Pakistan has been ranked fifth by the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2018. We are preceded by Iraq (1st), Afghanistan (2nd), Nigeria (3rd), Syria (4th) and followed by Somalia (6th), India (7th), Yemen (8th), Egypt, (9th) and Philippines (10th). The index has been developed by the Institute for Economics & Peace while measuring the impact of terrorism. According to GTI 2018 Pakistan in 2017 recorded its lowest number of terror-related deaths since 2006. Deaths declined eleven per cent from 2016 to 2017, falling from 957 to 852. Deaths are now 64 per cent lower than the peak year of 2013.
Pakistan’s three most active terror groups, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Khorasan Chapter of the Islamic State, and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi were responsible for 67 per cent of all deaths in Pakistan in 2017. The TTP and the Khorasan Chapter were both responsible for 233 deaths each, making them the deadliest groups in Pakistan. Deaths committed by TTP declined by 17 per cent from 2016, but were offset by increases in deaths by the Khorasan Chapter, which rose by 50 per cent and deaths by Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, which rose by 17 per cent. The most-impacted province was Balochistan, which recorded 296 terrorism deaths, or 35 per cent of the total in Pakistan. The next deadliest province was (former)Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which recorded 226 deaths, or 27 per cent of the total. Sindh province was the third deadliest with 16 per cent of the total terrorism deaths occurring in the region.
Terrorism increased substantially in the FATA and Sindh regions, with deaths increasing by 117 and 104 per cent respectively in 2017. Deaths in the Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces decreased by 31 and 60 per cent respectively. In May 2018, Pakistani parliament passed a constitutional amendment to have the FATA region absorbed by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in an effort to crack down on the high level of terrorism in the region. Prime Minister Imran Khan, the newly elected leader of Pakistan, has also pledged to assist Afghanistan in efforts to stymie terrorism along its shared border. The year 2017 was the deadliest on record for the Khorasan Chapter of the Islamic State (ISKP), highlighting the group’s migration into South Asia following military setbacks in Iraq and Syria. The group committed over half of its attacks since 2014 in 2017. ISKP was also responsible for the deadliest terror attack in Pakistan in 2017, a suicide bombing attack in the Sindh Province that resulted in 91 deaths and over 250 injuries.
A couple of weeks ago, we saw another form of terrorism when a far-right extremist killed at least 50 people – including a three-year-old child – worshiping at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. Neither white supremacy, nor racially motivated terrorist attacks carried out in its name, are new phenomena. Yet the response to far-right terrorism remains thoroughly insufficient. According to Bjørn Ihler (The global threat of white terror published on March 23, 2019 in the weekly Newsletter of International Politics and Society) after the New Zealand massacre, US President Donald Trump dismissed the threat of white nationalism as a case of ‘a small group of people’ with ‘a very, very serious problem.’ This fits into a broader trend, in which attacks by perpetrators with Muslim backgrounds are immediately classified as ‘acts of terror’ and addressed in a well-resourced and systemic way, while violent attacks perpetrated in the name of other ideologies are treated as an ‘isolated incident.’ But there is nothing isolated about such incidents. According to the Global Terrorism Index 2018, the death toll from terrorist attacks associated with far-right groups or individuals has been steadily rising since 2014. In the United States, right-wing extremists have carried out far more attacks than Islamists. The attack in Christchurch was directly inspired by the 2011 far-right terrorist attack in Norway. Indeed, the Christchurch gunman, Brenton Tarrant, claims to have received the blessing of the perpetrator of the Norway attack, Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people that day.
Breivik is far from Tarrant’s only white-supremacist role model. In his rambling ‘manifesto,’ released just before the attack, Tarrant also mentions other far-right extremists – such as Dylann Roof, who killed nine African-Americans in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. All of this goes against the notion that massacres like the Christchurch shootings are cases of disturbed individuals – mentally ill ‘lone wolves’ – carrying out a one-time attack. These attacks are clearly part of a broader pattern, which demands a response on par with all other counter-terrorism efforts. Even as far-right extremism surges, most of the world’s people recognise that there is more that unites us than that divides us. Such a response must, first and foremost, acknowledge the link between resurgent far-right nationalism and the casual racism and dog-whistle politics that have been creeping back into many societies’ public discourse. At Extremely Together, a counter-extremism youth-engagement initiative convened by the Kofi Annan Foundation, members have been following this trend with growing concern. Several of the members know first-hand what it is like to live through terrorist attacks. “We also know that, when Trump warns that immigrants will ‘infest’ the US, he is feeding the narrative that some people are sub-human. That narrative – also taken up by other leaders, such as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro – has real-world consequences, including the emboldening of extreme actors. It comes as no surprise that Tarrant praised Trump in his manifesto as ‘a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.’ The response to this intensifying terrorist threat must also reflect the fact that, like Islamist extremism, violent white supremacists are organising across borders, becoming increasingly closely connected and eager to amplify one another’s messages. To counter this trend, governments and civil-society organizations must work to boost coordination and information-sharing, just as they do in response to Islamist terror. “Media also have a role to play. In order to maximise control over his message of hate and its dissemination, Tarrant live-streamed his attack on Facebook. But many news organisations then posted parts of the video on their own platforms, arguably spreading the perpetrator’s violent message for the sake of clicks.
“Rather than make themselves accomplices and amplifiers of terror, news organisations must stick to fact-based reporting that avoids spreading terrorist propaganda. A debate may be needed – and should be welcomed – to help journalists find the right balance, so that they provide comprehensive independent reporting without becoming tools of extremists. “Of course, part of the responsibility also lies with social-media platforms like Facebook. Today’s digital technologies offer an immediate, high-impact channel through which terrorists can reach a global audience, often in real time. Facebook and others must take their share of the responsibility and find ways to prevent their platforms from being used in this manner. “Even as far-right extremism surges, most of the world’s people recognise that there is more that unites us than that divides us. Effective responses to poverty, climate change, epidemics, and much else require cooperation across not just territorial borders, but also racial, ethnic, or religious lines.
— The writer is veteran journalist and a former editor based in Islamabad.