Friday, 4 May 2007

Know Your Enemy!

Last week, on 28th April, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a packed crowd that had gathered to meet the Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao after he had spoken at an PPP political rally. At least 28 people were killed and over 40 were injured. Mr. Sherpao escaped without any serious injury. The suicide bomber's vest used high-intensity plastic explosive and was packed with ball bearings in order to maximize its deadliness.

A similar modus operandi had been used in the March 29th suicide bombing attack on an army cantonment that killed 2; the January 29th suicide bombing at a police checkpoint guarding a Shia mourning procession that killed 3, the January 27th suicide bombing that killed 14, including the Chief of Police and Deputy Superintendent in Peshawar, the roadside bombing on 16th February that killed 4 including the director of a polio immunization campaign in NWFP, the January 26th suicide bombing that killed 2 at the Marriott in Islamabad and the February 17th suicide bombing in a Quetta courtroom that killed 15, including the judge who had previously tried terrorism suspects.

In 2006 of course there were cases like the November 8th suicide bombing at an army training camp that killed 42 recruits and injured dozens more, the April 11th suicide bombing that killed at least 57 at a prayer meeting being held by the Sunni Tehrik religious organisation in Karachi, the 2nd June suicide bombing on an army convoy in NWFP that killed 4 soldiers, the 9th February suicide bombing of a Shia religious procession that killed 27 people, the 2nd March suicide bombing that killed 3 outside the American Consulate in Karachi including an American diplomat and the 14th July suicide bombing in Karachi that killed a prominent Shia cleric and 2 others. There were more instances of suicide bombings in these two years but alas I cannot recall them all at the moment.

Sometimes suicide bombing is not the preferred modus operandi, for example there was this incident where 12 bombs were planted outside an army base in Dera Ismail Khan that had timers as detonation devices. In this case, they were discovered and defused in time by the police, which is why, one supposes they are not popular means of death and destruction amongst terrorists.

I suppose I should add, for those not in the know that things were not always this way. Political (or even religious) violence was not unknown in Pakistan. In fact, the older brother of the Interior Minister who recently escaped death was killed at a political rally in a bombing in 1975. But suicide bombings are a pretty new phenomena. And the wave of bombings since 2001 is unprecedented.

So who is behind them?

Curiously, one government official speculated that the suicide bomber who targeted the Interior Minister may have been a Tajik Afghan (he based this on a cursory examination of the bomber's head - which was all that was left of him - though he also added that it could be someone from "our" tribe). Generally speaking the Tajik ethnic group in Afghanistan was part of the Northern Alliance which now forms the bulk of the government of Afghanistan, so perhaps he was trying to implicate the Afghan government.

But one may not really have to look for such exotic suspects when there are, after all, the usual ones. For example, Mullah Dadullah, who has been called 'the top Taleban commander in Afghanistan' recently announced that he would launch suicide attacks against Pakistan for its 'betrayal' of peace accords with the tribes on the Afghan border. (A reference to the Pakistani military's taking sides in the recent infighting amongst pro-Taleban groups in the tribal agencies.)

Or why go as far as Afghanistan when we can look to our nation's capital to find Maulana Abdul Aziz, who has previously publicly called for the assassination of the president, threatened the government with suicide bombings, if they don't close down brothels and video shops and rebuild mosques that were recently demolished for being built on illegally occupied land. Mr Aziz's own religious seminary, the Jamia Hafsa has occupied land illegally. It also runs an illegal hate-spewing radio station, illegally set up its own court which recently issued a fatwa against the country's Tourism Minister, has been linked to the 7/7 London bombings, has declared that killing Pakistani soldiers in NWFP is Jihad and has sent out vigilante squads to"combat vice" in the city who in the course of their work have kidnapped several women and a policeman and held them against their will for several days.

What's interesting was that the seminary was built in the 1980s, and always enjoyed patronage of the military government of Zia-ul-Haq and the ISI intelligence agency, which was primarily responsible for the creation, funding, training and arming of first the Jihadi groups that fought in Afghanistan, and later on, for the Taleban. What's also interesting is that amongst the list of demands they have presented has been the release of former ISI officials imprisoned for their involvement in supporting terrorism. Interestingly enough, the leader of the country's largest Islamic political party, the JUI, which also had a hand in the creation of the Taleban has actually condemned the Jamia Hafsa crowd and distanced themselves from them, accusing "intelligence agencies" (read: ISI) of being behind the Jamia's activities and agenda. The government, meanwhile has given in to most of the demands presented by the seminary.

Why would a military dictator, with the supposedly fearsome might of the Pakistani army behind him and public dismay over the activities of the Jamia Hafsa extremists, cave in to a bunch of stick wielding fanatics? Well it could have something to do with the fact that the attention of Musharaf and his government is focused on cynical power-grabs that have weakened civil institutions and frayed public trust to almost breaking point, such as the unconstitutional removal of the Chief Justice. Instead of drawing on the support of civil society to take on the extremist fringe, the government finds itself locked in an antagonistic struggle with political parties, the judiciary and legal fraternity, unions, print and television media, and so looks to the very same extremist fringe for support.

The result? Well, today there was a spate of bombings in NWFP that blew up more than a dozen video and music shops, not long after the 30-day deadline given last month by Maulana Aziz for such shops to close down expired. Maulana Aziz had publicly threatened shop-owners with "punishment", so this latest act of terrorism shouldn't come as a surprise.

But what were the authorities doing in the meantime? Well, they were busy arresting over 1,000 political activists who were planning to participate in a peaceful rally in support of the ousted Chief Justice in Lahore.

Its good to know that the current government understands who the real enemies of the people of Pakistan are.


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