Even as US-Pakistan relations are sinking to new lows, there are tentative signs that Pakistan's fight against Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is beginning to succeed. Here are some of the facts that reinforce this assessment:
1. There have been no major terrorist attacks in Pakistan since the the Mehran Naval Base siege in Karachi in May, 2011.
2. Some 1,022 civilians have died in bomb attacks in 2011 so far, according to a report in Christian Science Monitor. Barring a late-year surge, this represents the lowest figure in four years, according to monitoring conducted by the New Delhi-based South Asia Terrorism Portal. This is significantly lower than 1,547 in 2010, and 1,688 in 2009.
3. The TTP has been battered by Pakistani military operations and U.S. drone strikes. It is splintered into more than 100 smaller factions, significantly weakened and running short of cash, according to security officials, analysts and tribesmen from the insurgent who spoke to the reporters of the Associated Press (AP).
In addition to the divide and conquer policy of the Pakistan Army against the Taliban in FATA, at least part of the double digit drop in terror casualties for two years in a row is attributed to improvements in policing, including removal of soft targets, said Rifaat Hussain, a security analyst at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad who spoke with The Christian Science Monitor: "They [now] have genuine difficulty carrying out spectacular attacks."
The anti-terror police are now equipped with heavy weaponry including mortars, grenade launchers. Some 2,000 policemen are now deployed at more than 42 checkpoints on the outskirts of Peshawar, says Mr. Toru, the former inspector general, and arming citizens to create a community police force that can act as authorities' eyes and ears.
The police are using the help of experts like Fulbright scholar and computer expert Zeeshan Usmani who has developed software models and simulation techniques to analyze and investigate terrorist bombings. Emergency medical response is also improving with knowledge and experience gained by ambulance service operators like Edhi Foundation and various hospital emergency rooms in major cities. An example is a Yale trained Emergency Medicine specialist Dr. Junaid Razzak who has set up an Emergency Medicine program in Karachi to train physicians in handling accident and terror victim injuries.
Though Pakistanis have been paying a very heavy price in terms of mass casualties, it now appears that they have learned to deal with the menace more effectively, and have finally begun to turn the tide against the TTP insurgency in Pakistan. It won't be easy to end it, but there is light now visible at the end of of the long dark tunnel.
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No major incidents on Ashura this year in Pakistan, reports Express Tribune:
Shia Muslims across Pakistan participated in Ashura processions taken out on the 10th of Muharram amid tight security arrangements, Express News reported on Tuesday.
The main Ashura procession in Karachi began from Nishtar Park and headed towards Tibet Centre for Zuhrain prayers and concluded at Kharadar. In Lahore, the procession began from Nisar Haveli and ended at Karbala Gamay Shah.
In Faisalabad, the procession began from Markazi Imam Bargah with thousands of Shia Muslims headed towards Rail Bazar for the Majlis. The procession then returned to the Imam Bargah at night for Sham-e-Ghareeban.
Around 8,000 police personnel were been deployed on procession routes with walk-through gates, metal detectors and mobile jammers. More than 25 CCTV cameras have also been installed in various areas and security personnel have been deployed on high buildings for security.
In Hyderabad, the procession began from Imam Bargah Qadam Gah Mola Ali and covered a distance of 1.5km up to the Station Road. All 58 streets leading to the main procession were secured with barbed wires and tents. Twelve security cameras and jammers, covering areas of 90 metres, were also been put into place.
Only two entrance and exits points have been given to the main procession at Bacha Khan Chowk and Sarfraz Colony.
Processions in other cities including Quetta, Sukkur, Multan, Peshawar, Jhang and Dera Ismail Khan also concluded peacefully.
Wassan assures security to remain ‘strict’ during Ashura
Sindh Home Minister Manzoor Wassan assured the media on Tuesday that the law and order situation will remain in control during the Ashura processions as the police and Rangers are on high-alert.
He addressed the media at the Tibet Centre in Karachi while inspecting the site for security arrangements.
Wassan said that the terrorists targeted the Lines Area on Monday and the Kala Pul on Tuesday with minor blasts in order to instill fear among the people; however, the security arrangements all over the country are strict enough to control such incidents.
A TTP leader says accord with Pakistan is near, according to NY Times:
The deputy chief of the Pakistani Taliban announced Saturday that the militant group was in peace talks with the government and that an agreement to end its brutal four-year insurgency was within striking distance.
The statement by the Taliban leader, Malvi Faqir Mohammad, which appeared timed to exploit tensions between the Pakistani Army and the United States, will be likely to stoke concerns in Washington over Pakistan’s reliability as a long-term partner in the fight against extremists.
There have been reports of talks between the Pakistani Taliban and the government before, but this was the first time a named Taliban commander confirmed them. It was unclear though whether Mr. Mohammad was speaking for the entirety of the increasingly factionalized network, especially its leader, Hakimullah Mehsud.
The Pakistani government did not deny the talks, as it has in the past.
Asked about Mr. Mohammad’s statement, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said that his government had followed a policy of “dialogue, deterrence and development” toward militants.
Pakistani officials have earlier stated that they do not talk to militants unless they surrender.
Despite pushing for peace talks to end the related insurgency in Afghanistan, Washington is unlikely to support similar efforts to strike a deal in Pakistan. Ties between the two countries have been on a downward trend all year, and were dealt a big blow by an airstrike from U.S-led NATO forces in Afghanistan two weeks ago that killed about two dozen Pakistani soldiers. The attack triggered fresh anti-Americanism in Pakistan, including within the army ranks.
Mr. Mohammad, in a phone interview, did not specify the terms being discussed, but he said talks were “progressing well, and we may soon sign a formal peace agreement with the government.”
The Pakistani Taliban, closely allied with Al Qaeda, have been behind much of the violence tearing apart Pakistan in the last four and a half years. At least 35,000 people have been killed in insurgent attacks and army offensives.
Longest 33 day pause in drone strikes in Pakistan since 2008, reports Long War Journal:
The covert US drone program that hunts al Qaeda and allied terrorists operating in Pakistan's tribal areas has entered its longest pause since the strikes were ramped up in the summer of 2008.
The US has not launched a Predator or Reaper airstrike against terrorist targets in Pakistan for 33 days, according to statistics compiled by The Long War Journal. The last strike took place on Nov. 16 in the Ramzak area of North Waziristan.
US officials have previously told The Long War Journal that the program is "on hold" due to deteriorating relations between the US and Pakistan from the fallout of a cross-border incident by NATO forces in the tribal agency of Mohmand that resulted in the deaths of 24 Pakistani officers and soldiers.
One US official told The Long War Journal there is concern that another US strike on Pakistani soil will "push US-Pakistan relations past the point of no return." Another official said, however, that the US would attack if "an extremely high value target pops up." [See LWJ report, US drone strikes 'on hold' in Pakistan: US official, for more information on the reasons behind the current pause.]
The 33-day-long gap in strikes is the longest since another pause that took place in the spring of 2009 (28 days, May 16 to June 14). US officials attributed that gap to operational issues with the unmanned aircraft.
The third- and fourth-longest pauses also took place earlier this year, during a time of high tensions with Pakistan. A 27-day-long gap in strikes from Jan. 23 to Feb. 20 occurred after CIA contractor Raymond Davis killed two Pakistanis in Lahore. The US ended the pause in strikes the day Davis was returned to the US.
And a 25-day-long gap from March 17 to April 13 took place after the US killed dozens of Pakistanis in a strike in North Waziristan. That strike killed a senior Taliban leader and 11 fighters along with an estimated 30 tribesmen who were said to be negotiating mineral rights in the area. Several members of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the military's intelligence arm, which supports the Taliban and other terror groups, were rumored to have also been killed in the strikes.
US officials had previously denied that the two pauses earlier this year were due to tensions with Pakistan, and instead cited operational issues with the unmanned aircraft, to include "weather." There have been significant pauses during that seasonal time period in previous years.
But one US official told The Long War Journal that the two long pauses earlier this year were indeed related to political problems with Pakistan encountered during those time frames.
"If it isn't clear by now, the airstrikes targeting AQAM (al Qaeda and allied movements) have been constrained by deteriorating relations [with Pakistan]," a senior US official said.
Read more: http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2011/12/us_drone_strikes_in.php#ixzz1h2mntuvO
British officials believe al Qaida almost wiped out in Pakistan, reports The Guardian:
Senior British officials believe that a "last push" in 2012 is likely to definitively destroy al-Qaida's remaining senior leadership in Pakistan, opening a new phase in the battle against Islamist terrorism.
So many senior members of the organisation have been killed in an intense campaign of air strikes involving missiles launched from unmanned drones that "only a handful of the key players" remain alive, one official said.
However, well-informed sources outside government and close to Islamist groups in north Africa said at least two relatively senior al-Qaida figures have already made their way to Libya, with others intercepted en route, raising fears that north Africa could become a new "theatre of jihad" in coming months or years.
"A group of very experienced figures from north Africa left camps in Afghanistan's [north-eastern] Kunar province where they have been based for several years and travelled back across the Middle East," one source said. "Some got stopped but a few got through."
It is unclear whether the moves from west Asia to north Africa are prompted by a desire for greater security – which seems unlikely as Nato forces begin to withdraw from Afghanistan – or part of a strategic attempt to exploit the aftermath of the Arab spring. They may even be trying to shift the centre of gravity of al-Qaida's effort back to the homelands of the vast majority of its members.
Repeated efforts to push the Pakistani authorities to take military action against the Haqqanis have been rebuffed. Western and international officials said senior Pakistani military officers insisted they needed the Haqqani network, which has not attacked Pakistani targets though it has repeatedly struck Nato and other western targets in Afghanistan, to keep militant groups that make up the Pakistani Taliban network "under control". These latter have repeatedly struck civilian and military targets within Pakistan.
Western officials dismissed the argument as far-fetched and unrealistic. One international official said, however, that there was evidence the Haqqani family had been acting as intermediaries between the Pakistani secret services and militant groups and described the Pakistani position as "understandable".
"To move against the Haqqanis is a no-win option for the Pakistani military. If they suffer heavy casualties and fail to eliminate the group, they lose their authority and a key interlocutor. If they succeed, they lose a key asset," the official said.
Here's a report on how Pakistan can learn lessons from policing in Norther Ireland:
Lessons from the reorganisation of policing in Northern Ireland could influence efforts to reform law and order in Pakistan, a human rights expert has said.
The sprawling south Asian country normally hits the headlines for violence related to the war in neighbouring Afghanistan.
But it is also struggling against internal unrest, while policing legislation in some regions dates back to colonial powers introduced in the 1800s.
Aideen Gilmore, who has monitored the reform of the justice system in Northern Ireland, was asked to join experts in Islamabad for discussions on the theme of "Policing in Conflict", co-hosted by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, plus local human rights and lobby groups.
"The organisers were interested in hearing about the Northern Ireland experience of policing in conflict and particularly the process of police reform and how policing can be made more human rights compliant," she said.
"Generally, there was interest in how to move from a seemingly intractable conflict to one where the idea of change that is based on human rights and the rule of law becomes a possibility, and from there to the implementation of that change and the challenges that brings.
"Because of the problems with oversight and accountability of policing, participants were particularly interested in the models that we have developed and what is needed to make them effective, for example, the importance of a strong, effective and independent police complaints body."
The human rights expert came to prominence with the Belfast-based Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) and is on a career break as its deputy director to take part in a range of human rights consultancy work at home and abroad. The event in Pakistan also included human rights groups from the country, as well as retired police officers and government representatives.
"What was really striking was the level of internal conflict in the country - so much of the internationally reported news focuses on the international dimension, and particularly in relation to Afghanistan, problems in the border regions and relationships with the US, with little reporting on the impact on the people living in the country, where suicide bombings and attacks on the government and administration by the TTP (the Pakistan Taliban group) have claimed many lives and created a volatile and unsafe environment.
"So the challenge is protecting human rights and upholding the rule of law, and the role of the police in doing this, in a situation of conflict - something which Northern Ireland can offer much to learn from."
The Pakistani military killed a dangerous Taliban commander who was responsible for the murders of scores of Pakistani soldiers, policemen, and civilians, according to a report in Long War Journal:
Qari Kamran, a senior Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan commander in the northwestern district of Nowshera, was killed along with 11 fighters yesterday during a military operation in the tribal agency of Khyber. The Taliban have been fighting the Pakistani military as well as the rival Islamist terror group Lashkar-e-Islam in Khyber.
Kamran was involved in some of the most deadly suicide attacks and ambushes in northwestern Pakistan over the past several years. The most devastating attack took place on May 13, 2011, when a suicide bomber detonated among a crowd of newly trained troops of Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps at a training center in Shabqadar in the neighboring district of Charsadda. The suicide attack was followed by a car bomb. More than 80 Pakistani troops and civilians were killed in the twin blasts.
The Taliban claimed credit for the horrific attack and said it was carried out to avenge the death of al Qaeda emir Osama bin Laden, who was killed by US special operations forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011.
The Shabqadar attack was followed by the June 5, 2011 suicide attack at the Nowshera Cantonment that killed 18 Pakistani soldiers.
Read more: http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/01/pakistani_troops_kil.php#ixzz1iLDHw6La
Here's a Daily Times on decline in Pakistan violence in 2011:
..“Although conflict-related violence decreased in Pakistan in 2011, the complex security landscape in the country made it one of the most volatile states in the region and necessitated effective measures to curb militancy and terrorism,” Islamabad-based Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) said in a press release, ahead of release of its ‘Security Report 2011’ today (Wednesday).
The report noted that the trend of an overall decrease in the number of violent incidents and casualties in Pakistan that was witnessed in 2010 continued in 2011. The report attributed a fall in conflict-related casualties largely to military operations in the Tribal Areas and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and to fewer suicide bombings and drone strikes in the country in 2011.
According to the report, a total of 2,985 violent incidents—including terrorist attacks, security forces operations, ethno-political violence, inter-tribal clashes, drone attacks, and cross-border attacks—were reported in Pakistan in 2011. This is compared to 3,393 incidents in 2010 and 3,816 in 2009, a decrease of 12 percent and 22 percent, respectively. Casualties in violent incidents also went down, from 10,003 fatalities in 2010 to 7,107 in 2011, a decrease of 29 percent. The number of people injured in these attacks declined from 10,283 in 2010 to 6,736 in 2011, representing a 34 percent decrease.
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) suffered 675 terrorist attacks in 2011, the highest for any region of the country during the year. In Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), 640 and 512 terrorist attacks were recorded, respectively. The highest number of casualties in terrorist attacks in 2011 was reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where 820 people were killed and 1,684 wounded, followed by Balochistan (710 dead and 853 injured), and FATA (612 dead and 1,190 injured).
Forty-five suicide attacks were reported across Pakistan in 2011, compared to 68 in 2010 and 87 in 2009. In these attacks in 2011, as many as 676 people were killed and 1,462 injured. Most of the casualties were civilians. More than half of these attacks (27) occurred in KP, claiming the lives of 449 people.
The overall incidence of sectarian violence in the country decreased by nine percent—from 152 incidents in 2010 to 139 in 2011. However, unlike the year 2010, sectarian violence was not concentrated in just a few cities. As many as 79 people were killed in Karachi, 80 in Quetta, 50 each in Kurram Agency and Dera Ghazi Khan and 26 in Mastung in such attacks.
It said 261 people were killed and 206 injured in 84 clashes and other incidents along the country’s borders in 2011.
“As many as 75 US drone attacks took place in Pakistan in 2011, killing 557 people and injuring 153,” the PIPS security report revealed.
It added that the security forces launched 144 attacks against militants in various parts of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, killing at least 1,016 militants, while 279 Taliban militants surrendered to the authorities in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. A total of 4,219 militants and members of radical organisations were arrested across the country. However, few of them were put on trial.
On the political and administrative front, the FATA reforms package was noted as a “positive development”, although implementation remained lacking. The compensation mechanism for civilian victims of terrorist attacks remained a critical issue, as did hundreds of schools in FATA, which had remained closed since 2009.
Absence of effective political means to address the situation in Balochistan was also highlighted, and the report noting that the tribal guerilla warfare of earlier years had morphed into a robust urban insurgency in the province...
Here's Reuters on infighting among TTP leaders:
Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani militants have held a series of meetings aimed at containing what could soon be open warfare between the two most powerful Pakistani Taliban leaders, militant sources have said.
Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban, also known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and his deputy, Wali-ur-Rehman, were at each other's throats, the sources said.
"You will soon hear that one of them has eliminated the other, though hectic efforts are going on by other commanders and common friends to resolve differences between the two," one TTP commander said.
Any division within the TTP could hinder the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda's struggle in Afghanistan against the United States and its allies, making it more difficult to recruit young fighters and disrupting safe havens in Pakistan used by the Afghan militants.
Despite multiple reports of the Rehman-Mehsud split, Rehman told Reuters on Tuesday there was no problem between the two.
"There are no differences between us," Rehman said.
The TTP, formed in 2007, is an umbrella group of various Pakistani militant factions operating in Pakistan's unruly northwestern tribal areas along the porous border with Afghanistan.
It has long struggled with its choice of targets. Some factions are at war with the Pakistani state while others concentrate on the fight against the United States and its allies in Afghanistan.
There has been a noticeable decrease in militant attacks in Pakistan, but there continue to be random acts of violence across the country.
Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban commanders are asking the TTP to provide more men for the fight in Afghanistan and are looking to smooth over the dispute between Mehsud and Rehman.
Here's Wall Street Journal on infighting among TTP Taliban factions in Pakistan:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Fighting within the ranks of the Pakistani Taliban has stalled peace talks with the government as the militants' focus turns inward, militant commanders and officials said Friday.
A turf war between rival factions of the group, known formally as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, has claimed between 25 and 30 lives since Sunday in the country's tribal areas, say commanders of the militant group.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in September launched the talks, controversial among Pakistanis because the Pakistani Taliban has claimed the killing of thousands of civilians and security personnel, but they have yielded little progress after weeks. The initiative delayed the planned launch of a Pakistani army operation against the militants.
As the Taliban's cease-fire ended on Thursday, the internecine bloodshed has created a new hurdle in the talks process.
"Our interlocutors are badly split. Unless they can resolve this quickly, things aren't looking very bright," Rustam Shah Mohmand, one of the government representatives at the negotiations, told The Wall Street Journal. "The government is also dragging its feet."
"It appears that we're losing momentum. I fear that we're heading toward a dead end."
People with knowledge of the Pakistan army say the institution has concerns about the way the talks are dragging on.
Meanwhile, the U.S., which has targeted militants in the tribal area, has ceased drone strikes against the Pakistani Taliban since the negotiations policy was set, under an understanding between Islamabad and Washington, officials say.
Militants and officials said the Haqqani network, an Afghan insurgent group also based in Pakistan's tribal areas, is trying to patch up differences between the warring Taliban factions, which come from the Mehsud tribe.
The Haqqani group has repeatedly intervened in internal Taliban disputes, fearing that such fighting will impede its ability to use the tribal areas as a sanctuary, analysts said.
"The Taliban shura [leadership] will now find it more difficult to come to a unanimous view," said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a veteran journalist who was formally part of the government negotiating team. "They will not give up on the option of talks at this stage. Both the Taliban and the government want to continue talks."
The infighting involves a faction led by Khan Said, known as Sajna, and a rival group led by a commander called Shehryar over leadership of the Taliban's powerful Mehsud wing. The conflict dates back to the enmity between two Mehsud commanders who were killed by U.S. drone strikes last year. Their deaths led to a militant outside the tribe, Mullah Fazlullah, taking control of the Taliban for the first time.
Among the dead in recent days are three prominent commanders, militants said. The fighting, which has taken place close to the Afghan border in both North and South Waziristan, has included gunbattles and the firing of rockets and grenades. Some analysts said the government would prefer to deal with a united Taliban but others said the discord should be welcomed.
"There's nothing better for Pakistan than these terrorists killing each other," said Mehmood Shah, an analyst based in Peshawar who was formerly a senior security official for the tribal areas.
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