By Ambreen Agha
May 24, 2011
It is the extremist-terrorist spaces created by Pakistan for state-supported groups that allow them to flourish. Since all of them are mobilised on a pan-Islamist ideology of jihad, it is impossible to distinguish one terrorist group from another
I heard someone shouting ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ and then I heard a huge blast,” Ahmad Ali, a wounded Frontier Constabulary trooper reported, after two suicide bombers attacked FC trainees on May 13 in the Shabqadar tehsil (revenue unit) of Charsadda district, 19 miles from Peshawar, the capital city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, killing 73 FC personnel and 17 civilians, and injuring another 140.
Soon after, claiming responsibility for the attack, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan declared, “This was the first revenge for Osama bin Laden’s martyrdom. Wait for bigger attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.” Significantly, confirming the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011, the TTP spokesman had threatened to attack Security Forces. “Pakistan will be the prime target followed by United States. The US had been on a man-hunt for Osama bin Laden and now Pakistani rulers are on our hit-list as we also killed Benazir Bhutto in a suicide attack”, the spokesman added in an audio message.
The Osama bin Laden killing, however, is more a platform than cause or provocation. The TTP has been executing a relentless stream of attacks against Pakistani SFs from the moment of its formation in the wake of the Army’s Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) operation in 2007, after which suicide bombings targeting the SFs increased dramatically. An Interior Ministry report published on September 17, 2007, conceded that the Lal Masjid military operation had caused an increase in suicide attacks on Army and paramilitary forces. The report also revealed that the SFs were mostly targeted in KP and Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Significantly, the Lal Masjid radicals, prior to their declaration of a parallel judicial system to enforce Islamic laws in Islamabad, were trained and supported by the Inter Services Intelligence to fuel the insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir, a fact confirmed by Shuja Nawaz, author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army and the Wars Within.
Moreover, the Charsadda district, which borders Pakistan’s volatile Mohmand tribal Agency in the FATA, has long been the location of a major Army onslaught against the TTP. Further, Pakistan’s alliance with the US and its, albeit ambivalent, ‘cooperation’ with the US ‘war on terror’ has further escalated TTP violence against Islamabad and the SFs.
Conspicuously, on April 3, 2011, TTP spokesman Ehsan had reiterated, immediately after the Sakhi Sarwar shrine attack that killed 41 people and injured more than 100, “Our men carried out these attacks and we will carry out more in retaliation for Government operations against our people in the northwest.” Four days before Operation Geronimo killed Osama bin Laden, the TTP killed nine persons and injured another 64 in two separate attacks at Naval establishments on April 26 and April 28. Claiming responsibility for these attacks, the TTP spokesman had declared, “Security Forces will be targeted in the future as well, because they are killing their own people in Waziristan and elsewhere on the behest of the US. Our organisation is still strong in cities of Pakistan”.
Between 2001 and May 15, 2011, 423 incidents in which the Armed Forces were directly targeted, have been recorded, accounting for at least 1,322 SF personnel killed, and another 2,582 injured. This data includes the fatalities that occurred as a result of direct attacks either on a military camp, a Police check post or a SF convoy. Overall fatalities among the SFs, including a range of other terrorist incidents in which the SFs were not the primary target, stood at 3,631 over the same period.
Even more troubling is the fact that, despite the mounting SF fatalities in terrorist attacks across the country, there appears to be a substantial extremist infiltration into the military, and vice versa. Covert state support has hardened and strengthened extremist elements over the years. Immediately after the May 13 suicide attack, an unnamed Police official was reported to concede, “Certainly, the militants have an effective networking and some insiders may be leaking information to them.”
More obviously, there is clear collusion between a range of Islamist terrorist formations and the Army and intelligence establishment in Pakistan, even as the SFs struggle to contain ‘renegade’ groups that have escaped or rebelled against military-intelligence control. The Osama killing itself, within the garrison town of Abbottabad and in close proximity to major military establishments, fairly clearly established the link between state security structures and the terrorist forces. Pakistan’s Army and military intelligence apparatus has evident links with terrorist networks within the country. It is, indeed, the extremist-terrorist spaces created for state supported groups that allow the anti-state groups to flourish as well, since all these are mobilised on a pan-Islamist ideology of jihad that makes clear distinctions between cadres of different groups impossible.
Crucially, it is continuing state support to Afghanistan and India directed terrorist groupings that provides the context for domestic terrorism of the TTP variety. Indeed, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has repeatedly accused the ISI of having ties with the Afghan Taliban in the Northwest tribal belt, specifying, further, the links between the Pakistani military intelligence and the Haqqani network, an Al Qaeda allied outfit run by Sirajuddin Haqqani and based in the North Waziristan district of FATA. These links have further been confirmed by statements of Pakistani detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, disclosed by WikiLeaks. According to the testimony of one such detainee, Ziaul Shah, his direct supervisor in the Afghan Taliban was a man named Qari Saleem Ahmed, the ‘commander’ of the Punjab Chapter of Taliban, who was reportedly arrested around 1999 for being a member of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Harkatul Jihad al Islami and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba with “connections to subversive elements of the ISI”. In another revelation, on April 12, 2011, Pakistani-American terrorist David Coleman Headley alias Daood Gilani and Pakistani-Canadian terrorist Tahawwur Hussain Rana, who allegedly planned and aided the attacks in Mumbai (November 26, 2008, also known as 26/11), implicated the Pakistani Government and the ISI in the attack.
In its second chargesheet in the 26/11 attacks, the US Government has named a serving ISI officer, Major Iqbal, as a key conspirator charged with providing funds to Headley. Major Iqbal, posted in Lahore during 2007 and 2008, was handling David Coleman Headley on behalf of the ISI. He provided $25,000 and fake Indian currency notes to Headley, to meet the latter’s expenses during surveillance operations in India. Headley provided all his surveillance videos first to Major Iqbal and then to the LeT.
Such revelations only add to Pakistan’s culture of impunity, with terrorists often going scot-free. The SFs have, of course, launched widespread campaigns against the TTP and some other renegade terrorist factions, including indiscriminate bombing and artillery barrages targeting civilian clusters across KP and FATA. Indeed, Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, in his address at Kakul, the Military Academy at Abbottabad on April 23, 2011, had boasted, “The Army has broken the back of militants linked to Al Qaeda and TTP and the nation will soon prevail over this menace.” The data on fatalities, however, does not indicate any dramatic diminution in the capabilities of anti-Islamabad formations such as the TTP, even as state supported groupings such as the Taliban and the LeT, among others, continue to flourish with visible state support. Despite the rising instability within, and the escalating international pressure on Islamabad, it is evident that the terrorist state, operating in the name of Allah, and its many terrorist proxies and renegades, remain alive and vibrant within Pakistan.