Updated: August 2014
The Conflict at a Glance
Who (are the main combatants): The government of Pakistan, supported by the Pakistani Armed Forces and the country’s intelligence agency, versus the Taliban, al-Qaeda and various militant groups. There is also fighting among different regional militant groups.
What (are the major aims and events): Most groups struggle for regional control, while some, such as the Baluch Liberation Army, aim for regional autonomy.
When (has fighting occurred): Pakistan’s tumultuous past dates back to its creation at the partition of India in 1947. The current phase of the conflict began in 1998 when a provincial government coalition broke down and a state of emergency was declared in Karachi.
Where (has the conflict taken place): All regions of Pakistan have been affected by this protracted conflict. In the Sindh and Balochistan provinces, fighting has been directed toward independence efforts. Karachi has been heavily affected by terrorist attacks.
2013 Suicide bombings, attacks on minority civilian populations and fighting between militant groups continued to destabilize the country. Violence remained high, with 5,379 reported deaths, although the number of fatalities decreased from the previous year. Both the Shia Muslim and minority Christian populations experienced significant attacks. A Taliban faction claimed responsibility for a deadly suicide attack in September at a historic Peshawar church. Significantly, in the May general elections, Pakistan experienced its first electoral transfer of power after a full term served in office, when Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz was elected Prime Minister. Although the elections were considered fair by most, violent attacks before and on election day marred the process. Drone strikes by the United States, although down from 2012, still killed 158 suspected militants. The Pakistan High Court ruled that the attacks were illegal and should be stopped, with force if necessary.
2012 The conflict in Pakistan continued with widespread violence, including suicide bomb attacks, kidnappings, extrajudicial killings and beheadings. The federal political leadership was in shambles as the result of deep systemic corruption; the Supreme Court disqualified Prime Minister Gilani from holding office. More than 6,000 people died because of armed conflict; figures were similar to those of recent years. Continuing U.S. drone attacks killed at least 222 people. In October 14-year-old activist Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban, but survived. The attack garnered global media attention.
2011 Suicide attacks and shootings, attributed to the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network, continued, killing both civilians and Pakistani military forces. Clashes between government forces and insurgents also continued, with numbers killed approaching those in 2010. The Pakistani Army launched a new offensive in Mohmand Agency, located in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), displacing more than 25,000 civilians. Violence, fuelled by hostility among political parties, roiled Karachi in 2011, with 240 people killed in July alone. In May, a U.S. Special Forces raid killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at a compound in Abbottabad, a military town near Islamabad. The mission was criticized by Pakistani military leaders, who were not informed prior to the raid, and led to many high-profile revenge attacks against U.S. military and NATO forces. In November, 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by friendly fire from a NATO warplane over Pakistan near the Afghan border, further damaging deteriorating U.S.-Pakistan relations. Pakistan responded by blocking NATO supply routes. Despite a drop in the number of drone attacks to almost half the 2010 total, military officials, politicians and media commentators in Pakistan continued to condemn their use, citing civilian deaths and violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
2010 Violence between Pakistani forces and Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in the northwest, as well as clashes between political rivals elsewhere in the country, continued, although fewer fatalities were reported than in 2009. In South Waziristan, the army increased its efforts against al-Qaeda, leading to an increase in militant violence in the area. The army claimed some success in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), driving out the Taliban from portions of the area. At 118, the number of U.S. drone attacks was dramatically higher, more than twice the 2009 total. The number of terrorist attacks increased, especially in Karachi. Officials suspected Karachi might be the new base for the Quetta Shura Taliban. Political violence, involving the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Baluch nationalists, continued throughout the year. The Pakistani government strengthened ties with the United States. The MQM threatened to back out of the governing coalition and did so in early 2011. Despite these domestic challenges, in May, parliament officially passed the eighteenth constitutional amendment, which limits presidential powers, strengthens parliament and transfers more power to the provinces.
2009 A new operation to reclaim the Swat Valley from Taliban control was launched in January. In an effort to stop the violence in the Swat Valley and other areas by satisfying a chief Taliban demand, the Chief Minister of North Western Frontier Province announced that a bill had been signed to implement sharia law in the region. The ceasefire that followed was violated by the Taliban in April when they attempted an advance into Buner district. By July, the Swat Valley was back under military control. As the Swat operation wound down, a new operation in South Waziristan targeted high-ranking Taliban leaders. This operation resulted in the death of Baitullah Mehsud, a top Taliban leader in Pakistan. This year saw significant use of unmanned U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan. There were reports of 51 drone attacks that killed more than 700 people. Between11,000 and 12,000 people died as the result of conflict during the year. In mid-March, the administration of U.S. president Barack Obama announced a new strategy for Pakistan, which included increased economic assistance for the country in return for greater co-operation in fighting terrorists along the Afghan border.
2008 Newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani advocated a new approach to dealing with the insurgency. Peace talks between all levels of government and militants were proposed, but never materialized as violence continued. Late in the year, the Pakistani government sought to root out insurgents and solidify control in the Northwest Frontier Province. Operations against militants in the region displaced thousands; estimates put the civilian death toll in the hundreds and the insurgent death toll in the thousands. U.S. drone attacks escalated late in the year. Both the United States and the United Kingdom pledged to increase anti-insurgency measures and bolster democratic institutions by funding multimillion-dollar projects in the tribal regions.
2007 Fighting continued throughout the country, while violence intensified between government security forces and foreign militants in North and South Waziristan. More than 1,300 conflict deaths were reported, including 250 from suicide bombings. President Pervez Musharraf suspended the constitution in November, sparking an international outcry and Pakistan’s suspension from the Commonwealth. Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto returned from exile in a bid to return to power and was assassinated on December 27; elections were postponed until February 2008.
2006 Conflicts killed approximately 1,650 people. They took place between Sunni and Shia Muslims, the military and rebels seeking autonomy in the province of Baluchistan, and the military and Islamic militants along the porous Afghan border.
2005 Sectarian violence across Pakistan and military operations in northeastern Pakistan continued. In October, a major earthquake in northern Pakistan killed 55,000 people.
2004 Sectarian fighting continued; attacks on civilians and security forces, bombing of mosques and drive-by shootings of politicians killed at least 190 people. Most casualties were civilians who died in the year’s two most serious attacks, both bombings of Sunni mosques. President Pervez Musharraf was entrenched as head of the government and army until at least 2007 by a bill approved by Pakistan’s lower house. Pakistan was declared a “major ally” by U.S. President George W. Bush, in recognition of Pakistan’s contribution to the fight against al-Qaeda.
2003 Sectarian violence claimed approximately 100 lives, with Shia Muslim civilians accounting for most of the casualties. President Pervez Musharraf’s continuing crackdown on militant groups might have provoked the attempt on his life in December.
2002 Sectarian violence claimed dozens of lives this year, as Islamic militants stepped up attacks against Pakistani Christians and foreigners.
2001 Targeted assassinations of prominent citizens marked the year. In August, the Sindh provincial government initiated a crackdown on Islamic militants. According to one Pakistani media source, more than 250 people died in the violence during the year.
2000 Although violence declined after the military coup of October 1999, sectarian tensions persisted between the majority Sunni and the minority Shia Muslims in Karachi. The killing of prominent religious leaders and political activists resulted in violent protests. At least 150 people were killed.
1999 Despite the central government’s imposition of Governor’s Rule (state of emergency) in late 1998 in response to Sindh violence, political and sectarian killings continued in Karachi, but at a much reduced level. At least 75 were killed during the year, down from the estimated 1,000 conflict deaths in 1998.
1998 In 1998, reprisal killings between militants of the Muttahida Qami Movement (MQM) and a breakaway faction increased violence in the city of Karachi.
1. Government of Pakistan: Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) replaced Yusuf Raza Gilani as Prime Minister after parliamentary elections in May 2013. Mamnoon Hussain—a long-time member of the PML-N—was elected as President on July 30, 2013.
2. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI): Pakistan’s largest intelligence service was established in 1948. The ISI gathers domestic and foreign intelligence, is mandated to bolster intelligence sharing between the different branches of the armed forces and conducts covert offensive operations.
3. Pakistani Armed Forces: The Pakistani Armed forces includes an army, navy and air force and has a reserve force of 500,000. It also has a substantial paramilitary group, the Pakistan Rangers, who work on defensive tasks in border regions. The National Guard, the Frontier Corps, the Maritime Security Agency, the Coast Guard and the Anti-Terrorist Elite Force are also considered paramilitary agencies. The Pakistani Armed Forces has significant military capacity, including tanks, artillery and missiles. According to The Military Balance 2013, the Armed Forces are comprised of:
- Army: 550,000
- Navy: 22,000
- Air Force: 70,000
- Paramilitary: 340,000.
4. United States: Although tensions between the United States and Pakistan after 2011 resulted in a temporary reduction of defence aid, in October 2013 the United States moved to release $1.6-billion in aid. Military leaders in Pakistan say that the use of U.S. aid to fight internal terrorist groups infringes on Pakistan’s sovereignty. The United States continues to use drone strikes to target militants in Pakistan.
Militant Groups: Several parties opposed to the government (and each other) are involved in the armed conflict in Pakistan. Most are primarily ethnic or religious groups. In addition, criminal elements, some working through the groups listed below, participate in the violence—a legacy of Pakistan’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan and the related drug trade. The major groups active in fighting include:
5. Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM): a Sindh nationalist group, JSQM was created in 1972 and works to liberate Sindh province to create a free Sindhudesh. It is currently led by Sunan Qureshi, Akash Mallah and Kehar Ansari (chairman, general secretary and vice-chair, respectively). JSQM believes that Sindh, which is a major economic driver in Pakistan and the source of a large percentage of its natural resources, is being exploited and that residents of Sindh are denied their fair share of the economic benefits. Sindh nationalism focuses on water concerns.
6. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM): The Mohajir Quami Movement first emerged in 1986 and was led by Altaf Hussain. In 1991, disagreements between other leaders and Altaf Hussain resulted in the formation of a splinter group, the MQM-H. Since the split, the MQM faction led by Altaf Hussein is known as MQM-A. The two factions have clashed repeatedly. MQM-A reportedly has ties with Shia sectarian parties. In 1997, the group changed its name to the Muttahida Quami Movement.
7. Mohajir Qaumi Movement Haqiqi (MQM-H): Formed in 1992 and led by Afaq Ahmed, the group is fighting for a separate province because it feels that the mohajirs are subjected to continuing socioeconomic and political inequalities. They are reported to be allied with the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP).
8. Baluch Liberation Army: This insurgent group seeks an independent Baluchistan. In August 2006, its leader, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, was killed in a military offensive. It is currently led by Brahamdagh Bugti Harbiyar Marri.
Sunni-based groups, some of which are funded by supporters in the Arabian Gulf states
9. Millat-e Islami-ye Pakistan (MIP): Previously known as Sipah-Sabaha-Pakistan, it represents Sunni Muslims and is supported by fundamentalist groups in Saudi Arabia and Libya.
10. Jamaat-i-Islami (JII) and its student wing, Islamic Jamiat Tulaba (IJT).
11. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi: It is suspected of having links with al-Qaeda, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Harkatul Muhajideen, among other terrorist groups.
12. Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shiriat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM): Based in the Malakand Division of the Northwest Frontier Province, it receives support from the TTP (see below).
13. Islami Tehrik-e Pakistan (ITP): Previously known as Tehrik-I-Jaffaria-Pakistan, it represents Shia Muslims and receives some financial support from Iran. Its leader is Mohammad Baqar Najfi.
Taliban and al-Qaeda
14. Taliban: This militant group emerged in northern Pakistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from neighbouring Afghanistan. The Taliban held power in Afghanistan until being overthrown by the United States in late 2001. The Pakistani Taliban is believed to be providing a safe haven for al-Qaeda leaders.
a. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan, TTP): The main Pakistani faction of the Taliban is led by Mullah Fazlullah. Fazlullah was elected in 2013 after former leader Hakimullah Mehsud died in a drone attack. The TTP is considered an umbrella organization that is linked to, but independent of, the Afghan Taliban.
b. Haqqani network: This militant organization, allied with the Taliban based in North Waziristan and Eastern Afghanistan, is led by Afghan Taliban leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani. Attacks are launched from North Waziristan into Afghanistan. The United States has repeatedly accused the Pakistani army, specifically its intelligence branch (the ISI), of supporting the Haqqani network.
c. Quetta Shura: Based in Quetta, Baluchistan province, this militant group is made up of the leadership of the Afghan Taliban. It is said to have been founded by Mullah Muhammad Omar.
15. Al-Qaeda: Al-Qaeda is an international terrorist network led by Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri. Its members follow a radical version of Sunni Islam and claim to be waging a war for an Islamic form of global government.
2013 Although the death toll decreased by approximately 15 per cent, conflict violence was widespread. With 3,251 people killed in Karachi, the year was deemed to be the deadliest thus far for the city by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, also experienced serious attacks: suicide bomb attacks in January and a bomb attack the following month by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group on Hazara Shias killed more than 200 people. In April, the military launched a campaign in the Tirah valley after fighting between militant groups resulted in extensive population displacement.
Attacks continued on workers and police officers supporting vaccination programs, with 22 polio vaccination workers killed and 14 injured in 2012 and 2013. The Taliban alleged that polio vaccinations were part of a U.S. ploy to create infertility.
On December 26, the Ministry of Interior and Narcotics Control announced its commitment to negotiations to bring peace and stability to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Human Rights Watch reported 400 fatalities among Shia Muslims from sectarian violence in 2013.
The South Asia Terrorism Portal reported 24 U.S. drone strikes against Pakistan in 2013, killing 158 suspected militants—a decrease from 2012. In May a High Court judge in Pakistan ruled the U.S. drone strikes illegal; he urged the government to collect data on drone use and to use force, if necessary, to end attacks in the tribal areas.
2012 While deaths among militant and security forces decreased by 12 and 5 per cent respectively, civilian fatalities were 10 per cent higher than in 2011. Sectarian violence increased, with at least 507 recorded fatalities in 173 incidents, up from 203 killings in 30 incidents in 2011. Violence against Shias was the highest on record in 2012, with at least 396 killed in 113 targeted attacks, up from 136 in 24 incidents in 2011. The perpetrators of the attacks were believed to have links with the government. Politically motivated killings were common. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) 135 political activists were killed in the first half of 2012. Members of the Awami National Party were frequently targeted by the TTP. In December senior ANP leader and provincial minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour was killed in a suicide bomb attack. In October, 14-year-old children’s rights activist and Pakistan’s first National Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen, in an attack that captured the world’s atatention. She survived and recovered after intensive treatment in the United Kingdom. Thirty-four security forces personnel were beheaded by terrorists, including 22 in one December incident in Peshawar. According to the New America Foundation, at least 222 people were killed in 48 U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan in 2012.
2011 Suicide attacks and shootings, attributed to the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network, continued, killing both civilians and Pakistani military forces. Clashes between government forces and insurgents also continued, with death tolls similar to those in 2010. A new offensive by the Pakistani Army in Mohmand Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) displaced more than 25,000 civilians. Violence, fuelled by hostility among political parties, roiled Karachi in 2011; 240 people were killed in July alone, despite the deployment of paramilitary troops to restore order. On May 2, a U.S. Special Forces raid killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at a compound in Abbottabad, a military town near Islamabad. The mission was condemned by Pakistani military leaders, who were not advised in advance of the raid. Many high-profile revenge attacks against U.S. military and NATO forces followed. In November, 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by friendly fire from a NATO warplane in Pakistan near the Afghan border. Pakistan responded by blocking NATO supply routes. The U.S. briefly halted drone attacks, restarting in early 2012. While there were only about half as many drone attacks in 2011 as in 2010, military officials, politicians and media commentators in Pakistan continued to condemn them, citing civilian deaths and violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
2010 Early in the year, the military intensified its campaign in South Waziristan to root out al-Qaeda. Around the same time, security forces and local tribesmen stepped up their campaign against the Taliban in Bajaur, an agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, regaining control. Senior Taliban commander Kalifa and 37 militants surrendered, other militants fled and a number of key military Taliban leaders were later captured in a series of raids conducted by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, the CIA and Pakistani forces. The Taliban continued to launch attacks—including bombings and suicide attacks—against NATO and Pakistani forces, as well as NGO targets across the country. The number of terrorist attacks throughout the country increased, especially in Karachi. Officials suspected that Karachi might be the new base for the Quetta Shura Taliban. The number of U.S. drone attacks continued to rise; with 118 strikes, the number was more than twice that for 2009. Most drone attacks were in North Waziristan. A number of key Taliban leaders were killed by drone attacks and the remaining leadership largely forced underground, but civilian casualties to achieve these results have been very high, with hundreds or even thousands killed. In January and February, clashes between political rivals led to 50 deaths. In July, the secretary-general of the Baluchistan National Party was killed. In separate incidents in August, 16 Punjabis in Baluchistan, an MQM MP and another member of the MQM were killed. The MQM deaths triggered political violence that killed hundreds more, mainly in Karachi.
2009 Although the Pakistani army launched an operation to reclaim Swat Valley from Taliban control in January, militants were able to expand their control to include nearly the entire district and began imposing strict sharia law. In mid-February, the Chief Minister of the Northwestern Frontier Province announced that a bill had been signed that would implement sharia law in the Northwest Frontier Province’s Malakand Division, including Swat. The Taliban proclaimed a 10-day truce to examine the bill and in late February extended the truce indefinitely. At the beginning of March, Major General Tariq Khan, commander of military operations in Pakistan’s tribal agencies, said that his paramilitary Frontier Corps had driven extremists out of Bajaur in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The conflict in Swat was reignited in late April after Taliban militants violated the peace deal by advancing into Buner district. Two million people fled the fighting in the northwest—more than one million in Swat region. The UN Refugee Agency warned that Pakistan was facing one of its fastest major displacements in recent history. By July, the government announced that Swat Valley was back under military control and began the phased return of those displaced by the fighting. The military estimated that 340 soldiers and 1,800 Taliban militants had been killed and 2,000 militants arrested in the Swat operation.
A new military offensive was announced in South Waziristan on June 14, targeting Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a U.S. drone attack on August 5. Hakimullah Mehsud was named his successor. Another major military offensive was launched in South Waziristan on October 17 after militants stepped up the frequency of bomb and suicide attacks. Approximately 28,000 soldiers joined in battle with an estimated 10,000 Taliban and Uzbek fighters and members of al-Qaeda. As a result of this most recent clash, more than 32,000 civilians fled; as many as 100,000 civilians have been forced to leave this area because of the violence. By mid-November the army had managed to push militant fighters out of 90 per cent of their stronghold in South Waziristan, but the operation failed to end the militants’ suicide attacks. Nearby districts experienced an influx of militants from South Waziristan, who began to set up new strongholds. In general, the number of suicide attacks in Pakistan rose in 2009, but militant attacks overall fell sharply, indicating that the army was succeeding in efforts to rein in the Taliban, but at the cost of civilian lives.
Unmanned drone attacks on Pakistan increased significantly in 2009. The first drone attacks of the new U.S. administration came a few days after Barack Obama’s inauguration in January. By the end of 2009, the United States had reportedly launched 51 drone attacks, compared with 45 during the entire eight-year administration of George W. Bush. In early December, the United States expanded its CIA drone program to Baluchistan. Pakistan had long publicly stated that drone strikes were counterproductive and a violation of its sovereignty. But there was speculation that Pakistani intelligence agencies were providing information to the United States to assist in the strikes. Drone strikes that targeted militants, such as the August 5 attack that killed the commander of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, fueled anti-U.S. feelings among Pakistanis. According to an August 2009 Gallup poll, only 9 per cent of Pakistanis approved of such attacks. In 2009, more than 700 people were killed in drone attacks. According to Pakistani news agency, Dawn Media Group, Pakistani authorities reported that of 51 drone attacks in 2009, only five hit their targets, killing five al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. “For each al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorist killed by U.S. drones, 140 innocent Pakistanis also had to die,” the media outlet reported. In contrast, the New America Foundation reported that in 114 reported drone strikes since 2004, between 550 and 850 of the estimated 830 to 1,210 killed were militants.
2008 Clashes continued between militant groups and the Pakistani government, especially in the Northwest Frontier Province, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Baluchistan province. Peace talks started but soon collapsed and fighting intensified. Militant hijackings increased on the major Torkham highway, a supply route that fed the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. More than two dozen U.S. drone airstrikes on targets in Pakistan were reported. Targets were apparently militants, accused of attacking ISAF troops in Afghanistan and residing in tribal regions along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
2007 Fighting between government forces and foreign militants as well as sectarian conflicts intensified in North and South Waziristan. Rampant suicide bombings throughout Pakistan claimed at least 230 lives and raised fears that sectarian violence would further destabilize the country. Reports in June indicated that children were being abducted by pro-Taliban militants in northern tribal areas. In early July, government security forces stormed the Red Mosque in central Islamabad, where radical clerics and student sympathizers advocating the imposition of sharia law had barricaded themselves. Numerous suicide bombings and reprisal killings followed. Also in July, one of Pakistan’s most wanted people, Taliban leader Abdullah Mehsud, committed suicide after security forces surrounded him in Zhob. In November, President Pervez Musharraf suspended the constitution and imposed a state of emergency, claiming that the Supreme Court was aiding foreign militants. Also in November, the government deployed some 2,000 troops to the Swat Valley to fight militants linked to pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Fazlullah. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who had recently returned from exile to run in the federal elections, was assassinated at a political rally in Rawalpindi on December 27. The assassination sparked waves of street violence, resulting in approximately 50 deaths.
2006 Conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims resulted in suicide bombings and clashes throughout the year. The province of Baluchistan increased efforts to secure political and economic autonomy from Islamabad, with rebels attacking gas pipelines, railways and power transmission lines and launching rocket attacks on military targets. The military stationed 123,000 troops in the province to maintain control. The regions bordering Afghanistan—North and South Waziristan—experienced ongoing conflict between supporters of the region’s strengthening Taliban and the Pakistani government as it participated in the U.S.-led war on terror.
2005 Sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni Muslims continued; deadly bombings and violent street fights killed almost 200. The Pakistani government continued its offensive against al-Qaeda and allied terrorist groups and tribes, particularly in Pakistan’s northern Waziristan territories, where heavy casualties included civilians. Local elections in August were marked by violent clashes between opposing political groups that killed dozens.
2004 Attacks on civilians, bombings of mosques, drive-by shootings of politicians and attacks on security forces continued. March and October bombings of Sunni mosques killed more than 80 people and wounded hundreds more. In March, the government launched a series of military operations against “high-value” al-Qaeda targets and supporters in South Waziristan, marking a significant escalation in the military’s efforts against al-Qaeda. The military operations, which continued throughout the year, were met with armed resistance. These actions coincided with increased U.S. military operations along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
2003 Fighting between Sunni and Shia Muslims spread to southwestern Pakistan. In most cases, Shia civilians were indiscriminately attacked, allegedly by extremist Sunni militant groups. The July bombing of a Shia mosque in Quetta resulted in 60 deaths. Militants employed guerrilla tactics, such as bombings and drive-by shootings. Extremist sectarian groups opposed to President Pervez Musharraf’s policies, including his administration’s alliance with the United States in its war on terror, launched attacks on government security forces and narrowly failed to assassinate Musharraf in December.
2002 Fighting continued between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Government officials, Pakistani Christians and foreigners were targeted by militant Muslim groups.
2001 Sectarian violence persisted in 2001 with attacks by extremists from all sides. Sunni extremists began to target prominent community members such as doctors, lawyers and businessmen.
2000 Although violence had declined since the military coup of October 1999, sectarian tensions persisted between the majority Sunni and the minority Shia Muslims in Karachi. The killing of prominent religious leaders and political activists resulted in violent protests. In September, Pakistani police arrested 250 members of the hardline Sunni Muslim group Sipah-e-Sahaaba. Other police and army operations targeted the two leading ethnically based parties in Sindh, the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
1999 Despite the central government’s imposition of Governor’s Rule (state of emergency) in late 1998 in response to Sindh violence, political and sectarian killings persisted in Karachi, at a much reduced level. The intensity of the violence dropped further after the military assumed power in an October coup.
1998 In 1998, tit-for-tat killings between the MQM and its breakaway faction increased the level of violence in Karachi.
Total: Because many regions in Pakistan are inaccessible to outsiders, it is impossible to independently verify the number of people killed in the conflict. South Asia Terrorism Portal attributes 50,516 deaths to terrorist violence between 2003 and 2013, including more than 18,000 civilians. An official Pakistani report released in November 2009 recorded 22,128 deaths from terror-related incidents across Pakistan in the previous six years; 7,004 were civilians, 2,637 security forces and 12,487 militants.
2013 The reported death toll decreased substantially from 2012, to a total of 5,379 fatalities from terrorism-related activity. This figure from the South Asia Terrorism Portal included at least 3,001 civilians, 1,702 terrorists and 676 state forces personnel. As a result of limited media access and the carefully controlled release of information by the government, the actual number of conflict-related deaths is probably higher. Forty-three suicide bomber attacked killed 751 and injured 1,411. The number of U.S. drone attacks declined to 24 from 46 in 2012, killing 158 and injuring 29.
Refugees: The conflict in the Karachi province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has created nearly 3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). In July 2013, security operations in these areas continued to impact over one million displaced individuals, 80,000 in camps. At the end of 2013, approximately 975,478 people remained internally displaced in Pakistan, in addition to more than 46,000 refugees, according to the UNHCR. Since 1979 Pakistan has provided protection to refugees from Afghanistan and currently hosts 1.5 million registered Afghans. Pakistan does not have laws to protect IDPs, but inconsistently implements policies to assist them. In conservative rural areas, authorities may not recognize a woman’s right to register as a refugee.
2012 In 2012, the South Asia Terrorism Portal reported at least 6,211 fatalities caused by terrorist attacks and military operations against militants, including 3,007 civilians, 2,472 militants and 732 security forces personnel. As media access is heavily restricted in some areas of Pakistan and the government releases limited information, actual figures may be higher.
2011 The South Asia Terrorism Portal reported 6,142 deaths related to terrorist attacks and military operations against militants. Of these, 2,580 were civilians, 1,952 were security forces and 524 were militants. According to news sources, approximately 203 deaths can be attributed to sectarian violence, bringing the total of all conflict-related violence in Pakistan to 6,345.
2010 The South Asia Terrorism Portal reported a total of 7,435 deaths, including 1,796 civilians, 5,170 militants and 496 security forces. News media sources, with limited access to some regions, numbered the dead at approximately 1,000, up to 90 per cent civilian.
2009 The South Asia Terrorism Portal reported 11,585 deaths in 2009, marking a major upsurge in deaths from the previous year.
2008 The South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) reported 6,715 deaths in 2008. According to SATP, the number of fatalities have doubled each year since 2006. The 2008 deaths included 2,155 civilians, 654 security forces and 3,906 militants. Pro-government tribal elders were targeted by militants in 2008. The number of police killed in the Northwest Frontier Province, where fatalities were more than double the previous year’s, increased significantly. According to international human rights groups, approximately 350,000 people had been internally displaced in the conflict.
2007 International Crisis Group documented more than 1,300 deaths, at least 200 from suicide bombings and at least 350 civilians. Actual numbers were likely much higher.
2006 The South Asia Terrorism Portal estimated that terrorist violence killed 1,471 and sectarian violence 201, many of them civilian.
2005 Between 700 and 1,000 people were killed.
2004 At least 190 people, primarily civilians, were reported killed in sporadic violence.
2003 Independent media reports indicate that approximately 100 people, most Shia Muslim civilians, were killed.
2002 According to media reports more than 100 people were killed in sectarian violence and attacks on government officials.
2001 According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, more than 250 people were killed in sectarian violence.
2000 At least 150 people were killed in Karachi, mostly due to sectarian violence.
1999 At least 75 people were killed in Karachi due to political violence.
1998 More than 1,000 people were killed.
2013 For the first time, Pakistan completed an electoral exchange of power from one government to another after the completion of a full term in office. In the May general elections, Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was elected Prime Minister, replacing Yusuf Raza Gilani and the Pakistan Peoples Party. Mamnoon Hussain was elected President in July. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which helped to monitor the May elections, found no evidence of vote rigging and encouraged all political parties to respect the result. In a post-election report, European Union elections monitors observed that women voters continued to be significantly under-represented, with 11 million fewer female than male voters. The report noted that pre-election violence caused more than 150 deaths in the four weeks before the election; on the day of the election there were 64 election-related deaths and 225 people injured.
Former President Pervez Musharraf, who resigned in 2008, was arrested by police in April. Musharraf, a high-ranking general, was believed by some to have overextended the powers of his office when he suspended the constitution and imposed a state of emergency in 2008. He was also indicted by the Supreme Court in August in connection with the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. These actions represented a significant step away from military impunity in Pakistan.
Thousands of Christians in Lahore were forced to flee after one was accused of blasphemy. According to Human Rights Watch, a mob burned 150 houses and two churches. On Sunday, September 22, a suicide attack on a historic church in Peshawar killed at least 85 people.
In November, thousands gathered in Peshawar to protest U.S. drone attacks, blocking a road used by NATO troops to transport supplies.
2012 Pakistani federal politics in 2012 were described by the BBC as a “farce” and a “soap opera.” In January, Prime Minister Gilani faced charges of contempt by Pakistan’s Supreme Court for refusing to ask Swiss authorities to reopen the corruption case against President Zardari relating to funds in Swiss accounts. He insisted that the constitution provided presidential immunity. Gilani was convicted of contempt of court in April, but refused to step down. He was subsequently disqualified from office. The Supreme Court then demanded that new Prime Minister Raja Ashraf reopen the corruption case against President Zardari. In early 2013, the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Ashraf and 15 others on charges of corruption. In December, Tahirul Qadri, founder of the pro-Communist Party Awami Tehreek (PAT), returned to Pakistan to pursue a “democratic revolution.” A rally in Lahore attracted hundreds of thousands of people. Adnan Rasheed, the mastermind of an assassination attempt on former President Pervez Musharraf, was appointed the “chief operational commander” of the fidayeen (suicide) unit of the Taliban. Earlier in 2012, Rasheed was freed in an unprecedented jailbreak operation. Approximately 200 Tehrik-i-Taliban militants armed with guns, grenades and rockets attacked the high-security Central Jail in Bannu District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and released 384 prisoners.
2011 Pakistan’s relationship with the United States suffered a number of blows in 2011. Raymond Davis, a U.S. contractor working for the CIA, was arrested for shooting and killing two men in Lahore in January. Although it was unclear whether the shooting was self-defence or murder, it resulted in heightened anti-U.S. sentiment and increased suspicion of Americans, especially by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Continued use of unmanned drones by the United States on targets in Pakistan caused protests in Pakistan.. Washington accused the Pakistani army, particularly the ISI, of supporting the Haqqani network of Taliban-aligned militants. The Haqqani network was believed to be responsible for multiple attacks against U.S. targets in 2011, including the U.S. embassy in Kabul in September. Osama bin Laden was slain by U.S. forces in May in a military town near Islamabad, where he appeared to have been living for some time, raising further suspicions of complicity between the Pakistani military and militants. In November, 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by friendly fire from a NATO warplane near the Afghan border; Pakistan responded by blocking NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.
Prominent politicians Salman Taseer (Governor of Punjab province) and Shahbaz Bhatti (Minister for Minorities Affairs) were assassinated in January and March, respectively, for their opposition to Pakistan’s controversial and harsh blasphemy laws. In August, legislation was passed to allow political parties to operate legally in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), giving local elected officials hitherto denied authority to represent their constituents, who remain second-class citizens in a colonial-era legal framework. The political conflict among the Mutahida Qabail Party, Pakistan Peoples Party and Awami National Party, rooted in ethnic conflict, continued to stifle economic growth in the major port city of Karachi.
2010 The Pakistani government strengthened ties with the United States. Following violent clashes between political rivals early in the year, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement threatened to leave the government coalition. In May, parliament passed the eighteenth constitutional amendment, which, inter alia, limits presidential powers, strengthens parliament and transfers more power to the provinces. It also changed the name of the Northwest Frontier Province to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, sparking ethnic clashes in Hazara. Both the ruling coalition and opposition agreed to the constitutional changes, the first time such unanimity had occurred. On January 2, 2011, MQM officially left the federal coalition and joined the opposition, raising concerns about the stability of the PPP-led government. Despite Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s demands in January for an end to U.S. drone attacks, relations between the United States and Pakistan strengthened. In February, the United States proposed $1.2-billion (U.S.) in military aid, an increase over 2009 of more than 100 per cent. In March, Pakistani officials travelled to Washington, where they were praised by the U.S. Defense Secretary for their fight against the Taliban. In particular, Pakistan’s capture of a number of key Taliban leaders was cited as evidence that Pakistan is taking control of Taliban safe havens in certain regions of the country. The United States continued to pressure Pakistan to enter North Waziristan.
2009 In late January, with a military offensive in Swat Valley under way, reports surfaced that the government was planning to renew talks with the militants. To meet demands of the Taliban, who had all but taken over the entire Swat Valley, the Chief Minister of the Northwest Frontier Province signed a bill that would subject the Malakand Division, which includes Swat, to sharia law. The bill effectively gave the region a separate justice system from that of the rest of Pakistan. The Taliban responded by announcing a 10-day truce to examine the bill. Pakistani officials said that the Swat deal was part of the government’s three-pronged approach—dialogue, deterrence and development—to deal with insurgents. NATO allies expressed alarm at the deal because Swat is only 160 kilometres from the capital, Islamabad, Pakistan’s nuclear technology hub. In March, the Mamoond tribe and the Pakistani government signed a 28-point agreement to bring law and order to Bajaur, an agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Under the terms of the agreement, all terrorist organizations in the area would be disbanded, tribes would be responsible for establishing the writ of government in their areas and no foreigners, including Afghan refugees, would be allowed to stay in the agency. Also in March, the new U.S. administration under President Barack Obama announced its strategy for Pakistan, which included increased economic assistance in exchange for greater cooperation in fighting terrorists operating along the Afghan border. The announcement raised sovereignty concerns in Pakistan. In December, Pakistani officials announced the creation of a National Counter-Terrorism Authority to keep data on terrorists.
2008 The February general election resulted in a coalition government made up of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League. Benazir Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, was declared president on September 6, accepting the position in the name of his assassinated wife. Pakistan’s government and the newly elected government in Northwest Frontier Province sought to promote peace talks and a ceasefire with militant groups operating within the tribal belt on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Peace talks were suspended by Baitullah Mehsud, a commander in the Pakistani Taliban, after his demands that government troops leave Waziristan and Swat Valley were not met. The Pakistani government implored Pashtun elders to assert their authority in the region in an attempt to influence militants. The opposition criticized the government for failing to take a diplomatic stand after U.S. drones hit targets in Pakistan. In the aftermath of the November Mumbai attacks in India, Pakistani National Security Adviser Mahmoud Ali Durrani acknowledged that the single surviving gunman was of Pakistani origin. Durrani was subsequently fired by the Prime Minister for “irresponsible behavior.”
2007 Border struggles with foreign militants and Taliban supporters intensified. President Pervez Musharraf suspended the constitution on November 3 and instituted a state of emergency, claiming that the Supreme Court was aiding foreign militants. Subsequent international condemnation and Pakistan’s suspension from the Commonwealth forced Musharraf to reinstate the constitution on December 15. During the state of emergency, there were reports of human rights abuses and thousands were arbitrarily arrested. Musharraf stepped down as head of the country’s military in November and appointed General Ashfaq Kayani as his successor. Also in November, former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan after years in exile. After narrowly escaping one assassination attempt, Bhutto was assassinated on December 27. Presidential elections were rescheduled for February 2008.
2006 Militant Islamists, dubbed the Pakistani Taliban, strengthened their power in the provinces of North and South Waziristan. In March, clerics in these provinces announced the enforcement of sharia law as the only means to resolve disputes. President Pervez Musharraf accused India of arming and financing Baluch rebels, a charge India denied.
2005 President Pervez Musharraf further consolidated his power as parties allied to the President fared well in disputed August local elections.
2004 A bill was passed in Pakistan’s lower house extending President Pervez Musharraf’s tenure, ensuring he would remain head of the military and government until at least 2007. Musharraf named Shaukat Aziz, a political novice, Prime Minister in August. Although the government ordered an inquiry into a March attack on civilians, several strikes were called (mainly in Sindh province) to protest government handling of the conflict. The Sindh provincial government failed to form a “coalition of national unity” with the seven opposition parties in an attempt to stem the tide of conflict. The minister of Sindh province resigned after violence escalated in June. U.S. President George W. Bush declared Pakistan a “major ally” in the fight against al-Qaeda and allowed Pakistan access to special benefits, including expanded foreign aid and priority delivery of military equipment.
2003 The leader of the militant Sunni organization Millat-e Islami-ye Pakistan (MIP) was assassinated in October, sparking riots in Islamabad. The government cracked down on banned Sunni and Shia militant groups and arrested their leaders. President Pervez Musharraf continued to support U.S. initiatives in the “war on terror” in neighbouring Afghanistan, a position not welcomed by many Pakistaniis.
2002 In January, the government banned five militant Islamic groups, including the Sipah-Sabaha-Pakistan and Tehrik-I-Jaffaria. Some groups reacted to the ban and to Pakistan’s support of the U.S.-led “war on terror” by attacking foreigners and Pakistani Christians, prompting the Christian community to demand protection from the government. The government responded by introducing new security measures around non-Muslim places of worship. Fighting continued between Sunnis and Shias in Sindh, despite government efforts.
2001 In August, the government of Sindh province arrested more than 200 Islamic militants in raids.
2000 Despite increasing international pressure to restore democracy, military leader Pervez Musharraf ruled out general elections or reviving the suspended Pakistan parliament within the next two years.
1999 On October 12, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted from power in a bloodless military coup led by Army Chief of Staff General Pervez Musharraf.
1998 A month after the MQM left the provincial government coalition, federal Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared Governor’s Rule (a state of emergency) in Karachi, called out the army to quell the violence and announced the establishment of military courts for the city.
Sectarian and ethnic instability in Pakistan can be traced to the tumultuous formation of Pakistan in 1947. The partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan resulted in millions of Muslims migrating from India into the newly formed Pakistan and primarily into the southeastern region of Sindh. (Millions of Hindus migrated in the opposite direction.) Prior to 1947, Sindh’s urban society had been dominated by Hindus. The native Muslim population was primarily rural. The emigration of Hindus after partition left a vacuum in Sindh that was filled by the educated Muslim immigrants from India.
The immigrants came to be known as mohajirs, which in Arabic means migrant or refugee. In Pakistan, mohajir refers to a non-Punjabi immigrant from India. The distinction is made because Punjabi migrants easily assimilated with Punjabis on the Pakistan side of Punjab because of shared culture and language. Mohajirs had a set of cultural and social values (and language) different from the native, largely rural Sindhis. They soon came to be overrepresented in the bureaucracy, media and managerial positions in the private sector. As well, they had been in the forefront of the struggle for an independent Pakistan and were ardent Pakistani nationalists, as opposed to the Sindhis, Pathans and Punjabis, who identified with their respective regions. The mohajirs began to dominate Pakistan’s national political scene, supporting a strong central government.
Bengali-dominated East Pakistan separated in 1971, forming the state of Bangladesh. In the same year, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a Sindhi, was elected and ushered in a federalist structure by first revising the regional quota system to the disadvantage of the mohajirs and then nationalizing key financial institutions owned by mohajirs. Mohajir dominance in Pakistan’s politics began to erode in favour of the Punjabi bureaucratic-military elite. Then came Sindhi assertiveness, including provincial government initiatives, such as the imposition of the Sindhi language in education and the Sindh Act in 1972. Throughout Pakistan, ethnic tensions increased as regional groups in Baluchistan and rural Sindh began to assert their cultural and nationalist agendas.
General Zia -ul-Haq (1977-88) assumed power after a military coup and turned to right-wing Islamic elements for support. Earlier Pakistani governments, beginning with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1971-1977), had promoted Islam as a unifying force among disparate ethnic groups. But Zia took this policy further, promoting Islamists in the Pakistani army, which had been, until then, a secular institution. Zia’s attempt to gain legitimacy coalesced with the national security goal of building close ties with the Afghan mujahedeen after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. As a result, during the 1980s, a complex network developed between the Afghan mujahedeen, domestic religious groups in Pakistan and the Pakistani state, with a generous supply of weapons from the United States.
In 1986, the Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM), led by Altaf Hussain, began to challenge the Punjabi-dominated state bodies in Sindh. From 1986 to 1988, the MQM sought a mohajir-Sindh alliance by aligning with Benazir Bhutto’s Sindhi-dominated Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in an effort to thwart Punjabi dominance in Pakistani politics. The MQM’s first stint in sharing power delivered few tangible improvements and the group withdrew support from the PPP government and fought the next election in an alliance with Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League. Internal strife led to the split of the MQM in 1992, with the splinter group taking the name MQM-Haqiqi (Urdu for “authentic”).
Pakistan’s involvement in and proximity to Afghanistan have fostered violent internal conflicts in Pakistan, including:
- The large migration of Afghan refugees to major urban centres, especially Karachi, increasing ethnic tensions.
- The establishment of a powerful network of militant madrassas, originally set up to train volunteer students (Taliban), for the war in Afghanistan. These madrassas combined weapons training with a fundamentalist and violent interpretation of Islam.
- The free movement of Taliban and al-Qaeda members in the northwest, including Northwest Frontier Province, Waziristan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, all of which share a border with Afghanistan. The areas are historically independent and not easily controlled by Pakistan’s central government. The porous border plus the allegiance of the ethnic Pashtuns across the border make the regions effectively part of the current war in Afghanistan.
In 2004, the government launched a series of military operations against “high-value” al-Qaeda targets and supporters in South Waziristan, marking a significant escalation in the military’s efforts against al-Qaeda. The military operations were met with armed resistance and coincided with increased U.S. military operations along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Clashes continued throughout the Northwest. In 2007, Pakistan came under strong international criticism after President Pervez Musharraf suspended the constitution. Pakistan was suspended from the Commonwealth. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December after returning from exile. U.S. Drone attacks on Pakistani targets doubled to 118 between 2009 and 2010. In 2012, the non-lethal shooting of girls’ rights activist Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban attracted international attention.
From 2005 to 2009, China was Pakistan’s largest arms supplier, accounting for 37 per cent of Pakistan’s imports. The United States was second at 35 per cent. In 2009, Pakistan received the first shipment of 42 JF-17 combat aircraft from China, with orders for 300 and 36 J-10 aircraft at a later date. Also in 2009, Pakistan received U.S. 18 F-16C aircraft. In 2010, the United States gave Pakistan 12 surveillance drones and approximately 15 AH-1 Cobra helicopters for spare parts.
In 2009, the United States passed the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act. The United States gave Pakistan $700-million in aid for counterinsurgency efforts. In 2011, aid increased to $1.2-billion.
In 2010, the arms trade in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas was brisk due to poor border control and the lack of legal authority in the region. The trade was closely linked to the cross-border drug trade.
In 2012, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute listed Pakistan as the third largest importer of conventional weapons, up from eleventh in 2006. China provided 42 per cent of Pakistan’s arms, while the United States provided 36 per cent (six per cent of all U.S. deliveries). Despite increased tensions between Pakistan and the United States, transfers of weaponry continued, including one frigate and two antisubmarine warfare aircraft in 2011.
According to The Military Balance 2013, Pakistan’s defence budget in 2013 increased by six per cent over 2012, but some news sources reported an increase as high as 15 per cent. The final delivery of an air defence system, as well as a $750-million deal on frigates with China, were expected in 2013.
Economic factors are at the heart of the discontent in the province of Baluchistan, which has the majority of Pakistan’s natural resources, including natural gas, uranium, copper and oil. Yet, Baluchistan is one of Pakistan’s poorest provinces, receiving only 12 per cent of the royalties from gas sales. Drug trafficking of hashish, opium and heroin fund Taliban salaries and arms purchases. Drugs and arms are said to come across the poorly monitored Afghan-Pakistan border.
The 2008 economic recession led to the devaluation of the rupee. The price of some staple foods skyrocketed. In recent years, Pakistan’s GDP growth has accelerated. According to the World Bank, the poverty rate in Pakistan fell from 34.5 per cent in 2001/2002 to 21 per cent in 2008, although consolidating improvements is difficult in an insecure environment.
War in the Federally Appointed Tribal Areas has created serious barriers to economic development, particularly in the industrial sector. Business and trade are down; there is a shortage of raw materials; female factory owners and managers are unable to go to work; the IMF has pressured the government to remove subsidies, multiplying the effects of the energy shortage; and many businesses have been forced to shut down due to militant violence. In November 2013, protests to block NATO supply trucks caused temporary disturbances to trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pakistan has faced an increasingly serious electricity shortage, which culminated in a crisis situation in 2013. This further slowed economic activity, as prolonged shortages of gas and electricity inhibited people from working. The industry is plagued by financial issues, blamed on “circular debt,” a problem that results in part from people not paying their electricity bills.
map: CIA Factbook