By Aakar Patel
June 24, 2014
Has the decrease in terrorist violence in India come at the cost of an increase in violence in Pakistan? That is what the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) believes. I was in Pakistan last week and a retired ISI general I spoke to said that the sharp spike in violence in the country in the last decade could be attributed to the military’s decision to crack down on terror groups operating against India.
Violence in Pakistan was very low till 2003, when only 189 Pakistanis were killed, of whom 140 were civilians.
The year before that, early 2002, former president Pervez Musharraf banned the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, and the violence in India began to dip, as I wrote last week. In Pakistan the reverse happened and that is what the general was referring to. In 2004, the number of deaths was 863, in 2005 it was 648. After that, during Musharraf’s last years in office, began a phase when violence seemed to get out of hand. From 1,471 (in 2006) to 3,598 (2007) to 6,715 (2008) to 11,704 (2009)
This was the climax and after this, it fell, but not drastically. Deaths owing to terrorism were 7,435 in 2010 and then 6,303 (2011), 6,211 (2012) and 5,379 (2013). This year, so far the number of those killed in terrorist violence is 2,137 and it seems to be more or less the same sort of pattern as Pakistan has seen since 2011.
I had these figures at hand and told the general that the violence seemed to have dropped since its 2009 peak. Though much more slowly, Pakistan’s numbers seemed to suggest a tapering off of the violence in the same way as India.
No, said the general, 2009 was an aberration. That year the military went into South Waziristan to clean up and took over the area completely. The casualties rose, the general said, because of this. Though the figures show that relatively few people died directly in the action by the military, it is possible that the operation resulted in increased attacks in Pakistani cities because the militants were hitting back. The subsequent ‘fall’ in the number of casualties the following year should not be seen as an improvement so much as going back to the situation of 2008.
The military’s launching of an operation in North Waziristan this week may unfortunately bring violence in the coming months back to peak levels, even if this is temporary.
The area is thought to be tougher to capture, especially given the presence of the most hardened of the al Qaeda fighters, meaning those from Central Asia who have nowhere else to go. The attacks in Pakistan’s urban areas are also likely to go up if the pattern of 2009 is to be repeated.
The ISI general said that the thinking in India appeared to them to be that of satisfaction at the situation Pakistan found itself in. “Let them stew in their own juice” and “you created the problem, now you suffer the consequences” were some of the phrases he used to describe what he thought the Indian attitude was.
He was quite clear, however, that there was no going back in the action against the militants because the army thought of them unequivocally as the enemy. In fact, that was the attitude of all those former representatives of the Pakistani state whom I had the chance to speak to — from diplomats once considered to be hard-line and hawkish, to politicians to generals, all were agreed that the enemy was the extremists. There was no talk at all of good and bad Taliban. The Pakistanis I heard said that there were limitations of the state with respect to the LeT and Hafiz in particular, but this must not be seen as encouraging the group.
Aakar Patel is a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar. He is the editor and translator of Why I write: Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto published by Westland, 2014)