Pakistan’s War and Peace Conundrum

Many Pakistanis are skeptical about their government’s peace talks with extremists who have announced a month-long "ceasefire" and refused to take responsibility for March 3 suicide attack in Islamabad that killed 11 people, including a judge. Senior analyst Ikram Sehgal suspects the extremists may be continuing their violence through proxies while buying time through peace talks to regroup following recent air strikes on their targets by Pakistan's Air Force.

Posted on 03/6/14
By Ikram Sehgal | ViewsWeek
Investigators collecting evidence from the scene of suicide attack in a court complex in Islamabad. (Photo from video)
Investigators collecting evidence from the scene of suicide attack in a court complex in Islamabad on March 3. (Photo from video)

The March 3 Islamabad attack highlights the fact that the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the umbrella organization of extremists fighting the Pakistani state) either, viz (1) has no control over most of its 30 plus factions (and certainly not on the 60 or so ones criminally inclined but existing under the cover name of TTP), or worse (2) is deliberately ignoring the obvious militancy of groups not under its control to keep the pressure of terror on the minds of the public (and by extension on Pakistani government) by proxy while cleverly maintaining plausible deniability. This “good cop-bad cop” routine is a time-honored ploy, that the Pakistani government seems to have fallen for it is because its “Negotiating Committee” is heavily weighted in favor of the TTP demands and therefore tends towards appeasement.   They may all be honorable men, the Committee’s composition and their personal beliefs do not reflect that of the Pakistani mainstream which is certainly not extremist.

 

That the attacks were able to reach the Islamabad “Kutchery” (courts) without interdiction and fight a gun battle for nearly 15 minutes before disappearing speaks volumes of the information and logistics support available to them. It does not take an Einstein to figure out that the many seminaries in Islamabad, most of them unregistered, provide them invaluable infrastructure in the heart of Pakistan’s capital city.

 

Speaking in the aftermath of the Islamabad incident, Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan (Pakistan’s interior minister) gave three major options for investigation, viz (1) the latest terrorists act may be a reaction by the associates of those seven people arrested by law enforcement agencies because a recent of six-day security operation in Islamabad (2)  people belonging to TTP may be involved and/or (3) the terrorist act may be carried out by some other terrorist group backed by foreign elements.  The Federal Minister for Interior left unsaid the “fourth option”, vengeance for the Lal Masjid operation in 2007, the bloody eight-day siege ended in the deaths of over a dozen Pakistani troops and about 50 seminary inmates including Lal Masjid cleric Abdul Rasheed Ghazi.  Some of the patent and perennial liars in Pakistani media inflated the inmate deaths 100 times over.  No media in the world gives terrorists the time and space Pakistani media does, those in the media who do so are their willing collaborators.

 

Haroon Rasheed, son of the deceased cleric, filed a petition before Additional Sessions Judge Rafaqat Awan on April 23 last year to direct the police to register an First Information Report (FIR) against the than President General Pervez Musharraf.  Among the 11 persons who lost their lives in the atrocity in the district courts in Islamabad on Monday morning (March 3), Judge Rafaqat Awan rejected the petition.  Challenging the trial court’s order, Haroon Rashid approached the Islamabad High Court (IHC), maintaining that it was unfair that he had lost his father but the trial court had observed the petition was filed to get “cheap popularity”.  Late Maulana Ghazi’s brother and Haroon Rashid’s uncle, Maulana Abdul Aziz, vehemently decried the denial of this petition. Coincidence that one of the “suicide bombers” chose to blow himself up outside Judge Rafaqat’s courtroom?

 

A little-known militant group known as “Ahrar-ul-Hind” has claimed responsibility. Writing about Ahrar-ul-Hind in the Long War Journal, Bill Roggio says, “a new global jihadist group that is unwilling to negotiate with the Pakistani government has announced its formation and vowed to continue attacks in the country despite the outcome of ongoing peace talks”, unquote. “Under the leadership of Amir Maulana Umar Qasmi, Ahrar-ul-Hind said it would act independently of the TTP and not agree to any cessation of violence if peace talks were restricted to tribal areas, the relatively unknown group threatened to stage suicide attacks across the country. We belong to the urban areas of Pakistan and we will restrict our activities to the urban areas.  The establishment of Shariah is our goal, while the TTP are still “our brothers” we are separating from the group” to carry out an armed struggle on the Indian subcontinent to establish Islamic Shariah in the whole world”.  Ahrar-ul-Hind promised, “We fight for the liberation of holy lands including Jerusalem and other occupied places in the Muslim world,”.  Coincidence that Maulana Abdul Aziz simultaneously disassociated himself from the TTP’s Negotiating Committee when Ahrar-ul-Hind announced its disassociation from the TTP?

 

The media seized on the month-long ceasefire declaration as manifest of TTP’s good faith in the negotiation process.  Nobody stopped to ask why the duration was given and why for “one month”.  Few questioned whether TTP would be able to make various other TTP factions adhere to it in letter and spirit. Maulana Samiul Haq (head of the so-called Taliban committee negotiating peace with Pakistani government on their behalf) gushed over TTP’s “vision and sincerity” in offering the ceasefire, in passing he gave away the TTP’s real intention, to free those militants ensconced in government custody. The precision strikes of the PAF (Pakistan Air Force) disrupted both TTP’s administrative and operational deployment, more importantly “actionable intelligence” was available for these to be carried out. That knowledge is bound to have made the TTP nervous.  No collateral damage was reported, confirming these targets were pure militant bases. The TTP badly need time and space to regroup after suffering the PAF’s strikes and re-locate their hideouts to safer havens, with aircraft/drones overhead this is not easy.  With the Army getting “actionable intelligence” about their movements, the “month-long” time is necessary also to ferret out those suspected to be “government” informers.

 

While Maulana Abdul Aziz claims he has nothing to do with the “Kutchery” incident (March 3 bombing inside the courts in islamabad), has the Ghazi Force, formed because of the 2007 Lal Masjid incident and based in Miranshah (North Waziristan), transformed into Ahrar-ul-Hind by allying themselves with other like-minded terrorists?  The evidence may be circumstantial, forensics can be used to focus the facts.  The dilemma for society, these terrorists live openly amongst us under the protection of the laws of the very society they seek to destroy.

 

The Pakistani government must immediately, and without further delay, close down all unregistered seminaries in all cities, beginning with Islamabad. All inmates of the registered ones must undergo proper due diligence, crosschecked by biometrics to ensure reliability of identification. In addition to security guards placed for immediate protection at the seminaries’ entrances and exits, cameras must video-feed 24/7 to a Central Control Room. Software is available for identification of marked individuals.

 

Terrorism cannot be wished away, and certainly not by good faith when your antagonists make their living by your deaths acting in bad faith. When terrorists are under pressure, they invariably try to get a timeout for a breather while you keep on suffering at the hands of their proxies and/or associates.  Their larger strategy remains intact, to terrify civilized society with fear and insecurity, leading to hysteria and then to anarchy and total meltdown. The Pakistan Army has done a magnificent job over the years in counter-insurgency, now it is time for the Counter-terrorism Force that Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan keeps talking about to rid the urban areas of those who live among us but want to destroy us.

 

Given that the TTP claims it is powerless to rein in the other factors, the talks can continue without a ceasefire. We can have non-stop talks to go on with the non-stop fighting that they TTP and the like have imposed upon us.

 

The writer is a Pakistan-based senior defense analyst. He can be reached at ikram.sehgal@wpplsms.com

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