Maintenance of Terrorists: Long-Term Effects for Pakistan – III
by Ramtanu Maitra on 15 Jul 2016 1 Comment

Extremists Defying Islamabad and Other Authorities


In this category, terrorists from two areas stand out. First, the militants in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan, through which the China-proposed CPEC is to wind its way down from the north to the Arabian Sea. Baloch insurgents do not have control over the entire province, but they have a network that routinely blows up gas wells and other infrastructure, loudly trumpeting their strength. Pakistan has accused Indian intelligence, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), of aiding these terrorist acts, but has never provided any evidence to substantiate its claims.


Whether or not RAW, or any other foreign intelligence agency, is involved in Balochistan, the fact is that the Baloch have maintained their independence-through-insurgency movement fairly intact for more than a decade. The province’s geographical location has helped: 13 million Baloch live in a vast territory the size of France, with enormous reserves of gas, gold and copper, as well as untapped sources of oil and uranium, and bordering Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Islamabad’s exploitation of natural resources in the area, combined with repressive state-run policies, has led to five armed uprisings in the region since the territory was annexed by Pakistan in 1948 (“Understanding Pakistan’s Baloch Insurgency”: Karlos Zurutuza: The Diplomat: June 24, 2015).


In the recent period, the emergence of Lashkar-e-Balochistan, strategically deployed in central Balochistan, has Islamabad worried. The armed movement is reportedly linked to the Mengal tribe. Silent for the past several years, they last attacked with two bomb blasts in Lahore and Karachi in 2012. Very little is still known about the Baloch Republican Guard, one of the last groups to appear on stage.


Islamabad responded to the earlier Baloch uprisings brutally - at least on two occasions. In 1973, following his visit to Iran, then-Pakistan President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto dismissed the elected provincial government of Balochistan. The pretext was that a cache of 350 Soviet submachine guns and 100,000 rounds of ammunition had supposedly been discovered in the Iraqi attaché’s house, and were destined for Balochistan. The ensuing protest against the dismissal of the duly-elected government brought in another wave of the Pakistan Army - 78,000 men, supported by Iranian Cobra helicopters. The troops were resisted by some 50,000 Baloch. The conflict took the lives of 3,300 Pakistani troops, 5,300 Baloch insurgents, and thousands of civilians.


Then again, between December 2005 and June 2006, more than 900 Baloch were killed, about 140,000 were displaced, some 450 political activists (mainly from the Baloch National Party) disappeared, and 4,000 activists were arrested, according to reports. There have also been reports that the Frontier Corps (FC) - a creation of the British Raj that had been kept intact in Balochistan, the NWFP (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), and the FATA - has been responsible for indiscriminate rocket, artillery, and helicopter gunship attacks causing significant destruction of civilian areas (“Pakistan’s Western Frontiers in Tumult: Olaf Caroe’s Lengthening Shadows:: Ramtanu Maitra: EIR: April 3, 2009).


The Terrorist Cobra in FATA


Another hydra-headed terrorist cobra that lunges at Pakistan from time to time is based in FATA, where 3 million tribals, all ethnic Pushtuns, reside. According to Muhammad Amir Rana, a security and political analyst and the director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an independent Islamabad-based think tank, more than 60 local Taliban groups emerged in the region between 2002 and 2010. More than 40 of these groups are part of the TTP alliance.


Before 9/11, many militant sectarian groups operated within Pakistan, all of them having come into existence during the 1980s and 1990s thanks to the Gen. Zia-initiated state policy favoring the Sunnis over the Shi’as. Although the number of these militant sectarian groups has reportedly reduced over the years, TTP militancy is now firmly dominated by the Deobandi-Salafi groups.


As Rana explained in a 2014 study, “Pakistani Deobandis joined Afghans in the war against the Soviet Union mainly through fatwas (religious edicts) in favor of the Afghan jihad, issued by leaders such as Maulana Mufti Mehmood, head of the largest Deobandi religious political party in Pakistan; Maulana Abdul Haq of the Darul Uloom Haqqania madrassah at Akora Khattak, and Maulana Yousaf Binori, principal of the Darul Uloom Islamia Binori Town madrassah in Karachi. These orders were pivotal in encouraging Deobandi madrassah students in Pakistan to join the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan” (“Taliban insurgency in FATA: Evolution and Prospects”: Muhammad Amir Rana: U.S. Institute for Peace: 2014).


The emergence of fatwa-issuing maulvis broke down the tribal architecture. In FATA, governance had been decidedly in the hands of the maliks historically; the maulvis were way down the totem pole in the power structure. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, however, Islamabad’s push to mobilize Islamists against the Russians effectively undermined the maliks and gave political muscle to the maulvis and their radical religious ideology. So although the emergence of the TTP has now put Islamabad on its back foot, the making of these terrorists in FATA was clearly its own doing.


In the past two years, TTP has committed a series of serious anti-state terrorist acts outside its territory, among them the high-profile massacre in December 2014 in an elite Army school in Peshawar. The January 20, 2016, attack at Bacha Khan University in Charsadda in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, adjacent to FATA and inhabited mostly by Pushtuns, was also the handiwork of TTP gunmen who killed at least 22 people. According to one Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Umar Mansoor, the attack was in retaliation for military operations against the group. However, one of the most significant aspects of TTP’s attacks on traditional educational centers is their stated anger that these institutions provide non-Islamic education.


The March 7, 2016, TTP attack on a courthouse in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa clearly indicates that the TTP has the capability to carry out terrorist operations at will not only within FATA, but beyond, and even where Pakistani security has a strong presence. Some Pakistanis argue that the reason why the Pakistan military does not take on the TTP is its fear that any attack on the militants could trigger savage reprisals. Imran Khan, a populist politician perhaps most responsible for discouraging military action, has countless times predicted a big “blowback” in the cities (“Taliban Tumult”: The Economist: Oct 25 2014).


There are, however, many reports that suggest the TTP is fragmented due to the absence of a unifying leader and, as a result, a lesser threat than it was years ago. That analysis does not hold in light of the fact that the TTP has continued to hit major targets. There are also reports that some among the TTP groups have begun to align with the so-called Islamic State group (IS), also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daish. Although there is no visible presence of the IS in Pakistan, these are worrying signs.


A Newsweek article in 2014 reported that pamphlets praising ISIS were seen in Peshawar and in Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas where TTP is based. Reports of graffiti supporting ISIS are coming from across the country, including from Rawalpindi and Lahore (“Punjab goes on alert against the Islamic State”: B. Shah: Newsweek, November 11, 2014).


In an article in November 2014, Pakistan Today reported that the Balochistan government had conveyed a confidential report to the federal government and law enforcement agencies warning of increased footprints of IS. “The secret information report is dated October 31, and states that IS has claimed to have recruited a massive 10,000 to 12,000 followers from the Hangu and Khurram Agency tribal areas. ‘It has been reliably learnt that Daish has offered some elements of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) to join hands in Pakistan. Daish has also formed a 10-member Strategic Planning Wing,’ the report from the Home and Tribal Affairs Department of Balochistan says” (“IS recruiting thousands in Pakistan, Balochistan govt. warned”: Pakistan Today: Nov. 8 2014).


The report said that IS plans to attack military installations and government buildings in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa in retaliation for the army-led Zarb-e-Azb operation in North Waziristan and that the group also plans to target members of the minority Shi’a community.


(To be concluded…)

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