People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 44

November 01, 2009

Life & Death Situation Grips Pakistan


Naresh �Nadeem�


SO far in the continuing month alone, Pakistan has suffered as many as ten terrorist attacks of serious nature, including one on the army�s high-security general headquarters (GHQ) in the garrison town of Rawalpindi. Taking place on October 10, this attack could be quelled only after 22 hours of a pitched battle that left 20 persons, including a brigadier and a lieutenant colonel, dead. This was of course not the first attack on Rawalpindi GHQ, but it has raised its own share of doubts.



Earlier in the same week, on October 5, a suicide bomber attacked a UN office in Islamabad, killing five.

On October 9, the Taliban struck in the city of Peshawar, killing 49. Most of the victims of this ghastly attack were children.

Just one day after those attacking the GHQ were overpowered, militants attacked an army convoy on October 12 in the Swat valley.

Here they killed 40 persons and injured several dozens.

Three days later, on October 15, the Taliban struck against law enforcement agencies at three places in Lahore. The attacks were almost synchronised.

A day later, on October 16, militants attacked an office of the Pakistan police�s Crime Investigation Department in Peshawar, killing 12 persons on the spot. 

On October 19, two suicide bombers perpetrated an attack in the International Islamic University at Islamabad, killing two women and injuring about 40. It was the first militant attack against an educational institution. Educational institutions across the country were closed for one week to sine die.

Two days later, on October 21, militants ambushed another army convoy killing a brigadier and a soldier. The former was once a deputy director of the general military operations and had also headed the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan

Then, on October 23, they perpetrated three attacks --- outside a restaurant on the outskirts of Peshawar, against a marriage party in Mohmand tribal region and, and at the air force base in Kamra. Only about 50 km from the national capital, Kamra houses the biggest maintenance and research base of the air force. But what is still more serious is that the militants perhaps aimed to attack the combat jets equipped to carry nuclear warheads. Quoting the Attock police chief Fakhra Sultan Raza, Associated Press reported that an attacker first tried to go inside the base and that he exploded himself when the officials tried to search his body. Though as many as three attacks had earlier taken place against the nuclear facilities in Pakistan, the Kamra attack has raised serious doubts about the safety of the country�s nuclear arsenal.  

On October 27, militants struck in Meena Bazar in Peshawar, taking more than 90 lives.



A remarkable point in this regard is that the attack on GHQ was preceded by an audacious Taliban attack on the US military base in Kamdesh town in Afghanistan. Here, over 300 Taliban took part in the operation under the cover of fog, and the battle continued for over 24 hours. The attack left eight Americans dead and dozens wounded while attackers vanished into the mountains, with at least 25 Afghan policemen as hostages. This US base is located near the Pak-Afghan border and it is suspected that the militants whom the Pakistan Army had driven out of the Swat valley, carried out this attack. Eminent commentators, e g Tarek Fatah, are of the opinion that if only the army had extended its fight beyond Swat, the Taliban could be caught in a pincer, but the government eased the offensive for some unknown reason, allowing the Taliban to move across the border.

Tarek Fatah adds: �As if this message to the US and Afghanistan was not enough, the Taliban attacked the Indian Embassy in Kabul, which the Indians say had the backing of the Pakistan ISI. The claim has been vigorously denied by Pakistan�s ambassador to the US, but few observers doubt the hidden hand of Pakistan's rogue generals in this attack.� One notes that this was the second attack on Indian mission in Kabul.

This, many in Pakistan too believe, is precisely the crux of the problem. The questions being widely asked after October 10 are: How could the militants enter the most heavily guarded army installation in Pakistan, take many senior military officers hostage, and conduct against the army a 22-hour running gun battle? Did they receive assistance from insiders? Do they have links with rogue elements in the ISI that has become a state within the state?

While grappling with such questions, one cannot but recall how a deadly rocket came crashing down upon the same GHQ in 2004 when the then president and army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, was on a visit there. At that time, only a few of the army-ISI top brass knew about the visit and its timing.



In this regard, Hassan Abbas, writing in Foreign Affairs on October 12, says: �Before attempting to analyse the attack further, let's look at the facts that have come to light so far. The Crime Investigation Department of Punjab --- a civilian law enforcement body --- recently shared its assessment with relevant government departments, maintaining that "terrorists belonging to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in collaboration with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), were planning to attack GHQ in Rawalpindi." It even warned that terrorists clad in military uniforms were planning to attack GHQ while riding in military vehicles. Pakistan's leading newspaper group --- the Jang group of publishers --- both in its English and Urdu publications, disclosed this on October 5. This information was partly based on interrogations of suspects involved in the attack on Sri Lankan cricket team in March this year. Poor coordination between civilian law enforcement and the military is obvious.�

But the more pertinent question to ask is whether this non-attention to an important intelligence input was simple carelessness or had a deliberate intent built into it.

Significantly, all these attacks coincided with the Army�s preparations for a major offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan. Here, as we know, not only a bulk of the TTP but also a number of Uzbek, Chechen and Al Qaeda militants with many of their leaders are concentrated. By the time of writing these lines, such an offensive was indeed going on though one cannot be sure whether it will continue to the end or stop midway as in Swat.

It was also learnt that the army chief, General Pervez Kayani, was trying to negotiate with the Mehsud tribe�s elders while the army was concentrating its firepower against Hakimullah Mehsud�s followers who are virtually ruling the area. However, what was not clear was whether the move aimed to isolate the militants from the wider public or involved an element of appeasement. One notes that about five years back, General Musharraf had tried to purchase peace in the same area by paying crores of rupees to the militants, only to get disappointed in the end.



But, whether it is the attack on Police Training School in Lahore or the deadly RDX attack on Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, barely a km away from Aiwan-e-Sadr (the President�s House), or the attack on Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, the point to note is that militants find it easy enough to attack at will any target they choose.

A second point to note is that different Taliban groups are now trying to coordinate their activities, perhaps in a bid to unitedly rebuff any government offensive. The TTP was itself formed in December 2007 by the coming together of 14 different groups from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and North West Frontier Province (NWFP) under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud who was later killed in an American drone offensive.

However, instead of concentrating fire against the US/NATO forces in Afghanistan, the TTP unleashed an unprecedented wave of terror attacks inside Pakistan. Its aim was to incapacitate the Pakistani state and attack other political forces as a means to fulfilling its grand designs. According to an estimate, the TTP has so far killed over 1,300 soldiers, apart from over 500 police officials in the NWFP alone and dozens in other provinces. Besides killing many leading politicians including Benazir Bhutto, the TTP has killed more than 200 tribal chiefs in FATA and innumerable civilians in hundreds of suicide attacks, bomb blasts and shooting hits. Importantly, in the very month the TTP was formed, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in a suicide attack cum firing when she was addressing an election rally in Rawalpindi. At that time, Musharraf had publicly accused Baitullah Mehsud of masterminding the attack.

According to Dr Sarfaraz Khan (director, Area Study Centre on Central Asia, China, Russia and Afghanistan, University of Peshawar), the TTP not only has political objectives but also has territory under its control. Already in Waziristan, in his own lifetime, Baitullah had established a so-called �Islamic Emirate of Waziristan,� and his group and successors are now seeking to impose their conception of an Islamic caliphate, a medieval and ruralised kind of institution on entire Pakistan.�

Since its formation, Dr Khan says, the TTP has continually increased its strength at home, horizontally and vertically, by bringing more areas and militants under its wings. It has also established crude and ruthless governance structures including so-called Islamic courts and prisons in areas under their control --- North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Orakzai, Bajaur, Khyber tribal parts of FATA, and in Swat (NWFP) up till May this year.

However, the TTP�s �Islamic� state is undeniably a euphemism for an ultra-conservative Wahabi state with no human liberties. A Taliban stalwart like Maulana Sufi Muhammad dubbed the country�s parliamentary legislative bodies and English-law based judicial system as �a system of infidels� that must be thrown away.

According to what Dr Ashraf Ali, a keen observer of militant movements, told the Global Politicians, another important development is that terrorist and militant outfits from other parts of Pakistan are now joining hands with the TTP. While their common Pushtoon origin binds the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban together, �In recent months� the TTP has been joined in significant numbers by Kashmir and Punjab based militant groups, originally formed by the ISI to fight the proxy war in Indian Kashmir. This has increased the scope and scale of Pakistani Taliban movement;� while the influx of Punjabis and Kashmiris into a predominantly Pushtoon movement has given it a multi-ethnic colour. Apart from domestic consequences, the rampaging Taliban movement in Pakistan has deeply perturbed the neighbouring countries because separatist groups in these countries --- like Kashmiris (India), Jundallah (Iran), East Turkistan Islamic Movement (China) and Afghan Taliban --- have deep links with the TTP. The latter are being guided by Al Qaeda in return for shelter for its leaders in South Waziristan.



In view of this Taliban resurgence in the country and their growing attacks with impunity, saner people have urged the Pakistani establishment that the time for a serious introspection on its part has come. After the Marriott Hotel attack in Islamabad, eminent short story writer Ms Zahida Hina wrote in her column in Roznama Express (Urdu) that Pakistan was burning in �apni lagaai aag� (self-lit fire). She only forgot to qualify it by adding that it was a military dictator who lit this fire and it is the people of Pakistan whom this fire is consuming. However, what she wanted to say is perfectly understandable and a large number of people in Pakistan, India and other parts of the world share her opinion.

The chain of events ran like this. After the Saur Revolution in Afghanistan, the Ziaul-Haque dictatorship raised the slogan of �Islam in danger,� and this swept away a large number of people in Pakistan, though the slogan only camouflaged the Yankee geo-strategic interest in the region. The situation soon deteriorated to the extent that various groups of Afghan mujahideen, engaged in opium smuggling and other illegal activities, fought running gun battles among themselves in the streets of Karachi and there was nobody to restrain them as the dictatorship needed their services elsewhere --- in its (un)holy war against the �infidels� in Afghanistan. It was not long before the Zia regime began to utilise this proxy war strategy against India, first in Punjab and then in Kashmir. The Yankees, with full ease, overlooked this Zia game against India as well.

Commentators are unanimous that sectarian violence in Pakistan owes its genesis to this very milieu. The Zia dictatorship�s emphasis on Jama�at-e-Islami kind of Islam began to threaten not only the Christians, Ahmediyas and other minorities but also the Shias, particularly the Hazaras.

Another important thing to note is that non-military governments in the last twenty odd years, led by Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif, did not display any appreciable degree of foresight. Even though both had suffered at the army�s hands, they tried not the least bit to dismantle the Zia regime�s legacy and, instead, kept fighting among themselves. If anything, each of them was more concerned about how to win the army�s goodwill, and appeased the army�s top brass in every possible manner. This only enhanced the army�s clout and transformed it into a corporate entity with exceptionally big stakes. That is why any move to bring the army and ISI under civilian control faces serious resistance. In the last week of July 2008, the government issued a notification to bring the ISI under the interior ministry�s control and had to withdraw it within 24 hours.

In sum, already caught in a political deadlock and economic stringency, Pakistan finds itself in a life and death situation where each single step may have a far-reaching impact. Certainly, the army is not expected to give up its unduly privileged position; cf the noise over supposed threat to its stake from the Kerry-Lugar amendment. But the question is: Can the Zardari-Gilani dispensation afford to repeat the same omissions and commissions that cost its predecessors quite heavily? 

As for India, its stake in a stable democratic regime in Pakistan was never as great as it is today. Sadly, however, after taking a welcome stand at Sharm Al-Sheikh, it seems Dr Manmohan Singh has gone back upon his word and the refrain now is that Pakistan must first root out extremism for a revival of the composite dialogue process. Such conditions have always impeded an Indo-Pak thaw in the past while whatever improvement in relations has been there in the past six years was mainly because of unconditional talks.

October 28, 2009