Punjab, Sindh show security improvements; other provinces slide: report

By Javed Mahmood

A Pakistani police commando on March 28 in Lahore guards the site of a March 27 suicide bombing. Authorities are reporting an overall improvement in the security situation in Punjab. [ARIF ALI/AFP]

A Pakistani police commando on March 28 in Lahore guards the site of a March 27 suicide bombing. Authorities are reporting an overall improvement in the security situation in Punjab. [ARIF ALI/AFP]

ISLAMABAD -- Punjab province did not report a single major terrorist act in the third quarter of 2016, while Sindh province showed major progress in security, a study released in early December showed.

However, the July-September quarterly report from the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) also reported that terrorism grew in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) during this same period.

Zero tolerance

Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province, succeeded in improving security by adopting "zero tolerance against terrorism and violence", Amir Zulfiqar, deputy inspector general (DIG) for operations, Punjab Police, told Pakistan Forward.

As part of their pro-active strategy, Punjab Police regularly monitor hard-core outlaws, he said.

"In [January to November] 2016, the crime rate in Punjab fell by 60% compared to the same period last year," he said, adding that kidnappings for ransom in Punjab plummeted 70% during the same period.

To improve their fight against terrorism, the Punjab Police revamped their Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) and implemented information technology to keep track of the fingerprints and photos of militants and criminals, he said.

The efforts made in Punjab resulted in the province being the only one to record no major terrorism in the third quarter, the CRSS reported.

During that quarter, security forces in Punjab killed a number of terrorists and made arrests as well. Militants who were killed belonged to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Suspects in Punjab now in custody are accused of belonging to numerous groups, including the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL).

Sindh province recorded 111 terrorism-related deaths in that same quarter, down from 138 in the previous time period, according to the CRSS.

Authorities in Sindh, particularly in Karachi, instituted a number of security measures to drive down terrorism and violence indicators, starting in early 2016.

For instance, police officers foiled attempted suicide attacks in Shikarpur in September, one at an eidgah (a place for offering Eid prayers) and another at an imambargah (a Shiite house of worship), which helped reduce the overall terrorism rate in Sindh.

Balochistan struggles

In Balochistan, meanwhile, the security situation got worse.

Civilian deaths from terrorism soared to 133 in the third quarter, compared to 59 in the second quarter; no other province suffered so many in the third quarter.

Provincial authorities are battling to contain the situation, having arrested several suspected militants and suspected facilitators, the CRSS said.

"The Balochistan government ... vows to continue zero tolerance for [all] militants," Anwarul Haq Kakar, provincial government spokesman, told Pakistan Forward.

"We have stepped up operations against terrorists," he said. "We will foil their attempts to create a foothold."

Casualties are rising as militants strike "soft targets" in desperation, Kakar said, citing the militants' inability to stand up to regular forces.

Such attacks include the August 8 suicide bombing that killed dozens of lawyers at a Quetta hospital.

The militants are massacring civilians in frustration after hundreds of their comrades in Balochistan surrendered in 2015 and 2016, he said.

"Militants coming from Afghanistan are staying in the Wadh area of Balochistan, from where they carry out terrorist attacks in Balochistan and Sindh," security analyst and Quetta Press Club President Shahzada Zulfiqar told Pakistan Forward.

FATA, KP see rise in fatalities

Meanwhile, FATA and KP are dealing with their own recorded increase in terrorism in the third quarter.

In July-September, FATA recorded 120 terrorism-related deaths, compared to 62 in the second quarter, the CRSS said. However, security forces are carrying the fight to militants, with the air force bombing Khyber Agency militant hide-outs several times in August and September.

KP, meanwhile, recorded 103 terrorism-related deaths in the third quarter. The province had more suicide attacks and bombings than any other part of the country did, the CRSS said.

However, in FATA and KP, "security forces are consolidating the success of Operation Zarb-e-Azb", Peshawar-based security analyst Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah told Pakistan Forward, referring to the army offensive that has gone on in North Waziristan since June 2014.

Desperate militants who find their operations severely circumscribed by Zarb-e-Azb lash out and inflict casualties in FATA and KP, he said, adding that security forces have the situation firmly in control.

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