Pakistan's United Colours of Terror
It's Pakistan's Fatal Attraction, rapidly reaching that awful scene of the Michael Douglas-Glenn Close film. The thrill of Jihad and the cause of Freedom has worn away like the autumn of an extra-marital affair; the stability of the world's war on terror, a commitment to ending terror camps just seems more like the sensible thing to do but the spurned mistress: aka all the Jehadi groups are now turning on Pakistan with a ferocity that goes far beyond boiled rabbits.
More than ever before, Pakistan is coming to grips with the beast it helped create - as every day brings a fresh attack, a bomb blast, a fidayeen attack in which innocent civilians and army personnel are killed. And amongst people I met this weekend during a conference in Lahore, there's growing realisation that the terror that keeps neighbours India and Afghanistan in its cross-hairs is also today the biggest threat to Pakistan.
"Just as there is no good Taliban or bad Taliban in Afghanistan," said the forthright journalist Imtiaz Alam at the conference for South Asia Women in Media, "So there is no good terrorist and bad terrorist in Pakistan. They are all united".
Last month, the widely read Newsline monthly published a prophetic piece detailing the extent to which the big South Punjabi, anti-India groups raised by the ISI- the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), (now known as the Jamaat ud Dawa); the Lashkar-e-Jhangavi (LeJ) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), were running terror camps that feed the war in Waziristan. Author and Journalist Ayesha Siddiqua put forth the startling facts: that more than 5,000-9,000 Punjabi boys now fight the Pakistani army alongside the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan; that the numbers of men (and women) studying at radicalized madrassas in S.Punjab has grown manifold, from Bahawalpur to Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan, and that the groups that originate here are by far the most educated and ruthlessof all the Jehadi fold.
"Even forces that were once "under control," but motivated by the ideology that drives them on, will not always remain so," concludes Kamila Hayat in an op-ed," Some have already evolved into monsters beyond any central control. In (South) Punjab, police and civilian agencies had been warning for years of the JeM and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the most murderous of the Sunni extremist groups, moving closer to the Taliban."
South Punjab is also the area from which the Mumbai attackers were by and large recruited. According to captured militant Ajmal Kasab - they were all inspired by LeT-JeM chief Hafiz Saeed, and trained in Kashmir. The difference now seems only that they were diverted to a boat in the Arabian Sea, and not to the Rawalpindi GHQ. No wonder then, that as the attack on the military headquarters took place - television channels started drawing parallels to the Mumbai attack. The scale of the attack was nowhere as diabolical as the one that confronted us - but some similarities remained. The first strike came from the gunmen (not a suicide bomber as TTP does normally)- the gunbattle that followed at Gate 1 served as a cover for 4-5 more militants to go further in and take hostages at the security watchtower, and to hold them for 18 hours until the siege ended. Throughout the siege, the operatives spoke to their bosses in Punjabi.
Details are now also pouring in about the commander of the group who was captured before he could detonate his 'suicide jacket'. Dr. Usman aka Aqueel is known to have left the Pakistan Army Medical Corps in 2006 to join the Jaish-e-Mohammed, and later the Harkat Ul Jehad Islami - and was wanted most notably for his role in the Islamabad Marriott bombing. The circle is now complete with Dr. Usman's arrest; evidence, if the Pakistani establishment needed any more that what began as a death by a thousand cuts campaign against India is now drawing more blood on its side of the border, and causing a schism in its ranks.
"There will be others like him throughout the armed forces," says the editorial in The News," As we cannot conceive of him being a solitary example of extremism within the ranks. A judgmental world will be watching us, waiting to see how we respond. Any response that is less than firm and unequivocal is unacceptable."
Tuesday's Dawn editorial calls for even stronger action. "Why must we wait," it asks, "For militants in south Punjab to set fire to that part or other parts of Pakistan before we act against them? And why must we only try and kill or capture the militants that are attacking the state rather than shut down the pipeline that is churning out such elements?"
The pipe-lines are blurring. There is less and less distinction between the Afghan Taliban, or the Pakistan Taliban, the Lashkars of Punjab and Harkats of Kashmir. They're distinguishing less and less between their targets- from the US to India, From Pakistan to Afghanistan, even Sri Lanka. If they can unite in their own diabolical way - so must their victims. For Pakistan it's about waking up and smelling the bitter harvest of its policies,and cracking down on Jehadi motivators like Hafiz Saeed.
For India and Afghanistan, it's about putting many of their reservations aside to enlist Pakistan rather than isolate it outright, before it's engulfed by the rapidly united colours of terror.
More about Suhasini HaidarSuhasini Haidar is Diplomatic Editor, The Hindu. Earlier, she was a senior editor and prime time anchor for India's leading 24-hour English news channel CNN-IBN, and also hosted the signature show, 'World View with Suhasini Haidar'. Over the course of her 17-year career, Suhasini has covered the most challenging stories and conflicts from the most diverse regions including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Libya, Lebanon and Syria. In India, she has covered the external affairs beat for over a decade and her domestic assignments include in-depth reportage from Kashmir. In 2011 she won the Indian Television Academy-GR8! Award for 'Global news coverage',and the Exchange4Media 'Enba' award for best spot news reporting from Libya. In 2010, She won the NewsTelevision NT 'Best TV News Presenter' Award. Suhasini is the only journalist to have interviewed Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his family, a show that won the prestigious Indian Television Academy award as 'Best Chat show' for the year.
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