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Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 7, No. 38, March 30, 2009

Data and assessments from SAIR can be freely published in any form with credit to the South Asia Intelligence Review of the
South Asia Terrorism Portal



Sectarian Implosion
Kanchan Lakshman
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management; Assistant Editor, Faultlines: Writings on Conflict & Resolution

76 persons, including 16 Security Force personnel, were killed and over 125 injured in a suicide attack at a mosque on the Peshawar-Torkham Highway in the Jamrud Sub-division of the Khyber Agency during the Friday congregation on March 27, 2009. The suicide bombing reduced the single-storey roadside mosque to rubble. While the official determination of the group responsible for the 16th suicide attack in Pakistan in 2009 is awaited, the incident is a continuation of the abhorrent tactic of terrorist groups’ targeting places of worship. While the strategy of targeting mosques is now increasingly being used by a melange of militant groups across Pakistan, this is a method that has been applied with lethal effect for years by sectarian jihadis. In fact, between 2002 and 2008, sectarian jihadis targeted mosques on at least 36 occasions across the country.

Sectarian Violence in Pakistan, 2002-2009

* Data till March 26, 2009
Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal
[Since media access is heavily restricted in the conflict areas of Pakistan, and there is only fitful release of information by Government agencies and media reportage, the actual figures could be much higher]

The relative increase in sectarian violence within the first three months of 2009 needs to be seen in the wider context of state collapse across Pakistan, and the increase in operational spaces for sectarian and extremist groups. The sectarian jihad is also gradually blending with a global jihad of the Taliban-al Qaeda combine or, as analyst Samina Ahmed notes, "… the divide between homegrown terrorists and al Qaeda is artificial at best." The foundations of sectarian terror share their ideological platform with radical Islamists engaged in a wide range of global terrorist movements, and it is evident that the operational capacities of both these groupings are yet to be significantly eroded in Pakistan.

A deeper assessment discloses patterns of both uncertainty and resilience in sectarian groups. There have also been periods of apparent calm between high-intensity attacks. Despite ferocious, though selective, state campaigns against them, sectarian jihadis have demonstrated great resilience over extended periods of time. They have been able to methodically expand their areas of operation as well as their range of targets. The Punjab province and Pakistan's commercial capital, Karachi, in the Sindh province, have for long been the primary hubs of sectarian violence. However, attacks in widely dispersed locations including Parachinar, Quetta, Peshawar, Hangu, Multan, Dera Ismail Khan, Khyber Agency, and Kurram Agency, suggests an extension in the sphere of sectarian strife. The task of security agencies is made the more complex during religious festivals, since large processions in public spaces are always easy terrorist targets. Attacks on mosques at prayer time, and on other religious gatherings, when potential fatalities are high, have been a key tactic of sectarian attacks.

The major sectarian attacks in 2009 include:

March 3: Five members of a Shia family were killed in Quetta, capital of Balochistan, taking the death toll from sectarian attacks in a single week to 12.

February 24: A Shia trader and three of his sons were shot dead in a sectarian attack in Quetta.

February 20: 32 persons were killed and 145 others injured when a suicide bomber exploded himself in the funeral procession of a slain employee of the Tehsil Municipal Administration near the busy Shubra Square in Dera Ismail Khan in the NWFP. The funeral procession of local Shia community leader Sher Zaman alias Shera, who was killed in firing by unidentified persons on February 19, was heading towards Kotly Imam Hussain for his Namaz-e-Janaza (funeral prayer) and burial when a suicide bomber ran into the mourners and blew himself up.

February 5: 32 persons were killed and another 48 were injured when a suspected suicide bomber blew himself up amidst a crowd of Shia worshippers outside the Al Hussainia Mosque in Dera Ghazi Khan in Punjab. Shaukat Javed, the Inspector General of Punjab Police, stated, "The explosion occurred just 50 feet short of the mosque. It is a terrorist attack aimed at Shias to create unrest."

January 26: Six people were killed and 22 others sustained injuries when a bomb rigged to a bicycle exploded in a populated area in Dera Ismail Khan in the NWFP. The remote-controlled bomb apparently targeted a Sunni leader of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Khalifa Abdul Qayyum, who escaped unhurt.

January 14: Militants killed four Policemen, including a Deputy Superintendent of Police, in a shootout in Quetta. Three of the slain Policemen belonged to the Hazara community of the Shia sect. The outlawed Sunni group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for the killings.

January 14: A cease-fire between rival factions was reached in Hangu in the NWFP, after more than 30 persons were killed and 50 injured in sectarian clashes that broke out on January 9. 20 houses – including that of the District Zakat Committee chairman – were set ablaze in fresh clashes despite an earlier truce in the afternoon of January 11, as helicopter gunships targeted ‘miscreant’ hideouts.

January 10: At least 17 people were killed and 30 others injured during sectarian clashes in Hangu. The clashes erupted when people from Kohat, who were protesting against the imposition of curfew in Hangu on the eve of Ashura (a Shia festival), were attacked by the rival sect.

The primary player in the sectarian violence is the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which was formed in 1996. The LeJ aims to transform Pakistan into a Sunni state, primarily through violence. Muhammad Ajmal alias Akram Lahori is the present Saalar-i-Aala (‘Commander-in-Chief’) of the LeJ. Lahori is currently in Police custody following his arrest from Orangi Town in Karachi on June 17, 2002. Although Lahori is officially still considered the LeJ chief, Qari Mohammad Zafar is now believed to be the tactical commander, while operational command is understood to have moved to middle ranking leaders.

The LeJ consists of loosely co-ordinated cells spread across Pakistan with independent chiefs for each cell. In fact, the lethality and operational successes of the group over the years are attributed to its multi-cell structure, with the group divided into small cells of approximately five to eight militants each, with limited contact with each other. While not much is known about its structure of operations, reports indicate that, after each attack, LeJ cadres disperse and subsequently reassemble at the various bases/hideouts to plan future operations.

The LeJ’s presence has been reported from locations as varied as Lahore, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Multan, Islamabad, Jhang, Khanewal, Layya, Bhakkar, Sargodha, Rahimyar Khan, Orakzai, Sahiwal, Karachi, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Kohat, Sukkur, Bajaur, Parachinar, Kurram, South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Hangu, Hyderabad, Bahawalpur, Nawabshah, Mirpur Khas, Chitral, Gilgit and Quetta.

Although sporadic crackdowns by the Security Forces since late-2001 have had some success, the LeJ continues to recruit new members to replace those arrested or killed. While the exact cadre strength of the outfit is not available, credible Pakistani reportage puts the figure at between 300 and 750. According to Amir Mir, the LeJ leadership takes great care in recruiting cadres, looking for both religious conviction and the skill and commitment to carry out attacks.

While Shias remain the primary target of the LeJ, the group has, since 2002, broadened its focus to include other civilian, Government and Western targets in Pakistan. Despite the involvement of the LeJ and its parent party, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP, renamed Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan after the proscription of SSP on January 12, 2002) in sectarian violence since its inception in 1996, the Pakistani state has been unable to neutralise both the groups.

Being part of a broader militant movement claiming ‘Deobandi’ ideological affiliations, the LeJ has links with other groups, including its parent SSP, the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM, also known as Jamiat-ul-Ansar) and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI). The LeJ also maintains close operational links with the Taliban and al Qaeda. There is, in fact, sufficient evidence to indicate that the LeJ has now been transformed into a very significant al Qaeda affiliate, providing not only back-up support but also taking part in terrorist attacks linked to al Qaeda. The Prime Minister’s Adviser on Interior Affairs, Rehman Malik, for instance, informed the National Assembly on December 22, 2008, that the Marriott blast of September 20, 2008 was carried out by the Lashkar-e Jhangvi. Further, in interviews before she was assassinated, the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had revealed that the suicide attack which targeted her welcome procession in Karachi on October 18, 2007, was carried out by the gang of "Abdul Rehman Sindhi, an Al Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e Jhangvi (LeJ) militant from the Dadu District of Sindh". More recently, there have been reports indicating that Mohammed Aqeel, a LeJ operative from Punjab province, organized the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on March 3, 2009. Interior Adviser Rehman Malik is on record that al Qaeda has been using the LeJ and SSP to execute terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

Among other active sectarian groups are the Sipah-e-Mohammed Pakistan (SMP) and the Tehreek-e-Jaferia Pakistan (TJP), both from the Shia fold; and the Lashkar-i-Islam and Ansaar-ul-Islam, both of which are active in the Khyber Agency. LeJ has, however, been far more lethal and dangerous, as compared to the SMP, due to the levels of indoctrination, the operational strategy and its links with the Taliban – al Qaeda combine. While the SMP and TJP maintain a relatively low profile, they have not altered their organizational structures and objectives. And, though their cadres remain underground, they continue to function.

A majority of the Sunni jihadis in Pakistan swear by the Deobandi school of thought, while the Barelvis, including the Sunni Tehreek (ST), have largely, though not entirely, abstained from militancy. The Barelvis are, however, major players in the ‘politics of the mosque’. The ST, for instance, is locked in a battle with the Deobandi groups for the control of various mosques in Karachi and control over the collections from endowments. The ST, which is of Barelvi orientation, was formed in 1992 by Maulana Saleem Qadri to counter the dominance of the Deobandi and Ahle Hadith schools of thought.

As the Taliban-al Qaeda combine consolidates its hold across Pakistan, sectarian groups have begun to assert themselves. The areas currently witnessing a surge in sectarian violence include Dera Ismail Khan and Hangu in the NWFP, Karachi in Sindh, Dera Ghazi Khan in Punjab, Quetta in Balochistan and Kurram Agency in FATA. Since the beginning of 2009, Quetta has witnessed a series of targeted killings of Shias belonging to the Hazara tribe, by the LeJ. In spite of at least 50 such deaths, however, not a single arrest has been made.

The Interior Adviser Rehman Malik disclosed, on November 21, 2008, that the LeJ was regrouping in Karachi, adding that al Qaeda had been using the LeJ and SSP for terrorist activity. In fact in Karachi, both the LeJ and its Shia rival, the SMP, have regrouped rather well since the summer of 2008. Among the important sectarian militants wanted by the Sindh Police are Motee-ur-Rehman alias Abdul Samad of the LeJ, a resident of Bahawalpur who is, incidentally, also affiliated to the HuJI, Qari Jamil Burmi alias Qari Sahib, a LeJ militant from Karachi who carries a reward of PKR 0.5 million on his head, Raza Imam alias Manzar, a SMP cadre from Karachi, Ali Mustehsan, a SMP cadre from Karachi, Abdul Basit, an LeJ militant from Karachi, Irfan Islam alias Lamba, an SSP/LeJ cadre from Karachi, Saleemuddin, an SSP/LeJ cadre from Karachi, Muhammad Ali alias Akhtar, an SSP/LeJ cadre from Karachi, Muzaffar Ali alias Baloch, a SMP cadre from Karachi, Qari Abid Iqbal, an SSP/LeJ cadre from Karachi, Maulana Syed Zulqarnain Haider, a SMP militant from Lahore, Amjad Hussain Bhatti, an SSP/LeJ militant from Karachi, Farooq Azam alias Talib, an SSP/LeJ militant from Karachi, Muhammad Khalid Khan alias Abrar of the LeJ, Sarfaraz Aslam, Syed Azhar Ali, Syed Mohsin Mehdi Rizvi a.k.a. Guddu, Syed Muhib Ali Rizvi a.k.a. Yawar Abbas, all TJP militants from Karachi, Rahim Ullah alias Naeem, a HuM/ LeJ militant from Karachi, Aman Ullah alias Mufti Ilyas, a LeJ militant from Peshawar in NWFP, Hashim Raza and Muhammad Rashid alias Hasan Mota of the SMP, and Muhammad Ali Usama alias Hidayat Ullah of the LeJ.

Parachinar, headquarters of the Kurram Agency, has, since April 2007, been a principal hub of sectarian violence. Incidentally, Kurram is the only tribal area with a significant Shia population. According to Mariam Abou Zahab, approximately 40 percent of the region’s 500,000 inhabitants are Shia, with Upper Kurram inhabited largely by the Turi (the only Pashtun tribe which is wholly Shia) while Lower Kurram is inhabited by Sunnis. Reportage indicates that the Taliban has been able to exploit the simmering sectarian conflict to its own advantage. In fact, the town was under siege at regular intervals through 2008. More than 1,500 persons had been killed and 5,000 others injured so far in sectarian clashes in Kurram Agency over the last one-and-a-half years, The News reported on September 19, 2008. The Taliban, reports indicate, have aligned with Sunni militants against the Shias of Parachinar. The continuing sectarian violence in Kurram has rendered it a virtual ‘no-go’ area for Government troops, and the Taliban-al Qaeda combine has been able consolidate its presence in the area. Taliban militants have also attacked Shias in Parachinar and elsewhere in the Kurram Agency in retaliation against the latter’s efforts to prevent the infiltration of militants into Afghanistan. There are also allegations of the Security Forces – especially in FATA – launching occasional ‘crackdowns’ on the Shia community, under pressure from the local Taliban and other militant groups.

Ambivalence and piecemeal strategies have marked the state response to sectarianism in Pakistan. For instance, an Anti-Terrorism Act against sectarian violence was passed only in 1997, despite the fact that the cycle of sectarian violence dates back to the mid-1970s. Sectarian groups were not outlawed until 2001. The periodic crackdown targeting sectarian groups has failed to produce the desired impact and the enduring sectarian strife suggests that the underground networks and support structures of various factional groups, especially those of the LeJ, remain unbroken, and have, indeed, secured greater resilience through their linkages with transnational terrorist organisations. Solutions to the Islamist militancy, including its sectarian offshoot, will remain elusive as long as the state’s ambivalence and the wider infrastructure of terrorism remain intact in Pakistan.


Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
March 23-29, 2009



Security Force Personnel







Jammu and Kashmir




Left-wing Extremism








Total (INDIA)

















*The Ministry of Defence, Sri Lanka Government, has suspended release of casualty figures. Media access to areas of conflict is also denied, and no independent sources of data are now available. Civilian data is based on information published by the pro-LTTE Website Tamil Net.
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.


17 militants and eight soldiers killed in five-day encounter near the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir: The Army said on March 25, 2009 that the major infiltration bid foiled near the Line of Control (LoC) in Kupwara District was possible due to the accurate and absolute human intelligence provided by sources from across the LoC and within the Valley. "We had accurate and absolute human intelligence from across the LoC and from our side as well about this infiltration bid. As many as 17 militants have been killed in the encounter while eight soldiers including an officer made the supreme sacrifice," Brigadier General Staff of Army’s Srinagar-based 15 Corps, Brigadier Gurmeet Singh, told reporters. He said most of the slain militants were foreigners and essentially affiliated with the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Giving details of the operation, he said contact was initially established at three places - two in general area Drangyari in Shamsabari ridge of Chowkibal and another in Haphruda forest. "The operation is still in progress as searches are being conducted in the area. Although majority of the terrorists have been killed, the remnants, if any, will also be eliminated," he said adding the number of infiltrating militants as per the intelligence input was close to the number killed in the operation. The cache of arms and ammunition recovered from the site of operation included 23 AK 47 rifles, 17 grenades, three UBGLs, 10 radio sets of various makes, two GPS equipments, water bottles, maps, snow gear, ice axes, rations, jihadi literature, medicine and some Indian currency. The encounter began in Ragwar forests of Chowkibal area near the LoC in Kupwara District the small hours of March 20 and later spread to Hafrada forests in the adjacent Vilgam village of Handwara area in the District. Daily Excelsior, March 26, 2009.


26 Taliban militants killed in Mohmand Agency: Security Forces (SFs) backed by helicopter gun ships killed 26 Taliban militants in the Mohmand Agency of the FATA on March 28, 2009. An official statement issued by the Frontier Corps, NWFP headquarters, said the SFs pounded Taliban hideouts during a search operation in the Saapri area of Yakaghund tehsil (revenue division), killing 26 militants, adding that the troops had secured the area around Saapri. Daily Times, March 29, 2009.

76 persons killed in suicide bombing at mosque in Khyber Agency: 76 persons, including 16 Security Force personnel, were killed and over 125 injured in a suicide attack on a mosque at Peshawar-Torkham Highway in the Jamrud sub-division of Khyber Agency in FATA during the Friday congregation on March 27, 2009. The huge explosion reduced the single-storey roadside mosque to rubble. Witnesses said they heard a huge explosion just as the Imam (prayer leader) concluded his sermon and the people stood up for the Friday prayer. The dead included the prayer leader, his brother, four personnel of the Frontier Corps and 12 Khassadars (tribal police). The others were tribesmen belonging to the nearby villages, Pakistani and Afghan civilians traveling between Peshawar and Torkham, and drivers and conductors of trucks carrying goods to neighbouring Afghanistan. While the Khyber Agency Political Agent Tariq Hayat has confirmed that it was a suicide attack, the Associated Press reported that a Government official has accused the Taliban of carrying out the bombing in revenge for a recent offensive aimed in part at protecting the major supply route for NATO and US troops in Afghanistan that passes in front of the mosque. The News, March 28, 2009.

12 persons killed in suicide bombing in Jandola: 12 persons, including a woman, were killed and 22 others sustained injuries when a teenage suicide bomber blew himself up outside a crowded restaurant in the Jandola bazaar of Tank District in NWFP in the morning of March 26. A pro-government group of Bhittani tribesmen, led by Haji Turkistan, is believed to have been the target of the suicide attacker. Eyewitnesses told The News from Jandola - the gateway to South Waziristan - that a young boy blew himself up outside the crowded restaurant in the bazaar. The bazaar is located in front of heavily guarded British-era fort, currently inhabited by the Frontier Corps and the Army. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. "The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claims responsibility for the suicide attack in Jandola," spokesman Maulvi Omar said in a telephone call from an unknown place to reporters in Bajaur. He called the suicide attack a revenge for the clashes in 2008. "Turkistan Bitani’s fighters killed 35 of our people last year, and we killed his people today in the suicide attack," Omar added. The News, March 27, 2009.

Seven Arab militants killed in drone attack in South Waziristan: Seven militants, believed to be Arab nationals, were killed and three others injured when two vehicles they were traveling in, came under attack from the US drones near Makeen area of South Waziristan Agency (SWA) on March 25-afternoon. Sources close to the militants in the area told The News by telephone that the two vehicles had just left the Makeen bazaar to drop the men at their homes in Malik Shahi village of the SWA when they came under attack from the CIA-operated drone. Makeen town is on the border with Razmak sub-division of the North Waziristan Agency. The area is in control of tribal militants affiliated with Baitullah Mehsud, chief of the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). According to militant sources, the victims were junior-level Arab fighters and there was no prominent figure among them. The News, March 26, 2009.

Pakistan could collapse in six months, says CENTCOM adviser: The Pakistani state could collapse within six months if immediate steps are not taken to remedy the situation, warned a top adviser to the US Central Command. David Kilcullen, who advises CENTCOM commander General David H. Petraeus on the war on terror, urged US policymakers to focus their attention on Pakistan as a failure there could have devastating consequences for the entire international community. In an interview with The Washington Post (Sunday Edition), Kilcullen warned that if Pakistan went out of control, it would ‘dwarf’ all the crises in the world today. "Pakistan hands down. No doubt," he said when asked to name the central front in the war against terror. Asked to explain why he thought Pakistan was so important, Kilcullen said: "Pakistan has 173 million people, 100 nuclear weapons, an army bigger than the US Army, and al-Qaeda headquarters sitting right there in the two-thirds of the country that the government doesn’t control." He stated that the Pakistani military and Police and intelligence service did not follow the civilian Government; they were essentially a rogue state within a state. "Were now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state, also because of the global financial crisis, which just exacerbates all these problems," he said. The News, March 24, 2009.


683 persons killed in the North-East during the week: 683 persons, including 498 civilians and 185 militants, were killed in the North-East during the week. The Sri Lanka Army’s (SLA) short-range mortar shelling, rocket propelled grenade (RPG) attacks and gunfire killed 96 civilians, including 19 children, and injured 160 others within the 'Safety Zone' in the Puthumaaththalan area of Mullaitivu District on March 23, according to local aid workers and medical authorities. On March 22, 32 civilians, including seven children, were killed. Further, 62 civilians were killed as the military continued shelling and bombing into the ‘Safety Zone’ in Mullaitivu District on March 24. On the same night, suspected Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants shot dead five farmers and injured two others at Neelapola in the Trincomalee District. Troops repelled an attempt by the LTTE to breach the Army forward defence lines north of Iranapalai in Mullaitivu District on March 25, killing an unspecified number of militants. Defence sources said over a dozen dead bodies of the militants were seen at the incident site following heavy fighting. Further, 131 civilians, including 32 children, were killed and more than 252 others, including 49 children, sustained injuries in military operations inside the ‘Safety Zone’ in Mullaitivu District on March 25-26, according to data collected from various NGO workers and medical authorities within the civilian pocket ‘besieged’ by the SLA. At least 30 militants were killed by the troops during a counterattack in Mullaitivu District on March 25. Troops continued their attacks on LTTE camps around Puthukkudiyiruppu in Mullaitivu District and killed more than 24 militants on March 26. At least 179 civilians, including 76 children, were killed and more than 109 children sustained injuries in SLA attacks inside the ‘Safety Zone’ in Mullaitivu District on March 26-27-28. Meanwhile, 31 militants were killed and more than 30 others injured in fierce fighting with the Security Forces (SFs) in Mullaitivu District as the troops repulsed a series of LTTE attempts to breach the SF’s Forward Defence Lines on March 27. In addition, troops captured the last supply route and gained control of a LTTE-built earth bund in Mullaitivu District on March 28 following hours of intense fighting that killed nine militants. Sri Lanka Army; Daily News; Tamil Net; Colombo Page, March 24- 30, 2009.

The South Asia Intelligence Review (SAIR) is a weekly service that brings you regular data, assessments and news briefs on terrorism, insurgencies and sub-conventional warfare, on counter-terrorism responses and policies, as well as on related economic, political, and social issues, in the South Asian region.

SAIR is a project of the Institute for Conflict Management and the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

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