains momentum. News reports indicate that prices had soared because the ‘mujahideen’, who used to sell weapons in the past, now needed them in increasing numbers. The price of second-hand Kalashnikov rifles has reached PKR 35,000 apiece, and new ones were being sold for PKR 45,000 to PKR 50,000. Earlier, the same rifle was reportedly available for PKR 20,000 to 25,000. Previously, Miranshah, headquarters of North Waziristan, was the main supplier of arms and ammunition, but now the supplies from the area have dried up owing to local demand and the Taliban insurgency. Prices of ‘heavy’ weapons, such as rocket launchers, are also reported to have increased dramatically, as the Taliban are buying these weapons.
Strategically, the DAK area is used by the Taliban to arm the militants, and could plausibly serve as a launch pad for any operation targeting the provincial capital, Peshawar. While the military has already intercepted two weapons’ consignments intended for Waziristan militants, a senior police official was quoted by the media as stating that, "It is not an exaggeration to say that the Taliban are slowly reaching for Peshawar and the day is near when the metropolis will have serious security problems."
The provincial capital, Peshawar, has witnessed 21 bomb blasts in 2007 and there have already been three suicide attacks in the city during the current year. 43 persons have died in the suicide attacks alone. While some girls’ schools in Peshawar have closed down after the administration received threatening letters, recent militant attacks have targeted, among others, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Airport and a women’s college.
While there is a considerable spill-over of militancy from the tribal areas to the settled areas of NWFP, the fact is that the state has itself ceded space to radical Islam. The state’s retreat in neighbouring Waziristan has further emboldened the Islamist radicals and led to a greater assertiveness, with militants now operating openly and without fear. The NWFP has also emerged as a safe haven and area of expansion for militants from Waziristan, which they already dominate, as well as extremist elements from other parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The official explanation of these developments, articulated by NWFP Governor Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai, was that the Taliban was "developing into some sort of a nationalist movement, a sort of liberation war against coalition forces (in Afghanistan)". Moreover, the Police force, according to provincial Chief Secretary Ejaz Qureshi, is "inadequately equipped in terms of manpower, logistics and weaponry, rendering the NWFP cities vulnerable."
On February 14, 2007, President Musharraf had stated that the Tribal Areas (FATA) will be amalgamated into the NWFP after the Taliban and al Qaeda elements were eliminated from the region. Musharraf added that his Government had started work towards this end in 2000, with the consent of tribal elders. "We should have amalgamated FATA into the NWFP province much earlier. We had the same idea when our forces entered the area," the President claimed. While the Taliban/al Qaeda combine are nowhere close to being eliminated either in the FATA, NWFP or elsewhere in Pakistan, any such ‘amalgamation’ would only widen the existing safe havens for the militants.
The loss of territory to militants has recently been quite rapid in the NWFP. Militants captured Madyan town in the Swat District and hoisted their flags over buildings after security forces surrendered on November 6. "They seized Madyan town today, they have already overrun Matta and Khawazakhela towns," an unnamed Police official disclosed. He admitted that the Police surrendered their weapons, vehicles and control of local Police Stations. Pro-Taliban militants also captured a Police Station, a paramilitary forces’ camp and other Government buildings at Kalam on November 7, consolidating their grip over the Swat Valley. Dozens of paramilitary and Police personnel are reported to have surrendered their weapons to the militants and retreated from Kalam on November 7. Militants loyal to Maulana Fazlullah are reportedly in control of six tehsils (revenue divisions), including Kabal, Matta, Khawazakhela, Charbagh, Madyan and Kalam, out of the eight tehsils in the Swat District. Reports indicate that the militants have appointed officials in the towns they control and seized Government and NGO vehicles. Before taking Kalam, the militants also captured the town of Bahrain. Further, 20 kilometres south of Peshawar cantonment, the Taliban have also taken control of Mattni and told Police that they "should not bother about security in the area as the Taliban will make sure the people’s life and property is safe."
The Lal Masjid Backlash is obviously straining Musharraf’s capacities both of military containment and political management. With the security situation rapidly deteriorating, the Government, on July 13, moved an Army brigade into the Tank District. Reports indicate that the Army had gradually started deploying troops in NWFP’s southern Districts, adjoining Waziristan, fuelling speculation that an anti-militancy operation was imminent. 12,000 troops have been moved to the Tank and Dera Ismail Khan Districts from Okara in Punjab. Troops were also being deployed in the Lakki Marwat and Bannu Districts, strongholds of the local Taliban. NWFP also has 35,000 police personnel for a population of approximately 21 million (yielding a severely inadequate police-population ratio of 1:600).
The NWFP Government on October 24 deployed thousands of paramilitary and Police personnel in the troubled Swat Valley in order to re-establish its writ in 59 villages of the District. Four wings of the Frontier Corps, comprising 3,000 personnel, 16 platoons of the Frontier Constabulary and six platoons of the Frontier Reserve Police have been sent to Swat. District Coordination Officer Syed Muhammad Javed declared that the "administration had no option but to call in the Army to curb growing militancy and continuous attacks on law enforcement agencies, public property and CD and video centres in Swat and its adjoining areas."
Orchestrating the disorder in Swat is Maulana Fazlullah, the son-in-law of Maulana Sufi Mohammed, the imprisoned chief of the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws, TNSM). According to the NWFP Home Secretary Badshah Gul Wazir, Maulana Fazlullah and his 4,500 armed volunteers had set up a ‘parallel government’ in Swat. Fazlullah has formed an armed wing called Shaheen Force and established Sharia (Islamic law) courts. Wazir also disclosed that foreign militants and members of outlawed groups were being sheltered in the troubled area. Maulana Fazlullah is also known as Maulana Radio for the ‘illegal’ FM radio stations that he operates to instigate an armed uprising, urging people to "prepare for jihad".
The TNSM has described the Army deployment as a violation of the peace agreement signed by the MMA-led Government and the TNSM on May 22, 2007. Officials counter that the Maulana violated the agreement within a couple of months by declaring jihad against those responsible for the military assault on the Lal Masjid. According to the pact, the Government agreed to allow Maulana Fazlullah to continue broadcasts through his FM radio stations, while the latter agreed to support the polio vaccination and education campaign for girls, and the regime’s efforts to maintain law and order in the District. After the Army deployment, the Maulana is reported to have called upon followers to "carry out my mission upon my death in any military operation."
The TNSM, one of the five outfits proscribed by Musharraf on January 12, 2002, was formed in 1992 with the objective of a militant enforcement of Sharia. Ideologically, it is committed to transforming Pakistan into a Taliban-style state. In an August 1998-speech in Peshawar, Maulana Sufi Mohammed reportedly declared that those opposing the imposition of Sharia were wajib-ul-qatl (worthy of death). He is reported to have organised thousands of people to fight the Northern Alliance (NA) in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban in 2001. However, a majority of them were either killed or arrested by the NA. Some, including Sufi Mohammed, managed to return to Pakistan, only to be arrested. The TNSM operates primarily in the tribal belt, such as Swat and the adjoining districts of the NWFP. Although well established in the NWFP, the TNSM has had only limited success in expanding its activities beyond the tribal areas. It has substantial support in Malakand and Bajaur in the FATA, and includes activists who have fought in Afghanistan at some time during the past 25 years. Since the imprisonment of Sufi Mohammed, the loss of cadres in end 2001, and its proscription, the TNSM had largely become defunct. However, the outfit began to revive after the October 8, 2005, earthquake and the subsequent relief efforts by Islamist extremist groups.
On current indications, the capacities of the military regime to quieten the NWFP will be seriously challenged. As SAIR noted earlier,
With Musharraf progressively enmeshed in the management of the political fallout of his misconceived ‘coup’, and in containing waves of political dissent and international censure, the widening trajectory of violence in NWFP demonstrates a graver failure of the military regime. Past experience in South Asia has shown that the recovery of geographical spaces, once anti-state violence escalates beyond a certain threshold, is extraordinarily difficult. While there have been some reports of helicopter gunship attacks against militant clusters in the NWFP, there can be little hope that this device will be sufficient to suppress the Taliban rampage in the province. The Lal Masjid debacle has demonstrated, moreover, that ham handed military interventions have the potential to significantly worsen the situation. Musharraf’s "combination of incompetence and brutality" has little capacity to restore order in the NWFP – or, indeed, in the widening sphere ofchaos that is all of Pakistan.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
November 5-11, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Church blames NSCN factions for destruction in Nagaland: Rev. Zhabu Terhuja, the general secretary of the Nagaland Baptist Churches Council (NBCC), accused both the Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and Khaplang (NSCN-K) factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland for bringing "chaos and destruction" to Nagaland. Terhuja said, "Naga society is plunging evermore deeply into destructive divisions." The Church leader added, "Arbitrary elimination of lives" had made Naga society weaker and under no circumstances, should human life be arbitrary snapped. Terhuja said the people expected "those conducting the Naga struggle" to be more responsible as their actions had often led to the loss of lives. The Church has long been engaged in a campaign to unite the warring Naga factions. Terhuja admitted that the Church had failed to meet the challenges and needs of Naga society. Telegraph, November 9, 2007.
Thousands of students and teachers abducted in Nepal in five years, says UNESCO: report of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has revealed that the latter part of Nepal's insurgency has witnessed a massive scale of abduction of students and teachers. The UNESCO study on the impact of conflict on education, which was made public on November 8, said that 22,000 students and 10,000 teachers were abducted between 2002 and 2006 while 734 teachers and 1,730 students were arrested or tortured during that period. Nepal News, November 10, 2007.
Elections by January 9, 2007, says President Musharraf: Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf said on November 11, that a General Election would be held by January 9, but under a state of Emergency that he imposed on November 3. He also said that the National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies would be dissolved in the coming days, on completion of their terms. Speaking at a News Conference, he further said that he would quit the military and be sworn in as a civilian President as soon as the Supreme Court struck down challenges to his October 6 re-election. He, however, declined to say when the Constitution would be restored or the Emergency lifted. He said the decision to impose the Emergency had been the hardest he had ever taken, but added that it reinforced the battle against militants and ensured fair polls. "Certainly, the emergency is required to ensure peace in Pakistan, to ensure an environment conducive for elections", he said. Earlier, he had stated that the election would be held by mid-February. Reuters, November 12, 2007.
National Assembly approves Emergency: The National Assembly (NA), on November 7, passed a resolution endorsing the proclamation of Emergency in the country and the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO). Members of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) boycotted the Assembly session. As the other Opposition members have already resigned, only the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and its allies attended the session. The resolution was presented by Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Dr. Sher Afgan Niazi. The House noted that the proclamation of Emergency and the PCO had been necessitated in view of terrorism in the country and disharmony among the pillars of state, "due to the judiciary". The House passed another resolution congratulating President Pervez Musharraf on his re-election. Daily Times, November 8, 2007.
Army Act of 1952 amended: The Government amended the Army Act of 1952 and President General Pervez Musharraf issued an Ordinance on November 10 enabling the military to try civilians on charges of terrorism, anti-national activities, sedition, attacks on Army personnel and assault on the President with the intent of disrupting the exercise of his powers. Military courts can also try civilians accused of waging war against the state, abetment to any of these offences, rioting while armed with deadly weapons, and making statements conducive to public mischief. Prior to the amendment, civilians could be court-martialled only if one of the accused in a particular case belonged to the military. President Musharraf denied that the amended Army Act was going to be used against critics. He said, "It is not such a draconian situation. Catching ordinary people and having them tried by the military should not happen. It should never happen." Attorney General Malik Muhammad Qayyum said that the new Ordinance was necessary and inevitable for protecting the sovereignty of the country, and it would be similar to the United States’ Patriot Act. Daily Times ; The Hindu, November 10-12, 2007.
Militants capture Kalam in North West Frontier Province: Pro-Taliban militants captured a Police Station, paramilitary forces’ camp and other Gbuildings at Kalam on November 7, extending their hold over the Swat Valley. Militants loyal to the rebel cleric Maulana Fazlullah are reportedly in control of six tehsils (revenue division), including Kabal, Matta, Khawazakhela, Charbagh, Maydan and Kalam, out of the eight tehsils in the Swat District. The militants have ‘appointed’ officials in the towns they control and ‘seized’ Government and non-governmental organisation vehicles. An unnamed police official said that dozens of paramilitary troops and police surrendered their weapons to the militants and retreated from Kalam on November 7. Before taking Kalam, the militants captured the town of Bahrain, having seized Madyan on November 6. Local residents said a jirga (council) of elders later pledged to support the militants if they agreed to leave the town. "We did this because we feared gunship helicopters will also pound our areas if the militants stayed in control… We asked the Taliban to leave Kalam and they granted our request," said a local elder Hameed Kalami. Daily Times, November 8, 2007.
Sri Lanka Army declares amnesty for deserters: Sri Lanka Army declared a two-week general amnesty period for its personnel who have deserted the ranks. The Amnesty period commenced on November 12 and will end on November 25. The personnel who deserted from the Army on or before November 1, 2004 can report to duty within this period. They will not be punished and will be posted in the ranks they held when they deserted. Colombo Page, November 12, 2007.
52 LTTE cadres and 11 soldiers killed in Muhamalai offensive: On November 7, 52 LTTE cadres and 11 soldiers were killed as fierce fighting broke out along the front lines at Muhamalai in Jaffna peninsula. Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said that the encounter occurred as Army forward defences advanced to neutralize LTTE bunkers in the area. Troops neutralised 20 LTTE bunkers. 41 soldiers sustained injuries during the offensive. Troops advanced up to about five kilometres further towards the LTTE held areas. Colombo Page, November 7, 2007.