Sunday 10 May 2009

Pakistan civilian casualties now higher than Afghanistan

As the Pakistani Army offensive gets underway in the Swat Valley in the north of the country it is probably worth putting a few facts into context. First, there can be little doubt that Pakistan is presently in the grip of an insurrection. This is hardly an exaggeration. Just compare the figures for civilian deaths connected to militant or army activity with those in neighbouring Afghanistan.
According to the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA), 2,118 civilians were killed as aresult of armed conflict in Afghanistan in 2008. This represents a 40 per cent increase on UNAMA’s figure for 2007. Even according to the highest estimate, from Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM), the total for 2008 was 3,917.
Yet if we look at the Pakistan figures provided by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) (and aggregated by me) we can see that the total number of civilian deaths in the six months from October 2008 – March 2009 was 1,765. If military and insurgent deaths are added, the total is 4,266. If the civilian death figures for Pakistan were extrapolated from six months to one year, the projected total would amount to 3,530 – much higher than the UN figure for Afghanistan and almost as high as the highest estimate.
The PIPS figures show that on average more than 200 terrorist incidents are taking place every month. In the six-month period mentioned, 2,152 militants were killed by the Army and paramilitary forces.
The most significant figure provided by PIPS is that showing the number of Pakistan Army casualties. In the six months in question, the total is just 39. Both the Frontier Corps and the police have had more deaths in a single month. Clearly the Army has, until now, had a policy of only limited engagement with the Taliban and its allies, while the other non-military forces have taken the brunt of the Taliban offensive.
Second, the Taliban in Pakistan is not the same as the Taliban in Afghanistan. The former is a coalition of various groups which, although they are united in wanting to establish an Islamic caliphate, have very clear political and religious differences. The chances of long-term stability of leadership are slim. There are few figures who are universally acknowledged as being pre-eminent. Several of the factions have been in open conflict with each other in the recent past.
It is worth emphasising also that the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) in Pakistan is not even solely a Pashtun organisation. As far back as the anti-Soviet jihad, it was true that many of the Taliban leaders based in Pakistan were in fact Punjabis – many of them seconded from the Pakistan Army. As the TTP has grown in influence over the last two years, it has also attracted attention from organisations such as Kashmiri-based Lashkar-e-Toiba which are known to have close connections to ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service.
Evidence of the growing influence of Punjabis on the Taliban comes from recent reports showing that the TTP is now operating within the Punjab itself. Eight police officers were killed on 6 February in an attack in Mianwali, a poor wheat-farming district on the border between Punjab and the North West Frontier Province.
Traders in the Punjabi city of Multan recently received leaflets warning that unveiled or unaccompanied women visiting the market would get acid thrown in their faces. The local medical school received threats telling it to cease educating women. The men involved In the March attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team while visiting Lahore (which is the capital of the Punjab) and a military police training academy are thought to be local, but trained in the tribal areas.
In April the TTP issued its first video in Punjabi. The video shows men preparing to attack NATO supply terminals on the outskirts of Peshawar
Speaking in Karachi last week, the well-known Pakistan writer Ahmed Rashid summed up the situation. He said "I no longer say that there's a creeping Talibanization in Pakistan; it's a galloping Talibanization."
He went on to say:
"The leadership of the Taliban is now in Pakistan, and they have stated their intention of overthrowing the government here. The Taliban are linking up with groups in Pakistan, and the Pakistani Taliban movement is turning into a multiethnic movement. Groups cultivated [by the Pakistani Army] to fight in Kashmir have joined up with the Pakistani Taliban, and include Punjabis, with organizations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Harkatul Mujahideen. Now, some 40 groups in Pakistan are loosely affiliated.... For that reason, Pakistan faces a more dangerous situation than Afghanistan, where Tajik and Uzbek fighters were not permitted to join the Afghan Taliban movement."
The real issue now for Pakistan is whether or not the Army can be persuaded to change its policy in relation to the jihadi groups. It has fostered and protected these organisations in order to pursue its policy of regaining control of Kashmir from India. Without a deal on Kashmir, the logic runs, there will be no deal to end the conflict in Afghanistan.
Now this policy has been revealed to be double-edged. As the TTP and its allies have grown in strength, they are intent on taking over control of the country. Pakistanis are slowly waking up to this fact and there is widespread support for the military action now taking place – not least from the millions of Pashtuns who have been forced to leave the tribal territories by the TTP and al-Qaeda and who live in poor conditions in Karachi and the Gulf.

No comments: