Punjab: Increasing Fragility

Punjab Police data indicates that the number of Police officers killed in the line of duty during this period (2018 to September 2022) was 57.

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On June 27, 2023, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) arrested 10 terrorists, including an Islamic State woman terrorist, during multiple raids across Punjab, Pakistan. The raids were conducted in Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan Districts. Explosive materials, hand grenades, material used in making suicide jackets, and cash were also recovered from the arrested terrorists.

On June 24, the CTD arrested nine suspected terrorists along with arms and ammunition in 33 separate Intelligence-Based Operations (IBOs) in several Districts of Punjab. The arrestees were identified as Naveed Khan, Ghulam Hussain, Ghulam Abbas, Owais Ahmed, and Akhwanzada of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP); Muhammad Saif Afridi, Muhammad Hussain Masdani, and Umar Ismail of the Islamic State; and Khurram Shahzad of Al-Qaeda.

On June 21, the CTD arrested four TTP terrorists during IBOs in different cities of Punjab. The terrorists, identified as Zahid, Naimat, Zubair and Abdul Ghafoor, were arrested in Sheikhupura, Sargodha, Sahiwal and Rawalpindi cities. Explosive materials, equipment, mobile phones and cash were recovered from their possession.

On June 17, the CTD arrested six suspected terrorists during IBOs in different areas of the province – three from Multan, two from Gujranwala, and one from Dera Ghazi Khan (DG Khan). The arrested cadres were Liaquatullah, Nadeem Khan and Inayatullah, all from TTP; Muhammad Younis of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP); Muhammad Ammar, Islamic State; and Ijaz Ahmed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Security Forces have already arrested at least 152 terrorists of different outfits from Punjab, in 2023 (data till July 2).

The Punjab CTD annual performance report for the year 2022 released on January 3, 2023, stated that 1,225 IBOs were conducted across the province, in which 244 suspects were arrested and 782 recoveries were made. The recoveries included 64.36 kilograms of explosives, 48 hand grenades, 253 detonators, seven batteries and 215 meters of prima cord, three SMGs, 40 pistols, 324 bullets and three magazines.

Though the number of terrorists among the 244 arrested suspects was not specified, according to SATP, 71 terrorists were arrested in 2022. On year-on-year basis, 2023, with six months still to go, has already recorded the highest number of terrorist arrests since 2019, when there were 277 such arrests. There were 39 such arrests in 2020 and 51 in 2021.

Meanwhile, another report released by Punjab Police on January 12, 2023, revealed that the Police had killed 612 suspects in as many as 544 Police encounters between 2018 and 2022 (till September). The report stated that 67 suspects were killed in shootouts in 2018, 69 in 2019, 166 in 2020, 186 in 2021, and 124 (till September) in 2022. The number of terrorists in these fatalities was not specified, but SATP data indicates that at least 40 terrorists were killed during period: 2018 (14), 2019 (seven), 2020 (13), 2021 (six) and 2022 (0). While one terrorist was killed in the remaining period of 2022 (in the month of November), 11 terrorists have already bene killed in 2023.

Some of the prominent terrorists killed during 2023 and 2022 included:

April 18, 2023: The CTD killed two senior TTP terrorists during a shootout in the Rajanpur District of Punjab.

February 17, 2023: The CTD repulsed an attack by terrorists on SFs in the Kala Bagh Town of Mianwali District in Punjab, killing a TTP ‘commander’, Habib-ur-Rehman.

February 8, 2023: One TTP ‘commander’, Irfanullah, was killed following an exchange of fire between CTD and a group of terrorists in the Khanewal District of Punjab.

Punjab Police data indicates that the number of Police officers killed in the line of duty during this period (2018 to September 2022) was 57. No SF fatality was recorded between October and December 2022, according to SATP data, but three SF personnel have already been killed in the current year.

Meanwhile, civilian fatalities in terrorism-linked violence have been on rise since 2021 after a low of three in 2020. The number jumped to nine in 2021 and increased further to 10 in 2022. Six civilian deaths have already been recorded in the current year, underlining the worsening security situation in the province.  

Meanwhile, TTP is trying to further strengthen its base in Punjab. Indeed, according to a June 15, 2023, report, TTP announced establishment of two new ‘administrative units’ – North Punjab, headed by Syed Hilal Ghazi; and South Punjab, headed by Muhammad Umar Muawiya.

It is significant that Samaa TV in a report on March 2, 2023, quoted an unnamed CTD official as stating that around two dozen terrorists were in touch with their handlers in Afghanistan and Syria, and were planning to hit sensitive installations in south Punjab. The report also noted that CTD teams had arrested 89 TTP operatives over a period of 11 months in different cities of Punjab.

Inputs further indicate that TTP is now collaborating with local criminal groups. On April 21, 2023, Usman Anwar, Inspector General (IG) of Punjab Police revealed that TTP was collaborating with miscreants and criminals in the area, to disrupt peace. According to Anwar, CTD had confirmed phone calls between TTP and Katchi gang criminals in the area, tying TTP to organized crime groups. He was speaking to the media after an operation against criminals in the Katcha Rajwani area of Sadiqabad tehsil (revenue unit) in Rahim Yar Khan District. The Punjab Police had launched a ‘grand operation’ against robbers, dacoits and kidnappers in the katcha area on April 9, 2023. The katcha (riverine) area of south Punjab is spread over 15,000 square kilometres on both sides of the Indus River. The forces launched the operation against criminals hiding there after it had become a ‘no-go’ area for law-enforcement agencies.

As the political, economic and security environment in the country worsens, terrorist activities have also increased on the ground, in Punjab, as well as in the rest of Pakistan. Despite operational successes, this downward spiral is unlikely to be checked unless a high measure of stability is restored across the country, and the inherent contradictions – particularly the increasingly strained relations with the Afghan Taliban, which have given the TTP safe haven and spaces for consolidation across the border – are not addressed.

Tushar Ranjan Mohanty

Tushar Ranjan Mohanty is a Counter-terrorism Expert on Pakistan at Institute for Conflict Management (ICM) in New Delhi

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