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The attack on the Pakistan Army GHQ in Rawalpindi by terrorists and subsequent attacks in other cities have generated a lot of nervousness here and abroad.

The attack on the Pakistan Army GHQ in Rawalpindi by terrorists and subsequent attacks in other cities have generated a lot of nervousness here and abroad. The attack also helped strengthen a consensus in the government,especially between the military and civilians,reflected in the decision to launch an offensive in Waziristan. The military is keen to root out unfriendly elements such as Hakimullah Mehsud’s gang,the Tehrik-i-Taliban,who are not only operating in the Tribal Areas but also seen as the force behind the recent attacks. These are the unfriendly Taliban,who,the military believes,are working in collusion with Indian intelligence agencies or other unfriendly elements.

The army is convinced that external forces are motivating members of the various militant groups based in Punjab. A variation on that opinion is that the recent attacks are part of a series to avenge the American onslaught in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Tribal Areas,especially the drone attacks. Since some of the Waziristan-based Taliban are unhappy with Pakistan’s involvement in those,they try to punish the military or the law enforcement agencies by launching suicide attacks.

Fingers are pointed at breakaway South Punjab-based factions of Jaish-e-Mohammad,especially the Amjad Farooqi group,also involved in the first assassination attempt on Pervez Musharraf,in 2003. It is believed that this group is also connected with the Ilyas Kashmiri group that had broken away from Lashkar-e-Jhangavi a few years ago. Ilyas Kashmiri,who was once honoured and rewarded by Pervez Musharraf for killing an Indian army officer,parted ways with the government in 2004 over some ideological disagreement. Sources claim that he was unhappy with the treatment meted out to his family and joined ranks with the Taliban groups which found fault with the Pakistan army’s decision to support the American war on terror.

However,the authorities seem unwilling to go beyond targeting individuals or breakaway factions. There is little interest in rooting out sources of terror closer to the establishment’s power centre: the numerous jihadi outfits based in Punjab. In fact,there is hardly any consensus in Punjab on the threat’s source. The provincial government vociferously denies any involvement of the Punjab-based groups in the terror strikes of the past ten days (or earlier). Despite leads that individuals involved in these attacks were linked with some of the home-grown outfits or belonged to parts of the province,the Punjab government insists that the attack on the GHQ was the handiwork of Taliban based in the Tribal Areas. In fact,the police consider the other argument as the work of delusional minds,or instigated by external interests.

The above situation basically means that either the authorities are too afraid to touch the outfits,as these have spread their tentacles deep and wide,or are considered comfortably controlled,unlikely to cause a major challenge to the state.

So,the emphasis now is on sorting out the problems at a tactical level. This pertains to the security lapses caused due to peculiar socio-cultural dynamics,rather than anything significant. For instance,in case of the GHQ attack,the attackers managed to cross the security barriers around the premises and reach the different gates because they were wearing military uniforms and pretended to be officers. A day before that attack,the terrorists had used a similar trick to access the office of the World Food Programme in Islamabad. In a country where people generally show reverence to the armed forces and the institution’s power is unchallenged,this was a security gap that the terrorists exploited happily. The police have begun to take stock of the situation and stop the uncontrolled sale of military and police uniforms.

Reports indicate that in some of the later attacks that took place in Lahore and Peshawar the terrorists used women as well. Interestingly,such news was subsequently denied. This raises the question whether this was done deliberately so as not to draw attention towards outfits which regularly train women.

The scenario that has emerged after the recent attacks is rather interesting: the consensus between the civil government and the military to launch an attack in Waziristan to vanquish the unfriendly Taliban. However,there is little interest in rooting out other outfits,based in Punjab,and spreading to other parts of the country,probably as a guarantee to achieve tactical objectives at a later date. Unfortunately,given the lack of information regarding the extent of the problem of terrorism inside Pakistan,the strategic community seems to stick to the earlier strategy of keeping the option of militancy open. As long as the government insists on not linking the dots as far as terrorism is concerned,the sources of internal threat will remain. The attack on GHQ and the others over the past fortnight might have been unpleasant incidents but they will not convince the government to review its options unless it feels secure towards traditional rivals like India.

Note: This article originally published here.

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