The South Asia Channel

Pakistan: under attack from within

This morning Pakistan suffered another in an ever-growing string of deadly suicide bombings, this time an attack on the military cantonment in Mardan, in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province (KPK). Yet despite what seems to be a constant stream of violence in Pakistan, new statistics compiled by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), of which the ...

STR/AFP/Getty Images
STR/AFP/Getty Images

This morning Pakistan suffered another in an ever-growing string of deadly suicide bombings, this time an attack on the military cantonment in Mardan, in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province (KPK). Yet despite what seems to be a constant stream of violence in Pakistan, new statistics compiled by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), of which the author is the director, found surprising numbers in its 2010 Pakistan Security Report. The number of terrorist incidents in Pakistan declined by 20 percent in 2010, the first time that had happened since 2007, when a wave of terrorist attacks escalated across the country after a government crackdown on militants in Red Mosque in the heart of Islamabad. The increase in acts of terrorism was phenomenal, with attacks growing by 43 percent in 2008 and 48 percent in 2009.

The decline in the number of terrorist incidents in the previous year may give a sense of relief to many in Islamabad, but Pakistan remained the country most affected by terrorism during 2010. PIPS’ 2010 report reveals that the overall decrease was due to a significant fall in the number of terrorist attacks in KPK-60 percent to be precise-compared to 2009. This decline has partly been attributed to Pakistan’s military operations in the Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan, improved surveillance by law enforcement agencies and death of key militants in U.S. drone strikes in FATA. However, sustainable security remains elusive in KPK because of the less than impressive performance of a weak political administration in KPK beset by chronic challenges of poor governance.

In the last few years, the security establishment in Pakistan had focused almost exclusively on the country’s northwest, a single-minded focus that many believe has in part allowed for the recent spike in instability and security challenges in Pakistan’s biggest city and commercial capital Karachi and increasing terrorist attacks in the Punjab. The PIPS report indicates that apart from political, ethnic and gang violence in Karachi, a growing nexus of militant groups and criminals operating in its urban maze has led to increased security threats and eruptions of violence in the city. For instance, a small terrorist cell led by one Dr. Abdullah linked to the group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi confessed last June to robbing seven banks in Karachi, with the help of criminal gangs. He then spent the money on buying weapons and explosives for terrorist attacks.[1]  Additionally, Pakistan’s cultural capital, Lahore, witnessed 44 attacks in 2010 compared to 11 in 2009. And the restive province of Balochistan was the country’s most violent province in the year 2010. The province witnessed a seven percent decrease in the overall number of violent attacks as compared to 2009, but the number of killings increased by 43 percent over the previous year. Finally, the security situation remains precarious in FATA. Despite (or perhaps in part because of) the ongoing military operations in South Waziristan, Bajaur and Orakzai tribal agencies, the number of terrorist attacks in the tribal areas went up by 28 percent in 2010 compared to the previous year.

Apart from internal security indicators, our report also highlighted the growing tensions between the security forces on either of the lengthy Pakistan-Afghanistan border, tensions linked to concern about Pakistan’s internal security. As many as 24 clashes between security forces on both sides of the border were reported during 2010.

Overall, the internal security situation continues to be a pressing challenge for Pakistan’s struggling government. Critical security challenges remain unaddressed, and the government yet to devise an effective and comprehensive counter-terrorism policy. Better coordination among intelligence agencies, capacity building of law enforcement agencies, curbs on terrorism financing and, most importantly, adequate measures to prevent banned militant groups from operating across the country remained persistently lacking.

In 2010, increasing sectarian violence, growing links between terrorists and criminal gangs and growing radicalization were identified as most critical indicators for internal security. These threats are becoming more complex in absence of a comprehensive long-term strategy to reducing militancy across the country. And yet the government continues to rely almost exclusively on military solutions to armed opposition in the northwest, particularly FATA. Failure to address the growing ethno-political and sectarian intolerance in Pakistan’s cities, the influence of militants in Karachi as well as the continuing alienation and radicalization of a largely young and poor population in South Punjab have compounded the problem. The military is mainly relying on a ‘hit, clear, hold, and build’ strategy. The holding and rebuilding parts of this strategy cannot succeed without public support and partnership, better coordination among federal and provincial governments and availability of adequate resources. The strategy requires political will to initiate bold action but also judicious planning and implementation. That would be difficult to achieve without considerably improved collaboration among the military, the political government and the people. Adequate foreign assistance, in terms of financial resources, equipment and training, is also crucial to meeting the challenge and maintaining Pakistan’s stability.

At the same time, Pakistan and its partners in the war on terror need to come to a consensus about a possible military operation in North Waziristan Agency, the base for the Afghanistan-focused Haqqani network as well as many foreign fighters operating in the tribal areas. Militants dislodged from North Waziristan could infiltrate and establish strongholds in Afghanistan, further destabilizing the situation in that country’s east, and making things more dangerous for American troops. The rationale of such an operation also needs to be considered in the context of other developments taking place in the region, particularly the overtures in Afghanistan including an increasingly reconciliatory approach towards and efforts for a political dialogue with the Taliban. Any military strategy must be in synch with the political approach. At the same time, Islamabad needs to convince its partners that it considers the Pakistani Taliban groups, against whom military operation have been going on in other parts of FATA, as well as the Haqqani network, as much of a threat for Pakistan as they are for Afghanistan. It would perhaps be best for all concerned if Pakistan were to launch a precise operation in North Waziristan after considering its merits and demerits and after reaching a consensus with all its partners.

Muhammad Amir Rana is director of Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) and editor of the quarterly research journal "Conflict and Peace Studies."

[1] Daily Ummat, Karachi, June 8, 2010.

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