Suicide bombing has sadly become a key feature of political violence in Pakistan since 2001. Luqman Saeed (Royal Holloway) looks at the historic data on suicide bombings, the victims of the attacks and the type of attacks to determine whether Pakistan is afflicted by this form of political violence more than any other country around the world – even those at war.
The political changes that followed the aftermaths of World Trade Centre attacks in September 2001 led to substantial reconfigurations in the militant landscape of Pakistan. After allying itself with the US-led war against the Taliban, the Pakistani state became the primary enemy for many militant groups. Pitted against such a powerful adversary, the militants reviewed their methods of perpetrating terror. The use of hit-and-run violent attacks in sectarian violence throughout the 1990s proved too unreliable for militants post-2001. Therefore the bloody rise of a relentless and brutal campaign of suicide bombing virtually became the modus operandi of some of the largest militant groups in Pakistan. Indeed analysis of suicide bombing data between 2004-2016 reveals the this type of violent attack was one of the deadliest of its kind around the world, surpassing casualty rates of suicide bombing in Afghanistan and Iraq as well.
Pakistan’s first recorded suicide bombing
One of the first recorded suicide bombings by a non-state actor in Pakistan took place in November 1995 in an attack on the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad by a militant allegedly from Egyptian Islamic Jihad. It was in 2002 however when a persistent campaign of suicide bombing was unleashed by militant groups. According to Chicago Database on Suicide Terrorism, maintained by Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism at University of Chicago, there were 27 recorded events of suicide bombing between 2002-2006, a figure which then skyrocketed to 60 in 2007 and then to 91 in 2009.
A regional analysis of attacks
There were noteworthy variations in the extent to which different regions were affected by bombings. Between 2004-2016 Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPA) experienced 49 and 16 percent of all suicide attacks respectively. The high number of suicide bombing in KPK and FATA can be gauged from the fact that while around only 17 percent of Pakistan’s total population live in these two regions, they accounted for almost 65 percent of all suicide attacks during the period. The concentration of militants in regions within FATA made this part of Pakistan relatively easily accessible target. FATA and KPK accounted for almost 60 percent of all fatalities in suicide bombing during the same time period.
Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, was hit with around 13 percent of all suicide attacks that occurred nationwide which caused 17 percent of all fatalities during the same time period. Baluchistan experienced around 9 percent of all attacks with almost 12 percent share in fatalities. The proportion of fatalities as compared to the proportion of attacks was slightly lower in FATA and KPK, whereas in the case of Punjab and Baluchistan the trend is the opposite. This is due to relatively high lethality, as measured with fatalities per incident, in the latter two provinces. In Punjab and Baluchistan, on average 17 deaths occurred per incident, as compared with 13, 12 and 11 deaths per incident in Sindh, FATA and KPK respectively.
Overall these are exceptionally higher lethality rates which makes suicide bombings in Pakistan one of the deadliest worldwide. Between 2004-2016, the world’s average for fatality per suicide attack was nine. In Iraq and Afghanistan, on average of eleven and five deaths occurred per suicide attack. Hence suicide bombing in Pakistan was deadlier even when compared with active war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Taking population as baseline, the data further reveals that the casualty rate, i.e. both killed and wounded in suicide attacks, was 594 per million population in FATA, followed by KPK’s 310. Baluchistan ranked third with casualty rate of 213 followed by Punjab’s 41.
Impact: by target
The impact of suicide was uneven on different types of targets as well: 59 percent of all suicide attacks during 2004-2016 period were against security targets followed by 23 and 18 percent against civilian and political targets. In terms of fatalities however the soft civilians and political targets disproportionately suffered: 41 percent of all fatalities were in attacks against security targets, closely followed by 36 percent in civilian targets and 23 percent in political targets. The fatality per incident was exceptionally high at 21 deaths per incident in attacks against civilian targets making it the worst hit group. Around 17 deaths per attack occurred in attacks against political targets followed by 9 deaths per incident in attacks against security targets. In all the attacks which occurred worldwide during the same time period, the fatalities per incident were 17, 7 and 10 in attacks against civilian, security and political targets.
The world’s average death per incident during the same time period in attacks against civilian, security and political targets were 17, 7 and 10. Hence in all categories of suicide attacks, Pakistan faced deadlier violence as compared with rest of the world. The deaths per incidents in civilians, security and political categories at 9, 4 and 7 in Afghanistan were lower as compared with Pakistan’s.
Impact: by device
Suicide bombing is usually executed into ways. Either an individual carries the explosives attached to body, for instance by wearing suicide vest, to target, or alternatively, by ramming explosive laden vehicle into the target. These are known as Person Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (PBIEDs) and Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs). There are variations in the impacts of these methods as well. In the case of Pakistan Person Borne Improvised Explosive Device (PBIEDs) were more lethal as compared to Vehicle Borne Explosive Devices (VBIEDs). 51 percent of all attacks were perpetrated through PBIEDs causing 55 percent of casualties whereas 45 percent of casualties were caused by attacks with VBIEDS. Militants struck security targets mainly with VBIEDS. Security targets are difficult to access and with high level of protection requires high amount of explosive for an impact; hence the use of VBIEDs make sense to militants. Amongst all the attacks launched against security targets 60 percent were VBIEDs and 40 percent PBIEDs. The trend was opposite in attacks against civilian targets in which 69 percent were PBIEDs. In suicide attacks worldwide during the same time period, the proportions of attacks carried out through PBIEDs and VBIEDs was 35 and 56 percent.
These statistics provide evidence which clearly imply that Pakistan is one of the worst hit nations due to suicide bombing, worse than even neighbouring Afghanistan if we solely focus on violence caused by suicide bombing. KPK and FATA suffered higher proportion of attacks and casualties but the lethality of attacks was higher in Baluchistan and Punjab. The fatality per incident in attacks against civilian targets is almost two times of that in Afghanistan. These statistics clearly illustrate the disturbing reality of the extent of suicide bombing in Pakistan.
This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the South Asia @ LSE blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting. Featured image credit: Casey Botticello, Unsplash
Luqman Saeed is PhD student in Economics at Royal Holloway, University of London. His main area of research is on political violence in Pakistan. He is currently working on assessing the impact of drone strikes on suicide terrorism in Pakistan. Luqman.firstname.lastname@example.org