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Violence in Pakistan: Trend Analysis, October 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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  • December 02, 2008

    The number of violent incidents in Pakistan increased from 309 in September 2008 to 346 in October 2008. Yet, casualty figures decreased from 1342 to 1081.1 This shows that Pakistan’s security forces have succeeded in controlling the level of violence, even though current levels are still unacceptably high. 582 suspected militants, most of them from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) were also arrested by the security forces during the month, in military operations as well as during searches in various areas. This relative “success” of the security forces has succeeded in frustrating the militants to some extent. However, as a result, the number of suicide attacks during October 2008 went up to nine from five in the previous month. 142 lives were lost and over 317 others were injured in these suicide attacks. The prevalence of violent incidents continues to be the highest in NWFP. At the same time, incidents of violence were lower in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Balochistan.

    Continuing the trend that emerged in September 2008, NWFP recorded the most number of violent incidents – from 126 in September to 160 in October 2008. And unlike in the rest of Pakistan even the number of lives lost in the province registered a sharp rise to 405 from 292 in September; and some 182 persons were injured. 223 militants were killed in October 2008 as against 161 in September. At the same time, 136 civilians died in October 2008 as against 102 in September; and 46 security personnel as against 29 lost their lives in the violence within the province. Among the injured 100 were civilians, 46 security personnel and 13 militants. Given that accurate inputs about casualties among militants are generally not available, the number of militants injured could well be higher.

    Large tracts of Swat valley continued to remain under militant control and the district which is the epicentre of violence in the province saw heavy exchange of fire between security forces and militants. Pakistan Air Force jets and helicopter gunships pounded alleged militant strongholds on a daily basis. In rest of the province militants targeted CD shops, police stations and educational facilities, especially those for girls and women. Low level functionaries of the Awami National Party and security forces personnel bore the brunt of the terrorist ire. In a new development, security personnel from the region and on leave were also targeted.

    NWFP also witnessed four suicide attacks during October 2008. In a high-profile act, a suicide bomber attempted to kill Asfandyar Wali Khan, the president of ANP, by blowing himself up just a few feet away when Wali Khan was greeting his supporters on occasion of Eid-ul Fitr at his residence. This was the fifth suicide attack against top political leaders of the NWFP in the last one and a half years; four of these attacks took place in Charsadda district, while the fifth one was in Peshawar. The other three suicide attacks during October targeted security personnel - the targets being a military check post, a police station and the office of a police DIG. Militants also kidnapped a large number of security personnel and other government functionaries.

    Security forces arrested 456 alleged militants in NWFP during the month, apart from confiscating a large cache of arms and ammunition. 200 of these militants were arrested after a major operation launched on October 16 and 17, and among them were 40 Uzbek militants arrested in Kohat. The high number of arrests of terrorists in the province shows the resolution of the provincial administration to deal with the menace of terrorism and is in sharp contrast with the performance of other administrative units in Pakistan. As a result of pressure eight militants surrendered in Peshawar on October 22 and swore on the Holy Qura’an to refrain from terrorist activities in future.

    As in the past, the highest casualties in violent incidents occurred in FATA, a region that has emerged as the epicentre of global Islamic terrorism. As in September 2008, more than half of the lives lost in Pakistan as a result of violent incidents were in the region. Though the number of violent incidents declined marginally from 103 in September 2008 to 101 in October 2008, the killings reduced quite considerably and declined from 892 to 605. Among these, 455 (539 in September) were alleged militants, 149 (336 in September) were civilians, and only one was a security personnel (17 in September). 227 civilians, 3 security personnel and 60 militants are believed to have been injured during October, though the figure for militants could be higher. Only 29 alleged militants were apprehended by the security forces, clearly indicating that security forces operations were mainly confined to aerial attacks. There were three suicide attacks in different parts of FATA which claimed 96 lives and injured 205 others. Two of these attacks were directed against security forces while one targeted an anti-Taliban tribal jirga.

    The security forces confronted the militants mainly in Bajaur Agency, where militant strongholds were continuously pounded by helicopter gun ships and fighter jets, as part of an operation that had begun with an attack on Lowi Sam on August 7. While security forces, supported by armour and artillery, claimed to have captured the town of Lowi Sam on October 24, fighting continued unabated in other parts of the agency. In the eleven weeks of operations in Bajaur Agency to regain control of Lowi Sam, the security forces claimed to have killed 1,500 Taliban whilst losing 73 troops and 95 civilians. They also claimed to have arrested 950 Taliban during the operation that began in August, including 300 foreign terrorists who were mainly from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

    In addition security forces raised and armed numerous tribal militias to take on the Taliban not only in Bajaur but also in neighbouring Mohmand and Orakzai Agencies. Most of the deaths in the region were on account of aerial bombings and clashes between Taliban and tribal militias. The ongoing strife between the Taliban and tribal Lashkars supported by the government might get aggravated as both sides have dealt with each other rather brutally. The Taliban have beheaded tribal leaders collaborating with the government and tribal lashkars with over 20,000 ‘volunteers’ have also dealt with Taliban sympathizers similarly. In fact over 250,000 people from Bajaur and the adjoining Mohmand Agency have been displaced from their homes. Interestingly, the Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on October 22 indicated its willingness to lay down arms if the government ended the ongoing military operation. Its spokesman Maulvi Omar said that the allegation that the Taliban movement was destabilising Pakistan was baseless and added that they would lay down their arms if the government ended its military operation, but refused to do so before talks. Some local Taliban and supporters of militants in the Mamoond tehsil of Bajaur Agency surrendered to a jirga (local Lashkar) on October 28 and 29. It showed that the Taliban was under some pressure in Bajaur and wanted to have a breather in the garb of talks, but the security forces refused to bite the bait and fighting continued as October came to an end.

    Although fierce fighting continued in Bajaur agency and adjoining areas throughout the month, the militant citadels in North Waziristan and South Waziristan were not touched by Pakistani security forces. They were left for US drones and missiles. There was also mortar fire on militant positions from across the border. There were at least 12 such attacks from across the border. There were instances when militants fired at Army helicopters, US jets and drones. Militants also targeted with impunity personnel believed to be close to the government. In Khyber Agency, NATO supplies were targeted and there were skirmishes between the Taliban and security forces as well as between the security forces and Mangal Bagh led Lashkar-i-Islam.

    In Balochistan, there was a further reduction in violence and the number of incidents declined from 32 in September to 22 in October 2008. Only 17 people were killed and 43 were injured as against 59 deaths and injuries to 61 in September. All those killed or injured during the month were civilians. Security forces claimed to have arrested 53 militants and captured huge caches of arms and ammunition within the province. The violence level in Baloch areas came down considerably and was confined to Dera Bugti district and Quetta. There were some instances of attacks on gas pipelines and railway tracks.

    At the same time, activities of Islamic militants increased in Northern Balochistan especially along the province’s border with Afghanistan. Supplies to Afghanistan being sent by a National Logistics Cell trailer through Chaman were seized by militants on October 9. Four would-be suicide bombers were arrested at Zhob on October 12. The month was characterised by a significant reduction in the intensity of the Baloch insurgency, although there was some increase in the activities of pro-Taliban elements in Pakhtoon areas.

    October 2008 also witnessed an expansion in the activities of militants in other parts of Pakistan, namely, Punjab, Sindh and Islamabad, where there was an increase in incidents of violence during the month to 63 as against 48 in September 2008. However, in the absence of any major incident like the attack on the Marriot, the casualty figures reduced considerably and only 54 lives were lost and 138 received injuries as against 99 killings and injuries to 265 in September. Apart from the two suicide bombers, all those who were killed and injured were civilians. Almost half the casualties were sustained in the two suicide attacks, which resulted in the loss of 25 lives and injuries to 68, the targets being the house of a parliamentarian in Bhakkar in Punjab and the building of the Anti Terrorism Squad in Islamabad. There were a number of hoax calls made reporting bombs in numerous public buildings in Islamabad and cities in Punjab and Sindh. Tribal clashes as well as ethnic and sectarian clashes were reported from rural Sindh and Punjab during the month.

    During October 2008 violence spread to newer areas, although the casualties reduced, as security forces mainly concentrated on taking on militants in Swat valley and Bajaur Agency, while leaving the militants in other parts to themselves. The Taliban claimed that they now have cadres in Karachi and the MQM chief seemed to agree with them on this count.

    1. This commentary analyses the violence in Pakistan during October 2008 based on media reports published in the English language press.