Year in Review 2010: Militancy and the fight for internal security

Pakistan’s struggle for internal security entered a new phase in 2010 as the US and its allies increased pressure on Afghanistan with the announcement of the deployment of 30,000 troops and increased strikes on the Pak-Afghan border. 2010 saw no less than 106 drone strikes within Pakistan’s territory, with anywhere between 500 to 1000 individuals killed in the attacks[1]. Numbers culled from international and local newspapers show fewer civilian casualties and more militant deaths reported in last year’s strikes, which have nearly doubled since 2009 and are more than in all the earlier years combined. For some analysts, this is strong indication of the overall success of the drone program, and the potential to overcome collateral losses as a result of greater information-sharing between Pakistani intelligence agencies and NATO. Other analysts insist that it is impossible to accurately document how many civilians were killed in the attacks[2] and point to the strategic losses incurred by the highly unpopular program, regardless of its tactical gains[3].

During 2009, 2,586 terrorist attacks were reported across Pakistan, the majority taking place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The number of attacks came down to some extent in 2010, totaling at around 2,100[4]. The number of suicide attacks also came down; over 80 such attacks took place in various parts of the country (with the majority taking place in KP) during 2009; last year, a total of 53 suicide attacks claimed the lives of 1,275 people[5]. By all estimates, militant groups in the tribal agencies have faced considerable pressure in 2010, not least because of the shift in gears on part of the Pakistan Army to deal more seriously with the threat of local militants. However, this has not prevented — and may have even given rise to — the deterioration of security in other parts of the country.

Balochistan in particular has come into sharp focus this year, having suffered neglect at the hands of the state and violence at the hands of militants and the armed forces. Home to multiple insurgent groups, the province witnessed a surge in attacks on journalists, teachers and political leaders this year, most notably with the killing of Balochistan National Party leaders Habib Jalib Baloch and Liaquat Mengal in July. In addition to over 300 people killed in 458 incidents of violence between January and September, Human Rights Watch also estimated an additional 1,100 people picked up by agencies, adding to the ‘missing persons’ list[6]. The spread of extremism to Balochistan is noteworthy, as violence against minority sects of Islam in Quetta continued throughout the year, peaking with the bombing of an Al-Quds rally in September which killed 65 people. The presence of militant anti-Shia groups such as Jundullah and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan have brought Balochistan’s insurgency and anti-state violence into a broader regional conflict which includes Iran and Afghanistan.

Extremist spillover into localized instances of violence is a growing trend that is likely to have an impact on urban terrorism in Pakistan for years to come. For example, the bombings at Sufi shrines in Pakistan’s major cities in 2010 indicates trends towards a greater number of civilians being targeted and attacks on symbols of moderate and mainstream Islam in urban centers. However, some forms of localized violence remain disconnected from a larger extremism narrative, yet nonetheless contribute to the destabilization of internal security. Some forms of nationalist violence in Balochistan are an example of this, as is militancy in Karachi.

By November 2010, various sources place the death toll in Karachi at between 705[7] and 1,350[8] from instances of ‘targeted killing’ and ethnically-motivated violence. Clashes between the city’s rival political parties, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) of ethnic Mujahirs, and the Awami National Party of ethnic Pashtuns, peaked in August with the killing of MQM leader and provincial assembly member Raza Haider. The same day, some 35 people were killed in instances of violence across the city. In October a major Pashtun locality at Sher Shah was targeted, leaving 14 people dead. Observers cautioned against labeling all of the reported deaths instances of “target killings,” as they may have been motivated by ethnic or other sorts of differences. The battle over land and resources has put immense pressure on migrant labor in Karachi, the majority of which comes from KP. These people are ethnic Pashtuns but not necessarily members of the ANP.

The failure of the state to deal comprehensively with these threats can be attributed to the multi-faceted weaknesses of the civilian government. In many ways, the United States’ inability to devise a non-military, political solution in Afghanistan is mirrored in the crippling crisis of governance in Pakistan, where military might is not matched by civilian and police crackdowns on extremism and intolerance. Viewed by many as limited to stop-gap policymaking, during 2010 the civilian government in Pakistan failed to take ownership of the war against extremism and terror, crack down on incitements to violence and hate speech in radical mosques and impose its writ on the restive FATA region. Equally, the short-sightedness of the military in dominating national security discourse continues to place the civilian government on the back foot. The crucial observation for the decade after the Kargil debacle is that in spite of thousands of civilian casualties at the hands of Islamic militants, and one all-out war against the occupation of Swat, extremism has not replaced India as the number-one threat to Pakistan in military strategic thought[9]. The army demonstrated, time and again during 2010, its grip over negotiations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US[10], and shows no signs of identifying Islamic militancy as a critical internal threat to Pakistan. It is likely that the need to ‘hedge bets’ against a dominant India will lead COAS Gen Kayani, who was granted a three-year extension in 2010, to continue to demand a greater role for the Pakistan Army in US negotiations with the Taliban in 2011 — a strategy that has historically tended to encourage the spread of home-grown militancy and terrorism.



[1] Brookings Institution, Pakistan Index December 28th 2010

[3]Zahid Hussain, The Scorpion’s Tail, 2010

[4] See Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies Monthly Reports, Jan- Nov 2010

[6]Human Rights Watch (2010) “Their Future is at Stake”, Attacks on Teachers and Schools in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province.

[8] Pakistan Index, December 28th, Brookings