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FATA: Pernicious Policies

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By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

During a meeting with Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) General Raheel Sharif on January 28, 2014, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asserted that no decision on launching an offensive in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) could be taken without consensus among ‘all stakeholders’, and that any such decision must be in the best ‘national interest’. Less than a month later, the Prime Minister has been forced to authorize the military to launch an operation in the region.

An unnamed Government official stated on February 20, 2014, “After restraining the army for three days, the prime minister himself authorized the strikes last night [February 19]. It was the only option to teach the Taliban a lesson.” Similarly, Federal Minister of Interior Chaudhary Nisar stated emphatically, “Dialogue and violence cannot take place side by side. The military has been asked to retaliate in self-defence, which is their right. This [self-defence] is the right of the armed forces, which cannot be taken away from them.”

In the night of February 19, 2014, Pakistani Air Force (PAF) jets pounded terrorist hideouts in the Mir Ali, Shawal and Datta Khel areas of NWA, killing more than 35. Another seven terrorists were killed in air strikes in Khyber Agency.

Significantly, the strikes were in retaliation against the February 16, 2014, announcement by the Mohmand chapter of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), that it had executed 23 Frontier Corps (FC) personnel, allegedly as revenge for the killing of its fighters in custody in several parts of the country. The FC personnel had been abducted in June 14, 2010, from the Shoonkri Post of Mohmand Agency. An unnamed security official, however, rejected the TTP's claim, declaring, “The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan is just lying. No terrorist has been killed in the custody.” At the time of the execution of the FC personnel, the TTP had been engaged in talks with the Government. As the military decided to retaliate, the talks collapsed.

Crucially, Nawaz Sharif, who had won the May 2013 General Elections on a promise to hold talks with TTP terrorists as part of a broader settlement, had initiated a dialogue with TTP through a panel of representatives, since January 29, 2014. The Government was represented in these talks by the Prime Minister's Advisor on National Affairs Irfan Siddiqui, Major (Retd.) Mohammed Amir (a former ISI official), senior journalist Rahimullah Yousafzai, and former Ambassador to Afghanistan Rustam Shah Mohmand (who was nominated by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government). The TTP team was led by Maulana Samiul Haq (former chief cleric of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad), Maulana Abdul Aziz, Professor Mohammad Ibrahim of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), and Mufti Kifayatullah, a former lawmaker of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) from Mansehra.

The February 19 decision to carry out punitive attacks against the TTP was forced upon the Nawaz Sharif Government by the all powerful Army, which itself had been wary of opening up operations against many of the cross-border militants in NWA because of their long association with the country’s military-run intelligence agencies and their potential as “strategic assets”, both in the country's expansionist campaigns in Afghanistan, and in Indian Jammu & Kashmir. The Army had retaliated earlier as well, after being attacked by the terrorists in the region, but past operations never lasted long. Significantly, the PAF jets had pounded military hideouts in Mir Ali area of NWA, killing at least 24 persons and injuring another 15 on January 20, 2014. As speculation mounted regarding the launch of an 'offensive' in NWA, however, Minister for Defense Production Rana Tanveer Hussain, declared on January 22, 2014, that 'no operations' were being carried out in NWA, but conceded that 'retaliatory action' had been conducted against terrorist elements. On January 19, 2014, at least 26 soldiers had been killed and another 24 were injured, when a bomb ripped through a military convoy in Bannu Town of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), en route to Razmak in NWA. TTP had claimed responsibility for the attack.

Conspicuously, the present retaliation does not indicate the commencement of a broader and longer offensive against the Taliban in the region.

Meanwhile, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) - often described as the most dangerous place on earth - registered a 40.84 per cent decline in overall terrorism-related fatalities, from 2,901, including 2,046 terrorists, 549 civilians and 306 SF personnel in 2012; to 1,716, including 1,199 terrorists, 319 civilians and 198 SF personnel in 2013, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP). These figures indicate a decline in fatalities among terrorists, civilians, and SFs, by 41.39, 41.89 and 35.29 per cents respectively, between 2012 and 2013.

Fatalities in FATA: 2009-2014*

Years

Civilians

SFs

Militants

Total

2009

636

350

4252

5238

2010

540

262

4519

5321

2011

488

233

2313

3034

2012

549

306

2046

2901

2013

319

198

1199

1716

2014

19

30

186

235

Total

2551

1379

14515

18445

 Source: SATP, *Data till February 23, 2014

Fatalities among terrorists/militants and SFs declined principally due to Islamabad’s growing reluctance to continue with military operations in different agencies of FATA. Notably, Bajaur, Khyber, Kurram, Mohmand, Orakzai, and South Waziristan Agencies had witnessed operations in the past, which had resulted in a high number of killings among the militants and SFs. Such operations, however, remained suspended through 2013, in all these Agencies, as the Government kept on harping on talks with the TTP. Operation Rah-e-Shahadat (Path to Martyrdom) in Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency between April 5-June 30, 2014, was an exception. This operation was, in fact, intended to help terrorist militant formation, Ansarul Islam (AI), against the TTP- Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) combine, in a fratricidal struggle to control the remote Tirah Valley, which has had a key strategic significance for terrorist groups for the past many years. AI has had an enduring enmity with LI in the area, but the ideologies and policies of both outfits are the same, and both are on the list of banned terrorist outfits in Pakistan since June 30, 2008.

The absence of a sustained military offensive by Pakistani Forces could have been expected to have emboldened the terrorists, resulting in escalating attacks against civilians, as has been the case in other theatres in Pakistan. In FATA, however, the continuing successes of the US drones in eliminating the top terrorist leadership considerably weakened their formations. According to SATP data, FATA recorded at least 23 US drone strikes, resulting in 150 fatalities through 2013, adding to the 46 drone strikes in 2012, with 344 fatalities. The fatalities included several top terrorist leaders, including TTP ‘commander’ Maulvi Nazir, who was terminated in a US drone strike in Mir Ali tehsil of NWA on January 3, 2013; TTP’s 'deputy chief' Waliur Rehman, who was killed in a US drone strike in Chashma village near Miranshah town of NWA on May 29, 2013; and, finally, on November 1, 2013, Hakimullah Mehsud, TTP ‘chief’, who had a USD five million US Government bounty on his head, who was killed along with four other TTP cadres in a US drone strike in the Dandy Darpakhel area, five kilometers north of Miranshah, the main town of NWA. According to a media report of February 17, 2014, the Barrack Obama administration is making contingency plans to use air bases in Central Asia to conduct drone attacks in northwest Pakistan in case the US is forced to withdraw all military troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

Unsurprisingly, other parameters of violence, such as incidents of killing, major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities), bombings, suicide attacks, and sectarian attacks also registered a decline through 2013.

In comparison to 434 incidents of killing in 2012, 2013 recorded 229 such incidents. Major incidents in 2013 stood at 133, as compared to 261 in 2012; the resulting fatalities in major incidents stood at 1,534 in 2013, as against 2,516 in 2012. In the worst attack during 2013, at least 60 persons were killed and 180 were injured in coordinated twin suicide attacks at Parachinar in the Kurram Agency, on July 26, 2013.

2013 also recorded 385 killed and 626 injured in 122 bomb blasts; as against 441 killed and 777 injured in 297 bomb blasts in 2012. The number of suicide attacks in FATA also dipped marginally, from 10 incidents in 2012 to nine in 2013; the resultant fatalities, however, rose from 151 in 2012 to 164 in 2013, and the numbers injured, from 212 to 256.  

Sectarian violence in the region also registered a steep decline. 2012 saw at least eight sectarian attacks, resulting in 75 killed and 103 injured; 2013 saw only one such incident. The July 26, 2013, attack took place at Parachinar in the Kurram Agency, killing at least 60 persons and injuring 180. Abu Baseer, ‘spokesperson’ of Ansarul Mujahideen, a TTP sub-network, claiming responsibility for the attack, declared that Shia community members were the target, and added, "We have planned more similar attacks against the Shia community in Pakistan to seek revenge of the brutalities of Shia on Sunni Muslims in Syria and Iraq."

Attacks on educational institutions in the region also registered a decline. As against 32 such attacks in 2012, year 2013 saw 12 such attacks. No casualties were reported in these attacks, both in 2012 and 2013, as human losses were not intended. Nevertheless, the continuous process of targeting educational institutions in a deteriorating security environment has had a crippling impact on education in the region. The Minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON), Lieutenant General (Retd.) Abdul Qadir Baloch informed the Upper House of the National Assembly on December 6, 2013, “Over 947 educational institutions were completely closed due to [the] worsening law and order situation while 82 schools have been damaged in FATA.” He also disclosed that over 1,029 educational institutions were 'non-functional' in FATA. In 2008, an estimated 4,664 Government schools were operational in FATA, according to the KP Bureau of Statistics.

Despite sometimes dramatic declines in many parameters of terrorist violence in FATA, there appears to be little hope of a foreseeable end to the region's misfortunes, given Islamabad’s reluctance to sustain operations against the entrenched terrorist networks there. At the heart of the problem is the Government and the Army's perverse perception of the ‘national interest’, which has sought to keep terrorist proxies alive, even while they attempt to contain the domestic blowback of this pernicious policy. Limited respite has come from US drone strikes targeting the terrorist leadership, but as long as the feeder mechanism of state support to Islamist extremist and terrorist formations continues, such surgical operations can have only limited impact, and will tend to leave the broad trajectory of terrorism in the region more or less intact.

[Source: SATP]

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