Pakistan is gripped by civil war although the ruling elites are loathed to admit this. They believe that if they hide in their massive villas protected by concrete barriers and guarded by a phalanx of police and army detachments, they would be safe from the mayhem outside but as the daring attack on the military’s General Head Quarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi on October 10 and on the Air Force Aeronautical Complex in Kamra on October 23 showed, nothing and nobody is safe in Pakistan. On October 22, brigadier Moinuddin Ahmed and his driver were shot dead in Islamabad’s residential district. When the citadel of power, the GHQ, from where a long line of Mercedes rolls out every afternoon carrying Pakistan’s top generals, is targeted in such a brazen manner, where else can the elites hide?
The string of daring attacks that started on October 5 has left about 200 people dead in different parts of Pakistan. Following the October 20 bomb blasts at the International Islamic University in Islamabad in which eight persons, most of them students, were killed the government closed all schools and universities throughout the country. The university attacks were preceded by attacks on police and military installations the most audacious of which were the assaults on the GHQ and the Kamra Aeronautical Complex launched in broad daylight.
Six Pakistani soldiers, among them a brigadier and a lieutenant colonel, were killed when militants disguised in army uniforms stormed the entrance to the GHQ. They opened fire when stopped and asked to show their identity cards. In the shooting that followed, a number of attackers were also killed but they managed to penetrate the GHQ and were able to take scores of hostages. After two days of fighting, the hostages were released but not before leaving 25 dead.
The attack on the GHQ occurred as part of a string of attacks that the militants had threatened in retaliation for the military’s anticipated assault on South Waziristan, stronghold of the militants that are commonly referred to as the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The military launched its assault on South Waziristan on October 17 with 28,000 troops backed by F-16 planes and attack helicopters. Tens of thousands of civilians fleeing the area said the military was bombing houses, mosques and madrassas. The Pakistani military incursion was launched under US pressure to deal with the militants; but the US nonetheless chose to remove several check posts on the Afghan side of the border. Pakistani officials were necessarily confused and dismayed. This would not only facilitate movement of indigenous Taliban and their supporters across the border, it would also allow Afghan Taliban to move into Pakistan in support of their fellow fighters. What prompted the US to make this move when it has been breathing down the Pakistanis’ neck to attack and eliminate the Pakistani Taliban and their foreign backers? The US is clearly playing a double game and its intentions are highly suspect.
The militants’ attacks can only be described as audacious. They started with an attack on the UN offices in Islamabad on October 5. This was followed on October 9 by a deadly bomb blast in the crowded Khyber Bazaar in Peshawar that resulted in 52 deaths and more than 100 injured. On October 12, there was a massive bomb attack on a military convoy in Shangla, near the Karakorum Highway that links Pakistan with China. Again, the casualties were high; 25 military personnel as well as scores of civilians were killed. Three days later, the militants carried out even more spectacular attacks; three in a single day: two in Lahore and one in Kohat. In Lahore the Federal Investiga-tive Agency (FIA), an internal intelligence agency, as well as the Manawan Police Academy were targeted. In Kohat an explosive laden van slammed into a police station. The coordinated attacks left 28 people dead. On October 16, two police stations in Peshawar were attacked resulting in 11 deaths and three days later two suicide bombers attacked the Islamic University in Islamabad killing eight.
The mode of attacks followed a now-familiar pattern: militants disguised in military or security personnel uniforms gaining access to various localities to carry out operations. For instance, a person dressed in security personnel uniform had walked into the UN office and asked to use the bathroom. Once inside, he exploded his bomb killing five people. The TTP had warned the UN to shut its office and leave, or face the consequences. There is a pattern to such attacks and abductions of people working for Western-financed non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Most Pakistanis view them as the thin edge of the wedge to penetrate Pakistani society by working through civilians. In many instances, these NGOs act as spies for their Western paymasters, often without realizing they are being used. Like the elites, many of their children are also infatuated by Western culture and act as willing tools to ingratiate themselves to their masters. While most Pakistanis are aware of this, they appear helpless. The militants have taken up the challenge because they are being targeted by the military at the behest of the US. The militants view the NGOs as instruments of Western policy and since they believe they are involved in a full-scale war, the NGOs are also considered legitimate targets.
Following the GHQ attack, that caused a huge embarrassment to the military, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Reh-man Malik, announced that there would be swift retaliation and the planned military operation in South Waziristan would be launched soon. Prior to the spate of attacks in early October, Hakimullah Mehsud, new leader of the Pakistani Taliban, had threatened massive attacks and warned against attacking South Waziristan. He had also called on the Pakistani establishment to desist from following the US agenda by attacking civilians in the country.
Hakimullah Mehsud succeeded Baitullah Mehsud who was killed in a US drone attack in August. The two are not related; their last names derive from the Mehsud tribe to which they belong. Hakimullah is even more hot-headed than his predecessor who was killed, allegedly following a tip off from his first father-in-law. Baitullah had two wives and at the time of his death, he was with his second wife getting insulin to control his diabetes.
The security situation in Pakistan is rapidly spinning out of control. The military has been forced to launch attacks in different parts of the country under US pressure. Such attacks lead to resentment among people that lose their loved ones. The insurrections in areas that were previously relatively safe are a direct result of this policy. For instance, the operation in Swat launched at the end of April displaced more than three million people. While no Taliban leader of any stature has been killed, the number of civilian casualties was very high. There have also been accusations that the military executed many young men in Swat based purely on their looks: people with beards dressed in the manner of the Taliban. Such dress is common to the people of the region. Their bodies were dumped in the streets as a warning to others. Such behavior can hardly endear the military to people.
Without solving the security problem in Swat, the military’s assault on South Waziristan has further exacerbated the situation and complicated life even more. Between 2004 and 2006, the military had launched three massive operations in Waziristan –” North and South –” at the behest of the US and killed thousands of civilians but ultimately, it had to strike a peace deal with the tribal fighters. The young charismatic tribal leader at the time, Naik Muhammad, was then killed in a missile strike. Such betrayal angered the Mehsud tribe even more; it has since battled the military. On numerous occasions, militants have captured hundreds of government troops, especially the border militia whose members belong to the same tribes as the militants. Instead of fighting, border militia personnel often surrender en masse, much to the embarrassment of the military top brass.
Aware of these weaknesses, the military is now using troops from Punjab and other provinces. In other words, the military has resorted to the ethnic card, a dangerous gambit that can only exacerbate divisions in the country. The military is one institution that had hitherto operated largely above such considerations. If it uses such tactics, this will create a major breach in military ranks and will have far reaching consequences for the future of the country.
Instead of standing up to the Americans and saying enough is enough and that Pakistan should not be fighting America’s dirty war by killing its own people, the ruling elites –” civilian and military –” are acting as tools of US imperialism. The elites may not realize this but the overwhelming majority of people in Pakistan see them as agents of the enemies of Islam hence they consider them to be legitimate targets. No amount of patriotic jingoism can hide this fact, even if it means attacking the GHQ, considered a “sacred” cow in Pakistani mythology.
There is no justification for the militants’ attacks on civilians but how this situation is handled is important. If the present iron-fist approach has not worked –” and it has not –” then alternatives must be explored. Pursuing a policy that has not produced results in not only foolish it is also dangerous. Killing one’s own people is no way to win hearts and minds even if it earns some bakhshish from Uncle Sam. This is poisoned money that Pakistan can well do without. But who will convince the greedy elites of Pakistan whose god is America and who only worship the dollar?