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VIEW: Not an eye-opener: time to act —Daud Khattak
The current set up of militants is the amalgamation of many diverse elements from different areas and backgrounds with the apparent patronage of the Wahabi-dominated al Qaeda out to carry forward its religious-political agenda in the region
Few countrymen rejoiced as the military high command announced victory against militants in the Orakzai tribal agency the other day mainly because the bleeding sore is finally emerging in the heartland of Pakistan now.
Friday’s blatant attack on the Ahmedis’ places of worship in Lahore followed by an audacious attack on the ICU of Jinnah Hospital in the same city just two days after, and that too at a time when the so-called ‘stepped up’ security measures were in place, is anything but an eye-opener for the Punjab government to do away with its compromising stance towards the religious bigots operating in the name of Jaishs, Lashkars, Tehriks, Hezbs or anything of the sort.
Alarm bells have been ringing about the breeding grounds, training facilities and presence of leadership of various sectarian, jihadi and other banned militant outfits in southern Punjab over the past few years, but criminal negligence on part of the previous and current government emboldened religious extremists to challenge the government and security agencies in the provincial capital of Lahore, the most secure and peaceful of Pakistani cities.
The Friday and Monday night brazen strikes are not the first in this eastern city. Rather, those were par for the course underway in Lahore or other cities of Punjab and even Azad Kashmir since early 2009.
The first of the series was the March 3, 2009, attack on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team that killed eight people, besides tarnishing the image of Pakistan and blocking the way of international cricket in the country for many years to come.
On March 30, 2009, armed men attacked the Manawan police station killing eight people. That same year, on October 15, three simultaneous terrorist attacks were carried out in Lahore killing 30 people. And the twin suicide attacks in the same city on March 12, 2010, killed 45 more people.
Besides, two major and daring attacks were also carried out in Rawalpindi, home to the headquarters of the Pakistan army, on the GHQ and a high-profile mosque in October and December 2009 respectively.
But, to the dismay of many, the Punjab government, instead of picking up the gauntlet, continued with its compromising attitude and occupied a reactionary position instead of advancing with action.
While sectarian groups were already holding all the aces in southern Punjab, jihadi outfits started camping there following the withdrawal of support by former president Pervez Musharraf for their armed struggle in Indian Occupied Kashmir in 2006 and 2007.
Finding no other way to quench their jihadi hysteria and thirst, these young misguided men, numbering in the hundreds and later multiplying into the thousands, started pouring into the tribal region, where the predominantly Pashtun Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was spreading its offshoots with full impunity and attracting youth from the lawless region through its heroic statements and videos about fighting against the Afghan and ‘infidel’ forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The mishandling of the Laal Masjid episode proved to be a catalyst. The Punjabi Taliban, mainly belonging to banned sectarian and jihadi outfits, got so much leverage in the TTP that they were given seats in the 40-member Shura of the Pashtun-dominated umbrella of Taliban groups.
It was during their stay in the TTP — an associate of the US-declared terrorist network of al Qaeda — that those dubbed the Punjabi Taliban discovered new recruitment vistas, financial backup and technical and planning support, mainly from al Qaeda. As their bases remained intact in southern Punjab, while the number of religious seminaries multiplied over the years there, members of the jihadi and sectarian outfits returned to their old bases along with some of their TTP leaders and colleagues, following the increasing attacks by CIA-operated spy planes and the launching of operations by the Pakistani security forces in the tribal areas.
The obvious case, in this connection, is that of one Dr Osman who was allegedly involved in the October 2009 attack on the GHQ. In the first stage, Osman was a member of the sectarian outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, who then went on to join the TTP and later became a member of the al Qaeda network.
Though an investigation spanning some years has yet to bring something to the fore, some recent statements from top government functionaries revealed that the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was involved in the 2008 bombing of a five-star hotel in Islamabad.
It is depressing, at least for the peace-loving citizens of Pakistan, to see that a militant outfit that once used pistols, AK-47s and hand-grenades at worship places or gatherings of rival sects, could assume that much power, men, material and technical expertise to target high-profile places like a five-star hotel and the GHQ by using truckloads of explosives and several armed men without the knowledge of nearly half a dozen intelligence agencies, the police force and the all powerful army.
The current set up of militants full of religious frenzy is not as simple as to be called only the TTP, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish, etc. It is the amalgamation of many diverse elements from different areas and backgrounds with the apparent patronage of the Wahabi-dominated al Qaeda out to carry forward its religious-political agenda in the region.
In the words of Rohan Gunaratna, author of Inside al Qaeda, “Jhangvi is now the eyes, ears and operational arm of al Qaeda and the TTP (based in Waziristan). It is hard to distinguish between the three.”
The fresh attacks in Lahore left no room for a second thought for the government in going all out against all these groups, their patrons and supporters, both materially and financially, in southern and the rest of Punjab.
The attacks per se should not be taken as an eye-opener to think over what to do. It is time to act and act decisively, lest it be too late to force the army to open another unending front like the ill-fated tribal region.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org