IDSA COMMENT

Pakistan Army vs Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan: The latest Round

July 15, 2013

There has been a spate of attacks on security forces in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa (KPK), as also terrorist bombings in many cities outside KPK in the past couple of weeks. The following incidents tabulated by the Pakistan Project Team of the IDSA are illustrative:

Bombings, shootings and disappearances

Place Description Killed Injured
Nanga Parbat,
PoK
Attack by unidentified gunmen (June 23). TTP claimed responsibility. 9 Foreigners and a Pakistani guide  -
Peshawar, KPK Firing on security checkpoint on Peshawar ring road killing two security officials (July 1) 2 0
North Waziristan,
FATA
Security convoy attacked with IED, killing four security officials (July 1) 4 16
Nasirabad
Balochistan
Armed men open indiscriminate fire on three sleeping labourers (July 1) 3 0
Khuzdar, Balochistan Armed men on a motorbike open fire on a passenger bus from Karachi to Quetta (July 1) 3 N/A
Karachi, Sindh Individuals killed in separate incidents 4 0
Lahore, Punjab Bomb with ball bearings goes off in ground floor of a building in old Anarkali area, very crowded popular on the weekend (July 7) 3 37

Perhaps, the most significant of these incidents is the July 7 bomb attack in Anarkali Bazar of Lahore. There has been a relative calm in Pakistan’s Punjab province and there have not been many terrorist incidents there in the recent past. The last major terrorist incident in Lahore was on July 12, 2012 when a group of trainee prison warders from KPK was attacked and some of them were killed. According to The Dawn, terrorist attacks in Punjab had gone down by 56% in 2011 as compared to preceding years. This downward incline in terrorist violence continued in 2012-13 and Nawaz Sharif’s triumph in the May 2013 Pakistan elections was also due largely to the tacit support he received from the Radical Islamists (RIs). This ‘tranquility’ in the province had to a large extent been due to the ‘understanding’ that Shahbaz Sharif’s PML (N) government of Punjab had struck with the RIs. Therefore, the sudden resumption of terror bombing at a public place in Lahore has a lot more behind it than what meets the eye.

To decipher the current state of the terrorist threat faced by Nawaz Sharif’s new government, one may consider the following significant indicators:

  1. Nawaz Sharif’s post election call for peace-talks with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in pursuance of its earlier offer to work out a deal with the Pakistan government;
  2. General Kayani’s rush to meet Nawaz and his close associates like Shahbaz even as the results of the Pakistani elections were still coming out;
  3. Maulana Fazal-ur Rehman’s promptly contacting the TTP for arranging a ceasefire;
  4. His “washing his hands off” the effort due to the “disinterest shown by the establishment”. A party spokesman of his JUI (F) clarified that by “establishment” the Maulana had implied the Army.
  5. Spokesman of one of the factions of the TTP, Omar Mukarram Khurasani told Pakistan media that on June 26 nearly 400 cadres of Ansar-ul Islam, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and local anti-Taliban militias launched an attack on TTP’s positions in Mohmand with a view to expelling it from the area. The TTP seem to be reeling under the combined assault as Afghan Taliban groups, particularly the pro-Pakistan Army Haqqanis, also target them in Kunar and Nangarhar in adjoining Afghanistan;
  6. TTP’s positions at Jarobi Darra in Mohmand and Shunkrey and Maya in the in adjoining areas on the Afghan side were threatened;
  7. TTP sends urgent SOS to Mullah Omar to intercede, as also beseech the Haqqanis not to stab it in the back. These appeals seem to work and Afghanistan based Taliban groups hold their attacks. Taliban apparently, beat back the other attacking groups propped up by the Pakistan Army and regain their balance;
  8. TTP’s attacks on Pakistani security forces and terrorist strikes by RIs in major cities, particularly Lahore resume.

It would be interesting to join these bits of information together and see the big picture.

Nawaz Sharif and his ally the JUI (F) wanted to work out a peace deal with the TTP and its allied RI groups as a ‘Thank You” to them for their electoral support, as also to ensure that the new government does not have to tackle the major threat of radical violence right from day one. Nawaz Sharif makes all the proper noises and Maulana Fazal-ur Rahman contacts the TTP without loosing any time to discuss a peace arrangement covering entire Pakistan. However, during his post election meeting with Nawaz Sharif, General Kayani probably tries to dissuade any intercession with the TTP, unless it gave up its jihad against the Army. It is doubtful if he would have taken Nawaz Sharif into confidence about the impending Army inspired assault on TTP. (A repeat of Kargil syndrome?) TTP, which was already aware of major attack being planned against it at the behest of the Army, wants the planned operation to be rolled back as also puts some stiff conditions to join any ‘peace dialogue’. Ehsanullah Ehsan, the TTP spokesman, tells The Dawn (June 6) that TTP was aware of the planned attack on it from Kunar province in Afghanistan and warns of major bloodshed. Fazal-ur Rahman and Nawaz Sharif again sound Kayani, who refuses to bend as he has high hopes from the Army/ISI plan to degrade TTP’s military capabilities. Fazl-ur Rahman throws in the towel. The assault on TTP by surrogate groups of Pak Army begins by last week of June. TTP, reeling backwards under the combined assault from various groups, appeals to Mullah Omar and others and buys its peace with them. Afghan groups withdraw from the assault and the rest are beaten back. In revenge full mood, TTP and its allied RIs resume their attacks against the security forces as well as bombing of other targets.

Is the ‘truce’ and the ‘understanding’ between RIs and the Pakistan’s civilian and military establishments over? Nawaz Sharif may still be able to buy a fresh lease of tranquility with TTP by imploring his inability to reign in the Army. However, how would the Army behave in the months ahead? Would it abandon its penchant to use religion as a tactics and a force multiplier? Would the army continue to pander to a section of jihadis in order to further its agenda in Afghanistan and India, while at the same time working them against each other in order to degrade their capability to target it? Possibilities are that neither the Army would mend its ways, nor the RIs give up their mission to shariatise Pakistan. Therefore, terrorism is likely to continue to confront the Nawaz Sharif government.

For tackling terrorism Pakistan’s civil and military establishments have to relook at their own attitudes towards religion and jihad and reform themselves. They have to take a critical look at their national experience since independence and realize the criminal futility of confrontation with India. Unless this major readjustment of national priorities takes place, the threat from RIs would continue to plague Pakistan and the country would have to continue to pay the price for nurturing the hydra of religious activism.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.