Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Few Useful Graphs On Violence In Pakistan

Via the Brookings Institute, there are some interesting trends on the Pakistani security situation. There's a lot more to their report -- it includes data on a variety of issues, not just security -- but I want to just put up three graphs here, and you can go see the rest on your own (you can click on each of these images for a larger view).

The first one collates the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan since 2006, broken down by province. There are basically two main spikes: the first is in the spring/summer of 2007 -- is it a coincidence that that was the time when Musharraf became embroiled in a foolish panga with the Chief Justice? -- and the second is in the summer of 2008. The first spike also followed the Lal Masjid fiasco, which probably had more to do with violence in that year than any other factor. It is striking, though, that both spikes came at times of political instability and/or transition, though for obvious reasons we can not really draw firm conclusions based on the existence of just two trends.

Of course, this graph stops before the current spike in October and November in both the NWFP and Punjab, but the overall trend is way too volatile to make any definite pronouncements. The only thing I can safely say is that Pakistan, on average, is no more or less violent than it was eighteen months ago, which is a bit shocking. That, and the complete absence of violence in Sindh (touch wood).

Here's the second. It graphs the number of attacks by type since last year.

This graph basically backs up what I said above: that Pakistan isn't suffering overwhelmingly more terrorist attacks now than it was last year. I don't know why it feels like it is more violent.

Actually, I think this third and final graph gives a bit of a clue. It graphs the number of fatalities due to violence in Pakistan. Since we safely assume that the absent October and November numbers would continue the upward tick, it appears that even though the number of attacks is not significantly higher, the number of deaths certainly is.

In other words, the militants are getting better and more effective at killing people. From memory, this certainly seems to be the case. The last few months have witnessed a wave of attacks that kill large numbers of people -- between 20 or 40. Most attacks I recall from before this summer were smaller, killing 5-10 people.

Which leaves us with an obvious and painful question: how are they getting better at what they do when the military operations against them is supposed to be curtailing their capacity?


Khalid said...

I think that we should also look at the alternative possibility that instead of trying to hit more sensitive targets they are now hitting easier targets that result in much higher number of deaths. If it is true, it can be due to a change in tactics or due to a reduced capacity.

Anonymous said...

...It feels like earlier the attacks were meant to act as threats. Make the world aware of what they were capable off and now it's getting frustrating for them or ...

I hate sounding like a conspiracy theorists... there are so many things which could be ..

Nabeel said...

khalid has a point. easier targets result in more deaths - hate to put it so clinically though. blowing up a bomb in a crowded peshawar marketplace was always an option,but they never went for it. they can still stroll into Karachi's Zainab Market and blow it up (horrendous as that thought is) and easily claim hundreds of lives. that might indicate a little desperation.

and the obvious - more attacks in major urban areas now. lahore, rawalpindi, and peshawar are cities i feel sorry for because activities must have changed so dramatically post october (the great thing is,they probably haven't - peshawar has been paralyzed for a long time, islamabad has been a maze of security checkposts for a long time, and lahore is too big and vibrant to cower in fear.)

attacking major urban areas increases possible casualties AND attracts greater media attention, so that's probably why it seems like the past two months have been so bad.

AKS said...

Khalid and Nabeel while I agree with your point that the softer targets chosen by militants have resulted in higher casualties, I don't think that it alone accounts for the increased death toll. It appears to me that the militants are getting more sophisticated and organized - you are more likely to find multiple attackers involved in an attack; attackers are now more likely to use gun fire to create panic or overcome security present at the target; suicide jackets may remain the weapon of choice but car bombings have increased alluding to an increased supply of explosives; higher grade explosives may be more readily available.

Lastly, the very recent poisoning of state sponsored clerics including the chairman Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman shows creativity. The last thing we need in this country are terrorists who are creative and ingenious.

Nabeel said...

obviously,aks. i completely agree. there are always multiple factors and causes.

Raza said...

Man, you guys think we have it bad? Check out the fucking Mexicans: