Scale of the challenge
BY M U H A M M A D A M I R R A N A | 8/9/2015

PAKISTAN`S internal security situation has shown considerable improvement over the past few months. That has not only created a sense of optimism across Pakistan but also boosted the confidence of law enforcement agencies in urban areas.

The killings of some high-profile leaders of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) in Quetta, Karachi and Punjab, since the start of 2015, and extensive search and-hunt operations against militants have also lowered the threat of sectarian violence, at least for the moment.

Military operations have significantly weakened militants` infrastructure and networks in the North Waziristan and Khyber agencies. Most militants from these two regions have either relocated to Afghanistan or other parts of Pakistan, including neighbouring agencies of Fata.

Yet, militants` presence in parts of Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa poses a political challenge and security threat. For instance, militants continue to show their presence in all of Fata`s tribal agencies. According to data provided in the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies database on security, between May and July this year, militants carried out 39 terrorist attacks in Fata, including eight attacks each in Bajaur and North Waziristan agencies, seven attacks each in Mohmand and South Waziristan agencies, six in Khyber Agency and three attacks in Kurram Agency. In Orakzai Agency, where no terrorist attack took place during these three months, militants tried to regroup during the last month but security forces thwarted the plan.

Similarly, although terrorist attacks have decreased in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, districts of the province bordering North and South Waziristan agencies remain vulnerable to terrorist activities. It is feared that militants from North Waziristan and Khyber agencies have also relocated to these areas, where they could carry out attacks in the coming weeks and months, mainly in Bannu and DI Khan.

The pace of improvement in Balochistan is slow.

Some security analysts believe that the government`s amnesty scheme, which offers pardons,financial incentives and rehabilitation to those who quit violence, will help bring the situation under control. The provincial government also seems serious in starting a process of political reconciliation in the province. But there are certain hurdles along the way, which can only be removed through concerted efforts. A high-level delegation of the Balochistan government recently met the Khan of Kalat in London, but failed to persuade him to end his self-imposed exile and return to Pakistan. Later, it was reported in the media that the Khan of Kalat said that only the Baloch Grand Jirga had the right to ask for his return. Some media reports indicated that the Balochistan government was mulling over using that option, too.

Karachi has been comparatively peaceful in recent weeks and months. Apparently, surgical operations against militants and criminal elements have significantly weakened the infrastructure of terrorists and criminal gangs. According to a report compiled by the Sindh police and submitted to the provincial home department, `the murders and targeted killings in Karachi are all-time lowest [sic].

On the other hand, the political crisis continues in Karachi and Sindh, which does not bode well for the future of security and peace there.

While the killing of Malik Ishaq was described by many as a severe blow to the LJ, it also indicated that the Punjab government, which has long been criticised for its alleged inaction against sectarian groups, is becoming serious in eliminating militant groups operating in the province.

Malik and his aides` death will not only weaken the LJ in Punjab and Balochistan, but also affect the operations of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Al Qaeda and Jamaatul Ahrar in Punjab with whom the group had operational nexus. The I J was already facing problems in Balochistan after the killing of Usman Saifullah Kurd, who headed another lethal faction of the LJ that targets Hazara Shia Muslims.

The group is now headed by the second-in-command of Kurd, Dawood Badini, who has been in hiding for a long time. Two main factions of the LJ in Karachi the Asif Chotoo and the Naeem Bukhari groups have also been weakened mainly due to security operations. But the history of the IJ suggests that it has many tactics to survive, including a political cover. Yet one thing is certain: it will not be as strong in the future as it was in the past.

The military operations in Fata have significantly damaged the TTP. Major sections of the group, including its splinter groups, have relocated to Afghanistan. There is no probability that the group will be allowed to regroup in Pakistan. However, it will continue to create trouble in Pakistan`s areas bordering on Afghanistan, as well as in other parts of the country through its small pockets and allied groups.

Many groups operate with the name of Jundullah in Pakistan, including one main group, which is operating in Karachi, espousing a strong anti-Western and anti-Shia agenda. The group can be called the transformed face of the IJ, which has ultra sectarian tendencies. The groups are inspired by the self-styled Islamic State (IS) but have collaborations with Al Qaeda and factions of the TTP. Jammatul Ahrar is another group that will remain a threat for some time in the future. If it pledges allegiance to IS, it might become more relevant mainly in Afghanistan where inspiration and influence of IS is growing, and the state is still weak.

If IS is a growing threat for Afghanistan, Al Qaeda could pose a threat of similar intensity for Pakistan.

Led by Asim Umar, the Al Qaeda Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) is absorbing the human resources of the fragmented TTP and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan factions, and it has the operational capabilities and resources for launching attacks in the region.

Unlike IS, AQIS has no ambitions to capture territories and establish its rule. But the group is certainly in search of safe havens where it can restructure itself and execute its terror plans. This is the major challenge for Pakistan: continue disrupting the terror network and not allow the groups the space and time to reorganise.•
The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn