Security Challenges Continue To Mount In 2023

Security Challenges Continue To Mount In 2023
A 21% reduction in overall violence recorded during the second quarter (2Q) of 2023 in the country appears to be a positive trend in the nation's security situation, though security challenges continue to grow in complexity and scope, triggering one crisis after another. A recent report issued by the Center for Research and Security Studies highlights the complexity of these challenges, particularly as religious militants draw separatist groups into their fold and even a leading political party is reported to have support from militant groups. The growing trend of militancy in the country is encouraging orthodox religious parties and clergymen to challenge the state’s authority through resorting to violence. These trends keep incentivizing outlaws to exploit opportunities to expand their influence by far and wide.

casualties from violence
Source: CRSS Quarterly Security Report Q2 2023

The dynamics of the War on Terror, previously disowned and disavowed as a policy that was enforced by external forces, are now being embraced and fought by Pakistan itself. The same militants who were once considered fighters against foreign invaders have now directed their guns toward achieving their objectives within Pakistan's borders. Having fulfilled their agenda in Afghanistan, they feel confident in expanding the ambit of their activities within Pakistan.

During Q2 of 2023, a total of 176 incidents of violence and counter-violence were recorded in the country, resulting in 284 fatalities and 291 injuries.

The provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan have emerged as the epicenters of terrorism within Pakistan since Afghanistan, bordering these two provinces, fell to Taliban control. While KP witnessed a 20% decline in violence during Q2, the significant rise of militancy in Balochistan, accounting for a 14% increase, offset the progress made in KP. On the other hand, all other provinces experienced a sharp decline in violence during Q2.

Source: CRSS Quarterly Security Report Q2 2023

During Q2 of 2023, a total of 176 incidents of violence and counter-violence were recorded in the country, resulting in 284 fatalities and 291 injuries. Comparatively, the casualties of violence in Q1 2023 were higher, with 358 fatalities and 496 injuries. Shockingly, within just six months of the year, terrorism and counter-terrorism activities have claimed the lives of 642 individuals, surpassing two-thirds of the total fatalities of 980 individuals recorded in the previous year.

In Q2, outlaws executed 121 attacks, a decrease from the 172 attacks in the previous quarter. On the other hand, security agencies conducted 55 operations in Q2, up from 47 in Q1. Despite the escalation in security operations, fatalities from these operations amounted to 119 in Q2, fewer than the 128 fatalities in Q1. This indicates a failure on the part of security forces to achieve their targets, even when acting on intelligence reports.

Source: CRSS Quarterly Security Report Q2 2023

Other than the heinous terror attacks targeting security personnel and civilians, militants have escalated their violence by resorting to destructive sabotage acts against public infrastructure, government institutions, places of worship, and security properties. These incidents have witnessed a significant rise, not only in the extent of the damage caused, but also in their reach, affecting not only security forces, but also politicians and civilians.

Over the past six months, Pakistan has lost 267 security personnel to acts of terrorism.

More than 100 properties came under attack in Q2, including 55 security properties, 26 private properties, and 6 government properties. The majority of these incidents took place in Islamabad during the PTI led protests and riots of 9th May. Balochistan suffered 38 incidents of sabotage, mostly perpetrated by the BLA and BLF, while KP suffered 9 attacks, mostly carried out by unidentified outlaws. Punjab and Sindh experienced 5 and 2 attacks respectively. Two of these attacks targeted religious sites of the Ahmadi community.

Over the past six months, Pakistan has lost 267 security personnel to acts of terrorism. This number is alarmingly close to the total fatalities of 286 security personnel that were lost in the entire year of 2022. If this trend remains unchanged, the number of security personnel casualties may double this year compared to the previous year. The rise in targeting security personnel became evident shortly after the Taliban achieved victory in Afghanistan. In 2020, 163 security personnel fell victim to terrorism, a number that rose to 268 in 2021, and further to 286 in 2022.

Source: CRSS Quarterly Security Report Q2 2023

Three banned organizations, namely the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and a newly emerged militant group called Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan (TJP), remained highly active in Q2. The BLA, in particular, has exhibited a shift in its tactics from using conventional weapons to employing suicide bombers. Within a span of one year, they used two female suicide bombers: one on 26 April 2022 at Karachi University, and another in Turbat in Balochistan on June 25, 2023.

An alliance between the BLA and another militant group also became evident when an arrested militant of TJP revealed that the attack at FC Headquarters in Muslim Bagh, Quetta was carried out by the militants of TJP. However, an earlier report had identified a BLA commander Asmi alias Wafa as one of the seven militants eliminated during the security operation at the FC Headquarter.

Two incidents of counterterror operations reflect security lapses in handling militants. In Swat, the local population pursued militants who were found hiding in a cave. Security forces also joined them, but the whole operation ended in the fatality of a civilian and an injury to a soldier, while the militants managed to escape without incurring any loss. Another security lapse was reported from the Chaman district of Balochistan, where 17 prisoners managed to break free from jail on Eid day after overwhelming the jail police using crutches of disabled inmates and after snatching a rifle from one of the policemen. No information was provided as to how the prisoners managed to escape their lockups to launch such a daring operation, and what level of vigilance was maintained in the prison when the majority of the policemen were preparing for Eid prayer.

Religious individuals have also resorted to taking up arms against security forces when they attempt to enforce the law. In Mardan, a religious figure named Maulana Jawad responded with violence during a security operation at a mosque in Seri Behlol. He tragically killed a CTD police official before being fatally shot by the police on April 1.

Such nonchalance from the government send a message that various forms of extremism, including terrorism, will continue haunting this country

The prominent Khateeb of Lal Masjid, Maulana Abdul Aziz, in Islamabad, also resisted an attempt by a police party to arrest him on charges of defying the ban of leading prayers at the Lal Masjid. Talking to the press, he regretted that his gun failed to fire at the policemen. Later, his wife, Umme Hasaan, made fiery speeches and even sought help from the proscribed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), asking them not to stay quiet.

The scourge of terrorism that entered Pakistani society during the tenure of former military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq still continues to haunt the country, posing an ongoing threat to society in different forms and shapes. This year, incidents involving the desecration of the places of worship of the Ahmadiyya community have become a lot more frequent in the country. In the past six months alone, nine Ahmadiyya mosques have been vandalized, with seven incidents occurring in Sindh and two in Punjab. In one of these incidents, the police committed the crime by tampering with the minarets of an Ahmadiyya place of worship in Wazirabad.

Tragically, this year has also witnessed instances of extrajudicial violence in the name of blasphemy. In Nankana Sahib and Charsadda, at least two Muslims were mercilessly beaten to death by mobs on charges of blasphemy. Moreover, a Chinese national working at the Dasu Dam narrowly escaped a lynching by a mob of workers on April 17, 2023, also on charges of blasphemy. This incident is reminiscent of a similar event that occurred two years ago when a Sri Lankan man was killed by a mob of workers in Punjab under similar accusations.

Unfortunately, these incidents have not prompted the government to take a critical look on the continuous misuse of blasphemy laws in the country. Instead, the government acquiesced to the demands of the extremist religious party, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), agreeing to enforce stringent anti-blasphemy measures.

Regrettably, the government has failed to address the issue of the wrongful application of blasphemy laws, which has not only resulted in the tragic deaths of innocent individuals, but dented the country's international reputation on human rights. Such nonchalance from the government send a message that various forms of extremism, including terrorism, will continue haunting this country as long as all forms of violence are not addressed indiscriminately and impartially.

The author is a freelance journalist and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Research & Security Studies