Difficult year behind,challenging one ahead
By Imtiaz Gul
Weekly Pulse, Islamabad January 06, 2009
Religiously-toned violence, political uncertainty, financial crisis, power shortages, extremely poor law and order situation and deficient governance
marked 2008 as yet another turbulent and hopeless year for Pakistanis at
large. Let us have a look at some of the headlines about how Pakistan
performed last year:
* In 2008, 66 suicide blasts killed at least 80 per month.
* Police appeared to be the highest law offender among the government departments during 2008 as the Lahore High Court (LHC) imposed heavy fines on six police officials and ordered registration of cases against dozens of others for neglect of duty and misuse of authority (Dated January 03).
* Year 2008 the most violent in a decade for the Balochistan province in which 433 people lost their lives, up from 390 in 2007.
* Suicide incidents increase by 50 per cent as 2,568 people took their own life across the country in 2008 (Edhi Foundation quoted on the BBC Urdu website, January 02).
* Violence against women on the rise; 1,794 women subjected to violence (The Aurat Foundation quoted in The Nation, January 01).
* Human Rights violations in South Punjab increased in 2008 (The Nation, January 01).
* 2008 ends with rise in karo-kari, about 50 women were killed by their
husbands,brothers and fathers. This included four mothers, killed by their sons
* Government shelves plans of setting up four world-class universities in the country in partnership with Germany, Italy, Austria and China.
* 2008 proved a nightmare for Karachi stock market. Over 60 per cent share value lost in last 15 days of December.
* Worst electricity and gas load-shedding continues, Protestors on the
These clips provide just a cursory reflection of the socio-political and
economic turmoil that the country finds itself in. Besides extremely poor
governance, however, the spiraling FATA-based violence remains Pakistan's immediate and medium term nightmare as well as challenge.
“FATA Violence All Over”
Islamist militant violence in December 2007 had climaxed with the brutal
assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto soon after an election rally at Rawalpindi, taking the number of suicide bombings to 56 that year. Similar violence during the year 2008 peaked with a deadly attack on December 28 in the Buner district of the Northwestern Frontier Province (NWFP), where a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden car in to a polling station.
When the bomber exploded the vehicle, hundreds of people had lined up there to elect a new representative to the national legislature, following the sudden demise of the local MP Abdul Matin Khan. Muslim Khan, the Swat-based spokesperson for the TTP, claimed responsibility and warned of more attacks. He told the private TV channels, including the Doha-based Al-Jazeera, that the attack was meant to avenge the killing of six Taliban by Buner locals in summer.
The Buner incident and the warning by the TTP spokesman betrayed a grim reality facing Pakistan; the conflict between the Pakistani army and the militants had actually accentuated by the end of 2008. A December 28 report by a private Pakistani news agency SANA (published in the Urdu daily Jang on December 29, 2008) said suicide bombers struck 61 times during the year, killing 889 people.
Another report by the daily The News (December 31) recounted about 66 suicide attacks and 965 deaths thereof all over the country, taking the average monthly casualties to at least 80. The News said 53 of these suicide attacks took place in the same region i.e. FATA and the NWFP.
This brought the total tally of such attacks in the northwestern regions since 2006 to about 57. It also suggested that the entire region found itself in the grip of unprecedented violence that had gradually infected cities like Peshawar and Kohat, where the security forces were the prime targets, leaving at least 154 police officials dead and close to 300 injured.
This also meant that the Frontier province and the FATA region bore the brunt of terrorism, suffering about 45 suicide bombings altogether. The Swat region topped the districts with about a dozen suicide attacks, followed by four in Peshawar. The rest -- one-fourth of the suicide attacks -- caused mayhem in major cities like Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore and Rawalpindi. The most destructive – as far as the impact on the country as a whole -- was the one on the Marriott Hotel in the well-guarded government district of Islamabad. It killed at least five dozen people and sent shock waves across the country.
Casualties resulting from terror strikes surged dramatically during 2008;
the South Asia Terrorism Portal ( www.satp.org) listed 6,570 fatalities
during the year, up from 3,599 deaths in the previous year. Compared to just about six suicide bombings in 2006, as many as 56 brain-washed young zealots blew themselves up in 2007, while at least 61 either exploded themselves or the ammunition-packed vehicles they were driving in 2008. This clearly suggested that the trail of violence flowing from Waziristan and knocking targets down all over Pakistan has confronted the people and the state of Pakistan with a crisis of confidence and survival.
The attack on Marriott, which reopened on December 28 after a massive and speedy restoration operation, also shook local and foreign investors' confidence to the core, unleashing an economic and financial crisis that was contained only through a multi-billion dollar package by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in late November.
It was, however, not the five dozen or so suicide strikes that sowed fear
and uncertainty in peoples hearts and mind; the last month of 2008 also
witnessed a dramatic surge in attacks on the cargo meant for the
Afghanistan-based US and NATO troops. Within the first two weeks of
December, militants carried out multiple strikes, most of them in and around Peshawar, to convey they can hit targets at will. More than 300
Humvees ( High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, also called Humvee, an all-purpose, modern-day jeep used by the U.S. military, and armored personnel carriers, basically destined for the US forces, were the prime targets. Besides, about a dozen or so incidents involving commandeering of small convoys carrying food and other items for NATO and US troops in Afghanistan were also reported during 2008.
Almost two-thirds of these supplies are imported via Pakistan's Karachi Port and Port Qasim on the Arabian Sea, and transported by road, first to Peshawar before onward journey to Afghanistan through the Khyber Agency.
Maulvi Omer, the spokesman for the banned Tehrike Taliban Pakistan (TTP), on December 14, finally claimed responsibility for these attacks. He told reporters by phone from an undisclosed location that "the series of attacks on terminals in Peshawar were a response to the American drone strikes inside Pakistan."
This deterioration eventually evoked another mighty response by the security establishment on the penultimate day of the year i.e. on December 30. Backed up by paramilitary forces, the authorities launched an operation named 'Daraghlum' (a Pashto phrase meaning "Here I come") in the Khyber Agency.
“Outlook for 2009”
Regardless the official claims on, and the results of, the operation in the Khyber Agency, the widespread violence – some 475 acts of terrorism i.e. bomb blasts, suicide bombings, sniper attacks, and ambushes of officials in the Frontier Province alone – depicts a future outlook that is anything but encouraging.
According to a recent Gallup Pakistan survey, only nine per cent Pakistanis are hopeful of better times in 2009. In April 2008, over two months after the general elections, as many as 60 per cent Pakistanis had hoped things would improve.
Officials believe that the unusual level of sophistication, planning and
preparedness underlies the spate of violence that shook Pakistan to the core during 2008.
Containing the monster of al Qaeda-inspired political violence wrapped in anti-Americanism requires a massive and sophisticated response. Building capacity of the entire security and intelligence apparatus must
take precedence over political rhetoric. Without raising the manpower
strength, and elevating the intellectual and professional capacity of the
intelligence apparatus, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to
contain, blunt and totally decapitate the monster.
Purging the society of the "forces of chaos mired in the medieval mindset" might be possible through a reinforced security and intelligence based on merit, sincerity and devoution, supported by an empowered community. The absence of a cohesive and comprehensive counter-terror strategy will only embolden those who have begun striking at the symbols of a functional state to create chaos and confusion.
(The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.