I do not like to fashion myself as some authority writing this post, but Ahsan has forced me contribute to fulfill his monthly and weekly post quota. Now that I have expressed the pressure under which I have been forced to commission this piece of blogging, I’m going to start out directly by making a 5 year/long-term prediction about terrorist violence in Pakistan and the fate of the TTP/associated groups.
- Violence will continue to decline, as it has been declining for a while
- Number of attacks will be substantially less
- ‘Effectiveness’ of attacks (i.e. number of people killed per attack) will be substantially lower
- IEDs will become more popular, and suicide bombings will reduce
- After remaining strongholds are cleared and space denied to them in FATA, the TTP will fan out even more so towards urban areas
- This will result in inability to exercise local power and result in it becoming a criminal enterprise. It won’t be the IRA in Belfast.
I’ll explain point by point:
- Even though people might not notice as such, violence has decreased, especially from the peak around Operation Rah-e-Nijat.
- Denial of territory will lead to reduced coordination/increase in independence of small operating groups and lack of resources at group level will prohibit ‘unnecessary’ attacks and will be carried out in a limited number only then.
- This is connected to the next point.
- Enhanced security measures – by which I just mean obstacles in the path of bombers – has led to a reduction in the number of casualties each attack can cause. Suicide bombers are unable to barge into every area, poor policemen standing at the edge of the market along those hex barriers trying to stop a bomber get blown up and restrict the losses. This – and possibly lack of suicide bombing volunteers – has led to increase in use of IEDs, which are easier to plant, but still require local presence and some luck to ensure assassination is carried out or people are around it.
- Most areas are under army control now. Locals have trouble returning to their lands from IDP camps and resettlement numbers are being controlled (inhumanely so) to ensure things remain under control. North Waziristan will be launched in small pushes.
- After being chased down in FATA, the TTP will seek haven in the obscurity of underclass housing areas in big urban centers. Karachi is already an example. They will increase local criminal activity (bank robberies, kidnapping for ransom etc) but to control TTP violence will require better policing. Islamabad and Rawalpindi suffered peak terrorist violence (outside the usual centers of Peshawar, Kohat, D I Khan etc) in 2008-2009 and since then, a more robust approach to manning the city exteriors has reduced the ability of the TTP to bring in manpower for attacks and the police constantly sweeps outlying areas of the cities (the ones with small houses, spread out, ready to be a lower middle classe-ish suburbia in 10 years). The latter has numerous times resulted in arrests.
What will happen when ISAF withdraws?
Pakistan continues to protests that various outfits that carry out attacks within Pakistan have sought and have received safe haven across the border in Afghanistan. In various areas, ISAF patrols only across the Kunar River, leaving the part of land between the border and the river open to hostile elements. ISAF has found little incentive to proactively man the region and keep it clear for Pakistan. When ISAF withdraws, this factor would not change.
Then there are the Pakistan based Afghanistan focused groups. They will not leave because they will be kept as a bargaining chip. Their ability to operate in Afghanistan will depend on the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police’s abilities. But on an overall level, they will either be fighting against the Afghanistan state, if representation in the state is unavailable/denied or just be acting as independent-ish power groups.
The ANA recently created a ruckus over new border posts set up by Pakistan on the border. I expect the Afghan government to keep using Durrand Line tactics and thus the border will remain porous. In the worst scenario, the ANA will actively provide safe haven to groups which carry out attack inside Pakistan. Dir and surrounding areas will suffer.
Pakistan’s ability to retain control and keep FATA clear of elements
The military has in the past razed villages where the TTP received support from, but in mountainous areas there is little benefit from scorched earth. Hiding places are abundant and clearing out regions takes an exceptionally long time. That said, most areas are under government control now. Bara stands out as a place that should be under control but has seen the worst. This obviously is the result of mollycoddling Mangal Bagh Afridi, who was earlier seen as a local lashkar like leader fighting bad elements in his territory. Now that he has joined hands with TTP, the PA has suffered extensively at the hands of his Lashkar-i-Islam. And as luck would have it, no lessons have been learnt and the state now support the Ansar-ul-Islam.
Uzbeks and Arabs are not being replenished. Hard core fighters numbers will continue to reduce. Without fangs, the TTP will be a ‘softer’ element, it will find ideological support from hardliner SSP, IJT types. Will the former restrict themselves to slogans and pamphleteering or join ‘the struggle’? We never know.
Terrorist violence will reduce as the TTP suffers from continuous military operations against it. There will be fewer young recruits. Ability to attack will suffer not because of some ingenious CT or CI policy, but because the state has had enough time and patience to deal with it. Pakistan will be a more peaceful place, relatively. Sectarian violence is somewhat unpredictable.
On a sidenote, there’s a documentary I’d recommend everyone watch, The Fog of War, in which Robert McNamara discusses the cold war, and in general modern warfare. Asymmetric warfare is very different from the nuclear warfare the McNamara discusses, but it is now a big part of modern warfare and some of the eleven ‘lessons’ from the documentary apply to Pakistan.
1 PIPS website seems to be down, so here’s an older graph
The SATP portal – less reliable – shows an increase in casualties in 2012 but my guess is that is due to Hazara deaths – which are not TTP attacks (even though LUBP types might insist so).
 The whole counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency policy business seems to be a work of fiction to me, created by ‘policy wonk’ types so they can continue to publish columns lamenting either lack of or how bad said policy is.