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Punjab: Simmering Cauldron

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By Ambreen Agha
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

“If you want to destabilize Pakistan," an unnamed senior Police Officer
in the Province notes, "you have to destabilize Punjab." That, precisely,
is the intention of an accelerating and expanding campaign of Islamist
extremist terrorism in Pakistan, linked intimately to the Taliban – al Qaeda complex, and to the growing movement of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has turned renegade against its original sponsors and handlers in the Pakistan establishment and Army.

Tempest of Terror, August 2009

On March 3, 2014, at least 11 persons, including Additional District and Sessions Judge Rafaqat Awan and a woman lawyer, were killed, and another 25 were injured, when terrorists carried out a suicide attack at the courthouse complex located in the F-8 area of Islamabad. According to reports, the terrorists entered the complex and opened fire indiscriminately at everyone, hurled hand grenades and later exploded their suicide vests.

The TTP ‘spokesman’ Shahidullah Shahid, distancing his outfit from the attack, clarified, “We have already declared a ceasefire and we strictly adhere to our deal with the Government. Our colleagues in the organisation also cannot violate this agreement”. On declaring an ‘unconditional’ ceasefire, on March 2, 2014, Shahid had stated, “Following a positive response from the Government, an appeal from religious scholars, in honour of the representative committee and in the greater interest of Islam and Pakistan, we have decided not to carry out any activities for one month... We hope that the Government will take our ceasefire announcement seriously and will work to move forward in a positive way while keeping the peace process away from all types of politics.” The Nawaz Sharif Government and TTP resumed negotiations in the second phase of talks on March 5, 2014.

Meanwhile, ‘spokesman’ of the Ahrar-ul-Hind (AH), a TTP splinter group, claiming responsibility for the attack, declared that the judicial system in the country was ‘un-Islamic’ and that they would continue their ‘struggle’ till Sharia’h law was enforced. Further, while dispelling any confusion over its alleged links with the TTP, he said, "We are an independent group and have no links with TTP. We were a part of TTP earlier but now we operate independently.” 

Earlier, on February 7, 2014, five officials were injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up during a search operation jointly launched by Police and Intelligence Agencies in the Khanewal District of Punjab Province. 

Prior to this, on January 20, 2014, a TTP suicide bomber killed 13 persons, including eight soldiers and three children, and wounded another 29, when he blew himself up at Royal Artillery Bazaar, close to the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi District. Claiming responsibility for the attack, TTP 'spokesman' Shahidullah Shahid announced, "It [the attack] was carried out by one of our suicide bombers to take revenge for the Red Mosque massacre. We will continue our struggle against the secular system." The Pakistani Army had conducted operations at Red Mosque in 2007.

These incidents are not in isolation. The first two months and seven days of the current year have already recorded 39 fatalities, including 23 civilians, nine Security Force (SF) personnel and seven terrorists, in nine incidents of killing, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP).

In 2013, a total of 81 persons, including 64 civilians, seven SF personnel and 10 terrorists were killed in total 20 separate terrorism related incidents of killing, as compared to 104 persons killed in 19 such incidents in 2012, registering a decline of 22.11 percent in fatalities.

Fatalities in Punjab: 2005-2014

Years

Civilians

SFs

Militants

Total

2005

35

0

1

36

2006

6

0

1

7

2007

96

47

14

157

2008

298

40

14

352

2009

254

117

51

422

2010

272

28

16

316

2011

110

19

8

137

2012

59

29

16

104

2013

64

7

10

81

2014

23

9

7

39

Total*

1217

296

138

1651

 Source: SATP, *Data till March 9, 2014

 

The decline registered in overall fatalities is mainly due to the SFs' reluctance to counter the terrorists’ threat. Indeed, as compared to 2012, the year 2013 witnessed a decline of 75.86 and 37.5 per cent in fatalities among SFs and terrorists, respectively. Perhaps emboldened by the evident operational paralysis among the state's security agencies, terrorists killed a slightly higher number of civilians in 2013, as against the previous year.  

Other parameters of violence have varied widely. Out of 20 incidents of killing in 2013, seven were major incidents (involving three or more killings) resulting in 40 deaths, as compared to five major incidents in 2012 that accounted for 76 deaths. While the Province recorded only one suicide attack in 2013, same as in 2012, the resultant fatalities stood at five and 11 respectively.  At least five bomb blasts occurred in 2013, which claimed 14 lives and left 73 injured. In 2012, the number of bomb blasts stood at 10 with 51 fatalities. Incidents of sectarian violence, however, increased considerably from four in 2012 to 13 in 2013. The resultant fatalities, though, remained almost the same: 42 in 2013 as against 43 in 2012.

The possibility of escalation of violence cannot be ruled out as a result of the considerable and increasing presence of at least 57 extremist and terrorist outfits in Punjab alone Out of the 57 extremist organisations found in Punjab, at least 28 homegrown outfits exist in the provincial capital, Lahore, making it the most violent among the 36 Districts of the Province, followed by Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Significantly, Lahore has witnessed a total of 563 fatalities since 2005, according to partial data compiled by SATP, compared to 225 in Rawalpindi and 222 in Islamabad, in the same period. However, in 2013 Rawalpindi recorded the maximum fatalities, 26 in nine incidents of killing, followed by Lahore, with 14 in seven terrorism incidents.


click to enlarge

The Province is also home to various foreign terrorists, including the Afghan Taliban and Uzbek terrorists. Talibanisation is, consequently, no longer a local affair, and manifests a dual strategy of both importing foreign radicals into the Province and exporting radical Islamism. Significantly, on December 15, 2012, suicide bombers of the TTP in collusion with foreign terrorists of Dagestani and Uzbek origin, attacked the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) base inside the Bacha Khan International Airport of Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. On December 18, 2012, the then Federal Minister of Education Sheikh Waqas Akram disclosed in the National Assembly, that banned terrorist outfits in Punjab had contacts with Uzbek terrorists, who charged USD 40,000 for carrying out terrorist attacks within Pakistan.

Punjab has also proved to be a major ideological sanctuary and recruitment base for terrorists, as well as a source for the export of the terrorist theology and activities beyond borders. A September 7, 2013, media report quoting analyst Mansur Mehsud, who runs the FATA Research Institute (FRI), stated that terrorists based in Punjab Province were being trained for an ethnicity-based civil war in neighboring Afghanistan after the withdrawal of foreign forces in 2014. Mehsud explains:

Before, they [terrorists in Punjab] were keeping a low profile. But just in the last two or three years, hundreds have been coming from Punjab. Everyone knows that when NATO and the American troops leave Afghanistan there will be fighting between Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns.

Indeed, in a media interview in 2013, a senior Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) member, who goes by the pseudonym Ahmed Zia Siddiqui, declared, "We will go to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban as we have done in the past." When asked whether the Punjab-based terrorists were preparing for war in Afghanistan after the foreign withdrawal, he replied, "Absolutely."

In one of his bizarre claims, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) founder and Jama’at-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, while addressing a gathering at Markaz-e-Khyber in the Nishatabad area of Faisalabad District on February 23, 2014, alleged that America, India and their allies were trying their best to ‘crush’ Pakistan from the East and West, and that India was supporting terrorism in Pakistan. Significantly, these gatherings and pronouncements fuel the jihad culture of Punjab, radicalizing madrassa educated youth, face of future religious extremism. In the last two years, Saeed has organised and led five grand rallies, three in 2013 and two in 2012, with the sole purpose of disseminating hatred and sowing the seeds of extreme orthodoxy. Appearing openly at a rally in Islamabad on September 6, 2013, he denounced India as a 'terrorist state', while more than 10,000 of his supporters chanted slogans of "holy war" against India and 'War will continue until the liberation of Kashmir’. Further, he told a frenzied crowd, "The United States and India are very angry with us. This means God is happy with us." Unsurprisingly, former ISI chief Hamid Gul added during the rally, "They should know there are a lot of people here who are waiting for the conquest of India. It will be our privilege to take part in this war."

Punjab is experiencing a tsunami of extremist forces. Significantly, apart from the principal TTP organization, separate local wings of the outfit, such as the TTP-Tariq Karwan Group in Mianwali District in the North of Punjab and the Fidayeen-e-Islami wing of TTP in Lahore District in the East, thrive, and have the potential to multiply further, swelling the radical Islamist wave in the Province. The ideological heads of these extremist formations move around openly with impunity and ease across the Province, including Provincial Capital Lahore and Federal Capital Islamabad. Saeed once audaciously declared, “I move about like an ordinary person - that is my style.” Saeed has also expressed appreciation of the ‘security’ offered to him, declaring, on January 1, 2012:

Pakistan is unmatched in terms of the freedom it allows for the pursuit of jihad and for the spread of Islam. No other territory in the world matched Pakistan and it was a great blessing from Allah... Non-Muslims were conspiring against Pakistan both internally and externally.

With no one to hold them to account, these radicalized forces find fertile grounds in Punjab, creating an escalating threat of destabilizing across the entire region. With little realistic expectations from the peace talks, several of the Army's self-created terrorist proxies have turned against their masters. Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe that a substantially collusive and compromised civilian Government will do anything more than the military establishment to eliminate Islamist extremist formations that have, for decades, been harnessed against Pakistan's perceived external enemies, even if some of these terrorist groupings have turned renegade against their erstwhile sponsors.

[Source: SATP]

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