SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Pakistan’s descent towards state failure gathered momentum in year 2008. Conflict data and broad governance indicators, today, reflect a nation at war with itself.
The country’s progressive collapse has been much more rapid and irretrievable than most had envisaged. In a vast swathe of Pakistani territory today, the state has simply withered away. A wide array of militant groups is currently engaged in varying degrees of violence and subversion across the country. A cursory look at the map indicates that the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and Balochistan are witnessing large-scale violence and insurrections. Violence also increasingly afflicts parts of Punjab, Sindh, and the Gilgit-Baltistan region. Islamabad’s writ is thus being challenged vigorously – violently or otherwise – in wide geographical areas, and on a multiplicity of issues. More than half of the territory presently under Pakistan’s control, including Gilgit-Baltistan and ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’, has passed outside the realm of civil governance and is currently dominated essentially through military force.
The sheer rate of acceleration of violence is an index of the enveloping loss of control. In year 2003 – when Pakistan was already being viewed as a place of instability and widespread strife – total fatalities in terrorism-related violence amounted to just 189. By 2004, this number had risen to 863, to slide marginally to 648 in 2005, but mount dramatically thereafter to the unprecedented minimum of 6,715 killed in 2008.Annual Fatalities in Terrorist Violence in Pakistan, 2003- 2008
Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP)
A startling aspect of the patterns of violence witnessed across the country is the increasing frequency of suicide attacks. There were 59 suicide attacks in 2008 as against 56 in year 2007. At least 852 persons, including 712 civilians and 140 Security Force (SF) personnel, were killed and over 1,867 persons injured by 65 suicide bombers involved in these attacks. 729 persons, including 552 civilians and 177 SF personnel, were killed and 1,677 persons injured by 58 suicide bombers, in 2007. The magnitude of Pakistan’s slide towards chaos is best illustrated by the fact that, between March 22, 2002 (the first suicide attack) and end-2006, there were 22 suicide attacks; in 2007 alone, there were 56 such attacks, rising to 59 in 2008. In 2008, fidayeen (suicide squads) relentlessly targeted Army convoys and check-posts, Police Stations and training units, Government officials, polling stations, schools, jirga meetings, hotels, restaurants, mosques and various soft targets. Almost 11 per cent of total fatalities in Pakistan during 2008 were inflicted through suicide attacks.
While 32 of the 59 suicide attacks in 2008 occurred in the NWFP, 13 were reported from FATA, 12 from Punjab and one each from Balochistan and Sindh Provinces. In 2007, while 27 of the 56 suicide attacks occurred in the NWFP, there were 13 in FATA and five attacks in the national capital, Islamabad. These figures are a clear demonstration of the suicide bombers’ capacities to strike across Pakistan. There were two instances – October 9 (in Islamabad and FATA) and November 6 (FATA and NWFP) – when Pakistan experienced two suicide attacks in a single day. Suicide attacks not only occurred in the conflict zones but in major cities like Islamabad and Karachi as well. There were four attacks in Islamabad, four in Lahore, four in Peshawar, two in Rawalpindi, and one each in Karachi and Quetta.
The 32 suicide attacks in the NWFP were spread across 11 of the Province’s 24 Districts – Swat: 11; Buner: 2; Charsadda: 4; Bannu: 3; Peshawar: 3; Hangu: 1; Mardan: 2; Upper Dir: 1; Kohat (Darra Adamkhel town): 2; Dera Ismail Khan: 2; and Lakki Marwat: 1. Three suicide bombers struck the besieged provincial capital Peshawar in 2008 to kill 55 persons, including 47 civilians, and injure 108 others. A presentation by a NWFP Police official before Provincial Government authorities indicated that 290 people were killed and 711 were injured in 30 suicide bombings in the Frontier during 2008. At least 337 people were killed and 585 wounded in 28 suicide bombings in the NWFP in 2007, according to official statistics.
Suicide attacks were reported from all the tribal agencies – Khyber, Mohmand, Bajaur, Orakzai, Kurram, North Waziristan and South Waziristan – during 2008.
There were 12 suicide attacks in Punjab in 2008, with four in the provincial capital, Lahore. Four suicide bombers struck targets (Danish embassy, Marriot Hotel, Police lines and Melody Market) in the national capital, Islamabad, while two suicide bombings occurred in the adjacent garrison town of Rawalpindi. While a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd at the residence of Rashid Akbar Niwani, a Shia Member of the National Assembly, in Bhakkar, 260-km southwest of Islamabad killing 25 people, two suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories in the high-security cantonment town of Wah, around 30 kilometers from Islamabad, killing 70 persons in what was described as the deadliest attack on a military installation in the country’s history.
Apart from the killing of three would-be suicide bombers, suspected to be Sunni militants of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), in capital Karachi on September 26, no suicide attack occurred in the Sindh province.
A single incident was reported from Balochistan when a suicide bomber blew himself up and killed a teenaged female student, Shahida, and injured 22 persons while targeting a Frontier Corps convoy in the cantonment area of provincial capital Quetta on September 23.
Alarmingly, some Taliban clerics reportedly boasted of converting ordinary persons into suicide-bombers "in six hours flat".
"From the 26 suicide attacks where we recovered a head in 2007, we made a startling discovery… The vast majority [of suicide bombers] came from just one tribe, the Mehsuds of central Waziristan, all boys aged 16 to 20," an analyst at the elite Special Investigation Group (SIG) told The Guardian. Qari Hussain, also known as Ustad-e-Fidaeen (teacher of suicide cadres), a Mehsud tribesman in his early 30s, is identified as the ‘commander’ who manages Baitullah Mehsud-led Taliban suicide bombing training centres and is directly responsible for indoctrinating youth for suicide missions. One of the training centres was discovered at a Government-run school in the Kotkai area of South Waziristan by the Army. GOC-14 Division Major General Tariq Khan told reporters in Dera Ismail Khan on May 18, 2008: "It was like a factory that had been recruiting nine to 12-year-old boys, and turning them into suicide bombers." The computers, other equipment and literature seized from the centre give graphic details of the suicide training. There were videos of young boys carrying out executions, a classroom where 10- to 12-year olds are sitting in formation, with "white band of Quranic verses wrapped around their forehead, and there are training videos to show how improvised explosive devices are made and detonated."
"Pakistan is now a one-stop shop," says Tariq Pervez who recently retired as the Director General of the Federal Investigation Agency. He told The Guardian in an interview, "ideas, logistics, cash from the Gulf. Arab guys, mainly Egyptians and Saudis, are on hand to provide the chemistry. Veteran Punjabi extremists plot the attacks, while the Pakistan Taliban provide the martyrs. And it all came together in the Marriott case."
In fact, so pervasive is the phenomenon of suicide attacks that suicide bombers are also now available for a price to settle personal scores. This was revealed during Police investigations into a suicide attack in Bhakkar on October 6, 2008, in which 25 persons were killed and 60 wounded. According to Crime Investigation Department of the Lahore Police, accused Waqas Hussain and his four accomplices had hired a suicide bomber and explosives expert from Wana in South Waziristan to kill a former friend with whom they had a monetary dispute.
Peace remains elusive in the strategic and resource-rich Balochistan province, which has long remained on the periphery of Pakistan's projects and perceptions. The "dialogue with those who are up in the mountains" in Balochistan – initiated after April 2008 - is unraveling, with serious repercussions for Islamabad. Violence saw an increase in 2008 in comparison to 2007, as at least 348 persons, including 130 civilians, 111 SF personnel and 107 insurgents, were killed and another 383 were injured in more than 397 insurgency-related incidents. Violence in 2007 saw at least 245 persons, including 124 civilians, killed. The situation could, in fact, have been far worse had the three principal insurgent groups – the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) – not declared a unilateral cease-fire on September 1, 2008.
Portents of renewed violence are already visible on the ground. On January 4, 2009, these three insurgent groups announced the formal end of their four-month old cease-fire, stating that the Government had killed several innocent Baloch tribesmen in fresh military operations in Dera Bugti District and elsewhere in the Province. Declaring the end of the truce, the BLA spokesman Bibarg Baloch said the three groups were disappointed by the Government’s ‘lacklustre’ response to the truce. Consequently, levels of violence are likely to increase in the immediate future in the absence of any meeting ground between the state and the insurgents.
The momentum of the Baloch insurgency, which declined relatively in 2007 as some leaders either fled Pakistan or were neutralized by the state, is now beginning to recover pace. The BLA, the most prominent insurgent group in the Province, appears to have augmented its operational capacities, as is evident from the trajectory of violence till September 1, 2008, when it declared a truce. In 2008, it targeted personnel of the Pakistan Army, Frontier Corps, Police, intelligence agencies and others, including members of the Punjabi community as also those who the BLA claim, ‘spied’ for the Government against Baloch interests.
Despite the reconciliatory efforts by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Government and the short-lived dialogue process, the insurgency continues to simmer, with a steady stream of bomb and rocket attacks on gas pipelines, railway tracks, power transmission lines, bridges, and communications infrastructure, as well as on military establishments and Government facilities. Official data indicates that there were 120 bomb blasts, 208 rocket attacks, 141 landmine explosions and 32 hand grenade attacks recorded in the province during 2008. The Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources informed the National Assembly that 80 attacks on the Sui Gas Pipelines in Balochistan in the last five years had caused a loss of PKR 526.923 million to the Government. The insurgents retain capabilities to carry out acts of sabotage on a daily basis across the province and a political solution to the insurgency is nowhere in sight. Acts of violence are, importantly, not restricted to a few districts but are occurring in practically all of the 26 Districts, including the provincial capital Quetta. According to the SATP database, a preponderance of the violence and subversion is reported from the Dera Bugti (which continues to be the insurgency’s hub), Quetta, Sibi, Kohlu, Mastung, Khuzdar, Gwadar, Bolan, Panjgur and Nasirabad Districts. The provincial capital Quetta, like the other provincial capitals of Pakistan, continues to be vigorously targeted. At least 81 incidents relating to the Baloch insurgency were reported from Quetta in 2008 while 72 occurred in 2007.
Presently, there are at least five active insurgent groups in Balochistan: the BLA, the BRA, the Baloch People’s Liberation Front, the Popular Front for Armed Resistance, and the BLF. According to Muhammad Tahir, "The number of BLA activists is not known, but Pakistani military sources suggest that there are currently 10,000 Baloch insurgents involved in separatist activities, of which 3,000 are active in the insurgency." Sources in Pakistan told SAIR that an Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) report to the Prime Minister quoted the number of insurgents to be around 2,000.
Despite the modest goodwill generated [largely as a reaction to the intense hatred for former President General (Retd.) Pervez Musharraf] by the PPP’s ascent to power, the dialogue with the insurgents has not progressed beyond mere intent. A significant reason for the ‘peace process’ being a non-starter is that it ignores the fundamental issues which sustain the insurgency, including control over resources, equal authority, and autonomy. Islamabad is, consequently, perceived as being merely involved in peace-keeping. With the euphoria of a democratically elected regime in Islamabad fading, the average Baloch views the ‘peace process’ merely as a tactic by Islamabad to buy time. Pakistan’s Security Forces are, moreover, immensely over-stretched in the FATA, the NWFP and elsewhere in the country. The temporary political management of the protracted insurgency in Balochistan, thus, provided the SFs some relief.
Above all else, there is a tremendous trust deficit, since the Baloch find little reason in their history to put their faith in Islamabad. The Baloch Republican Party Chief and insurgent leader Nawabzada Brahamdagh Bugti, who is the grandson of slain insurgent leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, has urged the Baloch nationalist groups to abandon parliamentary politics and form a united front in their struggle for ''freedom''. Rejecting the idea of negotiations with the Government, he said, during a telephonic Press Conference from an unknown location, the Baloch people did not trust state elements, who he claimed had deceived them in the past.
Most of the violence in Balochistan is 'nationalist' and there is no co-operation between Islamist militants in pockets in the North and the Baloch nationalist insurgents. The Baloch insurgency, however, adds to the complexity of the situation, since the Islamist militants in the north are orchestrating violence on both sides of the Afghan border in their areas of domination. There were regular reports, throughout 2008, of the presence of al Qaeda-Taliban operatives in Balochistan. Further, the Balochistan National Party Information Secretary and former senator Sanaullah Baloch disclosed, on January 4, 2009, that Taliban supporters had ‘captured’ land worth PKR Two billion in the eastern and western parts of provincial capital Quetta with the covert support of the ‘establishment’ in order to undermine the Baloch nationalist movement and promote Talibanisation in Balochistan. In an interview to Daily Times, he stated that the Government had failed to establish its writ in Quetta, where the Taliban and their supporters were consolidating their grip. Several parts of the provincial capital had become ‘no-go areas’, where the Taliban and their supporters had consolidated their position, he claimed. Baloch asserted that the Government was fully aware of these encroachments, but was deliberately silent because the Taliban enjoy the support of the Government and its intelligence agencies, who wish to pit the religious elements against the Baloch nationalists. "We are surprised why the Government does not undertake a military operation against these elements who have openly challenged the writ of the Government. Military operations were carried out in Dera Bugti and Sui areas by the Government on the pretext of establishing the writ of the Government, but the state machinery does not move against the Taliban and their supporters, who have illegally and forcefully captured large areas of land in Balochistan." Sanaullah Baloch added further that the Government was trying to patronise the Taliban in Quetta and its outskirts in order to undermine the power of democratic forces. The Afghan refugees, besides being a burden on the economy of Balochistan, have become the biggest cause of lawlessness and terrorism in the country’s largest province, Baloch concluded.
The protracted nature of the Baloch insurgency suggests that Islamabad’s overwhelming reliance on the disproportionate use of force has failed in the Province, as it has elsewhere. Moreover, attempts at political management have also failed repeatedly. In the immediate future, the scale of the insurrection and accompanying violence in Balochistan is expected to increase, further augmenting the province’s transition to absolute alienation.
FATA continues to be the most violent region in Pakistan. At least 3,067 persons, including 1,116 civilians, 242 SF personnel and 1,709 militants, were killed and over 1,315 persons were injured in more than 1,154 incidents in 2008. This is almost double the death count in 2007, when 1,681 persons, including 1,014 militants, 424 civilians and 243 SF personnel, were killed in the region. The writ of the state, which was always fragile in FATA, has now vanished. Levels of violence, have, over the years, risen continuously. In 2005, 285 people, including 92 civilians and 158 terrorists, were killed in 165 incidents. In 2006, the death toll was 590, including 109 civilians, 144 soldiers and 337 terrorists, in 248 incidents. The fatalities in 2008 are bound to be much higher than the numbers available, and categories are certainly suspect, since independent and open source reportage from FATA has serious limitations. For instance, during Operation Sherdil (Lion Heart) which began in Bajaur Agency in August 2008, some 2,744 ‘terrorists’ were killed, including 321 foreigners, and 1,400 were injured, according to a military briefing during the joint session of Parliament in Islamabad on October 8, 2008 (since most of the ‘terrorist’ kills have been the result of aerial strikes, there is no authoritative separation of terrorist and ‘collateral’ civilian fatalities).
Within FATA, violence is reported from all the seven Agencies – Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, North Waziristan, and South Waziristan – in varying degrees. The continuing instability in neighbouring Afghanistan and the rapid fading of the Government’s writ in FATA in 2008 has only intensified the conflict in the region. After Waziristan, Bajaur is arguably the most significant stronghold of the militants, who have entrenched themselves in the area, transforming the Agency into a nerve centre of the Taliban – al Qaeda network. Sources indicate that foreign al Qaeda militants – including Chechens, Uzbek, Tajik, Sudanese and Afghans - are converging on Bajaur to bolster the ranks of the jihadis. These foreigners are reportedly leading counter-attacks, since local militants alone were having difficulties confronting the Army action.
The Taliban, led by ‘commander’ Abdul Wali alias Omar Khalid, has near-complete control in the Mohmand Agency. Khalid, in his early 40s, was the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) chief in the agency before becoming a Taliban commander. One of the most influential Taliban leaders after Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Faqir, sources indicate that Khalid, who claims to have more than 3,000 fighters with him, has strong links with some Kashmiri militant groups. It is during 2008 that the Pakistani Taliban made a surge in the Mohmand Agency, where they now run a parallel state, implementing the Sharia (Islamic law), largely under duress.
The increasing reliance on air power to strafe militant targets in FATA and NWFP has resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties, data for which is currently unavailable. The multiple conflicts across Pakistan have now also led to the issue of large scale displacement. Bajaur Agency alone has generated more than 400,000 refugees since September 22, 2008.
Throughout 2008, attempts at regaining territory by the armed forces in FATA proved to be unsuccessful, with the militants swiftly recovering lost spaces. In essence, the state does not have a civil administrative system worth its name in FATA and, indeed, across the NWFP and Balochistan, and efforts to hold and sustain territorial gains rely almost exclusively on the presence of the Armed Forces.
During 2008, the Taliban-al Qaeda combine, notwithstanding sustained military operations, also consolidated their sway on the Khyber Agency. In fact, strengthening their presence in the Jamrud and Landikotal sub-divisions of Khyber Agency by the end of the year, the Taliban from Khyber began to extend support to their brethren in the NWFP and to threaten the supply lines of NATO forces stationed in Afghanistan. Baitullah Mehsud’s fighters have now established at least nine centres in Jamrud and Landikotal, with at least one of these centres located no more than 10 kilometers from the NWFP capital, Peshawar.
The state’s withdrawal is tangible. While senior officials seldom venture into any of the Agencies, the administration virtually lives at the mercy of the militants and is unable to exercise any real authority. The SFs in FATA are also faced with the dangerous scenario of their Pashtun elements demonstrating reluctance to fight their fellow Pashtuns. Apart from the "high" casualty rate there is also an "unprecedented" level of desertions and discharge applications being reported from FATA (numbers for which are presently unavailable), an unambiguous sign that multiple insurgencies are bleeding the Pakistan Army.
Despite the presence of approximately 120,000 troops from the Pakistan Army and paramilitary Frontier Corps, the state has virtually vanished. Although military operations have been launched across FATA, it is still the forces of a radical jihad that have the upper hand. Owais Ahmad Ghani, the NWFP Governor, is reported to have told a delegation of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in Peshawar, on January 16, 2009, that there were approximately 15,000 militants in the tribal belt, who had no dearth of rations, ammunition and equipment. He also claimed that a militant was normally given PKR 6,000 to PKR 8,000 per month while their leaders got PKR 20,000 to 30,000 per month.
Based on current indications, no amount of troop consolidation and strategy change can yield a reversal of trends in FATA. For any turnaround, the Pakistani state needs to initiate a radical course correction. The state cannot neutralize the insurgency in FATA or elsewhere within the existing ideological paradigms, articulated eloquently by ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who described Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud – the Pakistan Army’s most relentless tormentor – as a "true patriot". Shuja Pasha also defended the Taliban in an interview with Der Spiegel, stating: "Shouldn't they be allowed to think and say what they please? They believe that jihad is their obligation. Isn't that freedom of opinion?"
Approximately 2,944 people, including 1,021 civilians, 281 SF personnel and 1,642 militants, were killed and 1,748 sustained injuries in more than 2,183 incidents across the NWFP through 2008. The death count has more than doubled over 2007, a year which witnessed the sweeping transformation of the Frontier as a major battleground for radical Islam. At least 1,190 persons, including 459 civilians, 538 militants and 193 SF personnel, were killed in 2007. The collapse in NWFP has been rather swift. In fact, throughout 2006, a comparatively small number, 163 persons, was killed in the province in approximately 84 incidents. Two years ago, the Province was witness to no more than sporadic violence, though it was already ranked as a low-intensity conflict zone with an extraordinary explosive potential due to the spill-over from adjacent FATA.
During 2008, the Taliban-al Qaeda was able to unambiguously demonstrate their supremacy to the extent that the NWFP, a region where the state’s presence has historically been relatively strong, is almost as ungovernable as FATA. While the Government has declared eight Districts out of the Province’s 24 as ‘high security zones’, all the Districts are presently affected by various levels of militant mobilisation and violence. The extent of state collapse is visible in the fact that only six Districts were declared ‘normal’ for elections on February 18, 2008. A parallel system of governance now exists under the command of the Taliban in Swat District and the militants have announced the enforcement of Sharia in the Shakai, Sheikhan and Mulakhel areas of Hangu District as well.
32 of the 59 suicide attacks in 2008 occurred in the NWFP. With the exception of April and June, there have been suicide attacks in every single month of 2008. NWFP Provincial Police Officer Malik Naveed Khan stated on November 20, 2008, that during the preceding 10 months, Police had foiled 75 terrorist attacks and arrested 36 accused involved in these attacks, besides recovering large quantities of explosive materials, 39 explosive jackets, 636 hand grenades/dynamite sticks and 295 rocket launchers.
Within the Frontier, the militancy has gradually become dispersed and the conventional distinctions between settled and tribal zones (of the Province’s 24 Districts, 17 are ‘settled’ and seven are ‘tribal’) have diminished, with the result that the whole Province bears striking resemblance to FATA.
Peshawar, the NWFP capital, is under siege and is vulnerable to collapse. There were three suicide attacks among 71 terrorism-related incidents in Peshawar during 2008. In December 2008, the Taliban in Peshawar, facing little resistance, blew up at least 261 vehicles carrying logistics and supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan. Earlier, in June 2008, as the Taliban advanced towards the city, NWFP Police Chief and top administrators warned that, unless the Government took decisive action, Peshawar would fall. Peshawar is home to the headquarters of the Army’s 11th Corps, the paramilitary Frontier Corps, the Frontier Constabulary and the Police. The Taliban have always had a significant presence in the capital and adjacent regions, including the Khyber Agency, Darra Adamkhel, Mohmand Agency, Shabqadar, Michni and Mardan.
Even as violence continues unabated across the Swat District, where Daily Times reported on January 19, 2009, after a year of military operations, the territory controlled by militants has increased from 25 per cent to 75 per cent, the provincial Government has, time and again, stated that it was ready for a dialogue with the Taliban – an offer that has been contemptuously ignored. While the dialogue process failed repeatedly in 2008, temporary cease-fires, in fact, allowed the Taliban-al Qaeda combine to regroup and rearm, while the state capacity has gradually diminished in the region. Worse still, continuous military operations in Swat, Dera Ismail Khan, Kohat, Peshawar, Bannu, Hangu, Malakand, and other areas have failed to establish the state’s dominance in any of the territories temporarily ‘regained’.
One of the fundamental reasons for the state’s inability to hold territory in the Frontier is the absence of an effective mechanism for governance on the ground. This is compounded further by severe deficiencies in fighting capacities. While the Army is a relatively well-equipped force, the hamstrung Police forces face a grim challenge of constituting the first line of defence against urban militancy. According to the National Police Bureau’s Annual Report, 2006, the Police operate under significant constraints, including the paucity of funds (only 12 per cent of the annual budget is available to meet Police development requirements) and shortage of Police strength (50 per cent deficit against sanctioned strength). In attempting to make amends, the Awami National Party-led provincial Government has proposed the creation of an elite police force of 7,500 personnel, which could be deployed on short notice in militancy-affected areas. However, reports on January 13, 2009, indicate that approximately 600 specially-trained commandoes of the newly established Elite Police Force have refused to get posted in the besieged Swat Valley, saying they would prefer dismissal to being made "scapegoats". "The services of around 600 commandoes of Platoon No-1 to Platoon No-13 were placed at the disposal of the District Police Officer of Swat. They were supposed to join duty during the first week of January. However, none of them left for the troubled town," The News reported. Parents of the newly trained commandoes had also reportedly refused to send their sons to Swat, where Policemen have been slaughtered and strangulated publicly on various occasions in 2008. Large-scale desertion is being reported from the Frontier. "Many cops had to place advertisements in local newspapers to assure the militants that they were no more part of security forces," said a local from Swat. A November 13, 2008, report said that approximately 350 Policemen had resigned from their posts, subsequent to a Taliban threat to either leave their jobs or get ready for "dire consequences".
While the progressive collapse in NWFP and FATA is well documented, it is Punjab that is, in many ways, emerging as a jihadi hub. While 304 persons, including 257 SF personnel and 34 civilians, were killed in 78 terrorism-related incidents in Punjab in 2008, it is the presence of many militant groups in the province that is alarming. Data indicates, further, that more SF personnel and civilians were killed in Punjab than militants. While this is a clear indication that the Taliban-al Qaeda network is securing the upper hand, it is also evident that the extremists are bringing the conflict to Pakistan’s urban heartland, including the national capital Islamabad, the provincial capital Lahore and the garrison town of Rawalpindi. In fact, out of the approximately 78 incidents in 2008, 21 were reported from Islamabad and 22 from Lahore. Apart from the fact that some of the terrorist attacks in Punjab have been carried out by the Taliban-al Qaeda network, suspects arrested in places like Faisalabad, Sargodha, Islamabad and Lahore, among others, in 2008, included persons from the FATA and NWFP. Militants from across the country and outside easily find safe havens in places like Islamabad and Lahore. With Peshawar, the NWFP capital which is just 150 kilometers away from Islamabad, already under militant siege, it is not surprising that Islamabad and Rawalpindi are being targeted. A senior Punjab Police officer has claimed that all cases of suicide bombings in the province had links to Baitullah Mehsud and his sub-groups operating in the NWFP: "The bombers and their accomplices have close links with Baitullah Mehsud and his sub-group leaders like Kali Zafar, Maulvi Rabbani and others who all belonged to Waziristan."
While there were 12 suicide attacks in Punjab during 2008, security agencies successfully neutralized many suicide modules. At least 53 ‘potential suicide bombers’ and 16 linkmen were arrested in 2008 from places including Lahore, Sargodha, Rawalpindi, Jhang, Islamabad, and Sialkot, an indication of the enormous pool of fidayeen who can inflict mayhem not only in Punjab but across Pakistan.
While the lone terrorist arrested during the Mumbai attacks of November 26, 2008, Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman alias Kasab, hails from Faridkot village in the Okara District of Punjab province, eight of the nine who were killed during the attack were also from Punjab. Both the LeT and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) draw a majority of their cadres from south Punjab, including Multan and Bahawalpur, which is also the JeM headquarters. The LeT and its recently banned front, Jama’at-ud-Da’awa, have long maintained an open presence in places like the provincial capital Lahore and Muridke (approximately 40 kms from Lahore), where the group is headquartered. Qudsia Mosque in Chauburji Chowk in Lahore is the Jama’at-ud-Da’awa headquarters. On December 11 and 12, under relentless international pressure, authorities sealed 34 offices of the Jama’at-ud-Da’awa across Punjab, Police sealed the group’s offices in south Punjab cities of Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Rajanpur, Arifwala, Bahawalnagar, Khanewal, Arifwala and Rajanpur. These sealed offices, however, represent no more than a tiny fraction of the large LeT presence across Punjab. The Punjab Government has appointed administrators in 10 Jama’at-ud-Da’awa schools after intelligence agencies reported that these institutions were promoting extremism. At least 26 educational institutions of the outfit operate in various parts of the province. Before the recent crackdown, LeT leaders like Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, Abdur Rehman Makki, Abu Hashim and Ameer Hamza were openly seen in Lahore. And despite the recent ban on the Jama’at-ud-Da’awa/LeT and the house arrest of its chief, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the group continues to function quite openly.
Groups like the LeT, with considerable state support, have, over the years built an elaborate socio-economic infrastructure in Punjab, functioning as an alternative to the state, since the latter is unable to provide the needed social capital for an overwhelming proportion of the population. The worldview of groups like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa / LeT thus enjoys wide acceptability. Given the quantum of popular acceptance, the Punjabi dominated armed forces – themselves deeply ambivalent on this count – may find it difficult to engage with the jihadis in Punjab, if subversion in the Province become unmanageable in the proximate future.
The outlawed Sunni sectarian formation, LeJ, which carried out the suicide attack on the Marriott Hotel on September 20, 2008, killing 60 people, also has a strong presence in Punjab, particularly in Gujranwala, Jhang, Multan, Lahore and Islamabad.
Militants from Punjab are also fighting elsewhere in Pakistan. For instance, six men killed in an US missile strike on December 11, 2008, in Azam Warsak in South Waziristan were found to be militants from Punjab. Further, the NWFP Governor Owais Ghani warned Punjab on September 22, 2008, that militancy was gaining strength in its backyard:
Ghani warned, further,
While there is some substance in the growing belief among American officials and experts that the next terrorist attack against the United States is likely to originate from within the FATA, there is a distinct possibility that such an attack could, more plausibly, involve urban jihadis from Punjab’s extremist environment.
Levels of violence in Sindh province were relatively low with some 42 incidents reported during 2008, in which 52 persons, including 29 civilians, were killed and 109 injured. There is, however, growing evidence to suggest that militant groups maintain a significant presence in the Province, notably in capital Karachi, Sukkur, Khairpur, Jacobabad, Badin, Larkana, Mirpur Khas and Hyderabad. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain stated, on August 9, 2008, that Taliban activities were visible in the interior of Sindh in areas like Badin and that an unspecified number of people were coming from FATA and Northern Areas to Karachi and the interiors of Sindh, on a daily basis.
Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital, has seldom been out of the headlines for all the wrong reasons. While sectarian strife between the majority Sunni and minority Shia Muslims persists, the city is also a safe haven for Islamist extremists linked to Taliban – al Qaeda combine. The Taliban are present in Karachi and have links with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and other banned religious organisations, but have no intention of carrying out attacks in the provincial capital, unless provoked by a political party or the Government, a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman, Mullah Omer, clarified on November 23, 2008. Earlier, on February 15, 2008, Karachi Police arrested 10 members of a militant group linked to the Taliban, who were planning massive terrorist attacks in the city during elections. The Inspector General of Police Azhar Ali Farooqi said the group, Tehrik-i-Islami Lashkar-i-Muhammadi, had ties with Mullah Dadullah, and with Taliban commander Tahir and Sirajul Haq Haqqani. Farooqi disclosed that the arrested men were formerly members of other banned outfits, such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, but after the Lal Masjid operation they formed a group of their own because their former organisations had ‘deviated’ from their mission.
Sources indicate that the LeT maintains a training camp in Azizabad in Karachi. The ten LeT militants who carried out the multiple terrorist attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, set sail from Karachi. Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman alias Kasab, the lone militant arrested during the Mumbai attacks, stated during his interrogation, that Zaki-ur-Rehman-Lakhvi, the LeT ‘operations chief’ and one of the masterminds of the Mumbai carnage, had briefed them in Azizabad. The Jama’at-ud-Da’awa reportedly has offices in all major cities of Sindh where recruitment drives are conducted every year. It is from the metropolis, with a population of approximately 16 million, that many al Qaeda operatives, including Ramzi Binalshibh – the "20th hijacker" of the 9/11 attacks – have been arrested. The city also houses the Binoria mosque complex, which has long been the nerve centre of the Military-Jihadi enterprise.
Police indicated in August 2008 that the Taliban, in order to accelerate the funding process, has hired youngsters belonging to the JeM, HuM, Harkat ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) and other militant groups, from Karachi. Intelligence agencies have indicated that Baitullah Mehsud, the LeJ and other outlawed jihadi groups have joined hands to pursue terrorist acts in Karachi. Daily Times reported on September 4, 2008, that this new grouping is headed by Raheemullah alias Naeem alias Ali Hassan, a 35-year old resident of Orangi Town. Adviser on the Interior, Rehman Malik, warned on November 21, 2008, that the LeJ may launch terrorist attacks in Karachi and "we need to discourage them and increase the vigil."
Among the other groups whose presence was noted in 2008 were the Jundullah, which, according to an arrested militant has 600 militants in Karachi, including many former students of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid. In addition, jihadi groups like the HuM and Al-Badr have established new offices in Karachi, after remaining underground for the past several years. Further, Daily Times reported on July 12, 2008, banned sectarian and jihadi groups are flouting proscription orders and are re-emerging in various parts of Karachi. Dawn News stated that sectarian slogans, flags and posters of ‘defunct’ sectarian groups are visible on walls across the city, indicating their re-emergence. The Sunni group, SSP, the Shia groups Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP) and Mukhtar Force are the most conspicuous groups at present.
The Inspector General of Police (Sindh), Sultan Babar Salahuddin Khattak, informed a Press briefing on December 30, 2008, that Police had disrupted the activities of four terrorist groups in 2008, averting major suicide bombings in Karachi. While claiming a stable law and order situation in the Province during 2008, as no major incident of terrorism, suicide bombing, attack on foreigners, etc., was reported, he added that six militants were killed and 37 were arrested in encounters. 28 detonators, 40 hand grenades, 32 sophisticated arms, 38 rockets, five suicide jackets and 12 live bombs were also seized, he disclosed.
Available evidence indicates that the core provinces of Pakistan – Sindh and Punjab – will witness augmented jihadi activity in the immediate future.
The only positive during 2008 was the relative reduction in sectarian violence. This was partly because of the changing situation in Parachinar in Kurram Agency, where most of sectarian strife continues to occur, and also due to some resolute state action in locations like Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta – historically the sectarian battlegrounds. Despite the occasional reverses, however, the LeJ, the main Sunni militant group, has retained a substantial capacity to strike across Pakistan, and, more significantly, has emerged as a key provider of logistical support and personnel to al Qaeda and the Taliban. This was, for instance, seen in the suicide attack on Marriot Hotel. Among others, the SSP, and the Shia groups – Sipah-e-Mohammed Pakistan (SMP) and the Tehreek-e-Jaferia Pakistan – maintained a relatively low profile during 2008. They have not, however, altered their organizational structures and objectives and, though their cadres remain underground, they continue to function. The SSP brought several hundred supporters near its headquarters in Karachi on February 29, 2008, as it denounced the ‘blasphemous’ caricatures of the holy Prophet published in some Danish newspapers, and declared jihad against Denmark and the West. It was the fist major public rally by the SSP since it was banned in 2001.Sectarian Violence in Pakistan
Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal
Amidst multiple insurgencies, there is current uncertainty over what constitutes state leadership in Pakistan. President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the ISI and the military establishment are all competing for power, with each of these players further complicating the situation in the pursuit of divergent personal and partisan agendas. Adding urgency to these struggles is the reported conflict between the President and Prime Minister. The News in its January 1, 2009, editorial noted:
In an environment of escalating militancy and consequent violence in Pakistan, these complexities and contradictions severely undermine capacities for governance and for the restoration of order.
beginning of 2008, the hopes of the US, and many elsewhere,
rested essentially on the fact that a "democratically-elected
regime will be a more natural partner than the military."
It is now clear that Pakistan’s transition from the disastrous
military rule of General Pervez Musharraf to an apparently
democratic dispensation has only worsened the crisis in
the country. Figures for 2008 and the narrative over the
year have seen a further escalation of the multiple insurgencies
under the PPPg regime. Pakistan, at the moment, displays
most of the risk factors which could lead to what the
U.S. Joint Forces Command describes as a "rapid and
sudden collapse." The Joint Operating Environment
report, which analyses global security trends, says Pakistan,
in the event of such a rapid collapse, would be susceptible
to a "violent and bloody civil and sectarian war",
made more dangerous by concerns over the country's nuclear
arsenal. Pakistan’s recent history leaves little scope
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
January 12-18, 2009
20 civilians and 12 militants among 39 persons killed in NWFP during the week: Four persons, including one soldier, were killed in separate incidents of violence in the Swat District on January 18, 2009. Sources said unidentified armed men shot dead a soldier, Arshad, at the bus terminal in Mingora town. In the Gulkada area, unidentified gunmen entered a house and opened fire on the inmates, killing two brothers, Hazrat Ali and Zafar Ali, on the spot. Meanwhile, a civilian, Omar Rehman, is reported to have died during aerial firing by the Security Forces (SFs). The militants shot dead a person accused of spying on them in the Shalpin area of Khwazakhela sub-division on January 17. SFs also continued shelling the suspected positions of the militants, which resulted in the death of a woman. However, there were no reports of any casualty among the militants.
Further, in the first incident of its kind in the provincial capital Peshawar, religious scholar Pir Hafiz Rafeeullah, who was kidnapped on January 16, was reportedly slaughtered and his decapitated body was found in the Matani area of the capital on the morning of January 17. In addition, another 18 people, including 12 militants and three SF personnel, were killed in different parts of the Swat District on January 16. A press release of the Military-run Swat Media Cell claimed that 12 militants were killed and many others injured in a clash in the Chamtalai area of Khwazakhela. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Swat chapter leader Shah Dauran also claimed killing several SF personnel in the clash. "Several troops were killed and five vehicles were destroyed in the attack," he claimed on his illegal FM radio. Similarly, two people were killed when unidentified gunmen started indiscriminate firing in the Qambar area of Mingora sub-division. In another incident, unidentified gunmen dragged Ameer Zeb, a Police constable, out of his house in Charbagh and shot him dead. Further, in the Alamganj area of Khwazakhela, a man identified as Dost Muhammad was killed when a mortar shell allegedly fired by the SFs hit his house.
Eight persons, including a security official and four children, were killed and as many sustained injuries in Swat on January 13. Sources said a mortar shell allegedly fired by the SFs hit a house in the Gulagai area of Matta Sub-division, killing three children and injuring a woman. Similarly, a child was killed and two others sustained injuries when mortar shells landed on a house in Janabad village. A man identified as Khona Gul was killed in another alleged SF attack. Further, a beheaded body was recovered near the Raheemabad Police Station in Mingora. In another incident, unidentified gunmen opened fire on an oil tanker in Matta area, killing driver Naseem Khan on the spot.ss A security official was killed while three others sustained injuries when suspected militants attacked the SFs convoy in Durushkhela area of Matta. Elsewhere in the NWFP, a trooper was killed when militants attacked the Kotal check-post in Kohat District on January 13. A day earlier on January 12, one soldier and four other persons were killed and 13 others, including nine SF personnel, were injured as sectarian clashes between rival groups continued in the Hangu District, despite the announcement of a cease-fire. Dawn; Daily Times; The News, January 13-19, 2009.
Elder son of Osama bin Laden believed to be in Pakistan: A son of Osama bin Laden, who spent years under Iranian house arrest, has left Iran and is now probably operating inside Pakistan, a senior American intelligence official said on January 17, 2009. Saad bin Laden is one of a number of senior al Qaeda operatives detained inside Iran in recent years. Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, told reporters that Saad bin Laden was probably in Pakistan. He gave no details about whether bin Laden had escaped from custody, whether his departure reflected a deal between Iran and al Qaeda or whether he was simply allowed to go by Iranian officials. McConnell’s announcement came as the Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions on January 16 on Saad bin Laden and three other people believed to be al Qaeda operatives and thought to be in Iran. Saad bin Laden is one of Osama bin Laden’s older sons and is believed by officials to have been captured in Iran while escaping Afghanistan after American troops invaded the country in 2001. In addition to bin Laden, the Iranians have also been holding Saif al-Adel, a Qaeda operations chief, under house arrest. The News, January 18, 2009.
Five camps and 20 offices of Jama’at-ud-Da’awa and Lashkar-e-Toiba closed in Government crackdown: The Government said on January 15, 2009, that it had shut down five training camps of the outlawed Jama’at-ud-Da’awa (JuD) and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), banned their seven publications and blocked all their websites. The authorities have reportedly detained 124 people, several leaders and officials of the organisations among them. Addressing a Press Conference in Islamabad, the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Interior Affairs, Rehman Malik, assured India that Pakistan would do its utmost to bring the people involved in the Mumbai attacks to justice. Giving details of a crackdown, Malik said that training camps had been closed down in Punjab and Pakistan occupied Kashmir. He said members of the banned groups who had been detained included their founder Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, LeT ‘operations commander’ Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, Mufti Abdur Rehman, Col (Retd.) Nazir Ahmed and Ameer Hamza. "We have arrested a total of 124 mid-level and top leaders of JuD in response to a UN resolution — 69 from Punjab, 21 from Sindh, eight from Balochistan and 25 from the NWFP — blocked six websites associated with the organisation and closed down its five relief camps," the adviser said. He said 20 offices, 87 schools, two libraries, seven seminaries and a handful of other organisations and websites linked to the JuD had also been shut. He also said authorities had closed several relief camps of the organisation after the UN Security Council had passed the resolution. The publications banned are Mujalatud Dawa, Zarb-i-Taiba, Voice of Islam, Nanhay Mujahid, Ghazwa and Al Rabta. Assuring India that sincere efforts were being made to take all non-state actors involved in the attacks to task, he urged New Delhi to provide access to Pakistani investigators to the scenes of the crimes and "jointly investigate" the incident so that all those involved could be brought to justice. He also announced the formation of a special investigation team headed by an Additional Director General of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to examine, "without any prejudice", all aspects of the Mumbai attacks and the information provided by India. Dawn, January 16, 2009.
81 LTTE militants and 52 soldiers among 159 persons killed: 81 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants, 52 soldiers and 26 civilians were among 159 persons killed during the week in intensified fighting in the North and East. After a two-day battle, troops of the 59th Division re-captured the Government hospital and its surrounding area at Tanniyuttu town in the Mullaitivu District on January 12, 2009. The hospital was used by the militants as a key strategic point to attack the Security Forces (SFs) and also treat their injured cadres. SFs captured the entire Jaffna Peninsula on January 14 by overrunning the last remaining LTTE stronghold of Chundikulam. The military said troops of the 55th Division captured Chundikulam, which lies parallel to the east of the Elephant Pass isthmus in Jaffna Peninsula. The Army destroyed a LTTE boat with artillery fire, killing several militants, including a senior Sea Tiger (cadre of the sea wing of the LTTE) leader, identified as "Lieutenant Colonel" Thiru. Defence officials said the militants used Chundikulam to launch major Sea Tiger operations and, following the capture, troops have located several Sea Tiger bases in the area. In addition, SFs advancing along the Paranthan-Mullaitivu (A-35) Road on the West-East axis, reached the outskirts of Dharmapuram. On the same evening, the troops captured an LTTE airstrip (1,000 metres long and 50 metres wide) located east of the Iranamadu Tank running through Olumaduwai. Meanwhile, following Court approval, the Sri Lanka Government buried 42 unclaimed dead bodies of LTTE militants, which were lying at the Vavuniya Hospital for some time. The International Committee of Red Cross in Sri Lanka was unable to hand over bodies of the militants killed in recent battles, as no one has come forward to accept them. Sources said another 15 unclaimed militants’ bodies are presently lying at the Mannar Hospital. On January 15, SFs captured Dharmapuram, one of the biggest LTTE townships on the Paranthan-Mullaitivu (A-35) Road and about 15 kilometres to the east of the Jaffna-Kandy (A-9) Highway, in Mullaitivu District. In addition, an airstrip around 1,100 metres long and 40 metres wide inside the dense Iranamadu jungle was also captured.
The pro-LTTE Website Tamil Net claimed that the advance by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) from Tharmapuram on three fronts was repulsed by LTTE cadres, who killed 51 SLA soldiers and injured 150 others in the confrontation, which started in the morning of January 15. The Website also claimed that the SLA artillery attack in the Kaiveali, Koampaavil and Vishvamadu areas killed five civilians, including a 14-year-old girl, and injured six others. Further, SFs in the morning of January 16 took full control of the entire perimeter of the Iranamadu Tank bund (embankment) covering about three kilometres in the Kilinochchi District. In addition, on January 16, troops captured the LTTE’s sixth airstrip at the eastern edge of Iranamadu tank in the Mullaitivu jungles. Troops also captured the Ramanathpuram area, a large, heavily built up township in the east of Kilinochchi District, in the morning of January 17. After being evicted from Iranamadu and Kilinochchi, the militants withdrew to Ramanathpuram, where they had already created a fortress, constructing strong bunkers, training areas, command and logistic points and administrative bases. Meanwhile, during fierce clashes, the SFs killed an unspecified number of militants in the area about seven kilometres north of the Muthuiyankaddukulam Tank in Mullaitivu District. During subsequent search operation, the troops recovered dead bodies of 19 militants. At least 18 civilians had been confirmed killed in SLA’s artillery fire within the preceding 24 hours, till 3:00 pm (SLST) on January 18, in several villages of Mullaitivu District and the outer suburbs of Kilinochchi District to the east of the Jaffna-Kandy (A-9) Highway, claimed Tamil Net, adding further that, at least 42 civilians were also wounded on January 18 alone. Sri Lanka Army; Daily News; Tamil Net; Colombo Page, January 13-19, 2009.