Can there be an end to this war? — by Daud Khattak
Friday’s attack on a convoy of army soldiers in North Waziristan and the fresh wave of violence in parts of the newly-renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa signifies that armed Taliban are still as powerful as they were before the launch of the much-hyped military operations in Malakand in early 2009 and in Waziristan late last year.
Besides the spate of suicide and other bomb attacks, the militants have accelerated their school destruction spree with full impunity in Mohmand, one of the seven tribal agencies located just north of Peshawar; in Khyber, another tribal agency encircling the city of Peshawar on the southeast and east; and even in Peshawar city.
The surge in attacks, suicide bombings, targeted killing and destruction of educational institutions with terrorisation of schoolchildren and their parents are continuing despite claims regarding the success of the military operations in Swat and Waziristan.
It is quite unfortunate and, to a larger extent, distressing that instead of wiping out the armed-to-the-teeth Taliban in Swat, Waziristan, Bajaur or other red zones of the country, the military operations seem to have reinvigorated some old groups in recent months, adding to the list of terrorist outfits operating in the name of lashkars, jaishes, etc.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami, believed to be the same anti-Shia offshoot of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi banned a few years ago, is the one that claimed the bombing at a hospital in Quetta on April 16. The bomb attack was carried out while members of the Shia sect came to the hospital with the body of a bank manager, also a Shia, shot dead by unidentified armed men.
The same group claimed responsibility for the back-to-back suicide attacks in Kacha Pakha area of Kohat, where, according to eyewitnesses, two burqa-clad bombers mowed down 41 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had gathered in front of the UN offices to collect free of cost food items on April 17.
The tactics used in the blasts were the same as in Quetta. The first explosion killed and injured only a few persons, said Khalid Omarzai, Commissioner of Kohat Division, but there was another, more powerful explosion when people came to help remove the bodies and shift the injured to hospital. The aim was to inflict as many casualties as possible and at the same time, to convey a message loud and clear both to the government and members of the rival sect that the group and its volunteers are powerful enough to target them anywhere.
A similar attack was carried out in Karachi in February this year where a bus carrying Shia Muslims was targeted first and when the dead and injured were rushed to hospital, another explosion took place there, wreaking more havoc. The latest was the suicide attack in Qissa Khwani Bazaar of Peshawar where a police officer, belonging to the Shia sect, was targeted, but 22 more people, mostly workers of a religious party — Jamaat-e-Islami — were killed and over 40 injured on April 19.
Leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami, believed to be pro-Taliban, quickly declared that their rally was not the target of the suicide attack to avoid the ill feelings among its workers against the attackers and to avoid a row with the perpetrators of the attack. The party rarely condemns suicide attacks or other incidents of violence, arguing that what is happening in the country is a reaction to the ‘wrong policies’ pursued by the government of Pakistan and hence ‘justified’.
The same day (April 19), a time device was exploded in front of the well-known Police Public School, killing a five-year-old student and injuring seven others, thus inculcating fear among the students and their parents. Earlier, on April 13, an ex-nazim was shot dead along with another person in broad daylight by armed men in Mingora, the commercial town of Swat, where the security forces and police are patrolling day and night, while a deadly suicide attack at a political rally killed 53 people in Timergara, the main town in Lower Dir district on April 5.
All these gory incidents happened despite claims of successful operations against the Taliban and other terrorists by the government functionaries and security officials, but the occurrences are evidence of the fact that the Taliban are still there, and as heady as they were before the military operations in Swat and Waziristan.
Secondly, the fresh attacks by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami, which is a predominantly Punjab-based organisation with most of its leadership from Punjab, against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is led by Pashtuns in the tribal belt, is another alarming factor in the prevailing situation in the country. While the security forces, after capturing territory from the TTP in Swat, Waziristan and Bajaur, are struggling against the militants in Orakzai and parts of Khyber Agencies, the re-emergence of sectarian violence, more powerful than the past, is going to affect the gains achieved by the security forces at the very least, if not totally reverse the process.
It is said and believed that militants moved from Swat to Bajaur and Mohmand and from Waziristan to Orakzai and Khyber following the military operations and thus they are targeting the cities to put pressure on the government. But one simple question that arises here is: what use is all the air power being employed against them when they can move en masse from one area to another and set up their bases so quickly to orchestrate coordinated attacks against targets at their will?
If the Taliban can move from one area to another so easily, then it is possible that Peshawar will be the next battleground, following the intensification of the ongoing military operation in Orakzai and then in Khyber and Mohmand, as this northern city is encircled by the tribal or semi-tribal areas on three sides.
And the final question is that if the militants remained on the move with their weaponry, command and control, and plans of fighting intact, then this anti-terror war is not going to come to an end in the foreseeable future. Thus, more violence and more bloodshed and the war-weary people would continue to ask: can there be an end to this war?
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org