Read, in the name of grieving, their names.
We have yet to learn how to grieve as a nation the thousands of names and the unnamed.
If we stopped for a second to make the pain register, perhaps something unimaginable would happen to us as a people. Perhaps, for now, because it is so unbearable, our grief has been stoppered in the collective consciousness. Perhaps if we actually looked into the chasm of loss, we would make it stop.
In this newspaper we tried our best to chronicle the price Pakistan is paying for the quotidian of terrorism and violence and words often failed us in the face of this indescribable time we are living in. But as the year ends, we wanted to stop and make you stop for even just one visual second to say to them, that yes, even though you are gone, and we are numb from the battering, we acknowledge your names before they are swallowed. Before they slip away and are replaced by fresh ones on these pages.
The algebra of evolving terrorism
For the 365 days of 2012 the newspapers were studded with statistics on terrorism. Reader fatigue is understandable. But as we lurch into the New Year in Pakistan, it is worth taking a closer look at them because there was a 25% drop in terrorist strikes, which some consider an improvement.
Muhammad Amir Rana, the director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, has kept an eye on the graph: Around 7,000 people died in 2011. In the year that just ended, about 4,700.
That was the ‘good’ news. The magnitude may have subsided slightly but the mark has sharpened. The agents of destruction have changed the rules of the game – their targets are more specific now. The crowded market places are slowly being replaced by an A-list of enemies.
This is why, in 2012 we saw more Bashir Bilours, Malala Yousufzais, Aurangzeb Farooquis, Birgitta Almebys, SP Hilals come in the line of fire.
More than a third of the 1,480 terrorist attacks were assassinations, according to data collected by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies.
It was not like this post-Lal Masjid in the summer of 2007 and till the end of 2009 when the general population bore the brunt. That two-and-a-half year period is a reference point for those tabulating and interpreting the trends because it included the deadliest months for Pakistan when attacks went up an unimaginable 154%.
Fortunately, it has been consistently winding down since then.
There were 3,816 violent incidents in 2009, 3,393 the year after. It continued to dip: 2,985 attacks in 2011. In the year that just ended, it was marginally, but still lower at 2,082.
There is an explanation for these changes.
“The militants were getting a lot of flak for targeting innocent women and children and attacking markets, schools and passenger buses,” says Imtiaz Gul, director of Centre for Research and Security Studies. “To avoid further discredit, they have stopped indiscriminate attacks.”
The new game is to pick off politicians and security forces.
“This is to simply demoralise those responsible for security… to terrorise and inject fear in the minds of people,” adds Gul.
According to data collected by the centre, in Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa there was a 32% increase in targeted attacks on prominent personalities. Attacks on the police and paramilitary increased 25%.
The bad press the militants got for killing women and children also prompted what appears to be another shift.
The uptick in the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) was accompanied by a recession in suicide bombers. In 2012, 27% of attacks relied on remote-controlled devices.
After a consistent increase in the use of human bombs from 2005 to 2009, suicide attacks have been dropping steadily since: 87 in 2009, 68 in 2010, 45 in 2011. “The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is increasingly dependent on IEDs,” notes Rana. “The dip in suicide bombing could be a human resource issue.”
The attacks in KP and Fata aside, Balochistan was a flashpoint with high levels of nationalist and sectarian violence.
The sectarian target was high on the list after the high-profile victim. These kinds of attacks rose 37% across the country, according to Rana.
The Hazaras were arguably the worst hit because of their sheer numbers in Balochistan. In Karachi, terror reigned in the new form of targeting Shia families and groups.
Karachi alone suffered 98% of 775 targeted attacks in the province, according to the Centre for Research and Security Studies. Indeed, the year opened with the law enforcement agencies bracing for blood on the city’s streets. But according to Ahmed Chinoy, the chief of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee, there was no real change in patterns of violence. What was different was the police’s success.
“We broke down a number of networks, that’s why we were protected from bigger damage,” he says.
The proof lies in the shuhuda: at least 125 police, Rangers and Frontier Constabulary men. “That is a big sacrifice,” says Chinoy. “It is because of the role they played that we have been protected.”
So brace for a long fight for survival – on both sides. It is not as if we haven’t been warned.
Writer and anti-war activist Eqbal Ahmad was sounding the alarm as far back as 1998: “Not a week, often not a day, goes by without some terrible act of violence shaking public confidence in the state’s ability to protect citizens, and reminding us that a serious decline in civility has occurred in this country.” Pakistan is “moving perilously toward a critical zone from where it will take the state and society generations to return to a semblance of normal existence”.
DATA COMPILED BY RAHMA MUHAMMAD MIAN
Note: The data does not include figures from the last week of December 2012