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Pakistan: Countering Militancy in PATA
Pakistan: Countering Militancy in PATA
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Calming India and Pakistan’s Tit-for-Tat Escalation
Calming India and Pakistan’s Tit-for-Tat Escalation
Report 242 / Asia

Pakistan: Countering Militancy in PATA

To overcome the security challenges and curb extremism in Pakistan’s Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA), its national and provincial leaderships should reclaim the political space ceded to the military.

Executive Summary

Pakistan’s Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA), which include Swat and six neighbouring districts and areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KPK), remains volatile more than three years after military operations sought to oust Islamist extremists. Militant groups such as the Sunni extremist Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) and its Pakistani Taliban-linked Fazlullah faction are no longer as powerful in Swat and other parts of PATA as they were in 2008 and early 2009, but their leaders and foot soldiers remain at large, regularly attacking security personnel and civilians. If this once dynamic region is to stabilise, PATA’s governance, security and economic revival must become a top priority for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government in Islamabad and the Awami National Party (ANP)-led government in Peshawar – and for their successors following the next general elections.

While the militants continue to present the main physical threat, the military’s poorly conceived counter-insurgency strategies, heavy-handed methods and failure to restore responsive and accountable civilian administration and policing are proving counter-productive, aggravating public resentment and widening the gulf between PATA’s citizens and the state. Meanwhile neither the federal nor the KPK provincial government is fully addressing the security concerns of residents.

Public and political support for action against the TNSM and allied Pakistani Taliban networks in Swat and its neighbouring districts remains strong, demonstrated by the outrage against the 9 October 2012 attack by Mullah Fazlullah’s Taliban faction on Malala Yousafzai, a Swat-based fourteen-year-old activist for girls’ right to education. That attack has also further eroded public confidence in the military’s claims of having dismantled the insurgency and underscores the grave security challenges that PATA’s residents face.

The military’s continued control over the security agenda, governance and administration in PATA and the state’s failure to equip KPK’s police force with the tools and authority it needs to tackle extremist violence lie at the heart of the security and governance challenges. Some serious efforts have been made to enhance police capacity, functioning and presence on the streets, including by increasing the size of the force and the number of police stations, particularly in Swat. However, they are insufficient. The KPK police should be properly trained, equipped, and accountable. Islamabad and Peshawar, KPK’s provincial capital, need to abolish parallel law enforcement entities such as Levies, dismantle state-supported tribal lashkars (militias) and give KPK’s police the lead in enforcing the law and bringing extremists to justice.

Yet, the complexities of PATA’s legal framework still make upholding the rule of law a daunting task. Unlike the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), PATA is subject to Pakistan’s basic criminal and civil law framework and falls under the jurisdiction of the provincial KPK legislature (in addition to the National Assembly) and the Peshawar High Court and Supreme Court. However, under Article 247 of the constitution, laws apply to PATA, as in FATA, only if specifically extended by the governor (the federation’s representative), with the president’s consent.

Since formally joining KPK (then called Northwest Frontier Province) in 1969, PATA has also been governed by various parallel legal systems that have undermined constitutional rights and isolated it from the rest of KPK. More recent reforms have only expanded that isolation. Despite public opposition to Islamist militancy in Swat and neighbouring PATA districts, the ANP-led provincial government has not repealed the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation 2009, which imposed Sharia (Islamic law) in PATA as part of a military-devised peace deal with the Taliban-allied TNSM in April 2009. In August 2011, President Asif Ali Zardari promulgated the Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulation 2011 (AACP) for PATA and FATA, vesting the military with virtually unchecked powers of arrest and detention and further undermining fundamental rights and the rule of law. While the AACP provides legal cover for the military’s human rights abuses, the imposition of Sharia has made effective and accountable governance elusive.

Efforts to revive a shattered economy, once heavily dependent on tourism, have also faltered, and pressing humanitarian needs remain unmet because of continued instability and short-sighted military-dictated policies and methods. These include travel restrictions on foreigners, stringent requirements for domestic and international NGOs, abrasive and intrusive questioning at military checkposts and the military’s deep economic encroachment.

To overcome PATA’s rising security challenges, the national and provincial leaderships should reclaim the political space ceded to the military. Islamabad and Peshawar must develop and assume ownership over a reform agenda that ends PATA’s legal and political isolation, strengthens a deteriorating justice system, revokes laws that undermine constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights and fully integrates the region into KPK.

Islamabad/Brussels, 15 January 2013

Students chant slogans under the shade of national flag, after Pakistan shot down two Indian military aircrafts, according to Pakistani officials, during a march in Lahore, Pakistan 28 February 2019. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
Q&A / Asia

Calming India and Pakistan’s Tit-for-Tat Escalation

Reciprocal airstrikes by India and Pakistan have been accompanied by shelling, troop reinforcements and small arms fire. In this Q&A calling for restraint between the nuclear-armed neighbours, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director Laurel Miller notes that the airspace violations alone were the worst for 50 years.

What happened exactly?

On Tuesday, 26 February, India claimed that its air force had targeted “the biggest training camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed … in Balakot”. The strikes – the most significant airspace violations in nearly 50 years – followed a deadly 14 February suicide car bombing in Pulwama in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), which had been claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group. India said it launched a “preventive strike” based on intelligence that Jaish intended to attack again. At a press conference, Foreign Secretary VK Gokhale said Pakistan “failed to take any concrete action against terrorists” and that the strike on the training facility had “killed a large number”. In its official statement on the airstrike in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the Indian government said, “The existence of such massive training facilities, capable of training hundreds of jihadists could not have functioned without the knowledge of Pakistani authorities”.

Pakistan refutes Indian officials’ claims that more than 300 Jaish militants were killed in the attack. It acknowledges however that eight Indian Air Force jets had violated the Line of Control, which divides Pakistan’s Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Indian-controlled J&K. The Pakistan military’s spokesperson said that its Air Force’s “timely and effective response” had forced the Indian planes to retreat, dropping their bombs in an uninhabited area near Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, causing no casualty or damage.

On 27 February, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said its Air Force had conducted six strikes on “non-military targets” in India to demonstrate the country’s “right, will and capability for self-defence”. Pakistan downed an Indian jet that entered its airspace in pursuit of the Pakistani aircraft, leading to the pilot’s capture. India claimed to have downed one of the intruding Pakistani jets.

Resort to military force for political ends increases the risks of escalation, no matter how unintended.

Although it is clear that cross-Line of Control attacks and aerial skirmishes between the two sides occurred, it is difficult to verify both countries’ claims and counter-claims of targets and impact. Pakistani officials have provided evidence, also circulated on social media, of the downed Indian jet and the captured pilot, but claims of six successful strikes conducted in Indian-controlled Kashmir are more difficult to verify. Despite ample evidence of its cross-Line of Control attacks, Indian claims of killing hundreds in the airstrike on a Jaish training base and downing a Pakistani jet lack credence since New Delhi did not provide any evidence.

Why did it happen?

India’s and Pakistan’s latest skirmishes are as much aimed at assuaging domestic constituency concerns as they are at convincing each other of their capacity to strike and seriousness of intent. Still, resort to military force for political ends increases the risks of escalation, no matter how unintended.

In the Indian context, Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government felt compelled to react in light of the countrywide outrage in the wake of the 14 February Jaish suicide car bombing. With elections months away, Modi, responding to domestic opinion – particularly that of his hardline BJP constituency – vowed to avenge the dead in Pulwama, including at least 40 Indian paramilitary police officers. “We will give a befitting reply; our neighbour will not be allowed to destabilise us,” he said, giving his security forces “permission to take decisions about the timing, place and nature of their response”. That response came in the shape of the 26 February airstrikes across the Line of Control.

Within Pakistan, given a long history of distrust toward, and war with India, the powerful military establishment had to demonstrate to constituencies at home that India’s hostile designs would be forcefully thwarted. On 22 February, days before the Indian Air Force strikes, the military’s spokesperson warned that, if India were to attack, Pakistan would never “fall short of capacity” and would “dominate the escalation ladder”. The day of the 26 February Indian attack, reiterating these warnings, the spokesperson referred to a meeting of the National Command Authority (NCA), which oversees Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, saying to India, “I hope you know what the NCA means and what it constitutes”. 

What could happen next and why does it matter?

Both sides have left themselves room to climb down. Pakistani and Indian officials insist that their governments have no intention to escalate hostilities further. On 27 February, Pakistan’s military spokesperson said the Pakistan Air Force could have targeted a major Indian military installation in the strike area but chose to attack “in open space”, causing no casualties, so as to avoid escalation. The same day, speaking at a Russia-India-China foreign ministers meeting in Beijing, Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj said the 26 February strike, meant to pre-empt another terror attack, “wasn’t a military operation, no military installation was targeted”. India, she said, “doesn’t wish to see further escalation of the situation”.

For his part, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called for restraint and diplomatic engagement and at the same time vividly highlighted the risks inherent in the current situation. The same day as his country’s planes launched strikes across the Line of Control, Khan elliptically referenced the nuclear capabilities in a television interview and said, “With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation? Shouldn’t we think that, if this escalates, what will it lead to?” He also offered to release the captured Indian pilot and to cooperate with India in investigating the Pulwama attack.

New Delhi and Islamabad should immediately and urgently revive the hotline between their Directors General for Military Operations, a crucial mechanism to prevent unintended and inadvertent conflict escalation.

Despite Khan’s acknowledgement of escalation risks, and Indian and Pakistani claims of responsibility and restraint, their armies are continuing to clash with artillery shelling and small arms fire along the Line of Control. Meanwhile, tensions are also high within J&K due to an Indian crackdown on Kashmiri dissidents, which could provoke more alienated youth to join militants. This apparently was the case of the 14 February suicide bomber, who came from a village close to the site of the Pulwama attack.

What should be done?

The international community, including China, the EU and European governments, have called on India and Pakistan to exercise restraint and prevent further escalation. In Washington, expressing U.S. concern about the tit-for-tat attacks, a White House official said, “The potential risks associated with further military action by either side are unacceptably high for both countries, their neighbours, and the international community”.

If the two sides are to step down from the brink, their leaders, civil and military, should resist the temptation to pander to domestic constituencies and tone down hostile rhetoric.

There is little foreseeable prospect, no matter how desirable, of the top Indian and Pakistani leaderships re-establishing direct communication channels and bilateral dialogue. These have been frozen since the 2016 terror attacks in Indian Punjab and Indian-administered Kashmir, which New Delhi attributed to Pakistan-based militants. Nevertheless, New Delhi and Islamabad should immediately and urgently revive the hotline between their Directors General for Military Operations, a crucial mechanism to prevent unintended and inadvertent conflict escalation.

In the short and medium terms, New Delhi should rethink its approach toward and within J&K, ending the heavy-handed militarised response that has contributed to growing local alienation and disaffection. Pakistan should rethink its longstanding policy of supporting anti-India jihadist proxies, such as Jaish, that – as this latest round of escalation shows – are far more of a threat to national security than an asset.

This article was corrected on 2 March 2019 to place Balakot in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, not Azad Jammu and Kashmir, as first reported by Pakistan.