The year belonged to the Taliban -by Murtaza Haider

If it were a boxing bout, the year 2012 would belong to the Taliban and the militants. In the ongoing civil war in Pakistan that left almost 6,000 dead this year, 1,100 more civilians and members of the security forces have died in violence than the militants.

2012 is the second year in a row when the Taliban and militants of other stripes have inflicted more harm on civilians and security forces than they themselves have suffered. In 2011 alone, 1.3 civilians or members of the security forces died in violence for every militant killed. In the gory calculus of violence, the Taliban have emerged victorious by piling up the dead faster and higher than the State apparatus.

In the last few remaining days of this year many in Pakistan wonder if the new year will bring more of the same where, despite the sincere efforts of some institutions of the State, the militants would continue to strike with impunity. While the death toll continues to rise in Pakistan, claiming the lives of politicians, police, and the sectarian minorities, many wonder when will the Parliament, the Supreme Court, and the intelligence agencies start working in unison to stem the tide of extremism, which is likely to devour the society after it wrestles the State into submission.

The 6000-odd violent deaths in 2012 put Pakistan amongst the most violent and volatile places in the world. This distinction is not earned for a relatively high rate of violence. Even some advanced economies experience high frequency of violence. Consider that in 2011 alone, 13,913 murders took place in the US. Why then should one be alarmed about Pakistan?

I can name a couple of reasons that should put Pakistan’s establishment on the alert. First, most murderers are caught and brought to justice in the US. In comparison, most, if not all, suspected of extremist violence in Pakistan are roaming free in Pakistan, beyond the reach of law enforcement agencies. Second, the motives behind murders in the US are quite different from the ones responsible for the deaths of  thousands in Pakistan where extremist militias have revolted against the State and the society.

It is rather unfortunate, but true, that the militants dominate violence in Pakistan.  Since October 2012,  the Taliban and other militants have been more lethal in comparison to the casualties they suffered. In November 2012 alone, the militants killed more than four civilians and security personnel for each dead militant (see the graph below). These numbers are telltale  signs of a war where the militants are becoming more efficient despite battling the security forces who supposedly have access to vast government resources.

Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal  (www.satp.org)

Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal (www.satp.org)

Laying latent in the national statistics are the regional disparities in Pakistan’s violent landscape where the militant deaths are prominent only in Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas (FATA). In 2012 to date, approximately 2,011 militants were killed in FATA compared to 797 civilians and members of the security forces (see the graph below). The settled areas bordering FATA in the Pashtun-dominated province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) see the immediate reversal of the militants’ fortunes where they are 2.3 times more likely to kill than being killed.

The situation is even worse in the in the southern province of Sindh where 1,361 non-militant deaths took place while the militants suffered merely111 casualties. Similarly, in the strife-stricken Balochistan, where the Baloch tribesmen are battling the armed forces, and Shia Hazaras are being ethnically cleansed by sectarian militants, 9.4 non-militant deaths were recorded for every dead militant.

Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal  (www.satp.org)

Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal (www.satp.org)

As the violence continued to spread across Pakistan in 2012, the Taliban and other militants have been successful in terrorising the society. The fear of dying or being maimed in a bomb blast has confined people to their homes or places of work. Still by mid-December, 627 bomb blasts in Pakistan killed 945 and injured another 2,469 (source: http://www.satp.org).

Since 2005, more than 5,000 have perished in suicide attacks that have not spared even mosques.

Pakistan has regrettably become a place where children pass through metal detectors as they enter schools. They in fact are the fortunate ones. The unfortunate ones are those whose schools have been blown up by the Taliban and their associates.

While the militant violence in Pakistan is largely driven by domestic grievances, some external stimuli do exacerbate the conflict. The US drone strikes in Pakistan are an example of an external trigger, which is an egregious violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty that not only undermines the government of Pakistan, but also serves as a constant source of humiliation to the 180-million strong nation. While the drone trikes have been completely ineffective in Afghanistan and Pakistan in curbing militancy, the militants however have benefited from drone strikes, which they use as the justification for their armed struggle. Up until December 9, 2012, the American drones struck 44 times in Pakistan’s tribal areas killing 333 and injuring another 34 (source: http://www.satp.org).

If the drone strikes are the sole motivation for the Taliban insurgency in Pakistan, killing 3,532 unarmed civilians (including children) and members of the security forces is certainly a disproportionate response.

While some institutions of the State, such as the police and the rangers, continue to battle the extremism head-on, others institutions appear  less than ready to cope with the grave challenges Pakistan faces today. At a time when the highest court in Pakistan should be focused on determining why even the self-confessed alleged terrorists walk scot free, the Supreme Court in Pakistan appears to be caught entangled in trivia, such as the suo motu  action against a Sindh Assembly candidate who slapped a presiding officer. Given that the esteemed court has limited resources, it would make sense if those resources were dedicated to addressing threats that pose a clear and present danger to Pakistan. Consider for instance the fact that three out of every four terrorism cases end up in acquittalon technicalities or because of witness intimidation. At the same time, the poor resource base for forensic evidence is also a significant handicap in getting convictions against the militants.

One would like to see the Parliament, the Supreme Court, and the intelligence agencies to work in unison in addressing the lacunas in the legal system that have allowed the alleged terrorists  to slip through.  If fixing such lacunas requires new legislation, then the Parliament should legislate. If it requires improved training of investigating officers, then the courts should be proactive in explaining the intricacies of the burden of proof to agencies responsible for gathering evidence. If it requires equipping forensic labs with modern equipment and highly trained staff, than resources should be made available today, rather than tomorrow.

As the violence continues to expand and the militants escape justice, they are likely to radicalize the society even more. Certain segments of the society would embrace the extremist ideology and would allow the militants to operate in the shadows. The lynch mob that killed and burnt a man in Sindh provides the ideal breeding ground for militants and extremists.

Failing to act decisively and timely against the terrorists will only make 2013 even a worse year than 2012. It is therefore incumbent that all institutions of the State should unite against militancy. Hoping for a Happy New Year for Pakistan may otherwise be hoping against hope.


Murtaza_Haider-80-newMurtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. He can be reached by email at murtaza.haider@ryerson.ca


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