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Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: Tides of Terror

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.

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Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif recently gave an interview with Al Arabiya news channel [ Photo: Dawn]

On April 8, 2023, two Army soldiers were killed in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast in the Bara tehsil (revenue unit) of Khyber District.

On April 3, 2023, two Policemen were killed by unidentified terrorists while they were on patrol duty in the Tapi area of Kohat District.

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

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has recorded a total of 124 Security Force (SF) fatalities so far in 2023 (till April 16). During the corresponding period do 2022, there were 50 SF fatalities and, through 2022, there were 173 SF fatalities.

Fatalities in the SF category in KP have seen a rising trend since 2018, when they doubled from 26 in 2017, to 52, with the exception of 2020. There were 69 fatalities in 2019, 57 in 2020 and 108 in 2021.  

The situation is the same for the whole of Pakistan. SF fatalities increased from 137 in 2019 to 178 in 2020, 226 in 2021 and 379 in 2022. In 2023, 222 SF fatalities have already been recorded.

With the collapse of ‘official’ talks between the Government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on November 28, 2022, the latter stepped up attacks on security forces.

According to KP Police data, 125 Police personnel have been killed and another 212 sustained injuries in militant attacks across the province during the first quarter of 2023. A total of 25 cases of militant attacks were registered with the Police during the first three months of the year. According to Police data, 15 militant attacks were reported against the Police in January 2023, in which 116 personnel were killed and 189 injured. Three militant attacks were reported in February 2023, in which two Police personnel were killed and another five were wounded. Seven cases were registered by the Police in March 2023, in which seven Policemen were killed and another 18 were wounded.

In the worst attack targeting Policemen during the first quarter of 2023, on January 30, 2023, a suicide attacker detonated his device himself inside a mosque in the Police Lines area of Peshawar, the provincial capital of KP. The suicide bomber was present in the first row of the worshippers at the mosque. At least 84 persons, including 83 Policemen, were killed and another 220 were injured in the blast. Sahibzada Noor Ul Amin, Imam of the mosque, was also killed in the blast. Capital City Police Officer, Peshawar (CCPO) Ejaz Khan, disclosed that close to 300 to 400 Policemen usually offered prayers at the mosque. Two Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leaders, Sarbakaf Mohmand and Omar Mukaram Khurasani, claimed that the attack was “revenge” for the killing 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.

The SFs have killed 114 terrorists in 2023, thus far, yielding a SF:terrorist kill ratio of 1.07:1. During the corresponding period of 2022, the ratio was 1:1.44. Through 2022, it stood at 1:1.35. 

The SFs’ position on the ground has evidently weakened, and has also resulted in a substantial jump in civilian fatalities, from 71 in 2021 to 119 in 2022. 12 civilians have already been killed in the current year. 

Meanwhile after a TTP attack on the Sarband Police Station in Peshawar on January 14, 2023, in which three Policemen, including Sardar Hussain, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Badaber, and his two Police guards, were killed, KP Inspector General of Police (IGP), Moazzam Jah Ansari, disclosed that sniper weapons were used by the terrorists for the first time in Peshawar, while these “are being used in Bannu, Lakki Marwat and DI Khan” as well.

Indeed, a report released by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on March 31, 2023, noted that the weapons left behind by US 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 lesser-equipped Police forces in Pakistan.

Indeed, according to a report released on December 19, 2022, the KP Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) lacks the capacity to fight terrorism. The report noted that the KP CTD had a staff of 2,135 against an authorized strength of 3,161. This put an average strength across KP’s 34 districts at 62 personnel per district. As against Punjab’s massive fleet of 1,466 Police vehicles, KP has a mere 448.

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.

Meanwhile, on December 27, 2022, 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. This statement was later confirmed by former Prime Minister Imran Khan who, on January 10, 2023, revealed that his government had planned to resettle TTP militants in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), with the help of the Afghan Taliban. Imran Khan stated that the fall of Kabul and the rise of the Afghan Taliban to power provided Pakistan with a ‘golden opportunity’ to deal with the TTP threat. “The Afghan Taliban pressurised the TTP, which had over 5,000 fighters among its 40,000-strong group, to go back to Pakistan and we took a number of steps to deal with it,” he had added.

In a report released on February 14, 2023, the US Institute of Peace (USIP), a US-based think tank noted, that “amid Pakistan’s economic crisis and the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban have re-emerged as an increasingly potent threat”. The report further asserted that the “Taliban’s determination to continue supporting the TTP, even in the face of intensified pressure from Pakistan” was worrisome.

The surge in attacks on SFs in KP in particular and the country at large, at a time when Pakistan is facing acute socio-political economic crisis, is likely to continue, with very little hope of any reversal in this trend in immediate future. 

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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