By Imtiaz Gul
The News, January 23, 2014
At least 40 deaths within five days in three incidents – about ten in an apparent suicide blast in the busy RA Bazaar of Rawalpindi on January 19, and a remotely-operated time-device embedded in a van carrying Frontier Corps soldiers from Bannu to Miranshah, North Waziristan on January 20.
Four days earlier, around at least eight worshipers fell to a powerful bomb blast at a Tableeghi Markaz in Peshawar.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the Rawalpindi and Bannu attacks but condemned the one on the Tableeghi Markaz – though that hardly matters. This latest wave of violence shows a certain pattern we have witnessed since December 2007.
The three latest incidents suggest that the targets of attacks are indiscriminate and include both civilians and security forces. These are obvious attempts to undermine security and instil fear.
The attacks also came at a time when mainstream political parties were playing blame games, underscoring deep polarisation on the issue of talks. The TTP is clear in its aggressive designs on the state of Pakistan. This is highlighted by the TTP spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid’s statement that, “The army is our enemy. We will carry out many more attacks like this.
Major political players within the country, on the other hand, lack any understanding on who to talk to. Who are the potential interlocutors? Terrorists who are out only for instability and destruction, or some tunnel-visioned, religiously-driven and Al-Qaeda-inspired zealots striving for an Islamic emirate in Pakistan?
In either case, the proposition of talks is perilously doomed because neither will a legitimate, law-abiding government venture to talk to terrorists, nor will it be ready to concede to militants an emirate of their own.
Or should we assume that the wave of terrorism is an attempt to thwart the talks initiative?
The Rawalpindi attack came within 72 hours of the thus far deadliest Taliban strike in Kabul since 2001. The Taliban claimed responsibility for this attack, which was at a Lebanese restaurant – the Taverna du Liban – in Kabul in which 22 people, including three Americans, two British citizens, two Canadians, the IMF head of mission, and the Lebanese owner of the restaurant were killed.
Was the Rawalpindi attack, apparently on a security check post, then retaliation by those who hold the Pakistani security establishment responsible for the mayhem and continued instability in Kabul?
That is quite possible if viewed against suggestions by the Afghan security officials, who say “such sophisticated and complex attacks are not the work of the ordinary Taliban, and without doubt foreign intelligence services beyond the border are behind such bloody attacks”. Afghan officials invoke the ‘beyond the border’ phrase when they don’t want to directly name Pakistan in a particular context.
We have witnessed similar reprisals in India and Pakistan as well in recent years. Both countries found themselves involved in an alarming diplomatic row over killings in Kashmir in January and August last year.
What is common, though, between the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban is a rejection of the status quo; the Afghans are against the Kabul regime and dismiss it as a US puppet. Similarly, the Pakistani militants spurn the entire state edifice here as a ‘secular system’ and demand that the government prove its sincerity for talks.
Only recently, the TTP’s spokesperson said, “Our stance on dialogue is very clear. It was part of our fight against a secular system, if the government proves it is sincere and has the authority [to conduct meaningful dialogue], then we are ready to talk despite the losses inflicted on us”.
This latest statement from the militants underscores their resolve, unlike the politicians who are shamelessly squabbling over ‘to talk or not to talk’, without a) identifying the real counterpart; and b) deciding whether the government can give in to what the counterpart demands.
Any initiative that ignores these two fundamental pre-requisites is bound to fail and will only embolden non-state entities.
They will also draw courage not only from the fact that as many as 26 intelligence agencies have failed in pre-empting and preventing terrorisms but also that even after a decade of anti-terror operations, the armed forces have failed or are not strictly adhering to standard operating procedures.
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India