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Security apparatus under attack again

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse , Jan 20,2012

Five bloody incidents since the middle of December betray have left a trail of over 80 deaths, mostly of the security personnel, and rocked Pakistan’s military and civilian security apparatus. 

First came the confirmation early January of the executions by militants of at least 25 paramilitary troops; ten had been abducted in a raid in Orakzai Agency on Dec 21st, and 15 of them kidnapped the next day in a mid-night armed raid on their post in Tank. 

On January 10, as many as 35 deaths in a car bomb that ripped through a bus terminal in the town of Jamrud in Khyber Agency, also included mostly FC men and government officials. Authorities in Peshawar believe the latest attack could be the work of TTP in retaliation for the pro-government Zakhakhel tribe for the killing by Pakistani security forces of a TTP commander, Qari Kamran, in Khyber last week. They went missing in a clash with militants in Upper Orkzai Agency. 

On Jan 11, at least 14 personnel of Frontier Corps died in an ambush by armed men in the Nawano area of Turbat district late on Wednesday night, an act that the banned Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) owned up. Official sources said the FC men were on duty in two vehicles on a road in the Nawano area, some 200km southwest of Turbat town when the gunmen hiding in nearby mountains attacked them from three sides with rockets and automatic weapons. 

On the 14th Jan, a policeman, three civilians and four bombers were killed in a militant attack - ostensibly on a suicide mission - at the offices of the District Police Officer (DPO) in Dera Ismail Khan. Some sources said that four militants donning police uniform scaled the wall of the office of the district revenue officer and then jumped inside the compound of the DPO offices. This was reminiscent of the two commando raids on the Manawan Police Training School, Lahore in March and October respectively when armed militates attacked the centre, took some people inside hostage and engaged the security forces for several hours. 

This string of attacks suggests the revival of an old pattern i.e. target the security forces to demoralize them which then plays out negatively on the common citizens’ psyche. These attacks also serve as a stark reminder that despite statistical improvements i.e. almost 24 percent decline in the number of terrorism incidents during 2011, Pakistan remains hostage to radical anti-state purported Islamist militants led by the vicious TTP, and apparently inspired by Al-Qaeda. Violence in the first two weeks of 2012 simply underscores the perilous security conditions that still prevail in northwestern parts of Pakistan and amplify threats that come from a mobile enemy. 

Based on the statistics – compiled by the Centre for Research and Security Studies as well as the date put together by the Home Departments of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and Balochistan – one had hoped that 2012 might see further improvement in the security landscape; during the course of 2011, 354 major terrorist attacks, 24 suicide strikes, which claimed 388 lives, were registered. These included 160 police and paramilitary personnel. The number of human losses off suicide attacks in 2010 stood around 444. 

Last year, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) – spread over about 27,200 sq. kilometres bordering Afghanistan – remained embroiled in the military-militant hostilities. Known abroad as the world’s “most dangerous place,” FATA is home to some of the most lethal militant organization like the TTP, Lashkare Jhangvi, Lashkare Islam and the Afghan Haqqani Network, which according to US military and intelligence officials, are the local supporting arms of Al Qaeda. 

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) speaks of almost 473 military/paramilitary deaths during 10 major and 38 minor operations against Taliban militants in the volatile tribal regions during 2011. Also, 711 civilians were killed and 1548 other injured as a result of militant attacks in those areas. Cumulatively, last year as many as least 725 people (roughly 324 security personnel and over 400 civilians) fell to terrorist strikes all over the province, including the successive suicide attacks on an FC Fort at Shabqadar near Peshawar on May 13th that claimed almost 100 lives on May 13. Cities such as DI Khan, Tank, Peshawar, Bannu, and Kohat bore the brunt of violence, ostensibly perpetrated by the TTP and its affiliates. 

Peshawar was the most volatile area of the region where 143 reported attacks left 188 people dead and 456 others injured, followed by Charsada with 41 attacks, killing 110 people and injuring 208 others. Hangu remained third on the sheet where as many as 21 terrorist attacks left 94 people dead and 170 others wounded. Khyber, Mohmand, Kurram, Bajaur and Orakzai agencies were the most affected areas by militancy in FATA while Kohat, Peshawar, Charsadda and Mardan districts of KPK were among the frequently hit areas. 

As for the fresh spate of violence in the New Year, they raise many questions about the state of preparedness and pre-emptive competence of our security forces. 

The helplessness of personnel present at a particular location is understandable if suddenly attacked by hundreds of men. But what is mind-boggling even for a commoner is the question how can the police or the paramilitary simply turn into a sitting duck when taken by surprise? 

Militants obviously don’t parachute from the air nor do they jet-fly into the target compound – undetected by any of the police or FC security barriers. Why can’t these armed bands be detected and intercepted when they are heading toward the target? Don’t we have electronic surveillance and ground intelligence which can caution those being targeted into action? If the police and FC still lack these capabilities and are not equipped with the non-intrusive, preemptive electronic facilities and if their human intelligence gathering in as volatile regions as Bannu, D.I.Khan, Karak and Kohat is still not responsive enough to the threats that always loom around them, then this leaves one wondering as to whether they would be able to tame the beast of terror at all.

Shortcomings

Based on recent discussions with government officials in Peshawar, one can easily infer that the counter-terror efforts are still beset with numerous shortcomings, and require far more attention and resources than are being dedicated at the moment. And this places certain limitations on the ability of the civilian security apparatus.

1. Attacks on pylons/gas pipelines/public places in KP and Frontier Regions continue to hurt public interest and instigate public anger against the government (a notorious militant tactic)

2. Militants' supply of weapons and money continues and intelligence agencies are still clueless about where exactly these resources are coming from (laser guns for target killings of strict commanders/officers, also apparently used in the aforementioned attack on the FC Fort in Tank)

3. Public disinterest and lack of cooperation. Most people don't report the presence of aliens, although the situation in Malakand and Swat region has turned around, with a lot of militants being arrested on tips by locals

4. Poor governance and poverty continue to cast shadows on counter-terror efforts. Certain people within the community take aliens - potential terrorists - as paying guests, without knowing who they actually are

5. Security forces continue to remain under-strength

6. Insufficient monetary resources

7. Deficiency of electronic surveillance devices

8. Legal restrictions (under the Anglo-Saxon Law), whereby this legal framework restricts quick administrative action (we cannot fire first, says a senior police official)

n this context, it seems the counter-terror war, and by implication the counter-radicalisation efforts, require a greater and more coordinated response, backed by administrative, financial and technical resources as well as a legal framework. Obviously, such an approach also runs the risk of giving a "carte blanche" to a force that is known as one of the most corrupt institutions. But finding a balance between efficient use of available resources and preventing their abuse is not impossible. All we need is the civilian and military cooperation and a consensus on how to supplement each other, rather than pursuing same goals with a narrow institutional outlook.


Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and is currently a Fellow of International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, Tokyo

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk