This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.
As Pakistan enters its 66th year of Independence, it is a good time to take stock of the security situation within the country – in order to understand the role the nation continues to play in the overall security and stability of the region.
According to the Pakistan Security Report, 2011 [pdf] published by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), though Pakistan continues to rank “among the most volatile regions in the world”, there has been some improvement in the overall security situation within the country, especially since the later part of 2011. The report states:
The last half of the year 2011 was a period of comparative peace in Pakistan in terms of internal armed conflict, acts of terrorism and the consequent casualties. A decrease in the number of suicide attacks and drone strikes were the major contributing factors… the security situation is slowly improving as violence has decreased 24 percent in the last two years.
Given that the country has seen a sharp decline in fatalities caused by suicide attacks and that there have been no significant terror attacks in major cities or in the capital in 2012, the change in the overall security situation seems significant, especially when compared against 2009-2011, which was deadly in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.
Yet, it is not a time for complacency. On August 16, 2012, a high value military base right outside the capital Islamabad was attacked by gunmen. Pakistan special forces contained the situation within five hours and fatalities were mostly on the militant side.
Three days later, the government issued a blanket cell phone service ban for 15 hours in four major cities – including Karachi and Lahore - on the Islamic holiday Eid-ul-Fitr because of credible security threats they had received.
These recent events go to show that despite claims made in May 2012 by the then Prime Minister of Pakistan – Yousuf Raza Gilani, that concerns about the security situation in Pakistan were “exaggerated”, the situation on the ground remains fragile and the improvement in the security situation is not all-pervasive.
‘Target killings’ continue in many parts of the country. Karachi continues to suffer its fair share of ethnic and political violence as a turf war rages since 2010. Violence continues to dog the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) including its capital Peshawar. There areas continue to bear the brunt of Pakistan's engagement in the War on Terror.
Balochistan remains in the grip of an insurgency, with the government yet unable to provide a tenable and acceptable solution to address grievances in the region. Rather, as Pakistani journalist and blogger Malik Siraj Akbar pointed out, the violence escalated in early 2012 after “an unprecedented hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs which voiced deep concern over the appalling human rights violations allegedly committed by the army in the country's largest province of Balochistan”.
There is also a growing concern about the rise of sectarian violence within the country, which has seen a resurgence since 2007. In 2012 alone there have been three incidents of Shia targeted killings. While the largest number of clashes have been between the Sunni and Shia sects, there has also been violence occurring within the Sunni community; for example, between the Deobandi and Barelvi Sunnis. Huma Yusuf, who is a well-known columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, wrote in her analytical report [pdf] published by the Norwegian Peacebuilding Rsource Center (NOREF.)
Sectarian violence poses a grave threat to Pakistan’s security and stability, primarily because conflict between mainstream religious communities threatens to involve and radicalise greater swathes of the Pakistani population than any other kind of militancy.
Thus it appears that while there is reason for some amount of cautious optimism regarding the relative improvements in Pakistan's overall security situation, the country still has a long road ahead in its struggle to successfully resolve the complexities of its multi-layered sectarian, ethnic and political issues and help enhance the stability and security, not only within its borders but of the region as well.