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Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: The persistence of strife
   By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty

Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

At least 17 persons were killed and over 20 others injured when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into a hospital under construction in the Pas Kalay area of Hangu District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP, formerly known as North West Frontier Province) on December 10, 2010. Local officials said the hospital, Al-Zohra, was run by a private Shia trust, which also operated a nearby Shia mosque and seminary. Again, on December 14, three caretakers of the Ghazi Baba shrine, identified as Mohammad Ali, Ghazi and Aslam Khan, were shot dead by militants in the Badbher area of Peshawar, the Provincial capital of KP. These were far from isolated incidents. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of 1,204 persons, including 597 civilians, 511 militants and 94 Security Force (SF) personnel, were killed in 213 incidents of killing in 2010 (all data till December 31). This, however, represented a dramatic decline in fatalities as against 2009, when 5,497 persons, including 3,797 militants, 1,229 civilians and 471 SF personnel were killed in 351 such incidents. This reflected a decline of 51.42 per cent in civilian killings, 80.04 per cent in SF killings and 86.54 per cent in terrorists killed in 2010, as against 2009. The year witnessed 86 major incidents (each resulting in three or more killings) in 2010, as against 183 in 2009. Prominent among the major incidents of 2010 were:December 8: A suicide bomber blew up a passenger van at a bus stand in Tirah bazaar (market) of Kohat in the Lower Orakzai Agency, killing 19 persons and injuring 32.September 21: More than 42 militants were killed in ongoing operations against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the Frontier Region of Peshawar. April 19: At least 24 people, including a child and Police official, were killed, and 49 were injured, in twin bombings, hours apart, at a school and a crowded market in Peshawar. April 17: Two burqa (veil)-clad suicide bombers targeted a crowd of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) waiting to get themselves registered and receive relief goods at the Kacha Pakka IDP camp on the outskirts of Kohat, killing at least 44 and injuring more than 70April 5: At least 45 persons were killed and over 100 sustained injuries when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a public meeting of the Awami National Party at the Timergara Rest House in Lower Dir District. January 1: At least 90 persons were killed when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden pickup truck in the middle of a volleyball game in the Shah Hasan Khel village of Lakki Marwat District in the Bannu Division of KP.

On December 8, 2010, KP Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain disclosed that 647 citizens and 298 Police personnel, and 157 terrorists were killed through 2010. He noted, further, that about 3,600 people had been killed and 1,200 had been injured, since 2007. KP, like Pakistan's three other Provinces (Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab), and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), continued to experience rampant suicide and sectarian attacks. According to SATP data, a total of 489 persons were killed and 767 were injured in 26 suicide attacks in 2010, as compared to 503 persons killed and 1,221 injured in 47 incidents of suicide attacks in 2009, suggesting a significant surge in the lethality of such attacks. Pakistani Terrorism expert Amir Mir, on December 29, 2010, claimed that the year 2010 had proven to be the bloodiest, since 2001, for the people of Pakistan, in terms of suicide attacks, and this was true of the people of KP as well. Of the 1,271 persons who lost their lives in suicide hits in Pakistan in 2010, the largest number, 416, that is, 34 per cent of the total dead, were killed in KP in 25 attacks [Mir's data]. These figures were confirmed by the report of the Federal Investigation Agency's Counter-Terrorism Wing on November 28, 2010, which also disclosed that the Province had recorded a total of 141 bomb blasts during the year.The Province, which has an extended history of sectarian violence, witnessed 139 fatalities in 12 incidents of sectarian attack, as compared to 108 fatalities in such attacks in 2009. The sectarian attacks included a mix of suicide attacks. Data on fatalities in sectarian violence over the past five years indicates a near continuous escalation, with the exception of 2007. Though the number of such attacks has fluctuated, fatalities have grown consistently over this period.Worryingly, the Government seems to have lost the plot in tackling sectarian violence. On December 8, 2010, the KP Government declared almost half of the Province 'sensitive' and approved added security measures, involving deployment of the Army and helicopter gunships, to maintain law and order during Muharram (the mourning period observed by the Shias, commemorating the tragedy of Karbala).

According to the Muharram Security Plan, 12 Districts were declared sensitive, requiring extraordinary security arrangements to be put in place. The Minister of Information, Mian Iftikhar Hussain stated that special measures were being taken to protect mosques and Imambargahs (Shia place of worship). In addition to the Police, he added, 109 platoons of the Frontier Reserve Police, 39 platoons of the Elite Force and 800 retired Army personnel were deployed in the sensitive areas. Similarly, 41 platoons of Frontier Constabulary and 1,500 personnel each of the Frontier Corps and Pakistan Army were deployed in the province according to the Plan. Despite all these arrangements, however, a suicide bomber blew up a passenger van at a bus stand in the Tirah bazaar incident of December 8, which left 19 dead. Within the span of a week, there were another three incidents of sectarian attack in different parts of KP, in which 24 persons lost their lives and 35 suffered injuries, making a mockery of the Government's efforts to prevent sectarian violence.While almost all the 24 Districts of the Province remain terrorism affected, it was the Swat and Peshawar Districts which bore the brunt of attacks. The fight against TTP terrorism in the Swat Valley is the principal element of the Pakistan Army's offensive in KP. Since 2007, TTP terrorists, initially under the command of Maulana Fazlullah (he was eventually killed on May 26, 2010) had established effective control of Swat Valley. On April 26, 2009, the Pakistani Army started Operation Black Thunderstorm, with the aim of retaking Buner, Lower Dir, Swat and Shangla Districts in KP, from the TTP. On June 14, the operation was declared over, with the Army claiming it had 'regained control' of the region. Pockets of TTP resistance, nevertheless, remained, and the military continued with 'mopping up' operations. On October 8, 2009, General Officer Commanding (GOC) Major General Ashfaq Nadeem once again declared victory, claiming that peace had been restored to "95 per cent areas" of the District. On March 17, 2010, KP Minister of Information Mian Iftikhar Hussain ruled out the possibility that the TTP would reorganise in Swat: "The militants cannot dare reorganise. Their network has been smashed." However, Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) General Ashfaq Kayani, while on a visit to the valley on December 21, 2010, declared that the Army would stay on in Swat until the people's confidence was restored.

This is indicative of the fact that the valley, the epicentre of terror in KP, is still out of the reaches of the SFs, belying the often repeated false claims of the Government Forces. Significantly, the official 'peace' notwithstanding, at least 234 persons, including 194 militants, 35 civilians and five SF personnel lost their lives in 68 incidents of killing in 2010. This, however, was significantly lower than the 2,196 fatalities, including 1,913 militants, 190 civilians and 93 SF personnel in 175 incidents of killing in 2009. Meanwhile, a Government survey on January 6, 2010, reported that up to 8,000 houses were damaged in the Swat District during the preceding two years of militancy and military operations. Peshawar, the provincial capital, recorded at least 135 fatalities in 35 incidents of killing in 2010, as compared to 434 fatalities in 49 incidents of killing in 2009. Of these, the April 17 suicide bombing at the Kacha Pakka IDP camp outside Kohat was the worst incident, leaving at least 44 dead. The city witnessed six suicide attacks, 46 incidents of explosion and 12 sectarian attacks. The tourism sector in KP was badly affected by terrorism, and the Province suffered an estimated loss of USD 400 million. Worse, the damage caused by massive flooding in July- August was still to be fully assessed. Courtesy: South Asia Terrorism Portal

 

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