NationalVolume 12 Issue # 14

The Hydra-headed monster

For the last few weeks the country has come under a new wave of terror with terrorists inflicting deadly blows, killing more than a hundred people in deadly attacks across the country. The deadliest of the new wave of attacks was carried out in Sehwan Sharif in Sindh province, which claimed the lives of at least 80 people. Another deadly attack was made at one of the busiest squares of Lahore, Charing Cross, in which at least 20 people, including two police officials perished. Terrorists yet again struck Peshawar this time attacking a van carrying judges of the lower judiciary in which they could only injure the judicial officers, but their driver was killed. In yet another attack on district administrative offices in Mohmand Agency, attackers killed at least six people. In response to these attacks, Pakistan security forces launched a massive search and strike operation against the terrorists across the country, even to artillery strikes across the border in Afghanistan, killing scores of terrorists.

The carrying out of several attacks and that, too, suddenly and simultaneously after a relative lull in terrorist strikes for around a year suggests several things. First, all the attacks were claimed by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The claiming of the attacks by three different terrorist outfits reveals that all these terrorist organizations have forged a kind of alliance to unleash a new wave of terror. Here it must be mentioned that JuA is considered as a splinter group of the umbrella organization of the TTP. However, it remains debatable whether its distancing itself from the larger group was final, because at a subsequent stage it came to light that the JuA had rejoined the ranks of the TTP. On its part, the TTP has become nearly dysfunctional and it would be safe to conclude that the JuA is now at the forefront of the TTP. It is also important to note that the JuA is mainly based in Afghanistan; its commanders are mostly members of the Mohmand Agency chapter of the TTP led by Omar Khalid Khurasani. In other words, the TTP has become quite weakened in its erstwhile heartland, that is North and South Waziristan and, therefore, the grip of the Mehsud and Wazir members of the Taliban, which once provided the core leadership to the umbrella group, has also become quite feeble. This has provided space to TTP commanders like Omar Khurasani to lead the group.

The second important aspect of the new wave of terror is that the footprints of the Middle Eastern terrorist group, Islamic State, locally known as Daesh, in the attacks are quite obvious. Because the JuA affiliated itself with the IS regional chapter known as Khurasan. On the other hand, the LeJ after the killing of its ferocious commander, Malik Ishaq, had also forged an undeclared alliance with IS. The unifying ground for LeJ and IS is their common anti-Shiite agenda. After the space for the LeJ was squeezed inside Pakistan due to effective state action against the group, it moved closer to IS. IS considers its Khurasan chapter as extremely important mainly to raise recruits for its Middle Eastern war theatre. After experiencing reverses in both Iraq and Syria, where it had occupied vast tracts of territories, IS is also considering its Khurasan chapter for future sanctuaries as Al Qaeda did in the 1990s. Here it must be mentioned that as a group the TTP has so far desisted from joining the ranks of IS and, in fact, on one occasion its leadership distanced itself from IS, raising questions on strategy of IS of killing Muslims.

The third very important aspect of the new wave of terror is that the terrorist organizations carried out attacks across the length and breadth of the country, right from the north in Mohmand Agency to the tail end in Sindh province. Through this, the terrorist organizations wanted to demonstrate their prowess and potential. It is not difficult to connect the dots. The terrorist organizations have forged an alliance because LeJ has always been strong in Sindh and the Punjab province, whose capital Lahore was targeted, whereas KP and FATA, where the other attacks were made, has always been the stronghold of the TTP and, afterwards, of JuA. This is, indeed, a very disturbing development because the threat, if not properly negotiated by the country’s security agencies, could blow out of proportion. The comeback which the terrorist groups have made shows the potential of these groups, as well as the negation of all the claims made by the country’s security agencies and political government that the terrorist threat had been neutralized to a great extent after the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

The fourth and most important aspect of the new wave of terror is that all the attacks have been traced to Afghanistan. It must be mentioned that the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in June 2014, in North Waziristan, saw the displacement of the TTP and its affiliated groups, including JuA, to Afghanistan. Since then, Afghanistan has been giving official patronage to these groups in its irrational animosity towards Islamabad. We have mentioned in these lines, time and again, that many intelligence reports and foreign media accounts suggest that IS has the official patronage of the Afghanistan National Directorate of Security (NDS). The NDS has wanted to use IS as a counterpoint to the Afghan Taliban and to unleash a wave of terror in Pakistan. The coming together of IS and JuA happened in Afghanistan and against the backdrop of reports of official patronage to the IS and JuA in Afghanistan, this alliance can be easily understood.

At last, the tolerance of Pakistan has given way and, therefore, Pakistan security forces militarily targeted JuA camps inside Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province located on the border with the Mohmand and Khyber districts of FATA. Reportedly, at least 10-15 training camps and hideouts of JuA were decimated by Pakistani military action inside Afghanistan, especially in Lal Pura district of Nangarhar province. Although Afghanistan has protested to Pakistan on military operations inside Afghan territory, the message from Pakistan was loud and clear: if the Afghan authorities would fail to take action (otherwise patronize) against groups launching terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, the latter would target its enemies inside Afghanistan. This message from Pakistan was, indeed, necessary.

Lastly, through the new wave of terror, the insurgents by attacking judges have put a strong message across to the judiciary of Pakistan that they are also targets, especially when they hand down punishments to terrorism suspects.

The latest wave of terror is a grave threat to the internal security of Pakistan. Since it is being planned and facilitated by the conjoint efforts of the NSD and India’s RAW intelligence agency, the attempt to weaken Pakistan must be dealt with unequivocally. As a start, the Pakistan Rangers msut be given free rein in the Punjab and Sindh to extirpate the terrorists, their facilitators and their nests.