Conflicts & War

Pakistan’s war of words: Insurgents are sent ‘to hell,’ soldiers become martyrs

By Amjad Ali and David Asta Alares

Islamabad/New Delhi, Jan 24 (EFE).- In Pakistan, civilians are victims of attacks, insurgents are metaphorically “sent to hell,” and fallen soldiers are hailed as “martyrs.”

The contrasting rhetoric, evolving with the rise in insurgency, is evident in press statements by the Pakistan Army about their anti-militancy operations.

Picture this statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the Pakistan armed forces on Monday. The statement details a security operation in the restive Balochistan province, which borders the even more troubled Afghanistan.

“Seven terrorists were sent to hell who remained actively involved in terrorists activities against security forces as well as killing of innocent civilians,” the Jan. 22 statement said.

Since March 2023, the term “sent to hell” has replaced more neutral expressions like “died,” “killed,” or “eliminated” in reporting insurgent deaths. Soldiers killed in anti-terrorist operations are now referred to as “martyrs,” ascending to “jannah,” the Islamic paradise.

The binary rhetoric intertwines religious concepts, labeling insurgents as enemies of the people in the “land of the pure.”

However, defense analyst Amir Rana suggests the narrative reveals both frustration and an attempt to depict militants as misguided youth.

“On one hand, it shows their frustration and anger toward militants, while on the other, they declare them (the militants) as someone following the wrong path,” Rana told EFE.

Amplified on the social media, such descriptions also aim to portray insurgents as non-believers of infidels, suggesting that a true Muslim would refrain from attacking fellow believers, especially during the crowded Friday congregational prayers.

For example, in January last year, a suicide attack against a mosque in a residential center for police officers killed 100 people and left more than 150 injured.

Rana said phrases like “brave soldiers” and “innocent civilians” in military statements serve to boost troop morale and garner public sympathy for the army while fostering hatred for militants.

If 2023 marked the year when the army began using the expression “sent to hell” for insurgents, it was also the year that recorded the highest number of deaths in militancy-related incidents and suicide bombings in almost a decade.

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, the country recorded 1,502 militancy-related killings of civilians, security personnel, and insurgents. Pakistan is also witnessing an increase in suicide attacks, with 34 last year compared to 13 in 2022.

Militancy has been escalating in the volatile regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) notably intensifying its activities.

The surge has been particularly evident since the Afghan Taliban, ideologically aligned with the TTP, seized power in Kabul in August 2021.

Pakistan has often alleged that the Pakistani Taliban use Afghanistan as a base to carry out attacks since peace negotiations failed in November 2022. Kabul, under the de facto government of Afghanistan, has denied the accusation.

However, the Pakistani Taliban is not the only active militant group in the country. The presence of insurgents in Balochistan has been notable, given the region’s history of decades-long separatist movement, fueled by allegations that Islamabad unfairly exploits the province’s abundant natural resources.

The Islamic State of Khorasan, a local franchise of the global Islamist militant network, has claimed responsibility for attacks, including the one in July 2023 that killed 63 in a rally of the religious Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F).

The decades of militancy in Pakistan have caused an “unprecedented sacrifice,” as the Pakistani foreign ministry has often repeated, with at least 80,000 deaths since 2000.

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