Pakistan: Vicious Competition of Terror Groups
The vicious competition of one-upmanship between terrorist groups in Pakistan has manifested in attacks such as that on the Sri Lankan Cricket team in Lahore on 3 March. While the presence of a multitude of non state actors as the Al Qaeda and Taliban and terrorist groups as the Lashkar e Taiyyaba, Jaish e Muhammad and Lashkar e Jhangvi et al has been now accepted even by the Pakistani state, the new trend of these groups competing with each other to create mayhem is most dangerous. Lack of capacity and will of the Pakistan Army and the police is only creating space for this deadly competition of evil.
The terror attacks in Lahore were just waiting to happen and the manner in which the terrorists have got away indicates the high level of acceptance of the presence of armed men in the community which has been very aptly captured by closed circuit televisions in Lahore. That none even felt it appropriate to report these escapees seemed to indicate the level of fear as well as deniability in the country. Pakistani denial of existence of a terrorist threat is now reaching alarming proportions and therefore this is likely to lead to more control over hither to fore unaffected areas of Punjab and Sindh by terrorist groups and militants in the days ahead.
The political crisis has only added fuel to the militants agenda and has provided them an opportunity to target the Sri Lankan cricketers who had been given most inadequate security cover without any sanitization of route, control of timings of move and so on. This was thus a huge security black hole which has been exploited by the terrorist groups. It is unlikely that the establishment would be able to get down to investigating the same, for there appears to be a lack of will as well as capability to do so. Thus even after almost a week has passed no revelations have been made expect for some perfunctory announcements by the Security Adviser Mr Rehman Malik who seems to feel that his only task is to provide information to the media.
That the Swat Shariah deal is already defunct with more and more killings and kidnappings of security forces is evident,. This is likely to fail in the days ahead. What the Pakistani government needs is declaring a, 'war on terror' howsoever unpalatable that phrase may be there are simply no other options.
The key question now of stability in Pakistan is that of will of the army, Pakistan's option of last resort to control the situation in Swat, FATA and other areas wracked by violence over the past few years. The Army since 2001 has been trying to control the situation in this area and in the 8th year of the same, it is evident that it is not in a position to establish effective control despite very large deployment from time to time. This is because of a fuzzy strategy of using fire power, guns and helicopter ships, peace deals with militants who do not surrender arms but only make the army leave the territory for their use and non establishment of a security grid in vacated areas.
Many renowned analysts in Pakistan as Ayaz Amir have said that, 'Nothing coming from the army suggests it has any idea of how to retrieve this situation and that a Pakistani Petraeus has yet to emerge in our local killing fields'. This lack of leadership is affecting the operations as nobody knows who is in command and the Army Chief by making short trips to the areas is not able to restore the situation. The Army in FATA and Swat has obviously lost the initiative and is now on the defensive through out the country.
The problems of Pakistan are not only related to presence of the Taliban but also a large number of militant groups in Balochistan and the sectarian groups as the Lashkar e Jhangvi in other parts of the country who engage in Shia-Sunni violence. Of late however there is a realisation that these groups cannot be encouraged and therefore there is some concern but not much effective action on the ground by the Army and the para military to control the menace. While the Pakistan Army and the police may have ensured that the Eastern regions of Punjab and the parts of Sindh are not taken over by the Taliban there are a number of groups which are feared to be making their presence felt in this region with Karachi having seen large scale infiltration of terrorists.
On the other hand there are many Baloch groups which are still active despite the government call for amnesty. The large number of foreigners kidnapped would indicate the level of influence that these groups have. While the Chinese engineer has been released, others including Iranian and Afghan diplomats apart from the UNHCR representative remain in custody. It appears that the Chinese have been successful in getting their way with Pakistan, especially with President Zardari scheduled to visit Beijing shortly. This could have been achieved only through an exchange of terrorists. With the Army unlikely to involve itself fully in internal security, the Taliban will make deep inroads in Pakistan in the months ahead. The space in Punjab and Sindh in the meanwhile will be thrown open to disparate terrorist groups who have now been encouraged by the success of 3/3 in Lahore.
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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