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WASHINGTON: Terrorist-related violence in Pakistan declined for the second straight year in 2016, says a US State Department report released on Wednesday, which also acknowledges that Pakistan remained an important counterterrorism partner during this period.

The report notes that Pakistan has succeeded in eliminating anti-state militants from the tribal belt, but it has not taken ‘substantial action’ against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network.

The State Department’s country report on terrorism for 2016 notes that last year Pakistan continued to suffer significant terrorist attacks, particularly against vulnerable civilian and government targets.

The report credits the Pakistani military and security forces for conducting successful operations against groups that carried out attacks within Pakistan, such as Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan.

But “Pakistan did not take substantial action against the Afghan Taliban or HQN, or substantially limit their ability to threaten US interests in Afghanistan, although Pakistan supported efforts to bring both groups into an Afghan-led peace process,” the report claims.

The State Department also claims that in 2016, Pakistan did not take sufficient action against other externally focused groups, such as Lashkar- e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. All these groups have “continued to operate, train, organise, and fundraise in Pakistan”, the report adds.

The State Department points out that terrorists target civilians, officials and religious minorities in Pakistan.

The report identifies major terrorist groups that focus on conducting terrorist attacks in Pakistan, such as the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Jamaatul Ahrar, and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi.

The groups located in Pakistan, but focused on conducting attacks outside the country include the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.

The militant Islamic State group claimed several major attacks against Pakistani targets, likely conducted in collaboration with other terrorist groups.

The report notes that although Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been seriously degraded, remnants of its global leadership, as well as its regional affiliate Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, continued to operate from remote locations in the region that the group has historically exploited for safe haven.

International, Afghan, and Pakistani forces continued to contest Al Qaeda’s presence in the region, and Pakistan’s continued military offensive in North Waziristan further degraded the group’s freedom to operate.

Pressure on Al Qaeda’s traditional safe havens has constrained the leadership’s ability to communicate effectively with affiliate groups outside South Asia.

The number of terrorism-related civilian deaths in 2016 was approximately 600, far lower than the peak years of 2012 and 2013, when terrorist acts left more than 3,000 civilians dead each year. Despite its extensive security infrastructure, the country suffered major attacks, particularly in Balochistan.

The Pakistani military continued operations in Khyber and North Waziristan to eliminate anti-state militants. Security forces in urban areas, including the paramilitary Sindh Rangers in Karachi, arrested suspected terrorists and interrupted plots.

Many commentators credited the military operations for the reduced number of terrorism-related civilian deaths in Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2017