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Pakistan terrorism activity update

22 January 2019 Asad Ali

Our monitoring of terrorism activity in Pakistan shows a fourth consecutive year of declining attacks and fatalities over 2018.

  • Data gathered by Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre (JTIC) show that there were 264 attacks across the country last year, a year-on-year decrease of 28%.
  • The data underlines that Islamist militant groups continue to struggle to reorganise following military operations against their strongholds in 2014, reducing the frequency and capability of their attacks.
  • Overall, we expect the terrorism risk to airports, ports, hotels, infrastructure and government installations to reduce further over the coming year, however there is an increasing risk of separatists staging suicide assaults or IED attacks against restaurants and hotels frequented by Chinese nationals in Balochistan and Sindh.

Non-state armed group (NSAG) activity continued to decline for a fourth consecutive year in Pakistan over 2018. Data gathered by Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre (JTIC) show that there were 264 attacks across the country last year, a year-on-year decrease of 28%. A total of 660 people - including attackers - were killed in these incidents, representing a decline of 29% in nationwide terrorism-related fatalities in 2018 compared with 2017. Attacks were largely targeted against security forces and religious minorities, mostly involving the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and lone suicide bombings.

The decline of NSAG activity in Pakistan is rooted in the Pakistani military's counter-terrorism operations against militant strongholds in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in 2014; since then, overall attacks have declined by 77% in the country. Attacks also declined on a regional level, including in all four of the country's provinces; Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. In Punjab, NSAG activity nearly halved over 2018. Balochistan, however, experienced the most attacks with 99 attacks last year, compared with 123 in 2017. As a result of the notable improvement in the security situation in FATA, the Pakistani federal government began transitioning control of the territory to the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in May 2018.

The Pakistani Taliban remains fractured
The main driver of Pakistan's improving security environment is the continued decline of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the primary Islamist NSAG operating in the country, and its associated factions. The TTP's strongholds in FATA were the primary targets of military operations in 2014. Since then, the group's leadership has been forced into operating across the border in Afghanistan and the TTP can longer plan and execute sophisticated attacks. The group suffered another blow in June 2018 when its leader at the time, Mullah Fazlullah, was killed in a US unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attack in Afghanistan's Kunar province. Fazlullah was replaced by Noor Wali Mehsud, which means that the TTP is once again led by a member of the Mehsud tribe that separated from the TTP after Fazlullah's accession in 2014.

Baloch separatist insurgents increasingly ambitious
Baloch separatist groups have historically been less sophisticated than their Islamist counterparts, with their capability usually limited to hit-and-run attacks against security forces and crude IED attacks against military convoys and gas pipelines in the province.

However, these groups demonstrated growing ambition in 2018, particularly in their targeting of Chinese assets and individuals. Baloch separatist groups are opposed to Chinese investment in the province and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) specifically over concerns about the local population being economically exploited. In November, three Baloch separatist fighters carrying small-arms and grenades, and wearing suicide vests, attacked the Chinese consulate in Clifton, an affluent suburb of Karachi in Pakistan's Sindh province. The attackers approached a checkpoint outside the consulate in an explosives-rigged vehicle and opened fire on security guards, killing three and wounding three others. All of the attackers were killed in this exchange of fire, and they failed to detonate their vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED),

The attack marked an improvement in the group's capability: this was the first separatist attempted suicide attack on a secure Chinese fixed-point target, involving the attempted use of a VBIED and multiple armed individuals wearing suicide vests. These tactics have previously been employed by more capable Islamist non-state armed groups in Pakistan - particularly jihadist groups - but not hitherto by Baloch separatists.

Outlook and implications
The TTP's inability to organise demonstrative reprisal attacks in retaliation for Fazlullah's death indicates reduced cohesion and organisation, and of considerably lower likelihood of the group attracting any new significant population groups or other organised armed faction over the coming year, and therefore, reduced terrorism risk. Overall, we expect the terrorism risk to airports, ports, hotels, infrastructure and government installations to reduce further over the coming year given that these assets were previously targeted exclusively by the TTP.

The use of suicide tactics by the Baloch insurgency, however, and the growing complexity of the tactics employed and location of this latest attack, indicate improving separatist capability. IHS Markit assesses that Baloch separatists still lack the capability to successfully attack secure Chinese infrastructure, energy and industrial projects in Balochistan and Sindh provinces. Nevertheless, the decision to attack a high-profile target like the Chinese consulate in Karachi also indicates that security at Chinese projects in Balochistan is strong enough to deter attacks against such sites. Given the difficulty of planning and staging attacks on high-profile secure targets in urban areas, and limited likelihood of success, there is a growing risk of separatists also staging suicide assaults or IED attacks against restaurants and hotels frequented by Chinese nationals in urban areas of Balochistan and Sindh, as these present opportunities to cause mass casualties.

Seizures of higher-grade/military explosives during military raids against Baloch separatist hideouts would indicate growing Baloch capability and improving supply lines. Statements by established jihadist groups explicitly supporting Baloch insurgency in Pakistan, and against the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative projects globally, would indicate growing prospective support and co-operation with Baloch groups and swifter improvements in the capability and geographic spread of attacks.

Posted 22 January 2019 by Asad Ali, Senior Analyst – Asia Pacific, Country Risk & FCM, IHS Markit

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