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Pakistan: The Threat Within

Faced with exasperated foreign demands to take effective action against jihadi militants, Pakistani officials and media commentators routinely give an equally infuriating reply that the country is itself the biggest victim of terrorism. It is time to examine the nature of the jihadi threat.

LETTER FROM SOUTH ASIAjanuary 31, 2009 EPW Economic & Political Weekly8Pakistan: The Threat WithinHaris GazdarFaced with exasperated foreign demands to take effective action against jihadi militants, Pakistani officials and media commentators routinely give an equally infuriating reply that the country is itself the biggest victim of terrorism. It is time to examine the nature of the jihadi threat.Nearly 8,000 people were killed in Pakistan in 2008 as a result of political violence. According to the recently-released annual report of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) this figure was twice as high as the number in 2007, and a staggering seven times higher than 2006.1 In addition to those killed, nearly 10,000 others were wounded. The PIPS claims that it carries out extensive moni-toring of print and electronic media, and does intensive follow-up investigations with local journalists, officials, and civil society informants.The North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and its adjoining Federally Ad-ministered Tribal Area (FATA) accounted for around two-thirds of the 2,148 violent incidents reported. Most of the remainder (682 incidents) were in Balochistan, with all other regions of the country account-ing for a total of 72 incidents. Barring the Baloch nationalist insurgency and sporadic instances of ethnic and inter-party political conflict in Karachi, virtu-ally all of the violence and casualties elsewhere were related in some way or other to the “war or terror”. These included terrorist attacks, violence due to security forces, sectarian violence between Sunni tribes (supporting the Taliban) and Shias, and cross-border United States (US) air-raids. In fact, even in Balochistan some of the more lethal incidences were sectarian attacks on Hazara Shias of Quetta attributed to the Taliban and their supporters.While the PIPS report does not provide a breakdown of civilian, militant and security forces casualties, its identification of the type of violent incident can help to con-struct a picture. “Operational attacks” or security forces’ operations against alleged militants accounted for the largest single cause of death (3,182). Clashes between security forces and militants are reported under a separate head with 655 deaths. This implies that the deaths and injuries reported under “operational attacks” are most likely to be those of civilians – since confirmed combat deaths have been re-ported separately. The second biggest cause of death was terrorist attacks (2,267), of which suicide bombs claimed nearly 1,000 lives. Inter-tribal sectarian violence – mostly in and around Kurram Agency – resulted in 1,336 deaths, while “border clashes” presumably missile attacks by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) un-manned drones killed 395 people. Taliban, Al Qaida and their other jihadi allies were responsible for 46 beheadings.Newspaper accounts suggest around a third of the casualties inUS drone attacks are civilians. “Operational attacks” of the Pakistani security forces, particularly when they rely upon air power or long range artillery, are far less accurate. Terrorist attacks mostly do not discriminate be-tween combatants and civilians, but some forms of violence such as impro-vised explosive devices (IEDs) and some suicide attacks have been specifically tar-geted at security forces. Even in the un-likely event that as many as a third of the casualties in “operational attacks” and terrorist attacks are combatant deaths, it is safe to conclude that at least 60% of all deaths (nearly five thousand people) are those of civilians. Partial Truths It is important to dispense with two com-mon assertions. First, many commentators believe that the war inFATA andNWFP was a response to theUS invasion of Afghani-stan. This is only a partial truth. It is true that when theUS invasion displaced the Taliban/Al Qaida (TAQ) regime from Kabul its remnants moved across the border into Pakistan. The TAQ, however, were not exactly alien elements here. Their suste-nance in Afghanistan even during their time in government there was guaranteed by the Pakistani security establishment, andFATA/NWFP was always treated like abase camp. Their move into Pakistani territory in 2001, therefore, was a return to home base. And TAQ were hardly at peace while they ruled Afghanistan. As far as the Pakistani military establishment Haris Gazdar (gasht@yahoo.com) is a political economist who works with the Karachi-based Collective for Social Science Research.

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