Chain of terrorism
By Imtiaz Gul
Friday Times Dec 19, 2014
Will Pakistan unite against the ideology behind the Peshawar massacre?
A Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) revenge strike was expected since the army launched the Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan on June 15. As the army focused increasingly on Waziristan and the Khyber region and exuded triumphant confidence, the TTP carried out the lethal attack last month at the India-Pakistan border, killing at least 60 people watching a flag-lowering ceremony. The month of Muharram passed relatively peacefully, prompting many of us to empirically conclude that the graph of violent acts had come down considerably.
But as it turned out with the Peshawar mayhem, the TTP, though badly bruised by the combination of the Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the CIA-led drone campaign which saw about a dozen strikes between mid June and early this month, had something else up its sleeves.
Not only is the Peshawar Army Public School attack a typical target killing – the target being an installation associated with the Pakistan army – but also an attempt to strike fear into the minds of people at large, creating panic and uncertainty. That is a simple terror tactic that groups such as the TTP or its new branches like Jamaatul Ahrar and Jundullah deploy as part of their destructive agendas.
The tactic may be surprising, but the attack is not
If the events of the last few weeks were an indication, the Peshawar attack was in the making ever since.
Jundullah, a splinter group of TTP, pledged support for the Islamic State (IS) after the local leaders met a three-member IS delegation led by al Zubair al Kuwaiti in mid November. The group’s spokesman Fahad Marwat had told reporters (according to a couple of national newspapers) that the IS “are our brothers”. “Whatever plan they have, we will support them.”
Taliban sources had told local media that the delegation from Syria came to Pakistan via Baluchistan in November and met with some Taliban commanders. The delegation, they said, asked for recruits for the war in Syria and Iraq. They also met with Afghan Taliban in Khost and Paktia, followed by meetings with commanders of the Hakimullah Mehsud group, including Shahidullah Shahid – the TTP spokesman – and five of his commanders. The IS delegation reportedly asked the TTP factions to stop fighting each other if they wanted to follow Abubakar al Baghdadi. The delegation appealed to all Pakistani and Afghan groups who wanted to join IS to unite. Otherwise, they were warned, Baghdadi will not accept them into ISIS.
One Afghan Taliban source said that the delegation advised Afghan Mullah Abdul Qahir Nuristani to come to Syria with 10 delegates from Afghanistan and Pakistan for a meeting with Baghdadi.
Meanwhile, the killing of a key Al Qaeda commander Adnan el Shukrijuma and two associates by the security forces in a recent intelligence driven operation in South Waziristan triggered widespread resentment among Al Qaeda and its local facilitators.
This suggests that a string of retaliatory strikes was already underway – this time it bears the signature of IS – a typical cold-blooded assault-and-kill tactic that this terrorist outfit has fearlessly invoked in Syria and Iraq. That is why while the tactic may be surprising, the attack itself is not. Nor should we rule out more such strikes in the days ahead.
Coincidentally, during the recent corps commanders meeting held at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on December 12, army chief Gen Raheel Sharif had directed intelligence agencies to undertake ‘integrated efforts’ to preempt any terrorist threat emanating from the ongoing military operations in the tribal areas.
A few days earlier, addressing the IDEAS expo at Karachi, the General had spoken of “the complex picture of security” in the country and said “each state institution has some stake in ensuring national security.”
But we have heard this all too often in over a decade.
The Peshawar attack understandably drew widespread condemnation and a wave of sympathy both from within and outside Pakistan. US President Barack Obama, US Secretary of State John Kerry and many other leaders including the Indian premier Narendara Modi condemned the attack. It brought global attention to Pakistan as a country facing a challenge by what many called “medieval” terrorists.
Obama offered to “do anything to support Pakistan in its war against terrorists”.
But the question staring us in the face is whether the Pakistani ruling elites are themselves ready at all to stand up to this existential threat? Will this massacre galvanize the leadership into a unitary narrative on how to take on terrorists who embody a so-called ideology that all terrorist networks – TTP, Al Qaeda, IS, Boko Haram, ETIM and IMU – share?
Also, will this beastly act shake the military establishment into an all-out indiscriminate offensive with greater ferocity than we have seen since mid June? Will the government and the military seize this ideal opportunity to organize a community rebellion against the terrorists in FATA and also disconnect them from their Afghan mentors?
The record so far has been dismal. The National Internal Security Policy (NISP), launched with great fanfare in February, still seems to be piling dust for a plethora of reasons.
Firstly, the government took 10 months to appoint the head of NACTA, supposed to be within the Prime Minister’s office, but ironically the NACTA chief sits with a small staff in the Ministry of Interior. The new chairman of NACTA is only months away from retirement and critics wonder as to whether such an appointment made any sense.
Secondly, the NACTA board of governors, for instance, was required to meet at least four times a year. It has never met so far.
Created during the previous government, NACTA, in fact became a laughing stock because of its dysfunction, as it virtually turned into a parking lot for police officers who were not wanted in lucrative positions.
Thirdly, the federal government failed in evolving a consensus on mobilizing about Rs 32 billion (by December 2014) to strengthen the existing institutions such as NACTA, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), the Civil Armed Forces Headquarters and the Rapid Response Force, or set up new ones.
A national daily recently provided a damning indictment of how resources of the bureaucratically heavy counter-terror mechanisms are spent on everything but terrorism; some Rs 500 million counter-terror funds of the National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC), for instance, were used (during the Zardari government) for purchasing gifts such as wrist watches, gold sets, and expensive carpets for weddings of sons of top officials. Even car rentals, utility bills of top officials or donations to a Pir were paid out of these counter-terror funds.
A situation wherein the NISP is virtually confined to a document and a National Security Policy is absent demands statesmanship, honesty and practical response. Rather than placing the blame at the doorstep of one or the other institution (intelligence failure, for instance) the civil-military leadership needs to jointly think and coordinate their response to an extremely urgent situation.
Since both believe that a trilateral proxy is playing out in the region, they need to reach out to India and Afghanistan to hear out one another’s perspective and seek joint counter-terror strategies – a desire one discerns in New Delhi, Kabul, Dhaka and Beijing. China in fact has been pushing for such a regional approach and others including India can embrace this if they have nothing to hide.
The defeat of obscurantist forces will be possible only if the civil-military leadership develops a national narrative on what Pakistan stands for.
Although the Afghan Taliban have condemned the Peshawar attack, they too have been killing innocent civilians in recent months and weeks.
Pakistani elites, therefore, should not draw any consolation from this and rather view them all as a force strewn in the chain of terrorism and religious militancy – people and groups which abhor democracy, look down upon women and are clearly intent on imposing their way of life on the rest. Pakistani elites must come clean on whether they sympathize or empathize with this brand of people or they want to walk in step with the rest of the world.
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies