The Year That Was

Spearhead Analysis – 01.01.2013

Pakistan Flag2012 ended on a grisly and sad note for Pakistan. In December there was a daring attack on the Peshawar Air base that was claimed by the TTP. The attack failed because of determined and bold actions by the security forces. Then there were the drive-by targeted killings of the workers carrying out anti-polio vaccinations that brought the campaign to a halt and badly tarnished the country’s image. The senior minister of the provincial government of Khyber PakhtunKhwa was assassinated in Peshawar shocking the nation and the world. There were attacks on two prominent religious leaders in Karachi and while one survived the other was killed. A bomb attack in a high security Cantonment area of Karachi killed at least six and wounded many more. A security post manned by Levies (paramilitary personnel) was attacked by at least 200 Taliban. They killed one person and kidnapped 22 persons out of whom 21 were also killed later and their bodies thrown on the roadside. One person who managed to escape died later. At the tail end of the month a bus carrying Shia sect pilgrims for a pilgrimage to religious sites in Iran was blown up by remotely detonated explosives killing 19. Earlier in the year the TTP attack on Malala had rocked the nation and led to widespread world-wide condemnation.

December also saw the political debut of Mr Bilawal Bhutto the son of President Zardari and the late Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto with an impassioned speech by him on the death anniversary of his mother. Another political event that led to much speculation was the sudden advent of a crusader for reform—Dr Tahirul Qadri—who addressed a mammoth gathering in Lahore and promised a bigger one in Islamabad on January 14th in case his demands for reform of the political environment were not met. In a surprising move the coalition government’s partner – the MQM pledged its unstinted support to Dr Qadri for his agenda and march to Islamabad. The already bubbling political cauldron became more active with many more speculative theories. Elections have been promised by the government in the second quarter of 2013 with a care taker government put in place earlier. The sectarian attack on December 30 highlights the fragility of the situation in Baluchistan that prominent Baluch leaders have blamed on the lack of an effective administration. A similar situation prevails in Karachi. The meeting between the Chief Election Commissioner and the Chief of Army Staff has signaled that the elections are likely to be free and fair with preliminary checks of voters and constituencies completed well before the Election Day.

From a statistical analysis of 2012 the conclusion that can be drawn is that that the level of violence was down from 2011. There was a 25% reduction in terror attacks with about 4800 killed against the 7000 that died in 2011. However there was a qualitative change in the targets selected with most attacks being on specific personalities and security force personnel and facilities instead of random acts of terror against people. There was also a shift in the pattern with more and more attacks using remotely controlled explosive devices rather than suicide bombers. The total attacks in 2012 were 2084 down from a high of over 3800 in 2009. The aim of the terrorist attacks, however, remains consistent – the economic and political destabilization of Pakistan and the demoralization of its security forces and society. If anything the attacks are now much more focused on these objectives than before with an increase of more than 28% in targeted attacks. Sectarian attacks also increased sharply during the year with Malakand, Swat, Gilgit- Baltistan, Karachi and Baluchistan emerging as the centers of gravity of such activity. The Hazara community in Baluchistan was subjected to particularly vicious attacks.

The year also saw the reopening of NATO logistics through Pakistan and a steady improvement in US-Pakistan relations. Pakistan has been recognized as a central player in the US pushed intra Afghan reconciliation and peace process and as a consequence Pakistan is making a very positive contribution. Relations with India have improved marginally especially in the trade and travel sectors. The driving force is the desire to move away from conflict and towards economic gains for the people of both countries. This fits into the broader regional vision of the new ‘silk road’ and energy flows across South Asia. Both India and Pakistan, as also South East Asian nations, recognize the importance of China’s growing economy and its vast trade potential and the reality of the geographic proximity of Russia with South Asia. There is also the fact that the ‘pivot to the Pacific’ may interest the US more than South Asia once it is out of Afghanistan.

For the people of Pakistan the main concerns were, and remain, human security, economic issues, gas and power shortfalls with all hopes pinned on elections and policies that bring effective governance and focus on the people and the institutions that support and protect them.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)