Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: Resurgent Terror

Violence in KP has recorded a significant surge since the collapse of ‘official talks’ between the Government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on November 28, 2022.

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A man in South of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [Photo: Social Media]

On July 12, 2023, one Police Constable, identified as Mohsin Azam, was killed and another three Policemen sustained injuries during an attack by unidentified terrorists on the newly established Police check posts in the Faqiran Masjid area of Mir Ali Tehsil (revenue unit) in the North Waziristan District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

On July 5, 2023, three Security Force (SF) personnel and a child were killed and 10 others sustained injuries in a vehicle-borne suicide attack in the Miranshah area of North Waziristan District. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) disclosed that the suicide bomber intended to target the security forces’ post, but the assailant was intercepted in time by on-duty soldiers who “prevented a major catastrophe”. The deceased child was among nine other passengers, whose van was damaged in the explosion.

On July 5, 2023, an Army Major, Mian Abdullah Shah (33), was killed during an intelligence-based operation (IBO) in the Shakhas area of Khyber District. “Three terrorists and their facilitators were apprehended. Sanitisation of the area is being carried out to eliminate the terrorists present in the area,” the ISPR said.

On July 5, 2023, a paramilitary trooper was killed and another sustained injuries when an improvised explosive device (IED) went off near vehicles of the paramilitary forces in South Waziristan District. Police said that the paramilitary forces were clearing the road when the IED, planted on the roadside, exploded.

On July 2, 2023, three terrorists were killed in an intelligence-based operation (IBO) in the Kulachi area of Dera Ismail Khan District. According to ISPR, the terrorists were wanted for conducting a raid on a Police Check Post in Kulachi on April 11, 2022, which resulted in the death of five Police constables.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), KP has recorded a total 395 terrorism-related fatalities, including 190 terrorists, 175 SF personnel and 30 civilians, in the current year, so far (data till July 16, 2023). During the corresponding period of 2022, the province had recorded 308 such fatalities, including 124 terrorists, 92 SF personnel and 92 civilians.

Meanwhile, a comparative analysis of terrorism-related fatalities in first six months of a year in the province show that the fatalities recorded in 2023 were highest since 2014: 381 in 2023, 286 in 2022, 141 in 2021, 110 in 2020, 54 in 2019, 40 in 2018, 87 in 2017, 129 in 2016, 134 in 2015 and 291 in 2014. In 2013, there were 544 fatalities in the first six months.

On year-on-year basis, 2022 had recorded 527 such fatalities, the highest after 2014. There were 300 fatalities in 2021, 216 in 2020, 130 in 2019, 167 in 2018, 129 in 2017, 215 in 2016, 298 in 2015 and 607 in 2014.

A statistical report released by the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS) on July 3, 2023, also underlines the surge in violence in the province. According to the PICSS report, KP emerged as the most affected province during the first half of 2023, with 174 reported militant attacks. These attacks claimed the lives of 266 individuals and injured 463. Among the reported attacks, 100 took place in mainland KP, resulting in 188 deaths and 354 injuries, while 74 incidents occurred in the tribal Districts (the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas, FATA), causing 78 deaths and 109 persons injured.

Indeed, violence in KP has recorded a significant surge since the collapse of ‘official talks’ between the Government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on November 28, 2022. Some of the major attacks (each resulting in three or more fatalities) by the TTP in KP since then include:

May 4, 2023: At least six Army soldiers and three terrorists were killed during a gunfight with terrorists in the Dirduni area of North Waziristan District.

March 30, 2023: At least four Policemen, including Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Iqbal Mohmand, were killed while six Policemen were injured, when terrorists attacked a Police check post in Lakki Marwat town (Lakki Marwat District).

February 11, 2023: At least four soldiers were killed and 22 others, including 15 employees of the Petroleum Company, were injured in a suicide attack on an SF and Marri Petroleum Company convoy at Khajori Chowk in the Mir Ali sub-division of North Waziristan District.

January 30, 2023: At least 84 persons were killed and another 220 were injured in a suicide blast inside a mosque in the Police Lines area of Peshawar, the provincial capital of KP. The suicide attacker, who was in Police uniform, was present in the front row during the Zuhr prayer (the second prayer offered at noon). Two TTP leaders, Sarbakaf Mohmand and Omar Mukaram Khurasani, claimed the attack as “revenge” for the death of the chief of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), Khalid Khorasani, in the Barmal District‎ of ‎Paktika Province in Afghanistan on August 7, 2022.

December 20, 2022: At least 25 terrorists and three soldiers were killed during a rescue operation at the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) Police Station in the cantonment area of Bannu town (Bannu District). On December 18, 2022, a detained terrorist overpowered a constable at the CTD Complex in Bannu Cantonment (Bannu District) and, after snatching the constable’s weapon, freed 34 other detained terrorists. The terrorists held the CTD facility under siege for two days before the SFs launched the rescue operation.

Unsurprisingly, the US State Department’s 2021 Country Reports on Terrorism, released on February 27, 2023, observed that TTP had increased the number of its targeted attacks in Pakistan, particularly in KP, with the goal of overthrowing the Provincial Government and enforcing Sharia law through a terrorist campaign against the military and the state. The TTP uses the porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the tribal belt on both sides as a sanctuary for the training and deployment of its operatives, the report noted.

On December 27, 2022, Pakistan’s Federal Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah disclosed that there were around 7,000 to 10,000 TTP fighters in the region, and they were accompanied by 25,000 members of their families. He added that some of the terrorists, who had previously laid down arms, had secretly resumed activities, and alleged, “The biggest reason for this is the failure of [the] Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and Counter Terrorism Department… It is their job to stop it.”

Meanwhile, the Provincial Police force and CTD lack the capacities to face the new wave of terrorism. According to a December 19, 2022, report, the KP CTD had a staff of 2,135, against an authorized strength of 3,161. This put an average CTD strength across KP’s 34 districts at 62 personnel per district, a number that could hardly register against the TTP onslaught. As against Punjab’s massive fleet of 1,466 Police vehicles, KP had a mere 448.

Endemic shortages also afflict the Provincial Police force. Interestingly, on February 1, 2023, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif blamed the KP Government for its failure to equip the Police and civil armed forces to counter terrorists, questioning the manner in which the provincial Government had spent funds to the tune PKR 417 billion received from the Federal Government since 2010. During the Federal Cabinet meeting, the PM demanded, “Where did these funds go even though the National Counter-Terrorism Authority and Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) had been established?” The PM said that the nation wanted the KP Government to be held accountable for the rise of terrorism in the province.

While, the provincial Government lacks the will to equip the Police and CTD, the weapons and equipment profile of the terrorists has steadily improved. A report released by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on March 31, 2023, noted that the weapons left behind by United States Forces when they pulled out from Afghanistan in 2021, and that had been seized by the Afghan Taliban, have reached terrorist groups, mainly the TTP, operating in Pakistan, principally in KP. Abdul Sayed, a Sweden-based researcher who tracks the TTP, claimed that the group’s access to sophisticated combat weapons has had a “terrifying impact”, especially on the relatively poorly-equipped Police forces in Pakistan.

In order to hide their failure to counter terrorism, the CTD issued a report on May 15, 2023, giving details of 711 IBOs in the first four months of 2023, resulting in the arrest of 158 terrorists and the elimination of 39 others. These IBOs succeeded in thwarting at least 53 terrorist incidents. During these operations, SFs recovered 47 kilograms of explosives, 105 firearms, 150 hand grenades, one explosive jacket, and 2,822 cartridges.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is planning to launch a nationwide operation to root out Islamist terrorists, the National Security Committee (NSC) declared, after a meeting on April 14, 2023. The statement read,

The meeting agreed to launch an all-out comprehensive operation with the entire nation and the government, which will rid the country of the menace of terrorism with renewed vigour and determination.

However, there has been no further information about any such operation.

Unfazed by Government’s announcement, the TTP continues to escalate its activities, and violence in KP in particular, and the country at large, is likely to rise even further. 

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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