The Pakistani security establishment needs to take a long and hard look to see how many Adnan Rashids are still hiding among its ranks
Two synchronised bomb attacks wreaked havoc in the heart of Parachinar in the Kurram Agency on July 26 as the people prepared for breaking their fast. At least 60 people were killed and some 200 injured, many critically, in one of the deadliest attacks the Shia-dominated hapless Upper Kurram region has seen recently. Local reports suggest that suicide bombers riding motorbikes carried out both the bombings. The Pakistani leaders issued customary condemnations and the general public expressed some sorrow following the incident. But by next day the political leadership was focused on the presidential election and the people were tracking sports scores. The Kurramis were left by themselves to add another 60 to their tally of martyrs now running into the thousands since 2007.
The honourable exception to the general apathy were the Awami National Party leaders Mian Iftikhar Hussain and Arbab Muhammad Tahir, who rushed to the Peshawar hospital where the wounded had been brought. The Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa governor, Mr Shaukatullah Khan who, as the president’s representative, is the constitutional custodian of FATA, has not bothered to visit Parachinar yet. Pakistan’s parliament has convened since death was inflicted on droves in Parachinar but was seized with matters like power generation. An attempt by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s new MNA, Ms Saman Jaffri, to raise the issue through a point of order was completely ignored by her veteran parliamentarian colleagues including the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.
Having received the relief requested for their personal non-obligatory religious rites from the august and highly austere Supreme Court in the presidential elections case, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders have shelved their fiduciary obligation to give the country a comprehensive national security policy formally, including a counter-terrorism strategy. The PML-N has also postponed an all parties’ conference — a frivolity by itself when parliament exists — to develop the elusive consensus against terrorism till the national security policy is drafted. No policy and action is expected till the PML-N leaders complete their pilgrimage to the holy lands, meditation therein, and the after-fasting thanksgiving of Eid upon return.
The Kurramis, on the other hand, will be mourning their dead this Eid day like they have for the last six years on virtually every Eid. They are, however, questioning quite vocally the role of the government security agencies in the attacks. The government security personnel man all roads leading into Parachinar. But according to the natives, the security officials had been quite sloppy in scrutinising people entering the town for several days preceding the attack. On the day of the attack the locals had detected an unusual commotion in the street but apparently the law enforcement agencies did not register that. There are also reports of suspicious-looking individuals asking around for prices of used motorbikes in Parachinar. If the security agencies did not have their guard down it would have been quite difficult for a suicide bomber on a motorbike to enter the cordoned town without raising suspicion. Also, a vigilant intelligence service could have picked up someone harbouring or assisting a suicide bomber if the whole plan was executed from within Parachinar. The locals point out that when they directly held the security of their city for several years, not a single suicide bombing took place there. Once again questions have been raised whether it is collusion or the sheer incompetence of the security agencies that allowed yet more misery to rain down on Kurram.
A previously unknown group, Ansar-ul-Mujahedeen, has claimed the Kurram attacks saying that they avenged the atrocities of the Syrian regime by killing the Shia in Parachinar. The magnitude and operational details of the attack suggest that a more sophisticated terrorist outfit like the Haqqani terrorist network (HQN) planned and ordered the hit. Ansar-ul-Mujahedeen seems to be a veneer for the al Qaeda-affiliated HQN, which has a history of direct involvement in Kurram and sharing suicide-bombing operations with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). ‘Brand sharing’ between the HQN, Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and al Qaeda, and allowing one another to take credit for a particular attack is well known. For all practical purposes al Qaeda in Pakistan speaks Punjabi, Urdu, Pashto and Brahui, not Arabic. The so-called Ibn-ul-Balaad or sons of the soil that al Qaeda sought to create are the second-generation al Qaeda. The jailbreak in Dera Ismail Khan (DIK) earlier this week where the TTP freed over 200 of their cohorts and a similar assault on Bannu jail last year (springing Adnan Rashid among others) are but a page from the al Qaeda manual. The terrorist hydra is very much alive and kicking.
The devastating attack in Kurram and the audacious jailbreak in DIK suggest that the terrorist outfits at minimum have support among the security and law enforcement agencies’ cadres. TTP freeing LeJ terrorists from the DIK prison while assassinating five Shia inmates indicates a remarkable ideological and operational synergy and inside knowledge. The planning and training for such massive operations is not possible without a logistical sanctuary that the HQN continues to provide in its North Waziristan stronghold. Also, while the terrorists appear to have penetrated the security forces, the Pakistani intelligence apparatus has limited inroads into the jihadist underworld. An operation as spectacular and substantial as the DIK jailbreak may have been detected and thwarted by a more proactive intelligence service. The federal, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan governments remain abysmally clueless about death and mayhem in their respective domains. Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Malik Baloch has recently declared that because he is a democrat he believes in negotiating with the LeJ! These ruling parties had half a decade to prepare for this day but continue to cut a sorry deer-in-the-headlights figure. Unless they get their act together soon, whatever national security policy they come up with will remain a sham.
The Pakistani security establishment needs to take a long and hard look to see how many Adnan Rashids are still hiding among its ranks. The man after all was a Pakistan Air Force employee and chose to work with the Taliban and plan an attack on General Pervez Musharraf. The establishment should also consider that they are perhaps the only ones to believe that the HQN is a legitimate contender for the Kabul government. The world at large must realise that working on the demand aspect of the al Qaeda-HQN-TTP brand is also imperative. As long as there are buyers, including states, of the deadly potion the terrorist enterprise sells, it may be difficult to put it out of business and carnage, like in Kurram, inevitable.
Postscript: TTP now says that the mastermind of the DIK jailbreak is Adnan Rashid!
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @mazdaki