Tag Archives: Pakistan

Asia Bibi-related protests underscore TLP’s growing political influence; blasphemy case to increase radicalization – Pakistan Analysis

Current Situation

On October 31, the Supreme Court (SC) overruled a 2010 verdict assigning the death sentence to Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of committing blasphemy in 2009. The bench comprising three judges cited a lack of evidence to uphold the death sentence and called for her release.

Following the verdict, Islamist parties led by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) organized mass protests against the verdict in major cities, including Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi. Until November 2, city centers were severely paralyzed by blockades on arterial roads, commercial activities were suspended, and multiple incidents of vandalism, such as the burning of tires or vehicles, were recorded.

Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan made a public address defending the court’s verdict on October 31. He also warned that the government would take strong measures in the case of road blockades or acts of vandalism by Islamists while condemning the verbal attacks against the military and judiciary by protest leaders.

During the evening hours (local time) on November 2, the TLP agreed to end its street campaign following a five-point agreement between the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government and the organization’s representatives. In return, the government agreed to include Asia Bibi on the Exit Control List (ECL) to prevent her from leaving the country, as well as to not object to a review petition against the acquittal. The government also agreed to release all individuals arrested in relation to the three-day-long protests.

On November 4, the Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Khan Afridi announced the Federal government’s decision to launch legal proceedings against protestors that engaged in acts of vandalism, as well as those that posted provocative content on social media. Legal proceedings against the TLP leader and founder Khadim Hussain Rizvi, senior leader Afzal Qadri, and workers were registered, while Hussain Rizvi’s social media account was suspended for an indeterminate period of time.

On November 1, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (TTP-JA) militant group released an audiotape featuring its leader Omar Khalid Khorasani, condemning the overturning of the death penalty and calling on Pakistanis to rise against the “un-Islamic state”. On the same day, the Hizbul Ahrar (HuA) group, an offshoot of the TTP-JA, claimed that it will continue to target those that strengthen Pakistani judicial institutions. On November 3, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) released a statement condemning the SC’s decision, while the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) released a poster threatening Asia Bibi and Kurt Westergaard, a Dutch cartoonist known for his controversial drawing of Prophet Muhammad.

Assessments & Forecast

Emergence of TLP as major opposition figure likely linked to setbacks faced by mainstream political opponents

While various religious and conservative parties organized nationwide protests against the court’s ruling, the three-day street agitation underlined the TLP’s growing position as a major opposition figure to the incumbent government. Well-established religious parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) also organized similar demonstrations. However, TLP-led protests attracted considerably higher turnouts and occupied the most prominent locations within urban centers, often becoming a rallying point for smaller Islamist groups. The media attention that those demonstrations received, as well as the government’s decision to sign an agreement solely with TLP representatives, further underscores the prominent position enjoyed by the Islamist party during the demonstrations.

Recent legal proceedings against high-profile political figures, such as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Shahbaz Sharif and the former PM and PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, appear to have aided the TLP’s growing political clout. The erosion of public confidence in these individuals over allegations of graft likely created more space for relatively newer opposition parties to enhance their platforms, within which the TLP seems to be championing the populist cause of blasphemy. This assertion is backed by an opinion poll conducted during the general elections held on July 25, which revealed that 46 percent of the sample of TLP voters interviewed had voted for the PML-N in the 2013 general elections.

The seeming increase in the TLP’s political capital can also be tied to the perceived victories the platform has achieved in recent months. Most notably, in November 2017, a three-week long protest campaign at Islamabad’s Faizabad interchange against the alleged softening of blasphemy laws ended with the resignation of the then PML-N Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid. Since August 2018, under the PTI’s tenure, the TLP also succeeded in securing the removal of the PM-appointed Ahmadi economist Atif R Mian from the Federal government’s Economic Advisory Council. Additionally, the cancellation of a cartoon contest about Prophet Muhammed in the Netherlands was also likely seen as a TLP victory by local actors, given the group’s vocal opposition to the contest and its rallies in relation to the matter.

The party’s focus on religion and the branding of its platform as a defense of Pakistan’s identity likely resonates with those concerned about the perceived growth of Western influence and the associated dilution of Islamic values. Given that the PTI previously joined the criticism by Islamist parties against the alleged endorsement of Western values by the then ruling PML-N, PM Imran Khan’s perceived failure to uphold Islamic tenets is liable to further bolster the ranks of the TLP.
FORECAST: Over the coming months, the TLP will likely continue to galvanize support in urban centers by organizing disruptive demonstrations regarding matters of religion. However, party leaders are liable to refrain from making harsh statements against the military establishment, in order to avoid a tough response by the security apparatus.

Authorities’ restraint against TLP highlight PTI’s strategy to mitigate political losses

Asia Bibi-related protests represented the first major challenge to the PTI since it came to power in July. Given PM Imran Khan’s defense of blasphemy laws during his election campaign, the PTI likely opted for a cautious strategy to end the protests, in order to avoid alienating its own supporters. The agreement between authorities and the TLP leadership, while expressing support for the verdict, seems to be aimed at maintaining support within both the PTI’s conservative and liberal electorate.

The November 2 agreement was widely perceived as a capitulation to Islamists’ pressure by the PTI. Such criticism derives from the perceived contradiction between the PTI’s statements in support of the verdict, and the acceptance of key demands put forth by protestors. The agreement to launch legal proceedings to add Asia Bibi’s name on the ECL also contradicted with a PTI statement posted on social media on November 1, denying such intentions.

Despite the criticism, the PTI will likely claim to be successful in removing protestors from the streets in the span of three days. In contrast to the November 2017 protests during which the then ruling PML-N called on the military to dislodge TLP workers, the PTI government secured a retreat without an overt military involvement. It will likely focus on the limited use of force to dispel the gatherings to drive home its point.
FORECAST: The government’s balancing act on the issue is likely to engender sustained criticism from mainstream political parties. This will also encourage the TLP to continue pursuing intimidation tactics in order to advance its political agenda.

Asia Bibi case expected to increase radicalization, boost militant recruitment in near term

The charges levied against TLP leaders, and the suspension of the social media account of Khadim Hussain Rizvi allegedly following governmental pressure on the social network, are likely to be perceived by members of the organization as a breach of the agreement signed on November 2. Such legal crackdowns, if sustained, bear the risk to further radicalize the organization’s supporters, as they may increasingly perceive the PTI-led government as deceptive. In return, an increase in anti-state sentiment is liable to elevate the risk of lone-wolf attacks carried out by more hardline TLP members.

This is anticipated given the continued sensitivities surrounding blasphemy-related matters. A TLP member was allegedly involved in the attempted assassination of the then Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal in May over his remarks regarding blasphemy laws. This further highlights the potential for acts of violence against political, security and judicial institutions in the near term. The TLP’s rhetoric during the protests, especially its calls to target members of the judiciary and to revolt against the military’s highest officials, heightens this risk. The statements against the SC verdict by militant groups are likely aimed at projecting relevance amid the current national discourse on the perceived erosion of Islamic values.

FORECAST: The Asia Bibi case is likely to increase sectarian tensions over the coming months. Groups such as the TTP-JA or ISKP, known for their sectarian rhetoric, are liable to carry out attacks against religious minorities such as Christians and Ahmadis, who are often targeted over accusations of blasphemy. There also remains an elevated threat of militant attacks against political and judicial figures over the coming months, by both lone-wolf actors or militant groups. In addition, given the perception that Western countries exerted influence over the judiciary proceedings in favor of Asia Bibi, anti-Western sentiments are likely to increase. Particularly, the potential granting of political asylum to Asia Bibi by a Western country is likely to be met with strong opposition and protests by local residents. Anti-Western sentiment is expected to be directed at the US, Canada, or the UK, as these countries were mentioned in the video recorded by Asia Bibi’s husband seeking political asylum. Negative sentiments towards the Netherlands are also likely to be elevated, given the previous controversy surrounding the Dutch cartoon contest, and reports that Asia Bibi’s lawyer will seek asylum in the country.

Recommendations

We advise against all non-essential travel to Pakistan given the heightened threat of militant attacks, criminality, kidnappings and sectarian tensions throughout the country.

As a general precaution in travel security, maintain heightened vigilance in the vicinity of security detachments, government buildings, public areas, diplomatic installations, news stations, military bases, restaurants, high-value soft targets like schools, shopping centers, and religious centers including mosques as they remain potential targets for militant attacks.

Given the sensitivity of blasphemy-related matters, avoid overt or critical statements of government, religious, or judicial institutions both in public spaces and online, including social media.

Avoid demonstrations or political gatherings, especially in relation to the Asia Bibi verdict, given the potential for unrest or escalations into violence.

Over the coming months, we advise maintaining vigilance in the vicinity of Christian places of worship or Christian-related gatherings given the potential for retaliatory attacks against minority communities in light of the SC acquittal.

Foreign nationals are advised to maintain a low profile and exercise heightened vigilance over the near term anti-Western sentiments associated with the case.

Recent Hizbul Ahrar militant activity highlights expanding nationwide sphere of operations – Pakistan Alert

Please be advised

On October 3, a police sub-inspector was killed in Ahsanabad area of Karachi by two unidentified assailants riding a motorcycle. The attackers reportedly opened indiscriminate fire, before fleeing the scene. Hizbul Ahrar (HuA), a splinter group from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (TTP-JA), claimed the attack on social media. Authorities have yet to confirm the identity of the assailants, as well as the veracity of the claim.

On September 20, both the HuA and the TTP-Hafiz faction claimed a bomb blast against security forces in Spinwam, in North Waziristan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province. The TTP and HuA both claimed an attack in Mastung on August 19, which was one of their earliest conflicting claims.

On June 2, the HuA claimed an attack against a paramilitary checkpost in Hub, Lasbela District of Balochistan, which lies at the border of Karachi, Sindh Province.

In May, the HuA claimed a suicide attack against a bus in Attock in Punjab Province, following which the Counter Terrorism Department (CDT) arrested five militant operatives on September 17 planning to carry an attack in Rawalpindi.

On January 12, the TTP claimed responsibility for the killing of a policeman in North Nazimabad area of Karachi.

Assessments & Forecast

The latest claim by the HuA is highly notable, given that it is the first such claim by the group in Karachi and in Sindh Province. The group has typically confined its operations to northern and western Pakistan, in provinces such as KP, Balochistan, and the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), in which the outfit has increased its operations in recent weeks. The latest attack in Karachi, combined with the May attack and the arrest of five of its operatives in Punjab Province, is indicative of the group’s attempt to increase its sphere of operations and to push for a presence in major civilian centers such in Karachi and Rawalpindi.

Over the recent weeks, the HuA also appear to be increasingly challenging the factions of its former patron, TTP, by claiming attacks in TTP-held territories and by challenging the group’s claims. This was witnessed in the Spinwam attack on September 20, which occurred close to Data Khel, an area predominantly controlled by TTP factions. While Karachi has frequently witnessed attacks by TTP and its affiliates against law enforcement, the recent HuA attack of October 3 may be another indicator of the growing competition between the groups in a new sphere. It is also likely that HuA’s operations in Sindh and Punjab are aided by the defections of TTP-JA personnel to the new breakaway group.

The modus operandi used is notable given that HuA methods that primarily use suicide bombings or IED attack. Motorcycle-borne shooter attacks are more characteristic of Karachi-based militants and criminal elements, which may indicate potential cooperation between these elements and the HuA. Should HuA be adding newer modus operandi to their current tactics, there is a threat that such attacks may be replicated by its cells in other parts of the country. Additionally, while the group has previously stated that all attacks will focus on government targets over civilian, the indiscriminate nature of their plot execution increases the risk of collateral damage, as the attacks have taken place in civilian-populated areas. FORECAST: Over the coming months, the authorities are likely to conduct operations in Sindh Province and along the border areas with Balochistan, in attempt to dismantle potential HuA cells and prevent infiltrations from Balochistan and the Afghan border regions into Sindh.

Recommendations

We advise against all nonessential travel to Pakistan given the heightened threat of militant attacks, criminality, kidnappings and sectarian tensions throughout the country.

Throughout Pakistan, we advise [as part of our security consulting services] minimizing non-essential movement given the daily nationwide threat of militant attacks and violent criminality.

As a general precaution, maintain heightened vigilance in the vicinity of security detachments, government buildings, public areas, diplomatic installations, news stations, military bases, restaurants, high-value soft targets like schools, shopping centers, and religious centers including mosques as they remain potential targets for militant attacks.

Those operating or residing in Sindh Province are advised to maintain vigilance in light of the recent HuA plot and the potential for growing competition between militant groups in Karachi, which may result in an increase in plots over the near term.

US aid withdrawal unlikely to elicit security policy reversal from Islamabad; risk to US, Western nationals elevated during periods of tension between countries – Pakistan Analysis

Current Situation

On January 1, US President Donald Trump issued a statement on social-media threatening to cut financial aid to Pakistan for allegedly harboring anti-US militants within its territory and for lying to the US about its counter-militancy efforts.

Washington officially announced a suspension of financial aid worth 2 billion USD to Pakistan on January 4, pending “decisive action” against anti-US militant groups, such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, which it alleged targets US personnel in Afghanistan.

On the same day, the US reportedly placed Pakistan on a watch list for “severe violations” of religious freedom, with Islamabad alleging that the move was “politically motivated”.

In response to the developments, Pakistani Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan indicated on January 9 that Pakistan had suspended military and intelligence cooperation with the US in the wake of President Trump’s allegations and the subsequent US measures.

President Trump’s harsh rhetoric with respect to Pakistan’s “lies and deceit” have triggered a wave of anti-US sentiment in the country. Several political parties have also issued statements critical of Washington’s stance; most notable among them is opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan who has traditionally expressed his opposition to US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

On January 19, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry closed the Islamabad bureau of a US government-linked Pashto-language media outlet after Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, accused it of airing programs “against the interest of Pakistan” and of “portraying it as (a) hub of terrorism and (a) safe haven for militant groups”.

At least 43 people were killed in an overnight attack claimed by the Taliban group on a UK-based luxury hotel in Kabul on January 20, prompting the White House to call on Islamabad to conduct the immediate arrest or expulsion of Taliban leaders based in Pakistan.

According to Pakistani officials, two Haqqani network militants were killed in a suspected US drone strike in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in northwestern Pakistan on January 24.

US aid withdrawal unlikely to elicit security policy reversal from Islamabad; risk to US, Western nationals elevated during periods of tension between countries - Pakistan Analysis| MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast

US aid freeze unlikely to elicit desired policy reversal from Islamabad with respect to conflict in Afghanistan 

The aid freeze is notable as it is the first concrete, coercive measure adopted by the Trump administration towards Pakistan over its alleged implication in the conflict in Afghanistan. Occurring in the wake of President Trump’s unveiling of a visibly more aggressive Afghan strategy in August 2017, the measures appear aimed at securing enhanced counter-militancy cooperation from Islamabad against anti-US groups in Afghanistan ahead of an anticipated annual uptick in their operations during the annual spring offensive.

Such cooperation, as Washington expects, would largely encompass intelligence regarding the whereabouts of senior leaders of the Afghan Taliban and the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, that Pakistani intelligence allegedly harbors on its soil. Islamabad has maintained that the actual levels of involvement of the Haqqani network in the Afghan conflict are minimal. However,  US officials’ estimate that the Haqqani network has a membership of over 10,000 and are one of the most operationally-sophisticated militant groups in Afghanistan, highlighting their concerns about the group’s key role in the conflict.

Nevertheless, the latest measures from Washington are unlikely to achieve the intended response from Islamabad. Such punitive financial cuts are not entirely new in US-Pakistan relations, with one of the most recent examples occurring in the immediate aftermath the unilateral US raid in 2011 targeting the hideout of deceased al-Qaeda (AQ) leader Osama bin-Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Washington’s frequent resort to the threat of aid withdrawals to shape desired policy behavior has enabled Islamabad to take appropriate measures to weather the negative impact of these measures.

More importantly, Islamabad’s long-term ties to the Afghan Taliban and its affiliated groups continue to remain a core component of its national security strategy. This is unlikely to shift significantly under external pressure or inducements from the US. Islamabad perceives close relations with such groups as securing itself vital strategic depth in Afghanistan and as a bulwark against the perceived growing influence of regional rival India in the country.

Policymakers in Islamabad also work under the assumption that the factors that sustain the insurgency in Afghanistan may not be completely quelled simply through militarily eliminating the Taliban, given the general inadequacy of the Afghan government’s security policy. As such, and in the event of a future US withdrawal from the region, Islamabad may perceive itself as being the most vulnerable in terms of long-term militant blowback from the region. Another factor shaping Islamabad’s reluctance to capitulate entirely to US demands could be concerns that any overt assistance to the US war effort in Afghanistan could have severe domestic repercussions, including widespread public backlash as well as a potential uptick in Islamist militant attacks within Pakistan’s territory.

Potential security costs of enforcing additional punitive measures may decrease prospect of escalation 

Given Islamabad’s apparent intransigence on the issue, Washington has a range of measures it can choose to initiate in order to escalate diplomatic pressure. These measures include the revocation of Pakistan’s non-NATO ally status, which could deny it preferential treatment on military hardware sale deals or influencing international financial institutions to suspend lending to Islamabad. Another angle that may be considered is to conduct, expand, and even regularize drone strike operations in and outside of Pakistan’s restive FATA, particularly in neighboring Balochistan Province where top leaders of the Afghan Taliban, known as the Quetta Shura, are believed to be residing.

However, such measures run the risk of triggering retaliatory measures from Islamabad that could damage the overall US effort in Afghanistan. Pakistan could enforce a closure of the US ground and aerial supply routes through the country that sustain US troops in landlocked Afghanistan. This may include closing off US access to military bases in Pakistan that have been used for logistical operations. Such a move would considerably increase operational costs for the US and hamper efforts to combat the currently resurgent Taliban. Washington would likely have no choice but to seek alternative routes, most of which run through Central Asian countries that are largely under the Russian sphere of influence. Current US tensions with Russia over a number of issues could dampen the appeal of such alternative supply routes.

Despite the elevated tensions, both countries remain appreciative of the mutual benefits of ties to the overall regional counter-militancy effort, as illustrated by continued low-key meetings between US and Pakistan administration officials. While Pakistan has largely benefited from friendly ties through the procurement of military hardware, Washington understands the role played by Pakistani intelligence in its efforts to dismantle AQ networks in the region. This explains both countries’ seeming unwillingness to resort to further escalation tactics, at least for the time being.

FORECAST: Tensions are unlikely to dissipate over the coming months, and any rhetoric from Washington over the issue is likely to trigger similarly sharp verbal responses from the administration in Islamabad. This is likely as authorities would seek to project strong leadership in the face of external pressure, particularly due to the upcoming general elections in Pakistan this year and the potential for opposition politicians to raise the issue.


US aid withdrawal unlikely to elicit security policy reversal from Islamabad; risk to US, Western nationals elevated during periods of tension between countries - Pakistan Analysis | MAX Security

Despite growing defense cooperation with Beijing, Islamabad likely to remain keen on retaining security ties with US

One of the factors that may have emboldened Islamabad to challenge the US is Beijing’s continued verbal assertions of support throughout the crisis. China proclaims itself as Pakistan’s “all-weather friend” and has continued to shield the Muslim country from international censure with respect to its perceived inadequate counter-militancy efforts. Additionally, a suspension of financial aid from the US may not be as impactful as Washington intends it to be, as Islamabad has a diverse list of countries, including China, Turkey, and several Western European countries, with which it has maintained defense relations. China’s attempts to establish a naval base in Jiwani in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province may also be perceived in Islamabad as early efforts to establish growing security cooperation between both countries over the long term.

Nonetheless, Islamabad will remain reluctant to completely detach itself from all military cooperation with Washington. Currently, much of US defense sales to Pakistan focus on the F-16 fighter jets, a key component of Pakistan’s aerial defense capabilities. Additionally, Washington-supplied attack helicopters, such as the AH-1Z Viper, considerably enhance Pakistan’s counter-militancy operations in the harsh mountainous terrain of the country’s northwestern tribal areas that are known to be militant safe havens. Thus, any potential suspension of US assistance with regards to maintenance of the fleet would negatively impact anti-militancy operations. This, coupled with Beijing’s current inability to match or surpass the performance criterion of far superior US-made aircraft, is likely to push Islamabad to maintain its defense ties to the US.

Anti-US sentiment in Pakistan may spur militant activity, political protests by parties seeking to boost respective election campaigns

FORECAST: Political groups in Pakistan are increasingly liable to utilize the issue to portray the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government as ineffective in safeguarding Pakistani interests and seek to mobilize large numbers to boost their respective election campaigns. Apart from mainstream political groups, Islamist organizations such as Difa-e-Pakistan Council (Council for the Defense of Pakistan) led by Hafiz Saeed, and newer parties such as the Tehreek E Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) are likely to spearhead these protests, in order to increase their relevance during the election year. Given the existing hostility within the Islamic demographic against President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, these protests are liable to draw turnouts in the thousands. They may particularly target US diplomatic installations in major cities, and bear the risk of violent escalation due to the heightened sensitivities over the issue.

A considerable section of Pakistan’s Muslim community, especially those that subscribe to a hardline Islamist ideology, continues to harbor sympathetic views with the Afghan Taliban, which is seen as fighting a corrupt and inefficient Afghan government backed by the US.

FORECAST: Taliban-sympathetic militant groups in Pakistan are likely to continue to capitalize on public suspicions of the US’ motives and the West in general. This may take the form of attacks using local sympathizers on Western NGOs, particularly health workers involved in immunization campaigns that are considered a Western conspiracy to sterilize Muslim populations. During periods of particularly tense Pakistan-US relations in the immediate term, the risk to US nationals of Western interests by extension is elevated. The potential for attacks remains greater in major cities in the outlying provinces, such as Quetta in Balochistan and Peshawar in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, where groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have a notably strong presence.

Recommendations

We advise against all nonessential travel to Pakistan given the heightened threat of militant attacks, criminality, kidnappings and sectarian tensions throughout the country.

US nationals operating or residing in Pakistan are advised to remain cognizant of the increased anti-US sentiment in the country at present and to avoid demonstrations and large gatherings over the issue, given the potential for unrest.

We further advise to US nationals in the country to maintain a low profile due to the potential for targeted attacks, while avoiding engaging in discussions with locals over the sensitive issue.

Government’s concessions over Islamist protests highlights radical groups’ growing political clout – Pakistan Analysis

Current Situation

Government’s concessions over Islamist protests highlights radical groups’ growing political clout - Pakistan Analysis | MAX Security

Government’s concessions over Islamist protests highlights radical groups’ growing political clout - Pakistan Analysis | MAX Security
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On October 2, the National Assembly passed amendments to the Elections Bill 2017, triggering criticism from opposition parties that the government had also altered the contents of a clause regarding belief in the finality of Prophethood called the Khatm-e-Nabuwat, which is required to be signed by public office holders. In the edited version of the oath to office, the words “I solemnly swear” were replaced with “I believe”. Further, two sections of a law that deals with the status of the minority Ahmadi community, which was declared non-Muslim through a 1973 Law, were left out in the bill. Soon after, the then Law Minister Zahid Hamid publicly defended the bill stating that there was no intention of repealing laws related to the finality of Prophethood.

On October 5, the government agreed to restore the declaration document to its original form admitting that the perceived initial alteration of the contents of the form was the result of “clerical error”. However, on November 8, a collective of hardline Islamist groups, including the TLP, the Tehreek-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, and the Sunni Tehreek, blocked Faizabad Interchange, a key intersection between the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, demanding the immediate resignation of the Law Minister.

On November 17, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) ordered the national capital administration to clear the intersection by all necessary means, following which the government threatened protesters with the use of force if they failed to disperse by 22:00 (local time). However, the deadline lapsed without any evoking any action from the protesters. Following a failed meeting between protesters and government ministers on November 20, the protesters rejected a government offer to change the portfolio of the Law Minister or send him on leave.

Local police launched a day-long clearance operation at Faizabad Interchange on November 25 after the expiry of a new 07:00 deadline, which resulted in the deaths of at least 8 individuals, following which operations were suspended. The crackdown sparked nationwide protests by sympathizer groups, with incidents of unrest also being reported in other cities.

Despite being requested by the civil administration, Chief of Army Staff refrained from using force on the protesters, stating that such a move would risk damaging the public’s trust in the institution.

On November 27, the federal government submitted to the protesters’ demands by signing an agreement promising the release of all arrested activists as well as security personnel involved in the clearance operation. On the same day, Law Minister Zahid Hamid offered his resignation over the issue ending the standoff.

Background

Before the launch of the TLP, party chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi rose to national prominence after leading prolonged protests in early 2016 after the government executed Mumtaz Qadri, a member of the Barelvi Muslim community. Qadri was executed for assassinating the then Punjab Province Governor Salman Taseer over his perceived criticism of the nation’s blasphemy laws, with Rizvi using the case to generate public support through speeches that were often perceived as inflammatory by the government. The leader was able to position himself as an established religious activist favoring strict enforcement of anti-blasphemy, before eventually going on to establish the TLP in 2015.

The first election contested by the TLP was the NA-120 by-polls held in September 2017 over the vacant parliamentary seat of the disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The party pledged support for an independent Islamist candidate who went on to secure over 7,000 votes from the constituency, a notable development in that it secured more votes than established parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The party fielded its own candidate for the first time in the NA-4 by-elections in Peshawar in October 2017, securing over 9,000 votes.

Barelvi Muslims comprise the largest Muslim community in Pakistan, with large numbers of people adhering to the traditionally more moderate version of Islam. However, the community is known to adopt radical views on issues such as the blasphemy laws and are known to bear group grievance against the state, due to the allocation of resources to Deobandi Muslim groups that allegedly have close ties to the military establishment. In that aspect, the formation of the TLP serves to address the community’s longstanding concerns, particularly on the topic of blasphemy.

Government’s concessions over Islamist protests highlights radical groups’ growing political clout - Pakistan Analysis | MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast

Success of TLP protests highlights political clout wielded by Islamist groups in Pakistan

The political developments surrounding the extended siege of Faizabad Interchange in Islamabad bring to light the immense political clout wielded by Islamist groups in Pakistan as well as their successful ability to influence policymaking, including at the federal level. The organizers of the November protests were able to force the government to submit to their demands within a three-week period, underscoring their influence. Further, the TLP protest should be viewed in the backdrop of a large number of extended anti-government shut-down protests in the past, most prominent among them being launched by the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, that have largely failed to achieve their goals.

Most prominent among these demands was the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid for his alleged role in the alteration of the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat clause. The protesters’ ability to secure several additional concessions from the administration serves to reiterate the degree of capitulation by the government. This is despite the fact that many of the protest leaders have been on the state’s extremist watch list, largely for their perceived sectarian speeches. This points to the failed implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP), a twenty-point action plan adopted in 2015 to counter militancy and Islamist extremist groups, of which curbing hate speech remains a major aspect.

Lack of coordination between federal, provincial government likely due to internal frictions within PML-N; military’s reluctance to intervene response likely due to concerns regarding public image

Several factors also played a part in the success of the protests. First, the initial accommodation of the protesters appears to have been due to lack of coordination between the federal and the Punjab provincial government, resulting from internal frictions within the ruling PML-N. The PML-N’s inability to coordinate with the federal government to devise an effective strategy to resolve the issue also remains noteworthy, considering that the same political party is in power at both the provincial and national levels.

This lack of coordination could potentially be linked to a larger power struggle within the ruling PML-N over the successor to the former PM Sharif following his disqualification over corruption charges in last July. Despite being eventually pressured into initiating a crackdown by the IHC, the Interior Minister visibly distanced himself from the operation, underscoring larger divisions within the federal government on how to handle the crisis.

The second factor is the military’s reluctance to target the Islamist protesters, as the former negotiated an agreement with the protest leaders, despite being significantly more capable to carry out forceful dispersals than the local law enforcement. This approach from the military could be linked to concerns of a wider public backlash from Islamist organizations and sympathetic militant groups. These fears may have been informed by the past precedent, such as the 2007 military operation targeting militants allegedly hiding inside the Lal Masjid Mosque in Islamabad, which led to an overall surge in Islamist militancy in the country.

Another factor that could have influenced the military’s decision to remain neutral on the issue may have been the earlier allegations that the current military chief Lt. Gen Qamar Bajwa is a member of the minority Ahmadi community. Therefore, any army-led crackdown on the protest would have been perceived as institutional support for the pro-Ahmadi alterations to the document and could damage the military’s public image.

Significant political capital earned by TLP liable to shape 2018 general election campaign

The party successfully managed to capitalize on religious sentiments over the perceived threat of the alteration of the oath, an eventuality that could have had larger implications about the very nature of the Islamic republic. At the same time, the ability of the newly-formed party to coordinate a near-nationwide mass movement against the government, with the protests spreading to more urban centers through its local chapters, underscores its growing support.

Despite the purported religious motivations of the TLP in spearheading the protests, we assess that the actual objectives of the movement were likely to generate significant political capital through the issue, by appealing to the masses over the government’s alleged disregard for religious doctrine and law. This is made evident through the continuation of the protests despite the retraction of the controversial changes.

FORECAST: Based on its current momentum, the TLP is likely to use the government’s eventual submission to their demands in order to project its growing leverage. We assess that the entrance of the TLP into the electoral fray may split the PML-N’s traditional vote bank, particularly if the party continues to appear directionless after former PM Sharif’s absence from politics. Furthermore, the federal government’s decision to initiate a crackdown on the protests is expected to further alienate the religious right from the ruling party, and will likely be exploited by the TLP to expand their membership by drawing this disaffected target group towards their banner.

Given that the TLP has fared better than the moderate Jamaat-e-Islami party in the recent two elections it has participated since its recent entrance into politics, the party will likely seek a well-thought-out campaign strategy to pave the way for an improved electoral performance in the general elections.

FORECAST: Such a strategy will likely focus on the gaining from the numerical superiority of the Barelvi Muslims in Pakistan, and by effectively capitalizing on the heightened public sentiment surrounding the controversial social issue of blasphemy, particularly in Punjab where sectarian politics remains deeply embedded in society.

FORECAST:  There also remains the probability that the TLP will be courted by the opposition PTI party ahead of the 2018 general elections, ostensibly over their common opposition to the ruling PML-N, and given that PTI chief Imran Khan has long been seen as a vocal proponent of the “political mainstreaming” of right-wing Islamist organizations. Further, the PML-N is also liable to reach out to the TLP and placate their leaders, eyeing the political benefits of such an alliance. However, such efforts are unlikely to bear dividends as the TLP has seemingly established itself as a party on the basis of a prolonged hostility towards the PML-N.

Recommendations

We advise against all nonessential travel to Pakistan given the heightened threat of militant attacks, criminality, kidnappings and sectarian tensions throughout the country.

As a general precaution, avoid demonstrations or large gatherings given the potential for unrest or escalations into violence.

What does the July 24 Lahore suicide bombing say about the TTP militant group’s changing influence in the city – Pakistan Analysis

Current Situation

The Lahore suicide bombing attack reportedly occurred at 17:30 (local time) along Ferozepur Road, in the vicinity of the Arfa Karim Tower and one kilometer away from the Punjab Province Chief Minister’s house, where he was holding a meeting at the time. At least 26 people were killed and 53 others injured, including police officers and civilians.What does the July 24 Lahore suicide bombing say about the TTP militant group's changing influence in the city - Pakistan Analysis | MAX Security

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The city administration declared an emergency in hospitals and appealed for blood donations. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the motorcycle that the attacker used to arrive at the scene was registered to a resident of the Faisal Town area of the city. Approximately one hour after the incident, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s central spokesman Mohammad Khurrassani claimed responsibility for the bombing through an email, declaring it a suicide attack.

The attack targeted a group of police officers that were deployed to clear street vendors from the area, which has since been cordoned off by a heavy contingent of security forces and the section of the road sealed. The road serves as the main link between Lahore and Kasur and is a busy thoroughfare, with Lahore’s Metro Bus also passing through.

Earlier on July 24, at least 24 people killed and 42 injured in a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul that was quickly claimed by the Taliban. Meanwhile, on April 5 four security personnel and two civilians were killed in a TTP-claimed suicide attack against census workers and their military escort along Bedian Road, while its splinter group, Jamaatul Ahrar (TTP-JA), claimed a suicide attack outside the Punjab Assembly on February 13 that resulted in the death of 13 people. On July 10, the US State Department and UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) both issued advisory warnings of a heightened threat of militant attacks in Lahore has been targeted in a series of blasts over the past year.


What does the July 24 Lahore suicide bombing say about the TTP militant group's changing influence in the city - Pakistan Analysis | MAX SecurityAssessments & Forecast

Attack highlights TTP influence in Punjab, possible increased cooperation with Afghanistan Taliban

While groups like the Islamic State continue to operate in more peripheral areas of the country, especially in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, the TTP and its offshoot TTP-JA remain the only militant groups that have demonstrated the consistent capability to carry out large-scale attacks in Lahore, likely due to the strong influence the group is believed to possess in Islamist schools throughout Punjab, especially in the province’s southern regions. This is evidenced by the fact that the perpetrator of the attack was likely a Lahore native, given that the motorcycle was registered to a local.

Furthermore, the group almost exclusively targets security forces and tends to issue claims of responsibility within hours of attacks, consistent with the victims of today’s attack and the rapid claim of responsibility. In this context, the claim is most likely credible and further highlights the group’s position as the dominant militant group in the Punjab Province.

The TTP is loosely allied with Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents but focuses primarily on targeting Pakistani government officials. Both groups maintain a modus operandi which seeks to carry out successive attacks in a relatively short time span. The fact that the Lahore attack immediately followed the large-scale bombing in Kabul seems to suggest a degree of coordination and thus increasing cooperation between the two groups. The FCO and US State Department Warnings, issued just two weeks before today’s bombing, suggest that the threat of attack was, in fact, imminent and underscores security forces’ inability to hamper such movements, despite credible intelligence revealed by Western foreign ministries that suggested it would likely take place.

Attack highlights consistent vulnerabilities in security apparatus, likely to compel uptick in anti-militancy raids, protests in coming days

FORECAST: Given reports of a significant shortage of available blood in the hospitals that the victims were sent to, casualties are likely to significantly inflate in the coming hours and days. This is liable to fuel criticism by opposition groups and locals, which may allege that emergency response authorities are not adequately adapting to the growing threat of attacks in the city. Protests are liable to take place throughout the city over the coming days, both in solidarity with the victims and in condemnation of the government’s inability to thwart and adequately respond to the attack, similar to the protests that took place in the day following the February 13 attack.

Security and emergency personnel are already reportedly on the scene, but the extent of damage and cause are yet to be ascertained, meaning that a significantly bolstered security force is liable to remain in the area throughout the evening and into July 25. Keeping in mind the reports of road closures in the vicinity, many local businesses and major roads are likely to remain closed and severe traffic congestion is liable to be reported throughout the area as well as in the adjacent city of Kasur.

FORECAST: Following the recent attack on April 5, security authorities carried out a large-scale, anti-militant operation at the Punjab Housing Society in the city, just 10 days later, on April 15. Given this past precedent and in a likely attempt by the government to project an offensive posture following the most recent blast, an uptick in anti-militant raids in the city targeting Madrasas allegedly sympathetic to TTP is likely to occur. Attacks may also center on Faisal Town, where the owner of the motorcycle used in the attack is believed to reside.

Recommendations

We advise against all nonessential travel to Pakistan given the heightened threat of militant attacks, criminality, kidnappings and sectarian tensions throughout the country. Those operating or residing in Lahore are advised to avoid nonessential travel to the Afra Karim Tower and its environs given the recent attack and reported heavy security deployments. Further, those operating throughout the city are advised to maintain heightened vigilance for the remainder of July 24 given the latent potential for copycat or repeat attacks. If transiting through the city as well as the adjacent, we advise to allot for significant disruption to traffic and business continuity, especially in the vicinity of Ferozepur Road.

 

Analysis of February wave of militant attacks in Pakistan

Current Situation: Wave of militant attacks in February

On February 10, an offshoot of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jamaat ul Ahrar (TTP-JA), announced by video the commencement of a new militant operation in the country titled “Operation Ghazi”. The TTP-JA defined the operation to be conducted largely against their traditional targets of government and security installations, as well as other symbols of the rule of law, including members of the judiciary.

In the weeks that followed, at least 140 people were killed in separate attacks across the country, claimed by a number of different groups. Some of the most high-profile attacks include a suicide bombing in Lahore on February 13, which was later claimed by the TTP-JA; a suicide bombing in Peshawar on February 15, which was claimed by the TTP; a suicide bombing against a Sufi shrine on February 16 that killed upwards of 90 and was claimed by the Islamic State (IS); and a combined suicide and shooting attack that killed seven civilians on February 23 outside of Peshawar, which was also claimed by the TTP-JA. The February 13 and 16 attacks involved individuals walking into crowded areas and detonating explosive vests, whereas the February 15 attacker most likely detonated explosives carried by his motorcycle. The February 23 attack also involved the individuals using gunfire in an attempt to enter a government building before detonating.

In response to the recent wave of attacks, the Pakistan Armed Forces announced the counter-militancy operation Radd-ul-Fassad (“Elimination of Discord”), on February 22. Under the new operation, military and paramilitary forces have authority to “indiscriminately” pursue militant suspects, continue augmenting or assuming functions of local law enforcement and intelligence operations, and expand into the Punjab province. The Pakistan Rangers, who had been conducting extensive operations in Sindh, extended into the Punjab on February 24, in a reversal of local government concerns over giving the military more influence in a ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)(PML-N) party stronghold. Whereas the military were previously given limited operational authority in the province in 2016 despite government objections and lengthy negotiations, this new operation was approved relatively quickly by local authorities and grants the Rangers a much wider operational berth in terms of locale and targets. At least 100 suspected militants were reportedly killed by security forces in the first 24 hours of the operations, and hundreds more have been killed or captured to date.

The operation has also been under domestic scrutiny by civil society groups, with scattered reports from the ground indicating that political critics and opposition figures have also been arrested, in addition to protests being held by groups alleging mistreatment of ethnic Pashtuns in Punjab under the Radd-ul-Fasaad banner. Pakistan is home to the largest Pashtun community in the world, with an estimated population of 30 out of 200 million in Pakistan. Despite infrequent high-profile outliers, the Pakistani security apparatus views the peripheral Pashtun population with suspicion due to perceived ethnic ties to Afghanistan, a primary regional adversary and well-known militant incubator.

Analysis of February wave of militant attacks in Pakistan | MAX SecurityAssessments & Forecast

Claims and methods of attacks suggest nexus between membership of different militant groups in Pakistan, increased operational capacities.

Despite the fact that the abovementioned attacks were subsequently claimed by several groups, the modus operandi and precedence set by attacks before those in February suggest a level of coordination between groups. This is further bolstered by previous assessments of IS using proxies in Pakistan and their lack of a significant operational presence. For example, the February 16 suicide bombing that was claimed by IS was likely actually perpetrated by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al Alami (LeJ-A), which boasts an established history of similar attacks against religious minority gatherings and places of worship, as well as having previously coordinated with IS over the October 24, 2016, suicide attack on a Quetta police station. Additionally, the August 8, 2016, suicide bombing attack on a hospital in Quetta was eventually claimed by IS and the TTP-JA. High-profile attacks with multiple claims, or singular claims that referenced other groups, were a relatively common phenomenon throughout the second half of 2016.

This history of convergence highlights continued operational overlap between these groups in the context of the unusually high rate of use of suicide bombings in February, which require a relatively higher level of operational capacity. Whereas groups have usually relied on less sophisticated methods for attacks involving singular claims, the uptick in the use of suicide bombings across the board for attacks with singular claims suggests that inter-group overlap continues in Pakistan with the onset of Operation Ghazi.

FORECAST: Nevertheless, ongoing efforts against organized militant outfits will likely focus on limiting their capacity for such high-casualty attacks, at least in the near future. Consequently, groups such as the TTP are liable to augment current operations with lower intensity methodologies, including targeted sectarian killings in urban areas, or motorcycle-borne gunman ambushes and IED attacks against security forces in the periphery. Such waves of multiple high-casualty attacks, such as that witnessed in February, are normally interceded by relative lulls, which may be marked by more infrequent attacks taking on forms as described above. As previously mentioned, likely targets include police patrols, military checkpoints, protest rallies due to the high civilian presence, and minority institutions and events.

Operation Radd-ul-Fassad has expanded the influence of the military, although their efficacy is questionable.

While the focus of Radd-ul-Fassad is ostensibly in the tribal border areas where the militant density is thought to be highest, the military has also been able to increase its authority in areas such as Punjab, an area where it normally saw resistance from the PML-N. Furthermore, the military appears to be using Radd-ul-Fassad, at least in part, as a pretext for a crackdown on dissenters and the Pashtun minority, which relates more to longstanding positions held by the military that precede the operation.

FORECAST: Pushback against the perceived excesses of the operation are likely to result in fresh demonstrations from groups who see themselves as being marginalized, including political opposition groups and Pashtun organizations. Protests of this nature have already materialized in Karachi and can be further expected in tribal provinces with high Pashtun densities such as the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northern Balochistan, as well as Sindh and Punjab. The high numbers of militant deaths and arrests may lead to a temporary lull in militant attacks and may be used by the military to justify their operations.

However, the military’s new nationwide operations are likely not to have a marked effect on long-term militant operations in the country, and may actually serve to exacerbate longstanding political and ethnic tensions, while increasing recruitment to these groups from Pashtun and the Islamist religious demographic.

Recommendations:

We advise against all nonessential travel to Pakistan given the heightened threat of militant attacks, criminality, kidnappings and sectarian tensions throughout the country. As a general precaution, maintain heightened vigilance in the vicinity of security detachments, government buildings, public areas, diplomatic installations, news stations, military bases, restaurants, high-value soft targets like schools, shopping centers, and religious centers including mosques as they remain potential targets for militant attacks.

Finally, foreigners, particularly Westerners, conducting essential travel in Pakistan are additionally advised to maintain a low profile, exercise heightened vigilance, and avoid if possible locales frequented by foreign, particularly Western nationals. To mitigate the risk of attacks or abductions, ensure that places of stay are equipped with sufficient perimeter security details, alter travel routes, and avoid disclosing sensitive itinerary information to unknown individuals.

MAX Analysis India & Pakistan: Cross-border hostilities likely to continue as Islamabad seeks to intensify Kashmir debate January 23, 2015

Executive Summary

  • Clashes on the border between India and Pakistan have escalated again since December, leaving around a dozen dead and tens of thousands displaced.
  • Pakistan is likely seeking to increase pressure on India to renew negotiations over Kashmir through a controlled escalation.
  • Despite both side’s efforts to ensure relatively localized hostilities, risk of more widespread border conflict remains.
  • We advise against all nonessential travel to Pakistan given the ongoing threat of militancy, kidnappings and sectarian tensions throughout the country. We advise against all travel to Jammu and Kashmir state, with the exception of Jammu and Srinagar cities.

Current Situation
On January 13, in a joint conference with Sartaj Aziz, adviser to Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif on national security and foreign affairs, visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry asked Pakistan to work with India to resume peace talks. However, Aziz ruled out any dialogue with India if the disputed Kashmir region was not part of negotiations. Kerry made the comments after holding talks in India, where President Obama will visit later this month. The Pakistani stance comes as tensions have escalated considerably between India and Pakistan since the last quarter of 2014. The said tensions have been most clearly evident with the surge in violence on the border between Indian and Pakistani troops in parts of the disputed regions of Jammu and Kashmir. Both sides have accused the other of being behind the escalation. Since December, around a dozen fatalities on both sides have been recorded. The most serious incident came on December 31, when five soldiers on both sides were killed.  Much of the recent fighting has been focused to the International Border between India and Pakistan, on the southern flank of Jammu and Kashmir. The International Border is a relatively smaller border portion in the overall disputed Jammu and Kashmir region. Both sides say hundreds of ceasefire violations were recorded in 2014, with unconfirmed reports indicating that the year saw the most border incidents since the current ceasefire came into being in 2003.

  • In that context, in late December, India’s defense minister instructed commanders stationed along the border with Pakistan to intensify retaliations against Pakistani fire.
  • As a result of cross-border fire, which occasionally lasts for hours on end, Indian officials in New Delhi have reportedly asked local authorities in Jammu and Kashmir to construct fortified bunkers for local populations.  Over ten thousand Indian civilians have fled their communities along the border with Pakistan as a result of cross-border fire, which has mostly involved mortar and small-arms fire. Pakistani reports have also alleged Indian fire into Pakistani civilian areas.
  • Furthermore, the latest tensions come on the heels of ongoing negotiations to form a government in Indian controlled Jammu and Kashmir. India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) campaigned heavily for the region’s state assembly elections. After performing reasonably well, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the BJP are now trying to form a government. Turnout was deemed a success for the BJP, especially given calls by pro-Pakistani  separatists in Jammu and Kashmir to boycott the elections.
  • Meanwhile, and in conjunction with cross-border hostilities, the threat of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, and inside major Indian cities, persists. During the morning hours of January 14, two Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants reportedly encountered Indian security forces in the Chankhan area of Sopore, 40 kilometers northeast of Srinagar, in Jammu and Kashmir. Reports suggested that LeT commander Abu Huzaifa, was one of the two militants.
  • On January 15, reports indicated that Indian military officials believe approximately 200 Pakistan-based militants may attempt to infiltrate in order to attack what the government referred to as “soft targets,” including schools, civilian areas, and religious places. The Indian Army believes the militants are poised at 36 launch points throughout the Pakistani controlled area across the Line of Control (LoC) in the Pir Panjal range. Meanwhile, five militants were killed by Indian security forces in Gader in Shopian, Jammu and Kashmir on January 15. The five were reportedly affiliated with the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Hizbul Mujahideen. Indian forces conducted a search of the forested area after intelligence reports indicated militants had entered the region. Unconfirmed reports suggest the Division Commander of (JeM), Mohammad Toyib, was among the militants killed.

Assessments: Internal Pakistani strategic considerations driving volatility in Jammu and Kashmir; Obama’s visit provides opportunity for Islamabad to press territorial claims

  • Tensions between India and Pakistan are longstanding and this has necessitated a highly militarized border between both countries. At present, the conflict between India and Pakistan is highlighted chiefly by continuous allegations that both sides are using militancy to undermine the others’ security, along with border clashes in Jammu and Kashmir. We assess that both issues are linked. On top of their historic rivalry, we assess that there are several  new factors that have further undermined bilateral relations between the two nuclear armed states and exacerbated instability along their shared borders.
  • First and foremost, Pakistan is highly volatile and under a heightened state of alert for militant attacks. Attacks occur daily, throughout the country, including in major cities. Warnings of militant attacks have also escalated following the December 16 high-casualty attack in Peshawar. As a result, Pakistan has intensified its counter militancy operations nationwide, especially in the northwest tribal regions. Pakistan claims it has killed over a thousand militants from its now intensified operations in the northwest, named Khyber 1 and Zarb-e-Azb. Pakistan may be aiming to balance its military activity, given the relative controversy of targeting militant Islamists within traditional Islamic Pakistani society, while hostility to India remains a popular policy domestically. Therefore, internal Pakistani concerns regarding the prestige of the military following the launch of campaigns targeting Islamist militants could be bolstering an interest to escalate tensions with India.
  • Strategically speaking, Pakistan is also likely concerned over the continued American so-called pivot to East Asia. As a major strategic ally of America, Pakistan is likely concerned that the pivot, along with the end of American military operations in Afghanistan, could leave it increasingly isolated, thus forcing it to become more reliant upon American rivals like China and Russia for various kinds of support. Conversely, it is also likely that Pakistan is wary of growing ties between India and the US, highlighted by Obama’s upcoming visit. This could necessitate Pakistan to take steps in order to ensure its interests are secured.
  • As tensions with India have been a major focus of John Kerry’s visit to the region, it is possible that Pakistan aims to cite the increasing tensions with India to place the US as a mediator between the two sides. Additionally, Pakistan is likely to cite India’s growing military and economic prowess, along with the threat from internal Pakistani militants, when requesting further American assistance.
  • We also assess that Pakistan likely has an interest to reinvigorate the Jammu and Kashmir debate, especially on the global stage. Islamabad is likely concerned that the regions will eventually be perceived as de-facto Indian or a non-conflict. As Pakistan ultimately aims to reclaim these areas, this may warrant hostilities in order to showcase Pakistan’s claim. Targeting the International Border could also be a Pakistani attempt to show that all of Jammu and Kashmir is under dispute, not just certain border markings. The lack of international concern resulting from India’s elections in the disputed regions only likely enhanced Islamabad’s views on this matter. Those elections were widely perceived by Indians as a referendum on Indian rule in the disputed regions.
  • Despite the tensions with India, we assess that national security and foreign affairs advisor Aziz’s statement indicates a possible Pakistani interest in renewing talks with India over Kashmir. Direct military pressure could be a method to achieve this goal, especially as President Obama could use his visit to urge India to engage in fresh negotiations with Islamabad. PM Modi of India, however, is a Hindu nationalist and likely wary of entering negotiations meant to retake territory under Indian control. The elections in Jammu and Kashmir likely served to further cement his hesitation towards negotiations over these disputed regions. Also, Modi is likely cognizant of the strategic ramifications of bending to Pakistani demands at a time of rising concerns of future tensions with China. Both China and India have active border disputes in Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh, which led to a brief war in 1962. Furthermore, the recent cases of Pakistani mortar shelling of Indian border villages, as opposed to fighting positions, may have been an effort to exert further pressure on the Indian government to ultimately force it to the negotiating table.

Assessments: Both sides taking efforts to control escalation, indicating lower potential for sustained high-intensity conflict

  • In that context, the Indian threat of severe retaliation was likely meant to deter Pakistan from taking more aggressive steps that could force India into another border war. The current BJP government is likely keen to avoid an escalation at this time, as this could complicate the establishment of a new government in Jammu and Kashmir, and counter an overall national security strategy to reach strategic parity with China. As mentioned above, Pakistan may be hoping that PM Modi will choose negotiations to ease the fighting in Kashmir.
  • If negotiations are the goal, Pakistan is likely of the impression that a certain and calculated level of force is required to achieve this. This assessment is bolstered in that much of the recent fighting has taken place along the southern border of Jammu and Kashmir, which is manned mostly by the Indian Border Security Force. Their positions are less fortified when compared to the regular and better-armed Indian army troops positioned in the rugged mountains of northwest Kashmir. Moreover, tactical analysis from recent clashes points to efforts by both sides to control the level of escalation. They have refrained from using airpower and heavy artillery.
  • Altogether, we assess that tensions will remain high along the border in the coming weeks. Further clashes should therefore be expected, along with the possibility of a more widespread escalation. Such an escalation could result incidentally from unacceptably high casualties suffered by either side during bouts of cross-border shelling. Nonetheless, we assess that much of the fighting, even the possibility of an escalation, will remain localized to Jammu and Kashmir, most likely the southern sector, over the coming weeks. Efforts to avoid such a development are likely as well, as both sides likely aim to keep the situation under control in order to protect their respective interests.

Assessments: Increased risk of militancy within India from Pakistan-based fighters during period of heightened cross-border hostilities

  • In conjunction with the threat of border hostilities, there is a heightened threat of militant attacks in India emanating from Pakistan-based militants. For example, India routinely accuses Pakistan of attempting to infiltrate militants into India, under the cover of border shelling. Numerous warnings have been sounded in recent months, the latest being mentioned above concerning possible attacks on ‘soft targets’.
  • India will therefore maintain heightened deployments in the coming weeks, especially ahead of and during President Obama’s visit, in order to prevent infiltrations across the LoC. However, the latest clashes between militants and security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, including the detention and elimination of Pakistani militants, points to an initial and successful infiltration of some fighters.  Still, India has claimed to have thwarted several infiltrations. Nonetheless, mass casualty militant attacks inside major Indian cities, or in Jammu and Kashmir, could serve to seriously erode security conditions along the border and bilateral relations between New Delhi and Islamabad.