By Ajit Kumar Singh
Seven people, including five Policemen, were killed and another 16, including eight Policemen, were injured in a suicide blast at Zarghoon Road in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, on January 9, 2018. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since the beginning of 2018, at least 150 terrorism-related fatalities [46 civilians, 51 Security Force (SF) personnel and 53 terrorists] have been recorded across Pakistan (data till April 8, 2018). In the corresponding period of 2017, the country recorded 449 terrorism-related fatalities (184 civilians, 55 SF personnel, and 210 terrorists).
Through 2017, Pakistan had recorded a total of 1,260 fatalities, including 540 civilians, 208 SF personnel, and 512 terrorists in 2017; as against 1,803 fatalities, including 612 civilians, 293 SF personnel, and 898 terrorists in 2016. The number of major attacks (involving three or more fatalities) and the resultant fatalities, fell from 172 and 1,369, respectively in 2016, to 132 and 1,047, respectively, in 2017. In the current year, 17 major incidents have already been recorded, resulting 90 fatalities.
The number of sectarian attacks also declined from 35 in 2016 to 16 in 2017. However, the related deaths from such incidents marked a 68.61 per cent increase, from 137 in 2016 to 231 in 2017. The most deadly sectarian attack in 2018 came on February 16, when a suicide bomber attacked the crowded Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan Sharif town of Jamshoro District in Sindh, killing at least 88 people and injuring 343 others. It was the worst attack, in terms of fatalities, recorded in Pakistan since the December 16, 2014, Army Public School (APS), Peshawar, attack, which had claimed 150 fatalities, including 143 civilians.
Meanwhile, the number of suicide attacks increased from 19 in 2016 to 22 in 2017. However, the resultant toll decreased from 401 fatalities in 2016, to 369 in 2017. The relative respite from terror through 2017 was primarily due to Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad (Elimination of Discord), launched by the Pakistan Army across the country on February 22, 2017. On December 18, 2018, Major General Sahir Shamshad Mirza, Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), briefing the Senate on action taken by SFs under Operation Radd-ul-Fassad, disclosed that 17,685 operations had been conducted across Pakistan: 13,011 in Punjab; 2,015 in Sindh; 1,410 in Balochistan; and 1,249 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
However, Islamabad’s continuing policy of supporting ‘state-owned’ terrorist formations has created an environment where numerous individuals and groups engage in terrorism, even as terror outfits operating out of Pakistan thrive. As on April 7, 2018, at least 134 individuals and 23 entities with Pakistani connections were included in the Consolidated United Nations Security Council Sanctions List. These included at least 83 individuals who were believed to be in Pakistan or in areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan. Another 29 of these individuals were Pakistani nationals. All the 23 entities listed were operating from Pakistani soil.
Many of these individuals and entities continue to enjoy a free run in Pakistan. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who masterminded the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks and carries a bounty of USD 10 million on his head, is the most ‘prominent’ among them. Saeed heads both the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) (both listed entities), but continues to enjoy open support from all sections of the Pakistani establishment. For instance, in a statement released on December 30, 2017, the Pakistan Foreign Office (FO) justified Hafiz Saeed’s participation in a pro-Palestine rally, also attended by the Palestinian Ambassador to Pakistan, Walid Abu Ali, in Rawalpindi on December 29, 2017, declaring,
This public rally was attended by thousands of people from all walks of life. More than 50 speakers addressed the rally, including Hafiz Saeed. Contrary to the impression being created, UN proscription does not place any restrictions on the freedom of expression.
Interestingly, the Lahore High Court on April 3, 2018, ordered the Governments – Provincial and Federal – not to ‘harass’ Hafiz Saeed and to allow him to continue his ‘social welfare activities’ until further orders. The Court was hearing a petition filed by JuD against Governmental obstructions curtailing JuD’s ‘social welfare activities’. According to media reports, the Punjab Government had started taking over all the moveable and immovable assets of JuD and its front, the Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), in the Province on February 14, 2018. The action was being taken in pursuance of an ordinance issued by President Mamnoon Hussain on February 12, 2018, amending the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997, and allowing the state to take action against individuals and organizations proscribed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). However, an unnamed Punjab Government official was later quoted as stating, on March 6, 2018,
Since the Government has taken over the control of JuD headquarters in Lahore in mid last month [February], Saeed delivered three Friday sermons in three successive weeks there in the presence of a large number of his supporters. The Government could only deploy its administrator at Al Qadsia while the JuD men are operating from there the way they used to… A similar arrangement was made at JuD’s Muridke headquarters. The Government has not barred Saeed and activists of his charities from using the JuD headquarters in Lahore and Muridke, and other offices of the two organizations [the other being FiF, Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation].
Since his release from ‘house arrest, in November 2017, Saeed has held at least two major rallies in Pakistan, in addition to a large number of other public appearances. Apart from the December 29 pro-Palestine rally, he also held a rally in Lahore (Punjab) on the occasion of ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ on February 5, 2018.
Another individual in the list and one of world’s most wanted terrorist, Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, a person of Indian origin, enjoys Pakistani state immunity and has resided in Pakistan since 1993. His Pakistani addresses have been confirmed by the United Kingdom as well. The revelations were made in a latest report released by UK Treasury department’s Consolidated List of Financial Sanctions Targets in the UK. An interview with Dawood Ibrahim and his aide published in Firstpost on August 11, 2017, also confirmed his presence in Pakistan.
Radicalized groups across Pakistan have received further encouragement from recent events, when the Federal Government bowed down before violent Islamist protesters. On October 2, 2017, the National Assembly passed the ‘Election Bill 2017’, making changes in the Khatm-e-Nabuwat [finality of Prophet-hood] clause of its earlier Bill. Soon after, countrywide protests led by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLP), an Islamist party, erupted against the change. Other pro-Muslim parties, such as the Pakistan Sunni Tehreek and Tehreek-e-Khatme Nabuwwat (Movement for the Finality of Prophet-hood) also lent their support, demanding the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid and the removal of the offending clause which, according to these groups undermined Islamic beliefs and amounted to blasphemy. Mounting pressure, the protestors began camping at Islamabad’s Faizabad Traffic Interchange from November 6, 2017. The Government restored the original clause on November 17, 2017, but the Islamists continued with their protest. Eventually, on November 25, 2017, bloody clashes took place just outside Islamabad in which at least six people were killed and another 200 were injured. Speaking from the site of the clashes, TLP ‘spokesman’ Ejaz Ashrafi declared, “We are in our thousands. We will not leave. We will fight until end.” Clashes also took place elsewhere in the country and continued on November 26 as well.
On November 29, 2017, the Islamabad Police told Pakistan’s Supreme Court that the November 25 clashes were primarily caused because “they had hurt the religious sentiments of security forces with their inflammatory speeches.” A nine-page report submitted by the Islamabad Police stated that the protesters were religiously motivated and that their speeches were targeted at hurting religious sentiments of SFs keeping vigil. It also said that close to 2,000 protesters, mostly armed with stones, pistols, axes, and rods, were present at the protest site.
The protests came to an end after the Army mediated between the protestors and the Government, and the Law Minister Zahid Hamid was forced to resign on November 27, 2017. Hamid stated, “The decision to resign was taken in a bid to steer the country out of the prevailing critical situation.” The resignation was part of an agreement reached between the Government and the protesters.
Pakistan’s export of terrorism continued, primarily targeting its neighbours, India and Afghanistan. Mini Devi Kumam, a Second Secretary in the Permanent Mission of India to United Nations (Geneva), speaking at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), noted, on March 8, 2018, “We urge the Council to call on Pakistan to end cross border infiltration; to dismantle special terrorist zones, safe havens and sanctuaries, to take verifiable actions, including on terror financing.” Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani on February 2, 2018, similarly accused Pakistan of failing to move against the Afghan Taliban declaring, “We are waiting for Pakistan to act”.
Corroborating India’s and Afghanistan’s concern, Daniel R. Coats, Director of US National Intelligence, categorically stated on February 13, 2018,
Militant groups supported by Islamabad will continue to take advantage of their safe haven in Pakistan to plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan, including against US interests.
Meanwhile, there appears to be little prospect of political stabilization in the country, corruption remains all-pervasive, and has afflicted the highest offices of the land. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), continues to face serious problems in the aftermath of the ouster of Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif following the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Panama Papers case. The seat he vacated was won by his wife and PML-N candidate Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, who secured 61,745, ahead of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) candidate Yasmeen Rashid, who bagged 47,099 votes in a total of 126,46 votes cast (including 1,717 votes which were declared invalid), in what has long been the Sharif’s family burough. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of PML-N replaced Sharif as Prime Minister, but is widely viewed as a puppet of the Sharifs. With a General Election just around the corner (scheduled for July 2018), and patterns of political disruption escalating, the Army continues to push the boundaries of its authority, and particularly to dominate the export of terrorism into the neighbourhood. Inevitably, this creates some spaces for the continuation of domestic terrorism as well, including sectarian terrorism, which often receives implicit support from the state establishment.
Author is a Research Fellow at Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi