Categorized | South Asian Politics

WILL PAKISTAN SOON GET RID OF EXTREMISM AND TERRORISM?

Posted on 13 April 2017 by admin

 Dr. Hasan Askari

 Another suicide bombing in Lahore. On April 5, a vehicle carrying the officials conducting national census was targeted by a suicide bomber in the outskirts of the city of Lahore. It killed 7 people, including four from the Army and one from the Air Force off-duty personnel. Twenty-two people were injured and several vehicles parked in the area were damaged. A faction of Tehrik-i-Taliban=i-Pakistan, Jamaatul Ahrar, claimed the responsibility for the attack.

 The main objective of this terrorist attack was not to stop the national census but to demonstrate on the part of the terrorists that they still have the capacity and will to target the people serving the Pakistani state. The terrorists were able to hit the military personnel as well as civilians in one attack. The security of civilian and military offices and buildings in Pakistan has been strengthened, making it difficult to target these sites. But, in this case, the terrorists were able to target civilian and military officials on duty on a road side.

 The roadside where the attack took place was a meeting point of civilian and military officials engaged in national census. They would come to this place and, from there, they would go to nearby villages in different directions for undertaking census. It seems that the terrorists monitored this routine and then decided to target the census team whose security was not tight.

 The Punjab government sources claimed that the suicide bomber came from Afghanistan where the Pakistani Taliban are based. Even if we accept this accept this claim, a well-trained bomber from Afghanistan cannot undertake such an action without local connections and support. It has been learnt from such suicide bombing incidents that the concerned person reaches the targeted city and houses himself with the local connection of the organization who guides him to the target spot which is monitored for some days and then the suicide attack is conducted.

 Despite the terrorist incident, the general consensus in the country is that the terrorist incidents have declined over the last two years. The “Zarbi-Azb” security operation in North Waziristan and other tribal areas have weakened the Pakistani Taliban and other terrorists groups and factions. They no longer have exclusive areas to maintain their safe-bases for housing them, keeping the stockpile of weapons and for imparting training. Most of them have moved to Afghanistan or they are hiding in mainland Pakistan.

 Two interlinked action plans have been designed by civilian and military security authorities to cope with the left-over of terrorism. These are: Twenty-point National Action Plan, most of which is being implemented through the civilian federal and provincial governments and political and societal leaders. The other operation is “Raad-ul-Fasad,” meant to seek-out the extremists and terrorists hiding in the cities as well as to find out and dismantle their local support-bases and networks located in the cities and town. Who are the people, religious institutions and groups that provide them local hide-out or provide them money? Most of these groups and networks are said to be operating under cover of religious and societal and welfare organizations. The challenge for the state is how to distinguish between the genuine religious and charity groups and those using these titles for covering their negative and violent activities?

 The Army, the paramilitary forces and provincial governments are engaged in breaking the terrorist networks in the cities and towns. The government agencies like the Police, intelligence agencies and specialized police as well as the paramilitary forces and military intelligence agencies are working towards implementing the agendas of the National Action Plan and the “Raad-ul-Fasad”. However, the requisite political support is weak. The political parties and leaders, including Islamic political parties, and societal groups are not very active in mobilizing popular support against religious and cultural extremism and terrorism.

 The political leaders and political parties as well as the leaders of the society do condemn terrorism and describe it as being contrary to the principles and teachings of Islam. However, they avoid condemning any specific group that engages in violence and practices religious sectarianism. A number of them do not blame the Taliban but some unnamed foreign powers for funding some elements in the garb of the Taliban to engage in violence to malign Islam. The groups sharing religious-sectarian doctrines with the Taliban and such groups are hesitant to blame the Taliban or religious hardliners, including sectarian groups, for the current extremism and terrorism.

 The major problem is in the province of Punjab where the sectarian groups as well as the Kashmir focused groups are based. The Punjab government is conducting its own security operation which is limited in scope. It is not willing to give an independent role to the Army and the Rangers to conduct security operations in the Punjab in an autonomous manner. The PMLN government in the Punjab feels that its monopoly of power in the province will be threatened if the Rangers function as independently as they operate in Karachi. Further, the PMLN leadership is not inclined to openly campaign against the sectarian groups or known religious hardline groups for the fear of losing votes to Tehrik-i-Insaf and the Jamaat-i-Islami. The overall orientations of Punjab is conservative and the Political Right to Islamist. It is in this segment of population that the Taliban and other hardline and sectarian groups have the support. The PMLN cannot afford to engage in sustained campaign against militancy and religious extremism except in very general terms for the fear of losing votes. This phenomenon will become stronger as the general elections come close.

 The current efforts by the military and civilian governments, especially the security operations by the Army/paramilitary, will keep extremism and terrorism under check but these challenges are not expected to disappear completely from Pakistani society in the near future. The political considerations of many political parties and religious orientation of a good number of people softens their attitutude towards the groups pursuing hardline and narrow agendas.

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