KARACHI -- Terrorism is on the decline in Pakistan, with groups such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) losing their sway and ability to carry out large-scale attacks, observers say.
"The militants, facing the onslaught of the military operations and the tightening of the law enforcement noose around their necks, began fleeing the country and evolved new strategies," the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) said in its 2016 Annual Security Report, published March 22.
The new militant strategies include targeting geographic areas and population centres that have less protection and deploying "a wider array of improvised explosive weapons and suicide bombers despite strong resistance by the security personnel", the report said.
As a result of military operations and civilian resistance to militant groups, violence-related fatalities throughout Pakistan dropped by about 45% -- from 4,647 in 2015 to 2,613 in 2016, the report said.
Sindh Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) saw the largest reductions, while Punjab and Balochistan endured a marginal increase in violence last year.
"Both provinces were major targets of suicide attacks thus increasing the casualty count," the CRSS report said of 2016. "Balochistan suffered seven suicide attacks, leaving 220 persons dead, including 61 police trainers, 52 lawyers and 62 pilgrims at a Sufi shrine, while Punjab had one suicide attack in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, Lahore, that left 74 persons dead, of whom 29 were children."
Militants killed, arrested
Meanwhile, over the past year, TTP suffered the highest number of casualties in security operations across the country, followed by TTP-affiliated groups, al-Qaeda and affiliated groups, and ISIL, the report said.
"In 2015 and 2016, Pakistani security forces killed 1,657 militants mostly belonging to TTP and other main terrorist outfits that have claimed responsibility for major attacks in the country," CRSS Executive Director Imtiaz Gul told Pakistan Forward.
Security forces killed 860 militants in 2015 and 797 in 2016, according to the report.
"Our intelligence agencies have penetrated into the networks of TTP, ISIL and other militant outfits, resulting in heavy casualties to the militants," said Gul.
Pakistani security forces arrested another 907 militants and insurgents in 2016, including 30 foreign militants, said the CRSS report.
Extremist threat remains
While overall security has improved, the CRSS report cautions that "root cause threats of extremism still linger".
Moreover, militants claimed to have killed 402 civilians and security personnel in 2015 and 519 in 2016, the report said. TTP- and ISIL-affiliated groups claimed the majority of civilian fatalities in 2016.
ISIL elements surfaced in Pakistan in 2016 and claimed to have taken 203 lives in attacks carried out with the support of TTP factions Jamatul Ahrar and Lashkar-e-Jangvi, according to CRSS data.
"TTP, TTP-Jamatul Ahrar and ISIL are carrying out deadly terrorist attacks in the country," said Abdullah Khan, managing director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS).
"In February, a substantial increase in terrorist attacks was seen in the country in which dozens of civilians and security personnel were killed," he told Pakistan Forward, adding that militants carried out 40 attacks in one month alone, including six suicide attacks, in an attempt to dent security.
Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad makes gains
In the outbreak of terrorist acts in February, Khan said, 163 people were killed, including 118 civilians, 22 security personnel and 23 militants.
"That prompted the military to launch a new operation to eliminate militants hiding within the country and in the border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said, referring to Operation Radd ul-Fasaad.
With the launch of Radd-ul-Fasaad nationwide February 22, security forces not only beat back the fresh wave of terrorism but "killed of dozens of members of infamous terrorist organisations", he said.
Gul agreed that despite a brief uptick in terrorist attacks at the beginning of 2017, the gains against militants have continued.
"After launch of military Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, more militants are being killed and arrested daily in intelligence based operations in various parts of the country," he said.
Khan urged security forces to "further intensify the intelligence-based operations across Pakistan to crush militancy and to restore peace and rule of law".
Joining hands against ISIL, TTP
"ISIL, TTP and other militant outfits are not only spilling the blood of innocent civilians and security officials but creating unrest and disharmony in society," Mubasher Mir, resident editor of the Urdu-language Daily Pakistan in Karachi, told Pakistan Forward.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and their international allies must join hands to eliminate ISIL and other terrorist groups operating in the region, he said.
"Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed to co-operate with each other to manage the menace of terrorism, and world leaders must push these two countries to come on the same page to eliminate terrorists and their hideouts," he said.
While carrying out Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, security forces must ensure that neither the militants nor facilitators, financiers and supporters find safe haven in Pakistan, he added.