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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Actors of instability

Image result for ttp pakistan
PAKISTAN’S security indicators have been improving lately, mainly due to the state’s enhanced counterterrorism efforts. Government and security officials highlight gains on the counterterrorism front; statistics support their claims. However, that does not mean we have won the war. We still need to develop effective ideological and political responses to broaden and strengthen the ongoing counterterrorism campaign.

During the last two weeks, the security and law-enforcement agencies claimed some significant successes. ISPR chief Lt Gen Asim Bajwa revealed that a network of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) had been busted in Karachi.

Karachi police and the Sindh Counterterrorism Department claimed the killing of some wanted terrorists and the arrest of Asif Chotu, head of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi Al Almi, who reorganised the violent sectarian group, from Dera Ghazi Khan. Several other alleged terrorists have been either killed or arrested across the country in recent weeks. That indicates that the law-enforcement agencies have stepped up their campaign to dismantle terror networks in urban areas.
Image result for lashkar e jhangvi

Sectarian groups are only one pillar of the existing terrorism infrastructure.
Most of the militants arrested in recent weeks and months belong to the LeJ. It seems that the law enforcers are focusing more on sectarian terrorist outfits and their allies. Definitely, it will contribute to further decreasing sectarian-related terrorist attacks in Pakistan. The year 2015 saw a 60pc decrease in such attacks compared with 2014. These efforts will also weaken sectarian groups’ nexus with different Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) factions and the latter’s support networks in Pakistan.

However, Pakistan’s militant landscape is very diverse with multiple actors of instability at work. Sectarian terrorist groups are only one pillar of the existing terrorism infrastructure, which will take time to perish. Though a few other groups have also been weakened, their support bases and operational capabilities remain intact.

A review of the statistics of 2015 suggests that the TTP remained the major actor of instability, carrying out 212 terrorist attacks across the country. The group also managed to carry out 12 cross-border attacks from Afghanistan. The TTP splinter group Jamaatul Ahrar further fuelled instability by carrying out 28 terrorist attacks.

Another tribal areas-based group, the Lashkar-i-Islam, was involved in 27 attacks in Khyber Agency and the suburbs of Peshawar. The small militant groups in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, described as the local Taliban, carried out 56 terrorist attacks in 2015. Meanwhile, while LJ was involved in 33 attacks in 2015; the Shia sectarian group Sipah-i-Mohammad Pakistan also remained active during the year, mainly in Karachi, Quetta and Islamabad-Rawalpindi, and carried out 19 targeted killings. Baloch separatist groups were another key actor of instability, mainly in Balochistan.

In recent years, new actors have been emerging and some old groups are taking advantage of the changes. Affiliates of the militant Islamic State (IS) group accepted responsibility for three attacks, while Jundullah managed four high-intensity attacks in different parts of the country. AQIS also absorbed the human resource of weakening militant groups; it was involved in abduction cases in Pakistan.

In this context, the responses of the law-enforcement agencies need a dedicated platform to scientifically monitor the changing behaviours, trends, and emerging operational patterns of groups involved in terrorism. This initiative will help them broaden their threat perception and evolve effective responses.

So far, it has been difficult for the security and law-enforcement agencies to think beyond established threats. Pakistan is a frontline state in the war against terrorism, but Al Qaeda has never been on its threat-perception radar. Instead, the group was always considered part of a global problem, which resulted in the emerging threats being deemed insignificant.

The same is proving true for the IS, which is now transforming local terrorist groups. It is a real and emerging threat for Pakistan. Understanding the dynamics, including the erosion of conventional militant groups like the Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) and the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad is also a difficult task.

Interestingly, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, while denying the presence of IS in Pakistan, has claimed that banned groups like JuD are using the name of Daesh (Arabic acronym of IS) to mask their activities. The minister has always been reluctant to include the group on the list of banned outfits and his new statement indicates the confusion which persists within the security establishment about the status of certain militant groups. The problem with the government is that it does not consider a group a threat unless it is involved in terrorist activities inside the country.

But at least it has been acknowledged that banned militant groups have become recruiting bases for international terrorist organisations, including Al Qaeda and the IS.

The successes of law-enforcement agencies deserve commendation, but it has been seen in the past that the elimination of a terrorist group’s leadership did not completely crush the group. After a while, the group reorganised and nurtured a new leadership. It happened more than twice in the case of the LJ. The killing of LJ leaders, including its founder Riaz Basra in 2002, provided a brief lull in sectarian killings. But in 2004, a new wave started which receded in 2008 when its new leaders were killed.

Yet again, a sudden rise in sectarian killings was observed in 2010 when a new leadership, including Asif Chotu and Naeem Bukhari, took over the group. This leadership proved more lethal, as it had not only expanded the group’s geographical outreach to interior Sindh but also found new targets, including the Hazara and Ismaili communities, and the Bohra community in Karachi.

The relief in statistics provides an opportunity to the government and law-enforcement agencies to review their responses and recompose their operational strategies. The most important aspect is linked to how to intervene in the spaces that continue breeding new generations of terrorists. Both the politico-ideological and operational perspectives are important and need collaborative efforts.

The actors of instability use ideological and political spaces to survive, which automatically create the spaces for their operational activities.
By Muhammad Amir Rana, a security analyst. He is the Director of Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), Islamabad, Pakistan.
http://www.dawn.com/news/1242368



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