/

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: Terrorism Thrives

When the US pulled its forces out from Afghanistan in 2021, it left behind around USD 7 billion worth of military equipment and weapons, including firearms, communications gear, and even armoured vehicles.

6 mins read
The picture shows police van at the site of incident in Sadda, Kurram district, on January 7, 2024. [ Photo: The News, Pakistan]

On January 7, 2024, four persons, including two Security Force (SF) personnel, were killed while three others were injured in a suspected incident of sectarian attack on a passenger coach and a vehicle near Sadda Bazaar in the Kurram District.

On January 5, 2024, (SFs shot dead two terrorists, including one “high value terrorist”, Gul Yousaf, during an intelligence-based operation (IBO) in the Tank District, according to an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement. Though the statement added that “weapons and ammunition were recovered from their possession”, it did not divulge details of the recovery. Gul Yousaf was carrying a reward money of PKR 2.5 million on his head.

On January 4, 2024, three children aged between five and 15 years, were killed in a landmine blast at the Khajoori Zakir Khel village of Mir Ali tehsil (revenue unit) in North Waziristan District. The children were shepherds who were grazing their cattle in fields near Khajoori checkpost when the explosion took place.

On January 4, 2024, two Bomb Disposal Unit (BDU) personnel were killed in an explosion in the Shawal area of North Waziristan District when the BDU was involved in a clearance operation searching for landmines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

On January 2, 2024, six young non-local barbers were killed by unidentified assailants in an incident of targeted killing in the Moski village of Mir Ali tehsil. Preliminary investigations revealed that the victims, all of whom hailed from Punjab, had recently migrated to North Waziristan to pursue their trade. No group has, so far, claimed responsibility for the attack.

On January 2, 2024, four terrorists, including a suicide bomber, were killed by SFs during an IBO in North Waziristan District.

On January 1, 2024, one person, Haleem Jan, was killed while another was injured in the Mazlum Ulasi Tehrik area of Mamund tehsil in Bajaur District, when their vehicle was attacked by unidentified assailants.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), 25 terrorism-related fatalities, including 14 civilians, five SF personnel and six terrorists, have been reported in the current year, thus far (data till January 7, 2024) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). During the corresponding period of 2023, the province had recorded 20 fatalities (Two SF personnel and 18 terrorist).

KP recorded a total of 929 fatalities (193 civilians, 329 SF personnel and 407 terrorists) in 310 incidents of killings in 2023, as against 527 such fatalities (119 civilians, 173 SF personnel, and 235 terrorists) in 184 such incidents in 2022, registering an increase of 76.28 per cent in overall fatalities. Overall fatalities, on year-on-year basis, have been on a continuous rise since 2020, when fatalities increased from 130 (30 civilians, 69 SF personnel, and 31 terrorists) in 2019 to 216 (61 civilians, 57 SF personnel, and 98 terrorists) in 2020, and further, to 301 (72 civilians, 108 SF personnel, and 121 terrorists) in 2021.

Significantly, overall fatalities declined between 2014 and 2019, barring 2018, when they increased to 167, from 129 in 2017. Fatalities had fallen from 946 in 2013 to 607 in 2014, 298 in 2015, 215 in 2016. Overall fatalities in 2023 are the highest in a year since 2013.

Other parameters of violence also indicated a worsening security situation in the province in 2023. Total terrorism-linked incidents jumped sharply from 225 in 2022 to 470 in 2023, the highest since 2013, when there were 504 such incidents. The number of major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) increased from 56 in 2022 to 82 in 2023, the highest since 2011, when there were 85 such incidents; the resultant fatalities in such attacks also increased from 337 in 2022 to 586 in 2023. Similarly, KP accounted for an increased number of explosions, from 45 in 2022 to 110 in 2023 (the highest since 2013, when there were 198 such incidents), and the resulting fatalities spiked from 129 to 296. The province recorded 28 suicide attacks in 2023 (the highest since 2010, when there were 42 such attacks) as against eight in 2022. In the worst attack, on January 30, at least 84 persons, including 83 Policemen, 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. Two Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leaders, Sarbakaf Mohmand and Omar Mukaram Khurasani, claimed that the attack was “revenge” for the death of Khalid Khorasani, the chief of TTP’s splinter group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), in the Barmal District‎ of ‎the Paktika Province of Afghanistan, on August 7, 2022. However, TTP central ‘spokesman’ Muhammad Khorasani denied any involvement in the attack.

Of 38 Districts in KP, 22 recorded terrorism-related violence, according to the SATP database. The most violent District in 2023 was North Waziristan, with 151 fatalities, followed by Peshawar (122 fatalities), Dera Ismail Khan (109 fatalities) and South Waziristan (107 fatalities). In 2022, again, North Waziristan District accounted for 177 fatalities, followed by Peshawar (87), Bannu (60) and Dera Ismail Khan (43). In 2021 as well, North Waziristan recorded the maximum of 106 fatalities, followed by South Waziristan (51), Peshawar (25) and Bajaur (22). Of 38 Districts, 21 Districts registered terrorism-related incidents in 2021. 2020 saw terrorism-related incidents in 19 Districts, of which North Waziristan had the highest number of fatalities (110), followed by Peshawar (27) and South Waziristan (21).

On December 21, the KP Police released a report on terrorist attacks in the province during the preceding three years, which noted that, as against 260 terrorist attacks in 2021, there were 495 in 2022 and 572 attacks in in 2023. Out of 572 attacks in 2023, the highest number, 87, was reported from Dera Ismail Khan; while 79 occurred in North Waziristan, 72 in Khyber and 53 in the Tank District.

The surge in terrorism-related violence in the province can be attributed to the three principal factors. First, the United States (US)-Western withdrawal from neighbouring Afghanistan. Second, the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on August 14, 2021. And finally, the collapse of ‘official talks’ between the Pakistan Government and the TTP on November 28, 2022. The spike in violence in KP in 2023 was foreseeable, when TTP chief Mufti Noor Wali, in the wake of the collapse of peace-talks, asked his fighters to resume attacks.

On January 2, 2024, the Federal Ministry of Interior informed the Senate (Upper House of Parliament) that the continuous influx of TTP cadres in significant numbers, with recruitment, training and deployment of suicide bombers, in the merged Districts [districts which were part of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and now merged with KP] of KP was “cause for concern”. The Ministry highlighted the TTP’s reorganisation and operational expansion during the peace talks in 2022, which significantly increased its capacities for violence. He observed,

It has given significant rise to its activities and is seeking the support of other militant groups to increase strength and capabilities. It is mostly concentrated in KP, especially merged districts, with footprints in Balochistan and trying to activate its network in the country. The arrival of tashkils [‘formations’] of TTP in significant numbers continue in merged districts, along with recruitment, training and placing of suicide bombers, is a cause of concern.

Significantly, when the US pulled its forces out from Afghanistan in 2021, it left behind around USD 7 billion worth of military equipment and weapons, including firearms, communications gear, and even armoured vehicles. The Afghan Taliban seized the weapons during the chaotic US withdrawal. On September 8, 2023, the Pakistan Foreign Office (FO) expressed concern over the “advanced weapons” being used by terrorists operating out of Afghanistan, in attacks in Pakistan, particularly on its security agencies. “These modern weapons have fallen into the hands of terrorists in Afghanistan, who are using these [weapons] to attack Pakistan and its security agencies,” FO Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch stated.

On December 15, 2023, Pakistan urged a United Nations (UN) panel to investigate how TTP was acquiring modern weaponry to carry out terrorist attacks in the country. Usman Jadoon, Pakistan’s Deputy Permanent Representative, highlighted the alarming trend during a UN Security Council (UNSC) open debate on the threat posed by the diversion, illicit trafficking, and misuse of small arms and light weapons. He argued that terrorist groups like TTP acquire such weapons “from illicit arms markets or receive them from entities that want to destabilise a particular region or country.”

The Islamic State-Khorasan Province/ Islamic State-Pakistan Province (IS-KP/IS-PP) also operate in the province. According to the SATP database, IS-KP/IS-PP have been responsible for 74 of the total 929 fatalities recorded in the province in 2023. 67 civilians, one SF personnel and six terrorists have been killed in IS-KP/IS-PP linked violence. There were many other attacks in the province, which security agencies speculated reflected the footprints and modus operandi of IS-KP/IS-PP. Reports of growing ties between the Islamic State and other groups are also emerging. According to a United Nations (UN) report discussed at a Security Council meeting in New York on August 25, 2023, the TTP and other groups affiliated with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are providing NATO-calibre weapons to the IS-KP/IS-PP as well.

Further, IS-KP/IS-PP has been targeting Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam–Fazl (JUI-F) since some years due to ideological difference between the two, and JUI-F’s close proximity with the Afghan Taliban and TTP. IS-KP/IS-PP perceives the JUI-F as being closely connected with the Taliban Government in Afghanistan. According to the SATP database, KP has recorded at least 12 attacks targeting the JUI-F, resulting in 72 fatalities, since October 29, 2019. Of these, eight (including the July 30, 2023, attack, which killed 64 persons and wounded 100 others) have been reported from Bajaur alone. All of these were carried out by unidentified assailants, but have been claimed by IS-KP.

Meanwhile, a provincial Home and Tribal Affairs Department report of November 22, 2023, noted that the JUI-F was among the mainstream political parties most vulnerable to terrorist attacks in KP, while the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Awami National Party (ANP) were the next two on the list. Political leaders, who also ran businesses, were also threatened by militant groups to extort large sums from them. The report also observed that there were “significant threats to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) due to its anti-establishment stand… These threats emanate from the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and other militant groups, which desire to cash [in on] this opportunity to pressure and malign the present government.”

Meanwhile, the caretaker Pakistan Government has ruled out any talks with TTP. On October 13, 2023, Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar asserted that the state of Pakistan was powerful enough to fight TTP even for next 100 years. “We don’t have any intention to talk with TTP,” he said, adding that the writ of the state will be established at all costs.

With TTP and its affiliated groups, as well as the IS-KP/IS-PP growing in strength, the menace of terrorism in the province is unlikely to be controlled in the near future. 

Tushar Ranjan Mohanty

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Latest from Blog