NUMBERS, like words, tell stories. In recent years, the stories told by the numbers of Pakistan have mostly been sad ones that have largely to do with death. Collectively, they enumerate deaths from disease, deaths in childbirth, deaths at the hands of loved ones and the country’s security/state apparatus. Meanwhile, the numbers of deaths from terrorist attacks have been responsible for the state of the most bereft. We have, over the years, counted dead children, dead mothers, dead fathers, dead governors and dead prime ministers. People have died at terror’s hands while shopping, while taking their children to school, while praying and in hospitals while already dying.
It is, therefore, some small solace that one new set of numbers, delivered by the Institute for Economics and Peace, an American think tank, suggests the possibility of hope, of some reprieve after nearly two decades of death’s devastation. According to numbers collected by the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), a set of data collected and maintained by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism at the University of Maryland, there were 677 fewer deaths from terrorism in Pakistan in 2015. Overall, Pakistan saw the third largest decrease in deaths from terrorism worldwide, followed by Iraq and Nigeria. The improvement followed a global trend, with the number of deaths from terrorist attacks decreasing by 10 per cent. Along with Pakistan, 76 countries improved their scores in 2015.
This is welcome news for Pakistan, scarred and maimed as it is by the scourge of terrorism and its implications. Not only has the shadow of the sudden deaths of innocent people inculcated a deep sense of paranoia in those who have lived, it has ripped the fragile threads of national unity, religious tolerance and general civility. Even as terror’s shadow seems to recede, the future promises its own challenges.
Even as terror’s shadow seems to recede, the future promises its own challenges. Pakistanis are likely to find themselves increasingly isolated and unwelcome.
Beyond the constant threat of terror’s resurgence (it must be noted that even while terrorism-related deaths were reduced, the geography of their incidence expanded to a greater spatial area than before) is the challenge of combating new iterations of terror.
The attack on the Shah Noorani shrine in Balochistan, for instance, was carried out by the militant Islamic State (IS) group, which eagerly took responsibility for the attack via its news agency Amaq. Indeed, even as the older models of terrorist organisations such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan are being decimated, others continue to proliferate, insistent on keeping the world in their thrall. IS carried out attacks in 28 countries in 2015, up from 13 the year before. It may be only one of the world’s 274 terrorist groups, but it is the most deadly.
The numbers from the GTI also tell another story, one that suggests that local threats that isolated countries like Pakistan and left its citizens bound and gagged by fear, will be replaced by new international regimes of discrimination and isolation.
According to the report, the OECD (Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, which include mostly developed Western nations, saw a huge increase in the number of terrorist attacks. These countries (which include the United States and France amongst others) saw a 650pc increase in the number of deaths in such attacks.
Twenty-one of the 34 OECD countries saw at least one act of terror, with the most attacks taking place in Turkey and France. In 2014, there were 18 deaths from terror attacks in OECD countries. In 2015, this number had increased to 313 deaths from 67 attacks. In the US, 98pc of terror attacks were carried out by single individuals who may or may not have declared allegiance to IS but who did not have any direct contact with the organisation.
This disparity in numbers, the increase in the number of attacks in wealthy and Western countries and a relative decrease in the numbers in countries which have for a good decade been shredded to bits from terrorist attacks, is likely to cost the latter far more. Instead of examining some of the strategies that have been successful in fighting terror or noting conditions like economic inequality, exclusion based on racial, religious or sectarian identity and weak state penetration in certain areas, the OECD nations have resorted to a knee-jerk approach.
As per this outlook, borders must be shut down and sealed tight, and all the inhabitants of countries such as Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan be treated as would-be terrorists. Not only is this outlook unrelated to the sort of attacks being witnessed in most of these countries (as mentioned, 98pc in the US are carried out by single individuals), it also makes cooperation on the collective project of fighting terrorism all but impossible.
The good news brought by terrorism’s decreasing numbers then carries the taste of isolation and misdirected retribution. Pakistanis, whose best hopes for professional success rely on access to the global labour market, are likely to find themselves increasingly isolated and unwelcome.
While this does not compare to the immediate and ghastly devastation of terrorist attacks, it promises a slower torture, a broader condemnation of the very populations that have for so long and at such cost fought at the front lines of terrorism. Undoubtedly, much more has to be done to further secure the country from sudden carnage inflicted by acts of terrorism. Beyond the security imperative, however, some thought must also be given to the international isolation that is likely to come Pakistan’s way in the coming months and years. Without a plan, or at least some preparedness for this aspect of a post-terror Pakistan, it may not kill or injure but it will maim and maroon in other ways.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2016