Pakistan tops the list of countries at the highest risk of experiencing a new wave of mass killings, according to a new report by a leading US-based think tank. The report cites violence by the Taliban as one of the main challenges for the nation already facing political and economic crises.
“Pakistan faces multiple security and human rights challenges, including increasing violence by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is responsible for a nonstate-led mass killing episode that has been ongoing since 2001,” Early warning Project, the Washington DC-based think tank, said in its report.
“Our statistical model estimates that there is a 16.3%, or approximately 1 in 6, chance of a new mass killing beginning in Pakistan in 2022 or 2023. Pakistan ranks first highest-risk among 162 countries,” the EWP says in its report. This is the third year in a row that Pakistan has been put at the top of the list of 162 countries facing the highest risk of mass killings.
The Early Warning Project, a research organization that identifies countries at risk of mass violence, is a joint initiative of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College.
“Pakistan faces multiple security and human rights challenges, including increasing violence by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP,” the report added. Pakistan has witnessed a sharp increase in terrorist attacks both at home and from across the border in Afghanistan, where TTP enjoys safe havens under Afghan Taliban protection.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told a press conference on December 1 that while the rise in terror incidents was alarming, it would not get “out of control”.
“It is not worrying […] Don’t think that this is going out of control or that some group will become out of reach,” he was quoted by the English language daily Dawn as saying. At the same time, the minister raised alarm over the TTP claiming responsibility for the suicide attack in Quetta, which claimed four lives, including that of a policeman.
The EWP report says threats of attacks by ISIS and the country’s blasphemy laws, which have resulted in episodes of mob violence against religious minorities, were other factors for Pakistan’s high-risk ranking.
The report says that political volatility, following the ouster of former premier Imran Khan, was also expected to lead to “highly contentious elections next year.”
The study comes days after an announcement by the TTP militant group ending a months-long agreement with the government to pause violence and ordering its fighters to resume attacks.
Afghanistan ranked seventh on the list. Two other Asian nations were on the top ten list — Myanmar, where the military seized power in a February coup last year, was at number three. India was ranked eighth as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has increased its systematic discrimination against the country’s Muslim minority, the report said.
The Early Warning Project judged there was an ongoing mass killing perpetrated by the Taliban Movement of Pakistan and associated militias as of the end of 2021; this risk assessment relates to the possibility of a new and distinct nonstate-led or state-led episode beginning, not to the ongoing episode continuing or increasing.
TTP’s Growing Threat and Afghanistan’s Taliban
Since the Taliban came to power, the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan has increased by 56 percent. Key terrorist outfits with an active presence in Afghanistan, including al-Qaeda, TTP, and the Islamic State in Khorasan, continue to increase their presence. Pakistani Taliban have recently emerged in several areas along the Durand Line.
Thousands of locals have protested against their presence in the Swat Valley and the Waziristan regions, demanding that the state take action against militants’ virtually free movement. But government officials, like interior minister Sanaullah, have been downplaying such reports. These reports have created fears of a new wave of terrorism in Pakistan, which has been pressing the Afghan Taliban to reign in the TTP terrorists.
Pakistan dispatched its female Deputy Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to Kabul on November 29 to convey Islamabad’s concerns to the Taliban. Khar held talks with Taliban officials, including foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi. The visit brought nothing substantive for Islamabad from the Taliban, who have so far refused to go after TTP terrorists.
There was no immediate report of the visit’s outcome as the Taliban apparently did not pay much heed to Pakistan’s demands. However, one report that started making rounds after the visit was not very reassuring about the outcome. Sections of Afghan and Indian media claimed that the Taliban government’s defense minister Mullah Yaqub refused to meet the Pakistani minister because she is a female. Mullah Yaqoob is the son of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the founder of the Taliban. The Taliban government has so far not reacted to such reports.
The Pakistani government will come under increasing pressure to act on its own across the Durand Line if the Taliban fail to take action against TTP and if terrorist attacks continue on its soil. Any such developments will bring the already strained Pakistan-Afghanistan relations under more stress.
Mullah Yaqoob has been critical of Pakistan in since the Taliban came into power last August. He also accused Pakistan of allowing the US to use its airspace for an attack on Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Alzawaheri’s hideout in Kabul, a charge rejected by Islamabad. Al Zawahiri died in the drone attack in July this year. Mullah Yaqoob has been responsible for the Taliban’s hardening position viz-a-viz Pakistan.