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Violence in Pakistan: Trend Analysis September 2008

T. Khurshchev Singh was Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
Captain Alok Bansal was Member, Navy at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • November 03, 2008

    Although September coincides with the holy month of Ramzan in the Islamic calendar, the violence in Pakistan during the month surpassed that in August, which itself was the most violent month. Despite the fasting and sanctity accorded to Ramzan in Islam, it is also associated with Shahadat (martyrdom) and people laying down their life during this holy month are often considered Shaheeds (martyrs). This probably explains to some extent the extremely enhanced level of violence in Pakistan during September 2008 and why various Ramzan ceasefires negotiated in August and September floundered. This article attempts to analyse the violence in Pakistan during September 2008 based on media reports.

    Like August, September has also surpassed all previous records of violence during a month. During the month, 1,342 lives were lost as against 1,303 during the previous month. However, what was significant was the increased number of civilian collateral casualties. Whilst the number of alleged militants killed declined from 818 to 727, and the number of security personnel from 131 to 59, the number of civilians killed rose significantly from 354 to 556. What is even more significant is that over 550 civilians were injured in collateral fire. High civilian casualties do not augur well for the region as it removes the middle ground and collateral damage sustained due to operations by security forces always leads to increased support levels for the militants.

    As in the past few months, out of the three main regions affected by terrorism related violence, namely, FATA, NWFP and Balochistan, the maximum casualties were recorded in FATA, followed by NWFP and Balochistan. In FATA, in 103 (62 in August) incidents during the month, 892 (838 in August) people including militants, civilian and security forces were killed and 240 others were injured. Out of 892 killed, 539 were alleged militants, 336 civilians and 17 security personnel. At the same time 82 alleged militants were injured and over 150 civilians were injured in the attacks in the region.

    Most of the casualties were in Bajaur Agency where the security forces, supported by artillery, armour, helicopter gunships and air force jets launched a massive operation to avenge the set back suffered by them in Lowi Sam in early August. The operation had been going on for over a month as September drew to an end and despite usage of heavy weaponry the security forces were finding the going tough against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants. The security forces have also propped up a number of anti Taliban tribal armed militia to take on the Taliban. Over 250,000 people from the region, which includes part of the adjoining Mohmand agency, were internally displaced and were forced to seek shelter in NWFP and Afghanistan. The US forces operating from Afghanistan continued targeting militant positions in FATA by using missiles, drones and aircraft operating from across the border. Most of these attacks were carried out in North and South Waziristan agencies. In view of the liberal usage of aerial platforms both by the US forces as well as the Pakistani forces, it would be prudent to take the figures of militant casualties with a pinch of salt as many of those killed in aerial attacks and branded militants could have been innocent civilians.

    The sectarian violence in Kurram Agency between predominantly Shia Turi tribe and Sunni Bangash tribe supported by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continued unabated throughout the month. The state was conspicuous by its absence in the region whilst the tribes armed with heavy and automatic weapons continued to clash through out the month.

    The month clearly brought out that the political boundaries between NWFP and FATA had blurred completely and the violence was endemic throughout the entire Pakhtoon belt. There was a proliferation of violence in NWFP and in terms of incidents of violence, NWFP even surpassed FATA, even though the casualties were much lower. As against 52 incidents in August there were 126 incidents during the month, which resulted in 292 killings as against 363 in August and more than 182 being injured. 161 of those killed were alleged militants and 102 civilians. 29 security personnel were killed and 38 were injured in various incidents. 45 militants and 99 civilians were also injured. Within the province, Swat valley remained the epicentre of violence in the region and was the venue of fierce fights between security forces and militants. Air force jets and helicopter gunships regularly pounded militant strongholds. On September 26, police in Swat issued shoot-at-sight orders against any masked individual in the district. Militants on their part continued to target political leaders and continued destroying the schools in the region and in a first incident of its kind in the region, on September 22, militants blew up a gas pipeline in Blogram area near Mingora city. Also, on September 2, two Chinese telecommunications engineers along with two Pakistanis were kidnapped in Dir and subsequently shifted them to Swat.

    The other major arena of conflict was Kohat District where the road between Kohat and Darra Adamkhel and the Kohat tunnel were occupied by the militants. The security forces entered Darra Adamkhel on September 22, after 25 days of fierce fighting, in which they were supported by air force jets and helicopter gunships. The other areas affected by violence were Peshawar, Lakki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan, Hangu, Kohat and Lower Dir. In a significant incident on September 12, about 100 heavily armed terrorists occupied a municipal building in the Regi Lalma area on the outskirts of Peshawar, the provincial capital, but fled after the arrival of paramilitary troops without any skirmish. It appeared to be a case of testing the will of the government, and a signal that they had arrived right at the doorstep of Peshawar.

    In Balochistan, there was reduction in violence and the number of incidents declined from 50 in August to 32 in September. However, despite fewer incidents, 59 people were killed as against 51 in August, and 69 others were wounded. Of those killed, 25 were alleged militants whilst 8 security personnel were killed. In addition, 26 civilian were killed and around 60 were wounded. Despite a ceasefire that had been declared by the Baloch armed groups (Baloch Liberation Army, Baloch Liberation Front and Baloch Republican Army) on September 1, the clashes erupted between BLA and security forces on September 27 in Dera Bugti district and 25 Baloch nationalists and 3 FC personnel, were killed in two days of clashes. The violence in Balochistan was mostly concentrated in Dera Bugti and Quetta districts. The railway tracks and gas pipelines were the favourite targets of the Baloch groups.

    There was also an increase in incidents of violence in other parts of Pakistan namely Punjab, Sindh and Islamabad. In 48 incidents, two militants and five security personnel were injured, 92 civilians were killed and 265 injured. Most of the casualties occurred in the attack on Marriot Hotel within the high security zone in Islamabad, where an explosive laden truck exploded on September 20, killing 60 people, and injuring another 250. With the Taliban making its presence felt in Punjab in August, the violence in Punjab has increased considerably. On September 26, a powerful bomb exploded on the railway track near Bahawalpur, resulting in derailment of a passenger train, killing six people and injuring 15 others. Large quantities of arms and ammunition were recovered from the Punjab University Campus in a raid on September 21 and 22. Tribal clashes as well as ethnic and sectarian clashes were reported in Sindh during the month.

    During the month, there were about five suicide attacks, of these two were in FATA and one each in NWFP, Islamabad and Balochistan. These attacks resulted in loss of 73 lives and injuries to 268. Attacks in NWFP and FATA were targeted against military targets, whilst those in Balochistan and Islamabad were against taregeting civilians. The maximum devastation was caused by the suicide attack on Marriot Hotel on September 20.

    For a number of months, the violence levels in Pakistan have been rising month after month. The rising crescendo of violence does not portend well for the region, especially as it appears to be moving out of its traditional areas in Pakhtoon and the Baloch heartland. Both the Pakistani government and the international community needs to take efforts to initially localise the violence to Pakhtoon regions and then to control and eliminate it.

    Table of Casualty Figures in Pakistan - September 2008

    1. Based on Pakistani media reports.