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Violence in Pakistan: Trend Analysis for August 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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  • September 30, 2008

    The recent suicide attack on Mariott Hotel in Islamabad has once again focussed international attention on Pakistan. Violence in Pakistan is now moving from the periphery to the heartland. The level of violence has been rising continuously for the last few months. Drawing upon media reports, an attempt is made here to analyse violence in Pakistan during August 2008.

    August 2008 was the most violent month in Pakistan. 1303 lives were lost due to violence, which was more than three times the lives lost in July and roughly equalled total deaths in violence during the previous six months. The increasing level of violence does not portend well for Pakistan. In August, 818 alleged militants were killed as against 131 security personnel and 354 civilians.

    Like in the past few months, most incidents of violence took place in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), especially in Kurram and Bajour agencies, followed by the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Both in NWFP as well as in Bajour agency, members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) fought pitched battles with security forces in their own strongholds and indulged in random acts of terrorism in the populated areas and strongholds of security forces. TTP also declared that highly motivated boys and girls were ready to launch suicide attacks all over Pakistan, including on its main commercial hub of Karachi. However, the violence in Kurram agency was attributable to inter-tribal feud with sectarian undertones, which erupted on August 6. In the bloody internecine war between the predominantly Shia Turi tribe and the Sunni Bangash tribe supported by TTP, over 400 lives were lost and 700 people were injured. In one of the worst manifestations of state apathy, the tribes continued clashing for weeks with automatic arms and heavy weapons like rocket launchers and mortars before the government even made an attempt at restoring order. And although a Ramzan cease-fire was announced, violence continued unabated till the end of the month.

    In FATA, security forces launched a major offensive (involving the employment of artillery and helicopter gunships) against the Taliban in Bajour Agency in the Lowi Sam on August 7, but were forced to withdraw after suffering heavy casualties. Militants also claimed to have taken a large number of security personnel as hostage and even managed to prevent locals from providing support to the security forces. Many injured soldiers were left to die as militants prevented the local population from tending to them. To redeem their honour, the security forces continued operations with support from air force jets, helicopter gunships and medium artillery. The fierce fighting continued till the end of August. This operation resulted in over 250,000 people being displaced from Bajour Agency itself. Acts of violence continued in all the other agencies of FATA. South and North Waziristan continued to remain the citadels of TTP. In Khyber Agency, the Lashkar-e-Islam of Mangal Bagh continued threatening the security forces as well as other Islamic factions like Ansar ul Islam operating in the agency. During the month, there were 62 incidents of violence in FATA resulting in 838 deaths.

    Though most of the NWFP was affected by violence, Swat remained the epicentre of violence in the province. Other prominent districts affected by violence were Tank, Kohat, Hangu, Buner, Lower Dir and Peshawar. Besides loss of life in militant attacks, there was also collateral damage caused by air strikes launched by the security forces. Not only gunships, but even fighter aircraft were used for the first time on August 29 to pound the positions of militants in the Swat valley. The condition in NWFP deteriorated so drastically that Awami National Party (ANP) and Jamaat-ul-Ulema-I Islam- Fazalur (JUI-F) – two major components of the ruling coalition in the province – publicly acknowledged that the provincial capital of Peshawar was about to fall to the militants. During the month, there were 52 incidents of violence leading to the death of 363 people.

    In Balochistan, numerous low intensity incidents of violence occurred across the province during the month, but the districts of Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Kalat, and Quetta remained the epicentre of violence. On the first day of August, Balochistan witnessed a demonstration by ‘policemen demanding protection’, who claimed that they were being eliminated as part of a well organised plan. Unlike in FATA and NWFP, militants in Balochistan generally held the initiative and most victims of violence were security forces personnel and civilians perceived to be close to the security forces. Baloch insurgents mostly targeted gas pipelines, railway lines and power supply lines. The Baloch Liberation Army and Baloch Republican Army took responsibility for most attacks. IEDs, grenades and rocket launchers were the favourite weapons of these insurgents. Their intention has been not to cause large-scale loss of life but to target security forces personnel and their informers specifically. There were some incidents of violence by the Taliban in Northern Balochistan, like the burning of a girls school in Quetta by militants on August 3 pointing to a southern expansion of Taliban influence. There were around 50 incidents of violence in Balochistan, though these resulted in the loss of only around 51 lives since most attacks were targeted against physical infrastructure.

    August 2008 also saw terrorists carrying out significant strikes in Punjab, Sindh, as well as in Islamabad. In a deadly incident on August 21, two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside Pakistan’s main Ordnance Factory in Wah Cantonment and killed 70 workers and injured 67. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Yet, sections of the Pakistani establishment blamed the Indian intelligence agency R&AW for the attack and declared that most Indian security forces personnel in Afghanistan (actually deployed to protect engineers engaged in road building) were spies responsible for the carnage in Pakistan. However, these statements appear to be a reaction to American acceptance of ISI involvement in the terrorist attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7, 2008.

    Several violent incidents were reported from Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The Taliban announced their entry into Punjab on August 24 by blowing up 24 video shops with three bombs in a shopping plaza in Attock. On August 13, in a suicide blast targeting policemen standing guard on the eve of Independence Day in Lahore, nine people were killed and 35 injured. There were intelligence reports that two suspected suicide bombers had left Waziristan to strike in Rawalpindi, Jhelum and Kharian cantonments and the Interior Ministry had accordingly tightened security in the province. On August 8, Capital police of Lahore confiscated explosives, 10 grenades, two rocket launchers, two Kalashnikovs and other weapons. Similarly, on August 15 and 20, Islamabad police arrested 19 alleged suspected criminals and seized arms and rounds of ammunition along with huge amount of illegal drugs. The violence in Punjab and Islamabad was mainly in the form of suicide attacks, bomb blasts and targeted killings. In Sindh, Islamic militants and sectarian terrorists showed their presence in Karachi sporadically. Violence in rural Sindh was restricted to tribal conflict, dacoity and kidnappings. Over 51 lives were lost in around 30 incidents of violence reported from Punjab and Sindh.

    The trend of violence during August indicates a spurt in violence in Pakistan, which corresponds to increased US and NATO activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Violence is likely to rise in coming months as US operations in Afghanistan and even in FATA increases. Though violence has mostly been confined to Pakhtoon and Baloch areas of Pakistan, they have now started making deep inroads into Punjab. It is essential that Islamic militancy be confined to the Pakhtoon belt of Pakistan, as its spread to Punjab will pose severe security threats not only to the state of Pakistan but also to neighbouring India.