Coinciding with the first anniversary of the Pakistan Army’s commando raid into the Lal Masjid…
Coinciding with the first anniversary of the Pakistan Army’s commando raid into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad, there has been a fresh wave of jihadi terrorism in Pakistan, which has reversed the declining trend seen after the new Government headed by Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani came to office in the last week of March, 2008.
2. This new wave started even before the first anniversary with the an Al Qaeda-admitted act of suicide terrorism outside the Danish Embassy in Islamabad on June 2, 2008. It has picked up momentum since then—–particularly since July 3, 2008, which marked the first anniversary of the siege of the Lal Masjid by the Pakistani security forces and ultimately led to the raid into the Lal Masjid.
3. This new wave has affected tribal as well as non-tribal areas, but the tribal areas more than non-tribal areas till now. In the tribal areas, it has affected the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which are directly controlled from Islamabad with the help of the Army, as well as the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), which is ruled by a coalition headed by the reputedly secular Awami National Party (ANP). The ANP has been trying to deal with the situation with the help of the Frontier Corps (FC), a para-military organisation of Pashtun tribals trained and supervised by the Army.
4. The NWFP was badly affected even last year. Of the 56 attacks of suicide terrorism during 2007, 23 were in the FATA, 21 in the NWFP, including four in the Swat Valley, nine in Punjab, two in Balochistan and one in Sindh. Of the 23 in the FATA, only two were in North Waziristan and one in the Bajaur Agency, where, according to the US, the terrorist infrastructure of Al Qaeda is located. The remaining 20 were in South Waziristan, where there are no confirmed reports of any Al Qaeda infrastructure. All the attacks in South Waziristan came from areas which are controlled by the Mehsuds. In the areas controlled by other tribes, there were no incidents of suicide terrorism. Two cantonments saw repeated suicide strikes— Rawalpindi (5), where the General Headquarters of the Army are located, and Kohat (3) in the NWFP where an Army cadet school is located.
5. The Ministry of the Interior of the Government of Pakistan has not so far come out with official statistics relating to suicide and non-suicide terrorism this year, but according to Hamid Mir, the highly-respected Pakistani journalist, who works for the GeoTV, a private TV channel,there have been 25 acts of suicide terrorism in Pakistan during the first six months of 2008, resulting in 332 fatalities. However, in his analysis carried by “News” of July 10,2008, he does not indicate how many of these incidents took place before the new Government came to office and how many thereafter. According to official figures released by the Interior Ministry at the end of last year, there were only four acts of suicide terrorism during the first six months of 2007. This shot up to 56 after the Lal Masjid raid. According to my collation, there were 17 acts of suicide terrorism this year before the Gilani Government came to office, and there have been only eight since then, but the number is showing an upward trend.
6. According to Hamid Mir, Afghanistan had 160 suicide bombings in 2007 with 836 people dead and it has had 76 suicide bombings in the first six months of 2008 with 466 dead. There were seven suicide attacks in Afghanistan in March 2008 compared to 17 in March 2007.There was a sudden increase in the attacks in June 2008 with 17 suicide bombings compared to just seven suicide bombings in June 2007. Suicide bombings slightly increased in areas close to the Iranian border. Kandahar and Helmand are close to Pakistan while Nimroz and Farah are close to Iran. There were 15 suicide attacks in Kandahar in 2008 compared to 26 in 2007. There were 15 suicide attacks in Helmand in 2008 compared to 22 in 2007. There were only three attacks in Nimroz in 2007 but eight attacks in the first six months of 2008. Farah is close to the Iranian border and had just five suicide attacks in 2007 but this province saw six suicide attacks in 2008. The increasing number of attacks in areas closer to the Iranian border than to the Pakistani border is intriguing and has thus far remained without a satisfactory explanation.
7 .In 2007, one saw acts of suicide terrorism as well as conventional attacks not involving suicide terrorism in the tribal areas. The conventional style attacks were more in the FATA than in the NWFP, except in the Swat Valley, which is the stronghold of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) headed by Mulla Fazlullah. Even though official statistics of conventional style attacks are not available, one can see that there has been an increase in conventional style attacks in other areas of the NWFP too. What one has been seeing is that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other jihadi groups in the tribal belt not associated with the TTP, have been emulating the tactics of the Taliban of Afghanistan, which consist of a mix of suicide terrorism and conventional guerilla-style attacks. An insurgency-like situation is developing in the tribal belt in the FATA and the NWFP, similar to the situation which has been prevalent in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
8. There has been a deterioration in the control exercised by the ANP-led Government, the army and the para-military forces in the NWFP. This weakening of control is evident in Peshawar too, where the Taliban and pro-Taliban groups are slowly nibbling at the outlying areas bordering the FATA. The worsening situation in the NWFP should be a matter of concern to the international community since many of the areas where Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission stores its nuclear waste are located there. If these sites come under the control of the jihadi terrorists, Al Qaeda’s search for a dirty bomb capability could be facilitated.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: [email protected])