There are no ‘good’ militants

Supporters and apologists of Taliban and Al Qaeda (Dr Shahid Masood, Ansar Abbasi, Hamid Mir, Irfan Siddiqi, Orya Maqbool Jan as well as Imran Khan and Munawar Hasan) must read this column.

By Zaffar Abbas
Sunday, 11 Oct, 2009 (Dawn)
Alleged Pakistani militants arrested by security forces present before the media in tribal region of Khyber in northwest Pakistan. – AP (File Photo)

ISLAMABAD: The band of armed terrorists that made its way through the outer security ring of the GHQ complex knew they will not be able to come out alive from the heavily guarded military headquarters. Yet they were not suicide bombers. Neither were they wearing suicide jackets nor was the vehicle they were travelling in packed with explosives.

Caught in a highly tricky hostage situation, the security agencies may take a while in revealing the identities of the attackers or the group they belonged to. But one thing is clear: these were no ‘misguided youngsters’ indoctrinated by fanatics to carry out suicide attacks.

They were highly trained terrorists who excelled in the art of making an impact through their armed attack on a chosen target.

If there are similarities they are with last year’s attacks on the police training centre at Manawa, near Lahore, and the attempt to take Sri Lankan cricketers hostage in the Punjab capital.

In both those incidents, groups of highly trained and motivated armed men launched attacks with a view to inflicting heavy damage, take a few hostages, and either die while attempting to do so or escape.

Compared with the ‘suicide attack’ in Pakistani ‘jihadi’ parlance, such terror operations are often referred to as ‘fidayeen attacks’. The description is often reflective of differences in religious beliefs.

A couple of extremist groups believe ‘suicide bombing’ was not as holy as the ‘fidayeen attack’ since in the latter case, the person instead of blowing himself up dies while fighting his adversary.

These two strands of Islamic militant movement had become quite obvious at the height of the armed insurgency in Indian-held Kashmir.

It is also a preferred method amongst a couple of sectarian militant groups or those involved in Afghanistan, although they also use suicide bombing as one of the tactics against their opponents.

Some of the Pakistan-based pro-Kashmir groups, after being banned or declared terrorist organisations in the post-9/11 scenario, instead of completely winding up their operations or disbanding, either split up or turned against the Pakistani government and the security establishment.

Since then a series of terrorist attacks away from the border region and within Pakistan were the work of these enraged but highly trained militants.

These terror strikes also included a series of organised attacks against the then president and the army chief General Pervez Musharraf, who was accused by the religious extremists of being the main obstacle in the way of what many militants believed was a ‘jihad’.

During this period such splinter factions also started regrouping, re-align and reorganise, mainly by finding refuge in places like Waziristan and Malakand. Some parts of southern Punjab also emerged as sanctuaries of such militants and a new nexus was created between Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and tribal militants in the form of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and the so-called Punjabi Taliban.

It was also during this period when one started to hear names of all kinds of groups from Harkatul Mujhaideen al-Alami during 2002 and 2003 to groups like Jamia Hafsa Brigade in the Malakand region. And if a claim made by one of the callers to a private channel holds any weight, a new group calling itself Tehrik-i-Taliban (Amjad Farooqui group) was behind the latest attack. Farooqui was the mastermind of one of the major attacks on Gen Musharraf in Dec 2003 and was later killed in a bloody clash with security forces in Nawabshah.

Factions of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Jaish-i-Mohammed have also joined ranks with the Waziristan-based TTP, mainly to use their territory to carry out attacks within Pakistan. They are also the groups who have within them a large number of people who have come to be known as the ‘Punjabi Taliban’, and have direct links with militants in various parts of the country, stretching from Islamabad to Karachi.

Many of them are highly trained former ‘jihadis’ from the conflict zones of Kashmir and Afghanistan, often preferring to fight it out rather then blowing themselves up in suicide attacks.

A few cells of such ‘fidayeen’ groups were busted by the military and civilian intelligence agencies in recent weeks in Rawalpindi and Islamabad. But it seems there are still a few active or sleeper cells, determined to carry out attacks at an opportune moment.

Perhaps the attack on the GHQ may prove to be a watershed that compels the security and civilian establishment, as well as most of the opposition groups, to realise that the time to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ religious militants or Taliban was over, and a consensus was needed to confront all such groups as enemies of the state.