Pakistan’s war on civilians

The extension of war in Pakistan - from the Afghan border regions to Lahore - is inflicting a terrible toll on the country’s poor and displaced.

The car-bombing in Lahore of a police station and the local headquarters of Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) agency on 27 May 2009 is more than the seventh major attack on the city since January 2008 [1] - and the third since March 2009, when the Sri Lankan cricket team and a police academy were targeted. The bomb, which killed twenty-seven people and and injured over a hundred, is a further indication of the systemic, interrelated and deep-rooted nature of Pakistan’s internal-security troubles.Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He has been writing a weekly column on global security on openDemocracy since 26 September 2001

Lahore, after all, is Pakistan’s cultural centre, a sophisticated city that lies close to India and is a long way from the intense fighting currently being waged in the Swat valley in North West Frontier Province (NWFP). If it can be repeatedly attacked with apparent impunity, it tells its own story about how the different parts of the country are becoming implicated in an all-consuming conflict [2].

 The military machine

The exact link between the Lahore bombing - and the twin attacks that followed in Peshawar on 28 May that killed eleven people and injutred dozens more - and what is happening in Swat is not yet clear, but Islamist militants in western Pakistan had threatened attacks across the country in response to the army’s operations in the NWFP. What is clear, though, is that those operations are massive and sustained and are having huge human consequences, whatever the belief in Islamabad that they are necessary to counter the increasing power of the Taliban and other militias.

A United Nations source has estimated the flow of internal refugees since mid-May 2009 as 2.4 million people; by 29 May, the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) calculated that the figure exceeded 3 million. There are few examples of such vast and sudden movements in recent history; the scale of what is happening recalls the traumatic events prior to the founding of Bangladesh in 1970-71, when many millions of people fled from the Pakistani army across the border into India.

Much of the destruction in Swat is because the Pakistani army is simply not constructed for counterinsurgency or counter-guerrilla warfare - and the conflict in Swat is a combination of this with an out-and-out civil war. Pakistan has a standing army of 550,000, equipped with nearly 2,500 main battle-tanks and over 4,000 artillery pieces, five times the size of the British army. That may be large by any standards; but the “threat” from India has long dominated the Pakistani military posture, and India commands well over a million troops, 4,000 tanks and more than 10,000 artillery pieces.

What is essentially a powerful land army geared to armoured battles and artillery bombardments on the plains of south Asia, is now engaged in a war against its own people in a bitter internal conflict that is being conducted under a blanket of tight media control. Because of this, every impression is being given of a successful campaign against weak opponents - the Taliban - who are being put to flight. Where foreign journalists can report at all, they do so under tight army control and the rare visits they are able to make are to towns that are firmly under the army’s control [3].

 The civilian impact

Even so, two issues are emerging. One is that the assault will be prolonged and very violent. The army is readily using its huge firepower advantage, but the militias that it is trying to defeat are proving highly resilient. Even army sources now speak of “steady progress amid stiff resistance” and acknowledge that the war has some time to run [4].

In the city of Mingora, for example, there has been intensive street-fighting, yet the government security forces have gained control of just one quarter of the urban area. More generally, the militias are now avoiding conflict in exposed places and are dispersing to towns and villages across the valley. The army in response is using helicopter gunships, strike-aircraft and artillery, whose main effect is widespread destruction including the wholesale flattening of villages.

The second issue follows: the serious humanitarian consequences (both short- and long-term) of the conflict. The United Nations estimates that $450 million is needed for immediate aid to respond to exceptional displacement of peoples. An indication of Washington’s concerns over the situation is the decision on 22 May to make an immediate commitment of $110 million in humanitarian aid. But this will barely touch the larger problem that many thousands of civilians are caught up in the fighting and prevented by a a Pakistani army curfew from escaping the conflict-zone.

Also on 22 May, the United Nations and several partner agencies launched an appeal for $543 million in aid; but by 28 May, the “humanitarian action plan” had reached only 21% of this total.

A leading Islamabad newspaper cites a report from Human Rights Watch’s Asia director, Brad Adams: “Reports of civilians killed in the crossfire continued to flood people break the curfew in desperate bids to find food and water for their families, or try and escape the aerial and ground bombardments” [5].

The surge of over 2 million refugees who have fled from the area has overwhelmed the Pakistani government and agencies:

“The true dimensions of the refugee problem are apparent in Mardan, one of the primary destinations for civilians fleeing the battles in Swat and in neighbouring Buner and Dir. The city is studded with refugee camps consisting of endless rows of tan canvas tents that bake under the 110-degree skies. Schools are packed to capacity with families sleeping on concrete classroom floors, with each classroom housing 40 or more people” [6].

A small proportion only of these refugees - 20%, according to Save the Children - is housed in government camps. Most are living outside them; half of the displaced are children.

 The signal of war

The inability to cope with a crisis caused by its own military action means that Pakistan’s government is ceding influence to others (radical groups in particular) that are quick to fill the vacuum:

“The army has warned that some Taliban fighters joined the fleeing residents and may have infiltrated the refugee camps... Outside the camps, radical Islamist agendas are rushing in to fill the void left by the paucity of government services. The Falah-e-Insaniyat foundation, the successor to a group known as Jamaat-ud-Dawa, has established a major presence near Swat, feeding tens of thousands of displaced people and providing them with quality medical care” [7]

In the longer term there are indications that the physical damage done to settlements will take years to repair. Qamar Zaman Kaira, Pakistan’s information minister, said that the authorities had started “initial satellite surveys for the rehabilitation of homes, businesses and cultivable lands”. The very fact that the destruction demands satellite surveys gives some indication of the impact of the war after barely two weeks.

The war in northwest Pakistan may still be in its early stages, but it is already operating with an intensity that is not fully appreciated beyond the region. Pakistani army sources are presenting the operation as an extensive and determined effort to isolate a relatively small group of extremist militias. But three factors - the failure to cope with refugees, the ability of the militias to disperse, and the rapid provision of aid by radical movements - suggests that the long-term effects of the army’s campaign could be to intensify Pakistan’s divisions. The Lahore bombing and Peshawar attacks may be early signals of that.

Paul Rogers

28 - 05 - 2009

 Four out of seven terror attacks in Lahore occur on The Mall

By Ali Usman

Daily Times, Thursday, May 28, 2009

LAHORE: Yesterday’s terrorist attack on the building of an intelligence agency and the Rescue 15 office on Queen’s Road is the seventh deadly attack in Lahore and the fourth on the busy The Mall during the last one-and-a-half years.

All four of the blasts on The Mall have occurred on one side of the city’s busiest road. A number of important government and private offices are located on The Mall, which also houses many businesses.

At least 68 people were killed in the five terrorist attacks prior to the Manawan terrorist attack. Following is a chronology of the terrorist attacks in Lahore between January 2008 to date. The major targets of most of these attacks have been law enforcement agencies. All six terrorist attacks in Lahore during January 2008 to March 2009 have been carried out in broad daylight.

GPO Chowk attack: A motorcyclist blew himself up outside the Lahore High Court (LHC) on January 10, 2008, killing 24 people and injuring 80. Around 20 police officials were killed in the attack. The attack was the first major suicide attack in Lahore and shocked the people. A wave of sympathy was generated in the general public for the police after the attack.

Pakistan Navy War College attack: Two suicide bombers attacked the Pakistan Navy War College on March 4, 2008, killing six people and injuring 23. Inter-Services Public Relations, however, said three junior-ranked officers were martyred while 16 were injured. The attack was the second one on The Mall, the main road in the city.

FIA blast: At least 30 people were killed and more than 200 wounded in twin suicide blasts at the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) headquarters on Temple Road and an advertising agency’s office in Model Town on March 11, 2008. The FIA headquarters at that time also housed a special US-trained unit to counter terrorism. A small truck crashed into the main entrance of the FIA building, running over a constable guarding the gate. The attacker then rammed the truck into a car parked near the reception. The blast was so severe that the windowpanes of buildings within a 2-km radius were shattered.

Garhi Shahu blasts: Three low-intensity bombs exploded in three juice shops in Garhi Shahu, injuring five people, including two children, on October 7, 2008. No casualties were reported; however, an injured passed away a day after the blasts.

Blasts at WPAF: Three blasts at the World Performing Arts Festival (WPAF) at the Alhamra Cultural Complex created immense panic among the people on November 22, 2008. The festival however concluded peacefully and no casualties were reported.

GOR-II blast: A woman was killed and five people were injured when a mini-truck packed with explosives blew up in GOR-II on December 24, 2008.

Theatres targeted: Panic gripped the city when low-intensity blasts targeted two theaters, Alfalah and Tamaseel, on January 9, 2009. No casualties were reported.

Liberty terrorist attack: At least seven people were killed and six cricketers, a coach and a Pakistani umpire was injured in an attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team at the Liberty Roundabout on March 3. The attackers fired rounds of AK-47, hand grenades and rockets at the Sri Lankan team’s convoy and managed to flee the scene.

Manawan attack: The Police Training School Manawan was attacked by the terrorists on March 30. At least eight police cadets were killed in the attacks. Unofficial sources put the death toll at 27.

 ANALYSIS-Bombs seen stiffening Pakistan resolve on militants

By Robert Birsel

ISLAMABAD, May 29 (Reuters) - A series of militant bomb attacks in Pakistan aims to undermine the country’s resolve to fight the Taliban but is likely only to strengthen determination to defeat the militants, analysts say.

Pakistan has undertaken its most concerted effort to roll back an expanding Taliban insurgency that has raised fears for the important U.S. ally’s stability, and for the safety of its nuclear weapons.

The army late last month went into action against Taliban who had seized a district only 100 km (60 miles) from the capital after the United States criticised a peace pact as tantamount to abdicating to the militants.

This month, the military launched a full-scale offensive to root out the Taliban from their stronghold in nearby Swat.

But the militants have responded with eight bomb attacks in towns and cities since late April, three on Thursday in the northwest, a day after 24 people were killed in a suicide gun and bomb attack in the eastern city of Lahore.

The militants are trying to undermine the state’s determination to fight them, and the broad public support the army’s campaign enjoys, analysts told Reuters on Friday.

“This is exactly what the militants are trying to do because they have done it successfully in the past. But things have changed substantially,” security analyst Ikram Sehgal said.

“I don’t think it will undermine the resolve of either the public or the government. They realise that this sort of thing will only escalate if they vacillate any further,” he said.

Pakistan signed up to the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militancy after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States but at best ambivalently.

Pakistan had used Islamist fighters to oppose Soviet occupiers in Afghanistan in the 1980s and later backed the Afghan Taliban. Militants were also used to oppose India in the disputed Kashmir region.

Pursuit of strategic interests apparently at odds with U.S. aims and mixed messages from the state and media brought muddle.

But not any more.


The Taliban overplayed their hand when, under cover of a controversial peace pact, they denounced the constitution and pushed out of the former tourist valley of Swat towards the capital.

“The Taliban attempt to make their presence felt in an area that a large number of Pakistanis are familiar with, and the way they went about it, the brutality, exposed them and changed opinion,” said Samina Ahmed of the International Crisis Group think-tank.

“They are no longer considered alienated, disaffected Pakistanis who need to be brought into the fold. They’re looked upon much more as criminals who should be brought to justice.”

The violence the militants have unleashed demonstrated the extent of the threat they posed and is steeling opposition, Ahmed said.

“It strengthens the government’s position that the terrorists pose a major threat ... It’s no longer a remote conflict being fought in FATA,” she said, referring to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the Afghan border.

The state now had to show it can finish the offensive in Swat quickly and wind up the militant networks.

“Their main aim is to weaken public opinion, especially in Punjab,” said retired Brigadier Asad Munir, a former intelligence agency officer, referring to Pakistan’s most prosperous and politically important province, of which Lahore is capital.

“You won’t see this now but if the operation is prolonged then things will start changing. They have got to do it in a week or 10 days,” he said of the Swat operation.

Wavering at this stage would dash the hopes of the public and be disastrous, he said.

 Trapped civilians face catastrophe in Swat: HRW

Dawn, Tuesday, 26 May, 2009 | 12:42 PM PST |

ISLAMABAD: Thousands of civilians trapped in Pakistan’s northwest where the military is pounding Taliban insurgents face ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ unless help reaches them soon, a rights watchdog said Tuesday.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said people were living with scant food and water in regions of the rugged northwest where security forces are bombarding Taliban militants in a push to extinguish their two-year insurgency.

‘People trapped in the Swat conflict zone face a humanitarian catastrophe unless the Pakistani military immediately lifts a curfew that has been in place continuously for the last week,’ said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director.

‘The government cannot allow the local population to remain trapped without food, clean water and medicine as a tactic to defeat the Taliban.’ It urged Islamabad to lift a curfew in the under-siege Swat valley and nearby districts of the North West Frontier Province. The military launched their offensive in Lower Dir on April 26, Buner on April 28 and Swat on May 8.

Reports of civilians killed in the crossfire continued to flood in, the group said, as people break the curfew in desperate bids to find food and water for their families, or try and escape the aerial and ground bombardments.

‘The Pakistani government should take all possible measures, including airdrops of food, water and medicine to quickly alleviate large-scale human suffering in Swat,’ said Adams.

Fleeing civilians have said that the price of goods in the conflict zones is soaring ten-fold, while medical assistance was almost impossible as hospitals had shut their doors and doctors had fled the conflict zone.

‘Dead bodies lay unburied and the critically injured faced likely death as all medical facilities in the valley had shut down and medicines were unavailable,’ the group’s statement said.

Beheadings of civilians at the hands of Taliban insurgents also continued, the group said, while Human Rights Watch said they had reports of 30 civilians killed in military strikes.

Pakistan’s military has said it is taking all possible measures to avoid civilian casualties. They have not released any figures for such deaths.

The military says nearly 1,160 militants and 69 soldiers have died in the current offensive, but those tolls cannot be confirmed independently.

Troops entered the Swat capital Mingora on Saturday and are currently fighting to regain control of the Taliban-held town, raising fears of more civilian deaths as the battles move from mountainous regions to urban areas.
“If they stop the operation now then prepare yourself for a Taliban state,” he said.

 Foundation provides food to 275,000 IDPs

The News, Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bureau report

PESHAWAR: Provincial head of the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF) has said that the organisation had provided food to about 275,000 internally displaced persons.

Talking to ‘The News’ here Saturday, Atiqur Rahman Chohan said that they started providing food to the IDPs since May 2 and till May 15 they had provided food to hundreds of thousands of people. He said that the foundation had established three cooking stations — one each in Katlang, Shergarh and Rustam.

Chohan said that 50-60 cauldrons of cooked rice were being distributed in Katlang while 25-30 cauldrons each in Shergarh and Rustam were being cooked for IDPs on daily basis. He added that parcels of cooked rice were distributed in Jalala, Sheikh Shahzad and Sheikh Yaseen camps.

He added that the foundation contacted the Mardan district coordination officer to identify the areas for provision of food assistance who asked them to focus attention on IDPs accommodated in schools. “We immediately started distributing cooked rice to the displaced persons in schools besides we provided them medical assistance to them,” he said.

Chohan further said that the foundation had also established four medical camps, which have so far examined 150,000 patients and provided them with the medicines.

“Our 25 ambulances are also in the field which provide 24-hour medical assistance to the patients in the camps,” he said and claimed that25,000 male and female volunteers of the FIF were working day and night to provide relief to the IDPs.


* From Open Democracy:

* In addition to his weekly openDemocracy column, Paul Rogers writes an international security monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group.

Paul Rogers’s books include Why We’re Losing the War on Terror (Polity, 2007) – an analysis of the strategic misjudgments of the post-9/11 era and why a new security paradigm is needed. A third edition of his Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 2009) is forthcoming


[1See article published in appendix.

[2See Ayesha Siddiqa, “Pakistan: a country on fire”, 24 September 2008:

[3See Shaun Gregory, “Pakistan and the ‘AfPak’ strategy”, 28 May 2009:

[4See Robert Birsel, "Bombs seen stiffening Pakistan resolve on militants, Reuters, 29 May 2009, reproduced in appendix.

[5See “Trapped civilians face catastrophe in Swat”, Dawn, 26 May 2009, reproduced in appendix.

[6See Griff Witte, “Pakistani Refugee Crisis Poses Peril”, Washington Post, 25 May 2009:

[7See “Foundation provides food to 275,000 IDPs”, The News, 17 May 2009, reproduced in appendix.

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