In one of the most savage, heinous and cowardly attack on 16th December, 2014 on an Army Public School in Peshawar in Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban killed 148, of which 132 were innocent children of military families. This figure does not include a score of others who were injured. This is perhaps the worst terror attack on children ever since the Beslan school carnage by Chechen Islamists terrorists in September, 2004 in which 385 people were killed including 186 children.
Following the terror attack, Pakistan based terror outfit Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) claimed the responsibility stating that they had selected the Army Public School for the attack because the government and army in Pakistan is continuing to target their families and women; therefore, they wanted them to feel pain. It goes without saying that the terrorists picked up the softest of soft targets for revenge from the government and army. During the attack, one of the militants is stated to have blown himself in a class with about sixty children. In another gruesome act of extreme savagery, they literally set the lady principal on fire sprinkling petrol, burnt her alive and made the kids to watch it in horror.
Prominent leaders and famous personalities from all over the globe condemned the massacre in strongest possible terms. Scores of Indians including famous and common man raised voice and tweeted their sympathy and support for the aggrieved families in particular and people of Pakistan at large. Pakistani Prime Minister described it as a national tragedy unleashed by savages declaring a nationwide three days mourning. He declared, “I feel that until and unless this country is cleansed from terrorism, this war and effort will not stop, no one should be doubtful of this.”
I recall on the day of attack, during a live debate on a popular Indian private news channel on the coverage of this massacre, an Indian ex-Army expert put death toll to about 80,000 due to various terror attacks during yester years in India. The Pakistani expert put this death toll to around 50,000 on their side during the last ten years. This number may vary in data compiled by various sources but what cannot be disputed is that there has been enormous loss of life and property, apart from engaging a large number of security forces and related expenditure by the respective governments, during the last two and a-half decades in the Indian sub-continent.
A lot has been written, discussed and debated in India and elsewhere about the Pakistan ISI and army in the international foray about their role, active support and patronage to militants and terror outfits. Pakistan’s Taliban connection in Afghanistan and at home is well known for long. Terrorist outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and a score of others, responsible for numerous terror attacks in Kashmir and elsewhere in India, are known to be operating from the Pakistani soil. Hafiz Sayeed, mastermind of 26th November, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, and score of other terrorists wanted in India for various terror crimes are freely living and moving in Pakistan. Another mastermind Dawood Ibrahim, popularly known as D-Company, who is stated to have coordinated Mumbai Serial Blasts in 1993, is stated to have created his empire in Karachi and Dubai and comfortably living there under State patronage. Mumbai bombings in 1993 had led to about 350 deaths and 1,200 injuries on a single day. For the last few days, Indian News Channels have been telecasting fresh proof of his presence in Karachi, Pakistan.
The author doesn’t want to repeat the respective stand and allegations of the governments in India and Pakistan but one thing is for sure that terrorists cannot be branded as freedom fighters as is being done in certain quarters in Pakistan. The history of freedom struggle in various parts of world is a witness that nowhere ever a freedom fighter has killed innocent civilians, women and children to achieve their objective and goals.
Origin and Rise of Taliban
Irony of political terrorism in the most parts of the world is that at one point or the other, such (terror) groups have been funded, armed, encouraged and abated by the regimes in the region or powerful countries elsewhere with global ambitions. Such support is justified often in the name some injustice done in the past or for getting rid of unlawful or unauthorized occupation of a territory, often justifying it as a freedom struggle. There are numerous instances when such groups have later turned up against their mentors and like a Frankstein’s Monster posed a serious threat to the very existence of their masters.
The Taliban are no exception. Its history goes back to Soviet war in Afghanistan in 1980s of the previous century fought between the Soviet-led Afghan forces and multinational insurgency groups called Mujahideen - funded and armed largely by the countries like United States, United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia. The decade old war led to over 850,000 civilians’ death and a mass exodus of people to countries like Pakistan and Iran. During the period, perhaps fearing Soviet Union’s invasion in Balochistan, Pakistan under the regime of Gen Zia-ul-Haq, actively encouraged and trained Mujahideens. It is widely believed that about 90,000 Afghans including Mohammad Omar, were trained and supported in all possible ways by Pakistan’s ISI and army during the 1980s.
During, 1992, Soviet-backed regime of Mohammad Najibullah collapsed and various Afghan parties in a power-sharing agreement came close together and created the Islamic State of Afghanistan. The exception was, however, Hezb-e-Islami headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar which continued opposition and attacks against government forces. It is alleged and widely believed that he continued this with financial, military and operational support from Pakistan. Later he even became the Prime Minister of Afghanistan for a brief spell during the turmoil days in 1990s. Hekmatyar’s extremism, however, increasingly antagonized most of the Pashtuns and Pakistan began providing support to the rising Pashtun Taliban.
The Taliban basically emerged as an Islamic fundamentalist political movement which, while fighting the ruling government forces, gradually spread to the length and width of Afghanistan in 1990s and formed a government with the nomenclature ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ in1996. Talibani fundamentalists’s rule lasted from September, 1996 to December, 2001 with Mohammad Omar (popularly known as Mullah Omar) as head and Kandhar as capital. Mohammad Omar was also the founder and spiritual leader of Taliban ever since it came in existence in 1994. The majority of Taliban were tribesmen of Pashtun origin. Taliban strictly enforced their own interpretation of Sharia - the Islamic Law, were widely criticized for the brutal treatment of women and religious intolerance towards others faith and creed, the extreme being the destruction of world famous statue of Bamyan Buddha (tallest statue at 420 feet) in March, 2001 in Central Afghanistan.
It is widely believed and alleged by the international community that the Taliban were getting active support of Pakistan’s ISI and military during 1995 to 2001. Later Taliban also established strategic links with Al-Qaeda and started getting financial support and fighters from the Arab countries and Central Asia. The tales of Taliban committing massacres of Afghan civilians, denying United Nations food supplies to starving populace and burning vast areas of fertile land forcing thousands of people to flee to United Front controlled territories of Afghanistan, neighbouring Pakistan and Iran, are the part of the recent history now.
After Al-Queda carried out the attacks of 11th September, 2001 on the World Trade Centre in New York and Washington, D.C. killing almost 3,000 people and the damage of buildings and property worth several billion dollars, United States with its allies invaded Afghanistan overthrowing Taliban. Mullah Omar, however, with many of his trusted commanders managed to escape and his whereabouts remain still unknown. In the aftermath of the US led offensive, Taliban have regrouped as an insurgency movement ever since carrying out fight and terror activities against the American backed civilian rule in Afghanistan.
Role of the Pakistani Military
It is no more a secret for the international community that the Taliban were chiefly founded, funded and equipped by Pakistan's ISIand military with an objective to establish a regime in Afghanistan which would be favorable to Pakistan. According to Pakistan’s Ahmed Rashid, an expert on Afghanistan, between 1994 to 1999 an estimated eighty thousand to one lakh militants were trained to fight in Afghanistan. According to Peter Tomsen, now a retired American diplomat earlier served as US Special Envoy to Afghanistan, till 9/11 Pakistan’s ISI and military along with thousands of Pakistani regulars were involved in the fighting in Afghanistan.
Reportedly of the estimated 28,000 to 30,000 Pakistani national fighting in Afghanistan around 2001, approximately 8,000 were militants recruited in Madrassas filling regular Taliban ranks. As per a 1998 document released by the US State Department, about 20-40% of Taliban were of Pakistani origin. According to the US State Department report and contemporary reports by Human Rights Watch, the other Pakistani nationals fighting in Afghanistan were mostly regular Pakistani soldiers especially from the Frontier Corps. An observation of the Human Rights Watch in 2000 is reproduced as under:
“Of all the foreign powers involved in efforts to sustain and manipulate the ongoing fighting [in Afghanistan], Pakistan is distinguished both by the sweep of its objectives and the scale of its efforts, which include soliciting funding for the Taliban, bankrolling Taliban operations, providing diplomatic support as the Taliban's virtual emissaries abroad, arranging training for Taliban fighters, recruiting skilled and unskilled manpower to serve in Taliban armies, planning and directing offensives, providing and facilitating shipments of ammunition and fuel, and directly providing combat support.”
Several reports and scathing criticism came around this time from the sources in UN, USA and UK about the involvement of Pakistan in Afghanistan and how its ISI and military was engaged in funding, arming and augmenting the Taliban forces, including its active role in some Al-Qaeda training camps. However, after the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan categorically denied giving any support to Taliban. On the contrary, after the intervention of US and the fall of Kabul in November, 2001, while the Taliban militia were retreating the ISI provided active support to evacuate them to safer locations in Northern Areas of Pakistan occupied territories of Gilgit and Chitral. Reportedly, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf wrote in his memoirs that Richard Armitage, the then US Secretary of State, said that Pakistan ‘would be bombed back to the stone-age’, if it continued to support the Taliban. This was, however, not confirmed by the latter.
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban)
The responsibility for the recent massacre of the children in Peshawar school has been claimed by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban. Origin of this terror group can be traced back to the year 2002 when the Pakistani military started combing operations in its tribal areas to combat foreign militants of Afghan, Arab and Central Asian origin fleeing from the war in Afghanistan to the neighbouring tribal areas. Also after the defeat of the Taliban in the war against the Afghan United Islamic Front and US led NATO forces in 2001, most of the Pakistani militants fled to their home in these tribal areas in Afghan-Pakistan border regions. Before the creation of the Tehrik-i-Taliban, some of their leaders and fighters were actually part of the Pakistani militants fighting in Afghanistan.
For years since independence, Pakistan army had never entered in tribal areas of Khyber tribal agency, North and South Waziristan which were sheltering thousands of militants of foreign origin including Uzbek, Chechen and Arab. Attempts to persuade local tribals to handover foreign militants including Al-Qaeda operatives backfired and soon it turned into stiff resistance and a sort of undeclared war between military and the rebel tribesmen. Pakistan remained under pressure from US and international community to act against Talibani militants while simultaneously ISI and military were sympathizing and supporting them covertly. A series of operations and events involving Pakistan administration and army over a period in these areas appeared to have conclusively alienated these elements. Consequently, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan was formally launched in December, 2007 with Baitullah Mehsud as its Head with an officially declared objective of establishing their rule over Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
In August 2008, Pakistan formally banned the outfit, froze its assets and bank accounts, barred it from media appearances and bounties were placed on prominent leaders of the TTP. This probably served as final turning point for TTP to openly wage war against the Pakistan’s administration and the carried out repeatedly several terror attacks on civilian establishments and US interests world over. In August, 2009, Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US missile attack triggering a leadership crisis and internal turmoil for some period. However, later Hakimullah Mehsud assumed leadership and the TTP intensified its terror campaign against Pakistan particularly hitting civilian targets comprising of Shias and Ahmedis. By 2010, several foreign governments including US, UK and Canada too classified the TTP as banned foreign terrorist Organization and Hakimullah Mehsud as globally wanted terrorist. Ever since, there has been internal splits leading to several break away splinter groups of TTP in different names and nomenclatures intensifying terror activities.
The Taliban versus Tahrik-i-Taliban
Both the Afghan Taliban and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan are predominantly Pashtuns and have a common interpretation of Islam but they significantly vary in their history, leadership, objective and goals. The Afghan Taliban have no affiliation with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and deny any connection to the TTP. It is widely believed that the Afghan Taliban originally relied on the support of the Pakistan ISI and military and such a support covertly still exist in their endeavor to control Afghanistan. Major leaders of the Afghan Taliban such as Mullah Omar, Jalaluddin Haqqani and Siraj Haqqani were believed to enjoy Pakistani patronage and safe haven in Pakistan while being haunted by the US led NATO forces, although Pakistan has repeatedly denied having any links with Haqqani or any other terror group. On the other hand, the activities of TTP has been a major headache for the Pakistan establishment with their repeated attacks on Pakistani interests including civilians targets in the recent years. This dichotomy and paradox of Taliban has given the phrase ‘Good Taliban and Bad Taliban,’ recently much in news after the recent TTP attack on a Peshawar school.
Acknowledgments of Terror Links by Pak Leadership
As back as in 2009, Pakistani President Asif Zardari conceded at a conference in Islamabad that Pakistan had created and used terrorist groups as a tool in the past to serve its geo-strategic agenda. He is also stated to have admitted in July, 2010 that militants had been deliberately created and nurtured by the past governments as a policy to achieve some short term tactical objectives and that they were heroes until 9/11 attacks. India, US and other Western sources have on several occasions in the past produced evidence of Pakistan’s link with these terrorist organizations. Tribal regions of Pakistan along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir have often been termed to be the ‘haven for terrorists’.
In October 2010, the former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf conceded that the Pakistan government trained terrorists against India and pushed them into Jammu and Kashmir. In an interview to a German Magazine, he said, “(Militant groups) were indeed formed. The government turned a blind eye because they wanted India to discuss Kashmir.” Recently, again in October, 2014, he boasted of using such capabilities of Pakistan to destabilize India in a television interview.
In a recent video released by Adnan Rashid, commander of one faction of TTP, he has disclosed at length how Pakistan ISI and army have been recruiting, training and misleading muslim youth in the name of Jihad over the years to use them for terror activities against India in Kashmir. Clearly it is in retaliation of what Pakistan army is doing against the TTP now. It is like when you play with fire, you are bound to burn your fingers one day.
Recent Offensive against TTP
Pakistani armed forces had launched a major offensive ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ in the North Waziristan in June, 2014 to flush and root-out TTP, Haqqani network and various other militant groups from Pakistan. This operation commenced after terrorist attack on 8th June, 2014 on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, in which 28 people were killed with many others wounded. Reportedly, during the operation two bomb-making factories were destroyed, 45 hideouts were raided and at least 327 hardcore terrorists were killed by the army as early successes. Earlier in the beginning of 2014, Pakistani Prime Minister had announced peace negotiations with the Taliban which collapsed after execution of 23 Pakistani soldiers in February, 2014 held hostage since 2010. The operation against TTP is continued by the armed forces with renewed vigour after the recent massacre of 132 children of Army Public School in Peshawar and as of 24th December,2014, more than 2,100 militants have been killed. Pakistani Prime Minister in a message to countrymen has pledged to continue fight against terrorism till the last terrorist is finished.
Will Pakistan Learn Lessons?
The unfortunate part of the entire saga is that the successive political leadership and generals in Pakistan refused to accept and foresee in the past that this strategy of using terrorism as an instrument of State policy to meet their limited geo-political goals may become counterproductive someday to their own national interests. Like a Frankstein’s Monster, the terrorism has now become an existential threat to the very state of Pakistan which supported and nurtured it in the past. In Jammu and Kashmir, it has resulted in death and destruction of thousands of civilians, women and children in unimaginable terms causing untold suffering to innocent people. Musharraf may feel proud that it is the right of his country to train militants to put pressure on India to discuss Kashmir but the same evil forces in the north and western regions are now bleeding Pakistan, killing its innocent civilians and destroying property and infrastructure.
As per the data compiled by the South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP), from 2003 to 21st December, 2014, there has been a total death of 55,878 people in Pakistan on account of terror activities. Of this, civilians include 19,917, security forces personnel 6,024 and terrorists/ insurgents 29,937. By any measure, this is a frightening figure from which Pakistan administration and army need to learn lessons.
Following the massacre of 132 children and several others killed and injured in the attack on a Peshawar school by the TTP, when Pakistani Premier stated in a resolve on the following day that he would wage a war against terrorism ‘until not a single terrorist is left’ and that there is nothing like a ‘good Taliban and bad Taliban’, the first thing that crossed to this author’s mind that should he not say ‘good terrorist and bad terrorist’ instead. The problem in Pakistan has been that the terror activities waged by different terrorist outfits on their western and eastern borders are perceived and defined in different perspective while in fact the terrorism is a crime against humanity irrespective of place where it is carried out.
Continued to Part II