An Analysis of Counterterrorism & Gender in Pakistan (Part 2)

By December 14, 2018 No Comments

The below is Part Two of Two of a noteworthy essay from our inaugural “Langley Hope Academic Excellence in Security and Defence Commentary Award Programme.” Stay tuned in the coming weeks for the publication of more winning and noteworthy submissions.

The women of the KPK & The Wartime Order of Clashing Monopolies.

Resilience to the State in the Form of Increased Fundamentalism

In early 2004, the KPK experienced an unprecedented transformation. Called the KPK’s ‘Talibanization,’ pockets of the region began to evolve into a haven for armed terrorists belonging to various groups.[1] As a direct result, attacks and violence escalated, with a high concentration of violence occurring in the FATA and Waziristan.[2] In 2009, a record number of Pakistani civilians and security forces died in militant violence, 14 times as many in 2006 – making Pakistan the suicide bomber capital of the world.[3]

The proliferation of terrorism and fundamentalism, in part, has been attributed to Pakistan’s counterterrorism strategy. As described by Fiaz, and as is representative of a clashing monopolies political order, Pakistan’s counterterrorism initiatives have mainly fallen into the practice of identifying terrorist territory and hideouts, and eliminating them with firepower.[4] In taking such a harsh, aggressive and offensive approach to wiping out fundamentalism in the KPK, militants in the region have responded in an equally aggressive manner.[5] Rather than surrendering, fundamentalists have strengthened their position, resulting in more suicide attacks, and retribution in the form of escalating violence.[6] Terrorists group have fought back in full force, and have doubled their efforts to maintain the influence they have over their respective territories and the civilians that live within or around them.[7]

The effects on women, as determined by the gendered version Staniland’s typology, are both negative and profound.

Inequalities within the already patriarchal social structure of the KPK have been magnified, as research determines will happen to women existing within a civil war, in which violence is recurrent and intertwined in every-day life.[8] Despite the multitude of military operations and security presence, ‘Talibanization’ continues to increase in strength and influence.[9] In Swat, the Taliban have strengthened their resolve to implement their interpretation of Sharia Law in the territories they control. As a result, women have been banned from pursuing work altogether, limiting the already minimal access they had to upward mobility. Moreover, women have also been banned from leaving the house unless accompanied by a male family member or guardian.[10] This in turn has affected women’s access to health care facilities and has also affected household incomes (in cases of a woman working independently of a male companion – for example, in the case of a widow).[11]

Surveys done in the region reflect growing frustration and uneasiness with military operations. Although 89 per cent expressed support of military operations being conducted in their communities, the same majority also expressed a lack of faith that state-led military operations would help the situation, and many doubted the government’s intentions.[12] Respondents repeatedly mentioned that they were confused about the role of security forces, and asked whether the State wanted to quell or further exacerbate tensions.[13]

The increasing violence between States and Insurgents, and the resulting increase of fundamentalism, has begun to co-opt women towards violence as well. In a survey conducted within the KPK, 85 per cent of respondents living in conflict areas responded negatively to whether they supported the Pakistani Taliban. Despite this overwhelming dislike for the presence of the TTP, there has been a notable increase of women being used by the TTP in suicide missions. 2007 marked the first case in Pakistan’s history of a female-suicide bomber who detonated an attack in the FATA. Three years later in 2010, another female suicide bomber from the TTP detonated explosives at a World Food Program distribution center in the FATA, killing 45.[14] With the State increasing the amount and severity of military operations to eliminate terrorism, the TTP has become more desperate in their method of response. Until recently, the use of women by militant groups had been limited to smuggling goods across borders, and in taking care of male jihadists as a mother, wife, daughter or sister.[15] The ongoing violence and fighting between Insurgents and State has provided a new role for women subjugated under the rule of militants, and that is of the suicide bomber. Unfortunately, this is not limited to areas controlled by the TTP. The formation of female-only wings within various militant groups such as AQIS made headlines in 2015[16], with the supposed establishment of a training program that would produce 500 female suicide bombers with the sole intent of striking civil and military establishments in Pakistan.[17] In another incident, the words of Umme Hassan, a school principal, made the front page of Pakistani newspapers for their vehemence:

“All the Muslim women of the world should raise their children to love jihad and die in the cause of Allah. Besides helping to preserve the Mujahedeen and raise their children in the best way, women could go the extra mile and participate themselves in martyrdom missions as suicide bombers.”[18]

The sphere of clashing monopolies dictates that States and Insurgents will use their best resources to defeat each other. In taking such a confrontational, blunt approach with its counterterrorism strategy, Pakistan has endangered the safety and mobility of women in the KPK. Authors such as Brohi echo this argument, emphasising how the militarization of the national security apparatus has “aggravated cleavages between state and society, refuelled resistance to women’s rights; (and) strengthened fundamentalism,” while exacerbating patriarchal divides within the nation.[19] Authors such as Aslam argue that this increasingly violent atmosphere has co-opted more women towards the confrontational and often violent tactics of militant Islamists.[20] Due to the pre-existing social structure, in which women are often restricted by patriarchal boundaries, escalating violence between States and Insurgents has only inflamed these tensions.

The Destruction of Social Services: Primary Education and Healthcare

The political order of clashing monopolies assumes that strategies taken by both sides will resemble the orders taken in traditional war, where military operations will emphasise logistics, manpower and arms. Socioeconomic destruction, to overtake territories controlled by militants, is necessary and an expected part of the battle. As the gendered typology assumes, women will suffer greatly because of this escalating violence.

Since 9/11, the armed conflict has resulted in the large destruction and abolishment of public properties, houses, health facilities and educational institutions within the KPK. As of 2011, 458 educational institutions had been destroyed[21] and the destruction of health centers, and hospitals have made it complicated for many women to access basic health facilities as well.[22] Women and young girls have ultimately borne the brunt of the consequences from the closure of schooling facilities and hospitals.

a) The Destruction of Education

By adopting a counterterrorism strategy that reinforces the environment of clashing monopolies, the State indirectly makes it so that girls’ access to education is severely compromised. Within the KPK, ongoing violence, committed directly by militants or clashes between Insurgents and the State, has destroyed nearly 1000 schools between 2008-2011, mostly those for young girls.73 80,000 girls had their education cut off in 2009 alone.[23] Although the government has expressed their commitment to rebuilding schools and providing for youth in the KPK,[24] a closer look at documents published by the KPK proves otherwise. In the 2014-2016 KPK statistics report, the provincial government reported 13.91 per cent of primary schools for girls existed in the KPK.[25] In the 2016-2017 KPK statistics report, the provincial government reported a drop to 12.34 per cent.[26] With such a militarily offensive counterterrorism strategy, education for women has fallen by the wayside. Resources and international aid has been invested in supporting the ongoing execution of military operations, rather than in education. A report by a sub-committee of the Senate’s Standing Committee on States and Frontier Regions released on November 25, 2016, echoes this sentiment. The document asserts that “the FATA Annual Development Plans (ADP) for 2015-16 and 2016-17 contain new education and health facilities in different tribal agencies, but such schemes for SWA have been abandoned. The development schemes launched in the region in 2007 and beyond could not be completed because of the law and order situation there.”[27]

This trend echoes previously published gender and conflict research, which proves that there is a strong relationship between a decrease in woman’s access to education and civil war.[28] Even in cases where there is a greater drop of male enrolment, girls in highly conservative and patriarchal societies are more disadvantaged in the long term as they cannot return to school due to sociocultural norms: they may by then be too old for school, must get married or have children.[29] With the mass destruction of schooling in the KPK, girls stand to suffer in the long term. However, in sustaining the political order of clashing monopolies, the State stands to provide no other outcome for these young girls.

To sustain the model of clashing monopolies, the State must continue to invest in resources that can defeat militancy physically, and that is exactly what the Pakistani state has done. Defense spending continues to increase on a yearly basis while social sectors like education remain stagnant. In 2015, the Pakistani government spent 3.2 per cent of its GDP on defense activities, services and pensions. Education accounted only for 2.2 per cent.[30] Because of this, the education sector continues to witness vast gender disparities, where girls are continuously afflicted and will be disproportionately hurt in the long run. In 2010, 5.1 million children in the nation did not receive any education, with an overwhelming 59 per cent being girls. In 2013, this number increased to 6.7 million, with 62 per cent being girls.[31] Should this violent model of counterinsurgency remain, the has the potential to affect Pakistan for decades to come.

b) The inaccessibility of health services

As much as educational institutions have suffered because of the ongoing violence in the KPK, health services have suffered more. On a national level, health services receive less than half of the funding that defense spending does. For example, in 2015, 0.8 per cent of the GDP was spent on funding health services compared to the 3.2 per cent that was received by the defense sector.[32]

The effect of this is magnified in the KPK, where various health institutions have been abolished as a direct result of violence. Hundreds of health facilities have been damaged, while 450 facilities, in particular, are underequipped and not regularly functional due to fear and staff absence.[33]


Years Defense Education Health
FY 2011 2.9 1.8 0.6
FY 2012 3.0 1.9 0.6
FY 2013 3.1 2.1 0.7
FY 2014 3.0 2.1 0.8
FY 2015 3.2 2.2 0.8

Table 1.4: Defense Spending, as part of GDP, compared to Social Sector Spending[34]

Again, as predicted by the gendered typology, the negative influence on women increases as the violence of the political order increases. A direct result of the ongoing fighting between States and Insurgents has been the destruction of health facilities, and this has affected women significantly.

As it stands now, only one health facility exists for every 50 square kilometers in the FATA, with only 56 mother-and-child healthcare centers in the entire region.[35] The State has not been able to compensate for the destruction of healthcare services. As a result, maternal mortality has increased in the war-ravaged region of the FATA and psychological illnesses have become prevalent due to the armed conflict, without easily accessible remedies.[36] According to research, more than 50 per cent of pregnant women in the region now suffer from stress, depression and trauma.[37] The Sarhad Hospital for Psychiatric Diseases recorded approximately 97,000 psychiatric cases from the violence-hit areas of the FATA. In 2011, 50,000 had been exposed to militant-related violence or violence related to military operations conducted on behalf of the government.[38] Therefore, not only has the decade-long conflict between State and Insurgents done nothing to improve the state of healthcare in the FATA for women, but it has exacerbated it. With regards to reproductive healthcare, women continue to face progressively difficult circumstances. Due to inaccessibility to appropriate facilities that service pregnancy, along with cultural norms that prevent the movement of women in the public sphere, infant mortality is estimated to be high, at 87 deaths per 1,000 live births.[39] Women and children also suffer a high malnutrition rate at approximately 11 per cent-14 per cent.[40]

Gender theory predicts that as armed conflict increases, women stand to undergo more than men in terms of health problems, due to the fact that reproductive health is severely compromised in times of violence.[41] Therefore, by living in an environment of clashing monopolies, the women of the KPK will continue to face health-related hardships. As recounted by one survivor from the KPK, life at times has been torturous:

 “In the middle of night, I woke up with a penetrating pain in my stomach. My husband was not in the house. I was alone with my children. That night I knew that I was going to die. I could not dare step out of my house as there was equal risk of death for me had I stepped out of the house alone and got spotted by Taliban. I could not call anyone to help me. That night I wished I was not born as a woman…In the morning, I sent my son to call one of my male relatives who took me to the hospital.”[42]

So long as the clashing monopolies order is the one that Pakistan’s counterterrorism strategy maintains, women will disproportionately languish while trying to attain healthcare compared to their freer male counterparts. As it stands, hundreds of women have died while giving birth due to lack of access to basic health facilities, and this trend looks to continue should the status quo remain the same.[43]

Displacement within clashing monopolies

Military operations against armed militant groups has played a significant role in the mass internal displacement transpiring in the KPK as well.[44] With the destruction of the land and territories within which militants have operated, civilian homes and infrastructure have been destroyed as a consequence. Gender theorists predict that women, during violent conflict, will face gender- specific hardships during displacement due to the exacerbation of cultural norms, position, or legal status.[45] This has been true for the women in the KPK as well, as predicted by the gendered typology.

As majority of the violence has concentrated in the KPK and FATA, most IDPs are concentrated in this area as well. Estimates of IDPs range in the millions,[46] and numbers likely underestimate the scale of displacement, as estimates exclude the number of unregistered IDPs living in the region.

Of all displaced people, it is estimated that women and children constitute 80 per cent of those internally displaced by violence.[47] Faced with this alarming number, the State has not been equipped to provide for these displaced women, which has further intensified the hardships these women have faced.

For instance, many women that were displaced due to military operations in 2009 did not receive cash or food entitlements. Anecdotal evidence from recent displacements in Waziristan showed that women continued to face this challenge as they were unable to provide a national identity card, or valid registration.[48] For many displaced women, who feared they would face extradition upon discovery that they were illegal immigrants, they simply did not attempt to acquire relief items because the threat of discovery was greater than the threat of hunger and disease.[49] Furthermore, as many men in tribal areas do not register their second, third or fourth wife, many unregistered women simply could not apply for aid as they had no identity card.[50] Social and cultural taboos restrict many women from moving freely around the IDP camps or from seeking help elsewhere. In essence, this leaves many vulnerable women in perilous situations in which they are not considered eligible for relief or aid.

The State, blaming limited funds and a lack of capacity to accommodate for the alarming amount of displaced people, has not factored in this level of suffering in their counterinsurgency methods. Ongoing fighting continues to destroy homes, forcing people to flee and seek shelter in IDP camps, and women are constantly disadvantaged. Military operations have continued to create an disturbing number of IDPs. The International Crisis Group has recorded that in 2009, 100,000 displaced people were recorded in the Khyber agency, 328,000 from the Kurram and Orakzai agencies in 2010, and 428,000 from South Waziristan in 2009.[51][52]

In a recent survey conducted in IDP camps, 93 per cent of respondents have declared their frustration, accusing ongoing military operations of being responsible for destroying their homes and leading to their displacement. Long term impacts were imminent as well, especially for female heads of household. As discovered in a 2014 survey, 6 per cent of displaced households were female-headed. Upon return, female-headed households had worse food security indicators in terms of food consumption scores and caloric intake, and many of these households had resorted to multiple negative coping strategies as a result.[53]


Pakistan’s military plays a potent part in the political affairs of the nation.[54] With such a powerful role, it has navigated Pakistan’s counterterrorism strategy into dangerously violent waters. While it is tempting to simply eradicate one’s enemies through sheer force alone, many arguments have been made against this. Lake, for instance, has argued that key to success in counterinsurgency lies in the social services available prior to the initiation of battle.[55] With military objectives alone dictating rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, stability is at the risk of becoming even more elusive.[56]

For Pakistan, despite a decade of military operations against various militancy groups, terrorism continues to exist within the nation and violence is still persistent. While Staniland himself acknowledges the lack of appeal in coordinating with militant groups (through active or passive cooperation), this strategy at least stands the chance of leading to a more humane form of counterinsurgency. Militarized counterinsurgency comes at a brutal cost, and as the gendered typology proves, women stand to suffer greatly in a political order that promises violence and ongoing fighting. Should Pakistan continue to operate in the field of clashing monopolies, long- term impacts must be taken into consideration. A lack of a gendered counterinsurgency perspective only leads to disproportionately affected women in every part of their social life and cultural standing.

Appendix A:                                             

Figure 1.1: Staniland’s Typology of Wartime Political Orders[57]

Typology Description
Shared Sovereignty (Active, Segmented) Involves active cooperation between a state and its foes in which each side has bounded control over particular territory. This is a negotiated form of political order in which the insurgent organization retains autonomy and standing structures of coercive capability. The state has not shattered its foe but instead the two sides have arranged a clear division of influence and authority that satisfies both in the pursuit of mutual gains. Violence between the forces is minimized and institutionalized mechanisms for achieving joint goals are devised, even with no monopoly of violence.
Collusion (Active, Fragmented) This is a situation in which the state actively cooperates with non-state armed actors that are geographically intermeshed with its areas of operation. States provide logistics and protection, while insurgents offer intelligence and deniability. Collusion involves the coordinated pursuit of a shared goal, such as facilitating illicit smuggling, targeting common enemies, or divvying up gains from extortion.
Spheres of Influence (Passive, Fragmented) This includes segmented areas of control in which the state and its armed-group foe agree to limit the boundary violations across each sphere.65 State and insurgent leaders engage in low-level but recurrent communication over which types of violence and policy are acceptable and which will trigger an escalated response. Ceasefires, informal truces, and agreements about where state and insurgent forces will tread (and when) are intended to manage spirals of escalation. Priority is given to minimizing costs of repression and managing conflict rather than attempting to maximize a state or insurgent monopoly of violence.
Tacit Coexistence (Passive, Fragmented) involves the interweaving of state and non-state violent organizations in the context of fragmented, overlapping control. Rather than clearly delineated spheres of influence, this order involves careful attempts to limit the degree of active conflict and violence between states and non-state armed groups in intermixed daily life. Security forces do not go out at night while insurgents do not go out during the day, states accept that insurgents tax local farmers while insurgents do not target senior government officials, and neither side makes a total effort to destroy the other. This is particularly common when governments have local contacts with insurgents that allow them to communicate the limits above which it will become politically necessary to engage in increased repression, and vice versa.
Clashing Monopolies (Nonexistent, Fragmented) is an order characterized by violent competition between the state and an armed actor that each control distinct territory. Clashing monopolies pit specialists in violence against one another across clearly defined battle lines. The boundaries between state and non-state forces are rigid and easy to identify. The contest is to determine who can inflict the most pain on the other in hopes of shattering the internal organization and fighting power of its competitor. Politics shapes war aims, but this contest is a primarily military struggle with an emphasis on logistics, manpower,
  and arms. It is similar to a conventional war in which each side tries to break through into territory held by the other.
Guerilla Disorder (Nonexistent, Fragmented) This is a situation of fluid violence in which there are few clear norms or rules about the infliction of lethal violence when insurgent and state forces are intertwined in the same physical spaces. Violence is an embedded part of political, economic, and social life, lacking clear or institutionalized rules for the management of lethality. Every opportunity to impose costs is taken by each state and both sides unleash their full insurgent and counterinsurgent capabilities. States, civilians, and insurgents are locked into the production of unrestrained violence



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Aslam, Maleeha. ‘New Vulnerabilities’ of Muslim Women in the Age of Terror: The Case of the Red Mosque Siege in Islamabad, Pakistan. Tokyo; Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, Vol. 11: 2010

Awan, Shehzadi Zamurrad.“Relevance of Education for Women ’ s Empowerment in Punjab, Pakistan. Journal of International Women Studies. (November 2016).

Bari, Farzana. “Gendered Perceptions and Impacts of Terrorism.” Heinrich Boll Stiftung. _597aa7811723dd2637a7c9c2.html

Brohi, Nazish. “The Quest for Muslim Women in the War on Terror—Pakistan after 9/11.” SAGE Journals, 2008.

Buvinic, Mayra. “Violent Conflict and Gender Inequality.” Policy Research Working Paper for the World Bank., 8 (February 2013)

“Crisis of IDPs in FATA.” Fata Research Centre, 2014.


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