ISLAMABAD - Despite a decline in terrorist violence during the last year, Pakistani Taliban and Daesh or ISIS remained potent threats to country’s security, says Pakistan Security Report 2018.

The report issued by an Islamabad-based think tank Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) says that Pakistan witnessed 29 percent decline in terrorist attacks and 27 percent in consequent fatalities in 2018 as compared to the previous year.

About 38 percent of the total 595 people killed in acts of terrorism in Pakistan in 2018 were the result of five lethal attacks claimed by ISIS, or Daesh, in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Balochistan was the only region where terrorism-related killings surged, by over 23 percent, as compared to 2017 – most of these fatalities resulted from attacks by religiously-inspired militant groups.

The report in its findings compiled on the basis of the ‘think tank’s multi-source database, coupled with interviews and articles by subject experts’ says that the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliates and splinters carried out most of the reported attacks in 2018, followed by the nationalist insurgents. As many as 24 attacks were carried out on political leaders, killing 218 people and injuring 394. Most of the attacks took place in KP, including erstwhile FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), but Balochistan suffered the most casualties in acts of terrorism.

According to report, Baloch secessionist group’s usage of suicide attacks is rudimentary but alarming. It says that questions are being raised on the status of banned individuals, as they continued to participate in elections, and signed Paigham-e-Pakistan, a fatwa or decree signed by 1,800 religious scholars and backed by the state declaring acts of violence and terrorism as un-Islamic.

Among the key recommendations of the report include that National Internal Security Policy 2018-2023 should be made part of public debate, and Paigham-e-Pakistan, a violence-opposing decree, should be circulated to religious establishments. It recommends that the National Action Plan required revision. It warns that US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Middle East rivalry could turn around the militant landscape.

Despite a 29 percent decline in terrorist attacks in 2018, the TTP and its associated groups, which now includes ISIS’s local chapter, remained the most potent threat during the year. They were followed by nationalist-insurgent groups, especially in Balochistan. Two suicide attacks by a Baloch secessionist group in 2018 are alarming, but these should not forego attempts of reconciling them, which the NAP clearly calls upon, the report recommends. Any attempt of mainstreaming the banned outfits should be undertaken by a proper mechanism, so as not to be seen as excluding those already mainstreamed, the report says. 

The report tallied that militant, nationalist/insurgent and violent sectarian groups carried out, in all, 262 terrorist attacks in Pakistan during the year 2018 – including 19 suicide and gun-and-suicide coordinated attacks, killing 595 people, besides injuring 1,030. These attacks posted a 29 per cent decrease from the previous year.

Of these attacks, as many as 171 attacks were perpetrated by the TTP, its splinter groups mainly Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Hizb-ul-Ahrar and other militant groups with similar objectives such as local Taliban groups as well as ISIS, killing 449 people. Meanwhile, nationalist insurgent groups, mostly in Balochistan and a few in Sindh, carried out 80 attacks, killing 96 people. As many as 11 terrorist attacks were sectarian-related, killing 50 people and inflicted injuries on 45 others.

Significantly, more than half of these attacks, around 136, hit security and law-enforcement agencies. Meanwhile, security forces and law enforcement agencies killed a total of 120 militants in 2018 – compared to 524 in 2017 – in 31 military/security operations as well as 22 armed clashes and encounters with the militants reported from across four provinces.

The most ominous attacks were on political leaders and workers; in 24 attacks on them, 218 people were killed and 394 injured. The deadliest ones took place in the run-up to the polls.

The report also noted a total of 131 cross-border attacks from Pakistan’s borders with Afghanistan, India and Iran, claiming 111 lives and injuring 290 others.

Balochistan remains a centre of attention. With 354 people killed in the attacks, 59 percent of the total toll in Pakistan took place in Balochistan. Pakistan’s border along Iran also saw some clashes, a few hinting at diplomatic blame game. Two attacks by Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) stand out for their modus operandi. In both, the group tried to kill the Chinese workers and diplomats.

Yet, the report warns, the violence from Islamist groups like TTP and ISIS should not be conflated with that of Baloch secessionists. While religiously-inspired groups carried less attacks in Balochistan, the death toll was far greater than the secessionists’. Even some of their suicide attacks, alarming indeed, got foiled in the initial stages. NAP’s point of reconciliation in Balochistan awaits implementation, the report said.

KP, including erstwhile FATA, faced the highest number of terrorist attacks compared to all other regions of Pakistan. A total of 125 reported attacks from the province claimed 196 lives and inflicted injuries on another 376 people.

After all, in 2018, the usual cat-and-mouse game continued between state authorities and the banned outfits. One set of administrative measure aimed at banning them was followed by another of unbanning them: Several banned leaders who were barred from travelling out of district, under the fourth schedule category, not only organized street protests but forced the government to remove their names. Others even tried to contest elections; when stopped, they changed the organization’s names.

The report recommends that country is direly in need of financial bailout, and all eyes are set on the review of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in 2019. That assessment is linked with the status of banned outfits in the country.

At the same time, new developments in the region, especially to the western side, can affect security in Pakistan too. In Afghanistan, US troops’ withdrawal will have divergent consequences on global jihadist outfits present in the region. Any unclear withdrawal can provide space for Afghan Taliban, who are keen to take on their new rival, IS in the region, but have been known for being supportive of Al-Qaeda.

Similarly, given the unending rivalries in the Middle East, where different countries are expected to take one side, a minor border clash in the hinterlands of Pakistan and Iran can escalate over the years. This, the report notes, should be studied too.

The report also calls for empowering civilian-led law-enforcement apparatus. It was “in this spirit that the role of NACTA has been critical, a focal body of relevant intelligence feeds.” Instead of empowering this body under the direct chairpersonship of the Prime Minister, proposals have been floating in 2018 to either abolish NACTA completely or undo its backbone, Joint Intelligence Directorate. PIPS report calls for revisiting such thoughts.