Pakistan requires a multi-prong strategy to overcome the Taliban menace and dismantle terrorist infrastructure in the country. This necessitates focused counter-terrorism efforts, while highlighting emphasis on provision of good governance in the conflict-affected areas.
By Syed Adnan Ali Shah Bukhari
Pakistan remains in the eye of the storm, with the country facing a multitude of challenges involving political instability, economic downturn and pervasive insecurity, which is aggravated due to instability in neighbouring Afghanistan. While the Taliban and its associated militant outfits continue to conduct terrorist attacks in Pakistan, there was an overall decrease in violence in 2010 as compared to 2009. A total of 2,240 terrorist attacks were recorded in 2010 compared to 2,586 attacks in the previous year. There was a 35 percent decrease in suicide attacks in 2010 with 52 recorded suicide attacks compared to 80 in 2009. However, suicide attacks spread into newer areas with the Sindh province witnessing five deadly attacks for the first time in its history. There was also an increase in the number of suicide attacks in the Punjab Province, especially in its capital city, Lahore.
The decrease in terrorist attacks could be attributed to the ongoing military operations conducted by Pakistani security forces. These operations, which have been in place since 2008, are now being carried out in six of the seven agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province (KP). These operations are at varying stages; some involve full-scale onslaughts to dismantle Taliban strongholds, while others are in the initial phase and are confined only to air-raids against militant bases. Similarly, other operations, such as those in Malakand and South Waziristan Agency (SWA), are presently focused on stabilisation and search-and-destroy missions only.
Outcome of military operations
The Pakistani security forces were able to achieve quick successes in dislodging the Taliban from their strongholds in the entire FATA region and northern parts of KP during the first phase. However, the fighting also displaced around one million people from the FATA region, who continue to live as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the adjoining KP.
A sustained pressure by the Pakistani security forces, coupled with a declining popularity of the Pakistani Taliban among the population saw the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – a conglomerate of over two dozen Taliban groups operating across FATA and KP – gradually losing its momentum and organisational cohesiveness. Pakistan’s military operation “Rah-e-Rast” (Urdu for The Right Path) conducted in the Malakand Division in May 2009 witnessed the capture or killing of two-thirds of the leadership of the TTP-Malakand Chapter, including its deputy head, Shah Dauran, and military head, Commander Ibne Amin. The Swat Taliban seem to be in complete disarray and faced with extreme difficulties in reorganising and regrouping.
Ever since the death of Baitullah Mahsud, the founder of the TTP in August 2009, the alliance among various constituents of the group has already been under pressure. This is due to serious differences between the central leadership of the TTP over issues, such as leadership positions and control over financing of the group. Additionally, ideological and operational differences have surfaced, resulting in infighting between its various components, such as in Kurram, Orakzai, Darra Adamkhel, Khyber and Bajaur agencies. The infighting significantly weakened the TTP at both the organisational and operational level.
The displacement of civilians from FATA, uprooting of terrorist infrastructure, including training camps, and targeting of financial networks of the Pakistani Taliban by law enforcement actions throughout Pakistan has severely affected the operational capability of the Taliban outfits. By losing contact with local population in FATA, the Taliban have been denied the opportunity to induct new recruits and undertake terrorist training. Their dwindling finances also have a demoralising impact on the rank and file of the Taliban.
Apart from Pakistan’s military operations, a campaign of drone strikes by the United States has resulted in the killing of top and middle tier leaders of both local and foreign militants belonging to the al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and the Islamic Jihad Union. The US conducted a total of 118 drone strikes in Pakistan’s FATA region in 2010 as compared to 53 drone strikes in 2009. It is believed that there will be a further intensification of drone attacks in order to eliminate terrorist elements in the Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) border region. At present, 96 percent of the drone strikes have focused on the twin agencies of Waziristan. It is projected that other areas will also be targeted in the coming months as evident from the three drone strikes in the Khyber Agency in December 2010.
New trends and tactics
The Taliban and its associated outfits seem to be focused more on the use of remotely detonated road-side improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Similarly, there has been an increase in targeted killings of senior government officials and political activists, especially those belonging to secular nationalist political parties, like the Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan People Party (PPP). There is also a likelihood of deployment of more female suicide bombers by the Taliban to avoid detection by the security forces. The first such attack by a female took place on a distribution camp of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Bajaur in December 2010, which killed around 50 people.
Similarly, terrorist outfits, such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Jamiatul Furqan and others, which are operating in Azad Kashmir, Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan provinces, and are linked to the TTP and al-Qaeda are increasing their activities in order to deflect government’s pressure on the militant outfits based in FATA and KP. The increase of suicide bombings in Punjab in 2010, and the introduction of this deadly tactic in the Sindh Province was a step in this direction.
Similarly, while Shia minority has been targeted in the past, a new trend has been attacks by the Taliban and its associated outfits belonging to the conservative Sunni Deobandi school on the shrines, religious personalities and congregations of Sufi Brailvi sect of Sunni Islam. The aim was to destroy the religious harmony and social fabric of the Pakistani society. Similarly, attacks on other religious communities, such as Qadianis/Ahmedis and Christians were also reported for the first time in 2010.
In Balochistan, there has been an intensification of attacks by Baloch militants. These attacks followed the failure on part of the federal government to engage the alienated Baloch leadership in a meaningful dialogue. Apart from attacks on security and law enforcement personnel, the militants have intensified targeted killing of non-Baloch as well as pro-government political activists in the province.
Serious challenges remain for the Pakistani government which would prove decisive in the final outcome of the entire campaign against terrorism in the country. While the military operations in FATA has allowed the security forces to wrest control of the territory from the Taliban, the group’s rank and file have evaded getting captured or killed, and have fled to other parts of FATA as well as to Afghanistan. This allows the Taliban an opportunity to regroup and stage a comeback in the future. Similarly, the intervention of the Afghan Taliban from across the border to aid the Pakistani Taliban in their fight against the Pakistani security forces, especially in Bajaur and Mohmand agencies of FATA, makes the security gains fragile.
Similarly, drone strikes by the US in North and South Waziristan Agencies, although useful in the short run in terms of killing the leadership of al-Qaeda and other militant groups, has the deleterious effect of antagonising the locals, while also forcing the militants to move to other parts of FATA and Afghanistan. This compounds the task of containing the Taliban and foreign militants in a specific geographical area, such as the Waziristan region, and eliminating them.
Additionally, the rehabilitation of the IDPs, the reconstruction of the war-ravaged FATA and KP, the re-establishment of governing structures in these areas, and the development of local economy have encountered grave difficulties due to lack of resources. This is further compounded by the havoc caused by massive floods in Pakistan in the summer of 2010. The floods affected the fertile areas of KP, Punjab and Sindh provinces, which are also the growth engines of the Pakistan’s economy. The rehabilitation of flood victims and the reconstruction of the damaged areas, including the resuscitation of agriculture and communication infrastructure in the region, require the injection of massive resources which Pakistan is unable to arrange due to the worsening economic situation. This could also mean that plans to develop infrastructure and economy in FATA and KP would receive lesser attention than previously envisaged. The repatriation of IDPs and their resettlement also requires massive assistance, which is not forthcoming. Inability of the government to resettle the IDPs would not only be a grave humanitarian crisis, but would also affect its efforts at winning the “heart and minds” of the population in FATA, which is crucial for the success of Pakistan’s operations against the Taliban.
The security situation in Pakistan is also inextricably linked to the situation in Afghanistan. The military operations in Afghanistan have implications on Pakistan’s security since it would mean a continuation of war in the Af-Pak region, and pressure on Pakistan to “do more”, while at the same time increasing the intensity and scope of drone strikes in the country.
There is also insistent pressure on Pakistan to dismantle alleged Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan and conduct military operation in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) targeting the the Haqqani Network. The network is headed by Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani, a Soviet-era mujahideen commander who is presently fighting NATO forces in Afghanistan. While Pakistan agrees in principle to undertake such operations, it remains hesitant to open a new front until the ongoing operations in other parts of FATA are concluded. The Pakistani government is also apprehensive that opening of a new front in NWA would allow the myriad of Pakistani Taliban groups operating across FATA, who are currently divided on ideological and operational basis, to join ranks against the Pakistani security forces. This could complicate Pakistan’s efforts to cleanse the territory of both local and foreign militants and stabilise areas in western areas of Pakistan.
Similarly, a steep decline in the popularity of the current Pakistan People Party (PPP)-led government in Pakistan due to bad governance is leading to political instability. Continuous political wrangling between coalition partners in the government, confrontation between the government and the opposition parties, as well as other state institutions, such as superior judiciary, could divert Pakistan’s focus on the war against terrorist elements in the coming days.
The way forward
Pakistan requires a multi-prong strategy to overcome the Taliban menace and dismantle terrorist infrastructure in the country. This necessitates focused counter-terrorism efforts, while highlighting emphasis on provision of good governance in the conflict-affected areas. This would also require massive economic and technical inputs which is not possible without the support of the international community. Moreover, peace and security in Pakistan is inseparable from the stability in Afghanistan. A concerted effort based on improved coordination and synchronisation of political, military and economic initiatives by all the stakeholders remains the key to ensure durable peace in the region.
Syed Adnan Ali Shah Bukhari is Associate Research Fellow on South and Central Asia at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.