Two terror strikes in Lahore on March 11 – one on the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) building – raise more questions than answers to possible preemptive remedies. They also underscore a definite new turn in violence for the worse; the trend began with the March 2 suicide attack on a jirga of tribal elders at Darra Adam Khel, preceded by attack in Mingora on the funeral of the slain DSP Javed Iqbal on February 29, that killed 47 mourners.
As Pakistanis – civilians, policemen, armed forces personnel and tribal elders – fall to the attacks, it is increasingly becoming obvious that militants – forces that are bent upon injecting fear in minds and out to stoke instability – have changed the rules of the game; sofar, terrorists targeted out pro-government notables in ones and twos, and rarely targeted an assembly of elders. But the Darra attack simply defied tribal customs and traditions. It adds a new dimension to the conflict between the anti-terror coalition and the militants; such assemblies are a source of reconciliation and peace and hence exempted – until now – of attacks.
Whether the attacks on the Staff College or FIA building in Lahore, or the strike on the Pakistan army surgeon general in Rawalpindi or the explosion at the Darra Adam Khel Jirga, all point in one direction i.e. terrorists are now executing a much greater terrorist plan than perceived sofar, and most probably linked to the international terrorist organisations.
Scared bureaucrats, intelligentsia and politicians in Peshawar believe the new phase of strikes by militants will most likely intensify and stagger across the country – just as witnessed on March 11 in Lahore.
Surprisingly, police and government officials appear struck and apprehensive of the wave of terror. Many have refused to carry out special anti-terror assignments. Several want to opt out of service to save their skin.
Some told this scribe that they are looking for private jobs because the slightest suspicion could turn them into militant’s target.
A senior journalist official in Peshawar opined that the situation is getting trickier as such attacks not only discourage the pro-Pakistan notables to be on the front but also ingrain a strong sense of insecurity in an otherwise peaceful tribal society.
“These conditions necessitate that the security establishment acts only with a strong and solid intelligence about the links who is behind such attacks,” a retired ISI brigadier said. He added that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is still a loose group of religious extremists “but their religion is defined more by the tribal codes than the literals themselves and they are not seemingly behind many acts including the one at Darra Adam Khel. ”
The big question in Pakistan at the moment is as to how should the government act against to check, if not stop, such attacks? No one knows the answer!
But the security agencies are confronted with the challenge to unearth hands and the motives behind such attack and “should also look across Fata,” suggested a civilian intelligence official, in a veiled reference to the allegations that India, Afghanistan, and the USA have all their hands in the pie.
There is little hard evidence available to back up intelligence and military official’s suspicions and apprehensions, yet the war on terror and the response to it has fast blurred the lines between retaliation and tribal traditions. The militants’ moves clearly denote erosion of the distinction between civility, humanity, and honour on the one hand and revenge and retaliation on the other.
This dangerous development is likely to shake up the Pakistani state and society in the coming weeks and months and throws up serious challenges as far as managing this insurgency is concerned.
Hamid Nawaz, the interior minister, said more or less the same thing in one of his interviews, only to get a rebuff from the US embassy in Islamabad. The strong reaction by the embassy was understandable because officials here and in Washington keep pointing to the fact that the US has provided almost 11 billion dollars in military and economic assistance to Pakistan since early 2002.
But these high-profiled statements on aid to Pakistan have done little to the surge in anti-Americanism that is sweeping across Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as in Iraq.
A closer look at the US policy in the region reflects the realpolitik of the American agenda for countries of this region i.e. their interest in defeating al-Qaeda and nutralising the nuclear proliferation threats.
A friend working with a Western mission in Islamabad summed the current situation the following way: “Pakistan is dependent on the US financial support, while their supply lines are dependent on our land routes and our air corridors. For us, our democracy without rule of law is like a chariot with no wheels and no horse.”
Similarly, he said, violence on the Pakistani street has a direct correlation to lack of justice. America’s power politics couldn’t care less about our democracy or rule of law.
Similarly, even a cursory look explains that frequent suicide attacks and the resultant state of insecurity are the direct consequence of the flawed ‘war on terror’, that has sucked Pakistan into a war of attrition.
Ironically, Pakistan did its best to help fight the Soviet-Russian occupation of Afghanistan with the active military and economic support from Washington and its allies, yet with the Soviet withdrawal, the Americans also turned their backs on Pakistan, allowing its monolithic military establishment – guided by the ISI – to pursue its objectives in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
The consequences have been disastrous – if one were to admit that the state of Pakistan is now embroiled in a low-intensity guerilla warfare being mounted by radical militants.
The US-led West, so demands the new situation, must admit to its short-sighted, self-serving policies that it adopted in the 1980s and early 1990s, and work for long-term benefits of countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, rather than pursuing – with military might – short-term objectives. Supporting the people will entail greater dividends for their “investment in Pakistan” and not dubious deals with dictators and autocrats.