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Existential threat




By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times, Sep 19, 2014


What are the biggest threats to Pakistan’s existence? Sectarian violence, target killing, intolerance, organized crime or a combination of all of them? What are the key existential challenges to Pakistan? Clean drinking water, education or rule of law (including equal citizenry) or a combination of all of them?

Statistical evidence suggests that forces of status quo – the civilian and security ruling elites as well as the nexus of organized crime and religious militancy – are out to perpetuate themselves in all possible thinkable ways. This is backed up by extremely disturbing data on crime, conflict and violence that keeps overshadowing all the expressed good intent by politicians and generals. Statistics are getting worrisome with every passing day – manifest in the fact that the fatality rate in Pakistan relentless; at least 549 dead in the month of August 2014 alone – bringing the toll in the first eight months of 2014 to a whopping 4,691 across Pakistan. These casualties had peaked to nearly 953 in June, ostensibly because of the Zarb-e-Azb operation against militants holed up in Waziristan.

The most worrying phenomenon, beside the TTP-mounted attacks on state and public interests, are target-killings, according to a study spread over the past eight months by the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS). Target killings, a staggering 1,377 out of the 4,691 deaths (more than one fourth), in fact emerge as an over-arching tag given to termination of perceived rivals under the garb of sectarian, political, or ethnic violence, or organized crime – a convenient way of obfuscating the real cause or motive of such murders.

Target killings are an overarching tag for sectarian, political, or ethnic assassinations, or organized crime – a convenient way of obfuscating the real cause or motive

And out of the 549 casualties in August, at least 214 were attributed to target killing – ie over one-third of people lost their lives for their religious, political or ethnic affiliation, up from 149 in July. This included 29 sectarian killings, up from 23 in July.

Interestingly, all other forms of violence such as militants attacks, security operations, terrorism, and drone attacks registered a relative declining trend in July-August, unlike the target killings.

And if viewed separately from the 1,635 fatalities accruing from various security operations, the 1,377 target killings stand out as the biggest source of death across Pakistan between January and August.

Alarmingly, Karachi continued to top in fatalities in comparison to other districts and towns such as North Waziristan, Khyber Agency, Turbat, Quetta, DI Khan, Kohat, and Dir.

During the month of August, Karachi accounted for 186 casualties, nearly 90 percent of the total 203 deaths in the Sindh province, making it the most dangerous Pakistani city as of now – underscoring the lethal tugs of war among politically patronized armed gangs and the increasing role of the criminal mafias as hired assassins – and this despite the military crackdown that had begun nearly a year ago.

Karachi topped in lives lost to sectarian violence too, accounting for 20 of the 29 killings, followed by Balochistan with 8 dead. Shia Muslims again bore the brunt of this type of ‘target-killing’, with nearly half of the victims of sectarian violence being Shias. For the first time, the followers of Zikri sect were also targeted in Balochistan. Hindus and Sikhs were not spared either, reinforcing the perception that people belonging to all religions as well as all sects of Muslim religion have become unsafe in the country that was created in the name of religion.

Balochistan, too, registered a 100 percent rise in fatalities in August, up from 38 in July to 83 in August. The twin Taliban attacks at PAF airbases at Samungli and Khalid in Quetta were daring, considering they took place a couple of months after their attack on Karachi Airport that appeared to have served as a catalyst for the military operation in the North Waziristan.

Common to both Karachi and Balochistan, besides the organized crime, are politically influential people and non-state actors which the security establishment uses as counter-insurgents in both provinces. Equally upsetting was the growing number of target killings in these provinces.

Surprisingly, casualties in FATA declined from a high of 516 in June (when Operation Zarb-e-Azb got under way) to a mere 178. Suicide attacks seem to have disappeared at least during July-August. The most heinous act of violence that rocked the FATA region during this month was a roadside bomb explosion in Bajaur Agency wherein three women teachers, two children and a driver were killed. Similarly, casualties of violence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa numbered about 69 in August, against the peak of 125 in February.

The province of Punjab remained relatively peaceful, with only 16 violent deaths, down from 37 in June.

These statistics amount to a deadly indictment not only of the leaking security apparatus that has failed in providing individual security but also put the society in general in bad light because of the criminal indifference to the intolerance that religious minorities face today.

The deadly nexus between radical militants, criminal syndicates, their tolerance by state security institutions for so-called security reasons, and socio-political accommodation – out of expedience – of these elements are all indicative of even more formidable times ahead ie increasing faith-based violence (against religious minorities), and greater personal insecurities at the hands of politically patronized organized crime (abductions for ransom, target-killings).

This represents a monumental challenge that stems from an extremely questionable, rather elitist, rule of law model which, instead of providing indiscriminate justice and security to all citizens, works only to the advantage of the mighty and the wealthy.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk