Post-elections, Pakistan has offered little respite from terrorist violence and militancy within the country as is evident from the on-going spate of attacks in the summer of 2013. Trends can easily be noted in terrorist activity in comparison with that of last summer. Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remain the epicentres of violence; soldiers and foreigners remain the ideal targets – favourably devouring attention from the international press, with regular collateral damage raising our numbers of civilian casualties.
Tactically, groups have opted for various modes of attacks inclusive of guerrilla warfare, suicide terrorism, target killings and the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and vehicle-born improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). The versatile nature of TTP’s operations, alongside those of other militant groups, demonstrates the survival instincts of these groups regarding evolution and growth, both tactical and strategic.
This year’s June was marred with the destruction of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s residency in Ziarat, Balochistan. The attack was claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a group that has allegedly been liaising with TTP in Karachi to assist the latter in carrying out its operations alongside criminal syndicates in the city, according to police and media reports from 2011. A splinter group of BLA, the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) has also been suspected of its occasional alliances with the TTP. Activities between the two groups included exchanging weapons, money, and terrorists to carry out attacks in Karachi. What may just be a relationship of convenience may exacerbate Karachi’s increasingly tense ethnic landscape.
Hours later, the province witnessed twin suicide attacks in Quetta, targeting female students on a bus and in Bolan Hospital. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility, and it was revealed following investigations that the first attack was carried out by a female suicide bomber, burkha-clad and pretending to be a student. LeJ and TTP, close tactical and ideological allies, have both used female suicide bombers in Pakistan since the past three years – possibly influenced by the benefits and success rates of female Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Suicide terrorism flowed into Peshawar five days later, which claimed the lives of 15 people.
While events of historic and religious significance unfolded in Balochistan, they over-shadowed unfortunate developments for the health sector of FATA. On 15th June this year, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, TTP commander in North Waziristan, banned anti-polio drives in his region. Ten days later, the Mullah Nazir group followed suit by in South Waziristan. Anti-polio vaccination bans have left over 150,000 children at risk since the summer of 2012.
June in Pakistan further suffered from local and international shame when 16 armed militants killed ten tourists and a local guide at a base camp for Nanga Parbat in Diamer. Tehreek-e-Taliban took responsibility for the attack, claiming its Junood-e-Hafsa faction was set up especially to attack foreigners in retaliation to drone strikes. Gilgit Baltistan, a Shia-majority region of Pakistan, has suffered from sectarianism since the 1970s, when State Subject Rule was abrogated in 1974 and non-locals were encouraged to settle here to shift the sectarian dynamics of this region. Demographic changes in Gilgit Baltistan have increased levels of violence within an otherwise peaceful populace, a condition TTP militants are readily profiting from.
Last year’s June had also witnessed multiple attacks on Shias and Hazara pilgrims. But, like the Nanga Parbat incident this year, the brutality witnessed last year during the same time period, was that of the beheading of seven Pakistani soldiers by the Pakistani Taliban. Another attack which stood out last year bears a timely resemblance to the attack in Lahore this year. Early morning, on 12 July2012, TTP gunmen attacked a police hostel, killing nine policemen and injuring several others, reminiscent of the Lahore academy attack in 2009.
This year Lahore witnessed its first terrorist attack since that on the hostel last year. On 6th July, New Bukhara restaurant in Old Anarkali’s food street in Lahore was busy as usual for a Saturday night when diners were rattled by a planted timed device which claimed 5 lives, including that of a six-year-old girl, Sadia. Although Lahore – and Punjab generally – has witnessed comparatively less terroristic violence over the past decade, the presence of militants within Punjab remains indubitable. Recurring attacks on Ahmedis, Shias, politicians, police and civilians have taken place throughout the years, highlighting the dangers of breeding militancy in the south of the province – an element that has put not only Punjab, but the entire country at risk.
July also saw its first suicide attack in Karachi since that on a Rangers complex in November last year. The attack on Bilal Sheikh, President Zardari’s chief of security, reeks of TTP and Al Qaeda-inspired tactics, inclusive of the suicide vest, reconnaissance consisting of Sheikh’s car and where he is likely to purchase his fruits and the timing of the blast – the eve of Ramzan, a classic preference for those who perceive it to be ‘the month of jihad’. The attack not only emphasises a direct threat to the President, but also underscores how criminal and political turf wars in Karachi are playing into the hands of Tehreek-e-Taliban, who were happy to express their appraisal, if not responsibility, for this attack.
They did, however, accept responsibility for an attack on Sindh High Court Judge Maqbool Baqar, who is serving as a judge in special anti-terrorism courts. Investigations following the attack on Judge Baqar revealed that a network of banned outfits had been threatening the Judge, including TTP, Tehreek-e-Taliban Movement (TTM) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). All are known to have operatives in Karachi.
What is differentiating Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s activities this year from those of last year, is the surge of urban mobility that has been offering new recourses for the umbrella group, with greater opportunities for its militants to liaise with criminal, ethnic and sectarian elements within multiple cities of Pakistan – most notably, Karachi – in attempts of increasing its outreach and, most importantly, a flow of finances for furthering tactical, strategic, and operational activities. This has been demonstrated by the group’s activities over the past few weeks.
Law enforcement agencies in Karachi have been reporting how the never-ending turmoil in Lyari and other ‘no-go’ areas of Karachi have forced settlers (predominantly internally displaced people from Swat and other northern areas) to vacate their premises and relocate with their families to interior Sindh. This mobility has created an ideal space for TTP militants in city who, true to their notoriety for land-grabbing, are finding new bases for operations. What this signifies is the likely increase in militant and criminal activities in several volatile areas of Karachi. Those who challenge the presence of TTP in Karachi would like to be reminded of the arrest of TTP Karachi chapter chief, Ameer Sahab in May this year – one of many militants linked with TTP arrested over the past couple of years.
Not only have TTP expanded their reach within Pakistan it seems their national focus has graduated to international theatres. Reports have indicated that TTP members have pledged their support for rebels in Syria this summer, which can exacerbate the socially and politically constructed sectarian-oriented atrocities being committed in the name of religion. It seems that former foreign fighters and ex-Afghan jihadis have been facilitating the exportation of TTP militants to aide rebels fighting against Assad’s predominantly Shia regime. The potential threat this poses is that militants from the Middle East, especially those affiliated with al Qaeda such as the al-Nusra Front, could return the favour by pledging support to the Pakistani Taliban in its sectarian missions. Needless to say, this will not bode well for the future of Shias in Pakistan.
What the roundup of activities above signifies is that every terrorist incident in Pakistan symbolises different elements. Attacking an anti-terrorism judge in Karachi displays a threat on the judiciary on behalf of the Pakistani Taliban. Retaliatory attacks to drone strikes display intolerance for foreign presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The attacks on Anarkali and Bilal Sheikh bear religious and political significance. Others continue to have sectarian, criminal or economic elements, complicating the dynamics of terrorism in Pakistan further, making any counter-terrorism policy that much more difficult to derive, given the fact that it must, at all costs, be all-inclusive.
It will be interesting to see how the All Parties Conference on terrorism, PML-N’s new counter-terrorism policies, and Abbottabad Commission recommendations influence our national security policymakers. However, as our militant groups continue to transform and evolve, new theatres of terrorism in Pakistan will continue to emerge and this spate of violence may continue undeterred for several years.
Multiple narratives have been offered over the past few months from within political, media and social spheres, regarding negotiating with the enemy – an enemy that has no intention of restraining its brutal inflictions on the citizens of Pakistan; an enemy that shows no signs of weakening (neither numerically, nor in capacity) and no desire of laying down its arms; an enemy that is, basically, a scorned lover no longer interested in talking to us. My apologies if the us versus them discrimination is offensive. It is necessary, nonetheless.
Zoha Waseem is from Karachi and has a post-graduate from King’s College London in Terrorism, Security and Society.