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New attacks stun Pakistan

By Imtiaz Gul

Foreign Policy, September 10, 2010

While August in Pakistan was dominated by the incredible turmoil of flooding and related destruction, September began with its own nightmare; nearly 120 casualties from several acts of terrorism in the two largest cities Karachi and Lahore on the 1st, followed by deadly suicide bombings in Quetta and in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa.

In the first three cases terrorists targeted the minority shia community, leading several security experts to believe that rabidly anti-Shia and al-Qaeda linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) might be behind this new wave of terror. Not long ago, several people lost lives in three different terrorist incidents in northwestern towns of Peshawar, Wana (Waziristan) and Kurram, where pro-government peace committee members fell to suicide bombers. An attack in Mardan last Friday targeted a minority Ahmedi mosque, a sect proscribed under the Pakistani constitution. And the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan staged several attacks this week against Pakistani police targets, wounding and killing dozens of civilians in the process.

The latest spate of violence within two weeks broke a relative lull in such attacks since July 1, when terrorists mowed down several dozen people at a holy shrine and centuries-old Lahore landmark. On June 3rd, terrorists killed at least five people when trying to snatch a severely injured fellow from a hospital. This militant had been arrested from the site of an Ahmedi mosque in Lahore on May 28th after several terrorists raided the mosque. 

The violence also underscores that besides the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which the United States on September 1 formally designated a foreign terrorist organization, the ethnically Punjabi LeJ has emerged as yet another lethal organization, engaged in acts of attrition across Pakistan. In banning the TTP, the United States joined Pakistan in proscribing a series of terrorist organizations who have slowly been picking away at Pakistani civilians and security and political figures.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley explained the significance of banning the organization and two top leaders, Hakimullah Mehsud and Wali-ur-Rehman, to reporters:

"The TTP and al-Qaeda have a symbiotic relationship. TTP draws ideological guidance from al-Qaida while al-Qaeda relies on the TTP for safe haven in the Pashtun areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border." And U.S. Ambassador-at-large for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin explained, "This mutual cooperation [between the groups] gives TTP access to both al-Qaeda's global terrorist network and the operational experience of its members. Given the proximity of the two groups and the nature of their relationship, TTP is a force multiplier for al-Qaeda."

Benjamin also described the duo of Mehsud and Rehman as "dedicated terrorists who are attempting to extend their bloody reach into the American homeland."

The TTP caught the U.S. lawmakers' attention after failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad pleaded guilty in June of contacts with the TTP. Shahzad warned of "more strikes on the United States until it leaves Muslim lands." He told the judge he had undergone five days of bomb-making training during a 40-day stay with the Taliban in Pakistan, between December 9 and January 25.

On the one hand, it would seem that the U.S. proscription of the TTP entails few implications for Pakistan since state institutions such as the army have already declared this outfit a public enemy. But in reality, it should bring more pressure on the country for tangible actions against the organization, in tandem with its verbal commitment not to allow any group to use Pakistani soil for terrorism in or outside the country.

The latest wave of terror, in Lahore, Quetta, Karachi, Mardan, and Peshawar further underscores the need for impairing networks that draw inspiration from al Qaeda and are out to inflict gradual but regular attrition on the country, thereby keeping the security apparatus on tenterhooks in a volatile and insecure environment.

If claims by the security establishment were any indicator, the TTP and LeJ have emerged as another force-multiplier for al-Qaeda, which considers it legitimate to attack the interests of anybody, group or country that is cooperating with the U.S.-led western alliance in the anti-terror war.

Pakistan thus has to deal not only with al-Qaeda, but also with affiliated groups nestled nestled in the mountainous Waziristan region including the increasingly lethal LeJ-TTP combination. Not only do they share the al Qaeda ideology but also supplement each other wherever needed. The deadly attacks on the Parade Lane Mosque (December 4, 2009), the siege of Pakistan's army headquarters (October 10, 2009), the raid on the Mananwan Police Academy (October 2009), the strike on the Ahmedi Mosque in Lahore (May 28, 2010), are all but a few examples of the close coordination between these two organizations. They are applying the same tactics they learnt in Kashmir and Afghanistan for their acts of terror inside Pakistan.

In addition to disruption of their activities, the real challenge lies in penetrating the command structures of terror networks to figure out their links with sponsors and financiers. What Pakistan is witnessing today cannot be explained away merely as "acts of terror by religiously motivated groups." It is a war of attrition through groups which are delivering blows to the country with the clear objective of creating instability and crippling its economy.

Pakistan, it seems, is currently in battle against a multitude of domestic and external vested interests, fueled by a combination of religious zeal, political ideology, and possibly external drivers who may be using local militant groups or their splinters to keep Pakistan destabilized. It is for the mighty intelligence establishment to figure out the string-pullers. If it cannot, the collusion of ideologically driven outfits, criminal gangs and external forces -- the al-Qaeda force multipliers -- will keep bleeding this country.

 

(The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk