Pakistan’s Terror Challenge

With a democratically elected government after a fair mandate, hopes on Pakistan's new Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani delivering on the promises made to the people to bring about a change have greatly risen. The challenges before the Gillani government are multifarious. But none will be greater than that of home grown terrorism targeting the main institution of the state the Army.

One of the main issues in the fight against terrorism is that of ownership, many Pakistanis believe and in that are included some top political leaders of the PML-Q and even PML-N, that terrorism is a problem created by America and would go away if Pakistan breaks links with Washington. There is no doubt that US policies on Pakistan may not be wholly sound, including the inopportune visit of Negroponte and Boucher on the day the new government took over, even if these visits were planned earlier. Yet from the benefit of detachment, it would be evident to all that the problem is wholly indigenous, essentially of resistance by a feudal, tribal society to forces of modernization

Seen from this perspective perhaps the comprehensive approach indicated by Gillani to deal with terrorism is the best option. The NWFP Chief Minister-designate Ameer Haider Hoti said on 28 March that the jirga system would be used to restore peace in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Yet there has to be a substantial component of security in the same.

That this would be a long fight was evident with militants bouncing back in Swat. Three FM radio stations resumed airing pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Fazlullah's speeches in Swat after the military had claimed in December 2007 of having cleared the area of militants. These stations were later forced to shut down by the forces. The series of suicide attacks during the month also denoted that the terrorist groups were well entrenched and could strike at will not only in the troubled regions close to Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the NWFP but also in the heart of Punjab in Lahore.

The targets selected were primarily intelligence agencies and the armed forces. But the complexity of the terrorist threat was also evident with some quite strange choice of attacks. Thus on 2 March, 40 tribesmen, including prominent elders, were killed and more than 50 wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a jirga in the semi-tribal region of Darra Adam Khel. The tribal had gathered for a traditional meeting to discuss measures to be taken to secure the Indus Highway after withdrawal of troops. Motive suggests that this strike launched by a youth of the Darra town was master minded by the al Qaeda.

The fractionalization of the struggle was also evident with eight people killed and about a dozen injured on 3 March during a clash between members of militant organization Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) and residents of the village of Bara Shaikhan on the outskirts of Peshawar. Two suicide bombers attacked the Pakistan Navy War College (NWC), killing six people and injuring 23 on 4 March.

In the deadliest attack in Lahore, over 30 people were killed and more than 200 wounded in two suicide car bombs on the Federal Investigation Agency headquarters and an advertising agency office in Model Town on 11 March. The attacks launched by two truck borne terrorists replicated an Iraq style car bombing raising speculations of the terrorists having extended their capabilities. The obvious targets were the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) office as the Director General Tariq Pervez said the agency was a possible target as, 'Our organization provided valuable input in the investigations into various terrorists activities in the country,' The Special Investigation Unit was reportedly the target in Model Town.

Waziristan along with Bajaur and Mohmand Agency are the key areas where maximum militancy is observed. This was also confirmed with the NGO conducting a survey under the Community Appraisal and Motivation Programme in the Tribal Areas giving these areas a skip due to the security situation. However the survey brought out that the tribal unequivocally condemned armed jihad with only 17 percent favoring it, while 57 percent believe that jihad entails studying the holy Koran and 50 percent believe Shariah can bring peace to the Tribal Areas. There is thus a need to take into account local sentiment in planning a comprehensive approach to fighting militancy.

The Awami National Party (ANP) will be in power in North West Frontier Province and its President Asfandyar Wali said on 26 March, 'I hate [the phrase] 'war against terrorism',' Wali acknowledged that the focus of the new government will have to be on law and order as this was spreading from the tribal areas to the rest of the country. This is an acknowledgement of the challenge ahead though the manner in which it is to be tackled may be different. This was evident with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan also praising the ANP, for taking a different approach.

The PPP-PMLN leadership has called to 'negotiate' with Baitullah Mehsud in the Tribal Areas, however it is unlikely that this process will be as smooth or simple as the leadership has us believe. A Daily Times editorial has highlighted that the, 'Taliban (are) of 'three types': the local enthusiasts for an Islamic order put off by the American invasion of Afghanistan; those organized as a militia but aligned to the Afghan Taliban of Mullah Omar; and those working for Al Qaeda and the 'Arabs' still active in our Tribal Areas'. The newspaper also clearly identifies the threat of intervention in sovereign territory of the country from elements based outside be it under a United Nations mandate.

With diverse aims and individual agendas, it would be extremely difficult to negotiate with any group without harming the interests of the others. Above all the key guarantees that are essential are reneging on the strikes in Afghanistan and eviction of the Al Qaeda. With deeply entrenched networks this would be easier said then done. At the same time, the Pakistan army which will have to lead the fight against insurgency has not demonstrated any capability or resolve to strike against the militants. Till such time capability is built up, it would be necessary to have some working arrangements rather than take the challenge head on as it would only result in heavy casualties. Thus Gillani's task is daunting, which perhaps may provide him permanency in his chair, for Zardari may not like to be in the hot seat with such major challenges awaiting him.


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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