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Terror galore

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Pakistan has faced numerous terrorist attacks in the past but the current wave of terrorism has turned this week to be the bloodiest in the country’s history so far. The last five days have seen ten attacks targeting all the four provinces.

Bloodbath at Sehwan, Sindh, on Thursday peaked the series of attacks when a suicide bomber hit the Sufi shrine of Laal Shahbaz Qalandar during rituals performed by the devotees. The terrorist wave started with an attack on a DSNG van of Samma TV in Karachi on Sunday killing a media worker. It was followed by a suicide attack in Lahore the next day that left 13 people dead. On the same day a Bomb Disposal Squad commander and a policeman were killed in Quetta while they were defusing a bomb planted by terrorists. Two security personnel were killed as their vehicle hit a land mine in South Waziristan. On Wednesday four suicide bombers blew themselves up in Peshawar, Momand Agency and Charssada. Their target was security forces and judicial officers. Three soldiers were killed in Awaran district of Balochistan on Thursday followed by an attack on police in Dera Ismail Khan. TTP claimed responsibility for some of the aforementioned attacks. The so-called Islamic State (IS) accepted its role in planning and carrying out suicide attack in Sehwan. Choice of time and places for terrorist attacks during the current wave reveals a sophisticated and coordinated plan behind the terror campaign.

In a knee jerk reaction Pakistan closed its border with Afghanistan late Thursday evening giving little thought to the fact that such an arbitrary closing of borders violates the Afghan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement. It is also important to note that closing six or eight crossing points at a border with hundreds of other unfrequented routes wouldn’t have any practical impact on the cross border movement of terrorists. Apart from this senior Afghan diplomat was summoned to GHQ for receiving a list of 76 terrorists hiding in Afghanistan who are involved in subversive activities in Pakistan. By initiating these significant foreign policy moves without even the fig leaf of some high level meeting, the GHQ has left no doubt about the fact that it is in the driving seat. But what is new about closing the borders or handing over the list of fugitives to the Afghan government? This has happened in the past without any result. Afghans have also been handing over longer lists of Taliban based in Pakistan. In fact the issue became a source of real  embarrassment when sometime back Mr. Sartaj Aziz formally confirmed the presence of Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan for many years. Even a press report on Thursday quoted the Foreign Secretary Mr. Aizaz  Chaudhry saying that Taliban entered Pakistan as immigrants on condition they would disavow militancy. Who entered in the aforementioned agreement with Taliban? I am sure Pakistani Parliament doesn’t know anything about it.

Anyhow, the statement of the Foreign Secretary brings us to the heart of the problem, to the Taliban project. The official narrative in Pakistan goes into great details to underline differences between the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. But basically both of them belong the same movement and ideology. They take oath of allegiance to the same leader (to the Amir of the Afghan Taliban). Both have been systematically coordinating with Al Qaeda and other international terror networks. That’s why they have been reinforcing one another by division of work. For example, the TTP hold areas in FATA that were to be used by the Afghan Taliban for their activities across the Durand Line. A good number of TTP cadres have been fighting along side Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan. It is true that some elements in TTP have been regularly used by hostile foreign intelligence agencies against Pakistan from their bases inside Afghanistan, but the Afghan Taliban have always refrained from acting against TTP as an entity. One wonders why Pakistani authorities aren’t giving the lists of TTP fugitives to Afghan Taliban who have significant presence in the areas where these miscreants are based. Pakistani media gives wide coverage to Taliban “victories” in Afghanistan but never raises questions about nexus of Taliban on both sides of the Durand Line.

A number of Pakistani political leaders and analysts have been criticising the official policy of “good and bad” Taliban and the non-implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) but there is no visible change in government policy. The Supreme Court’s Quetta Inquiry Commission Report issued in December last year was full of scathing criticism of government’s failure in tackling terrorism. Instead of taking corrective measures the government deemed it fit to totally brush aside the report. Proscribed organisations are publicly carrying out their activities under new names. Holy war or Jihad in Islam is a state institution but private Jihad hasn’t been criminalised so far. Under these circumstances the atmosphere remains conducive for spreading extremist militancy, with or without foreign support.

There are two critical aspects of the current wave of terrorism in Pakistan that find no mention in our media or official analysis. First is the expansion of the so called IS in the region at a time when it’s losing ground in the Middle East. Media reports appear from time to time about the presence of the so called IS in eastern Afghanistan. The fighting of Taliban is creating swaths of territory uncontrolled by the Afghan state. But what is not mentioned in these media reports is the fact that most of the fighters under its black flag are Pakistani citizens. So the ideology, cadres and resources flow from Pakistan to the stateless territory in Afghanistan. This process of expansion of the so-called IS is not dissimilar to the growth of Al Qaeda in the 1990s. It will definitely attract international intervention if it is not checked by local players soon. The second significant aspect of the current wave of terrorism is its negative fallout on Pak-Afghan relations. Efforts have been underway for restarting the political engagement between Pakistan and Afghanistan for arresting tensions in their relations before the so called summer offensive of the Taliban. Terrorists aim at derailing any possible political engagement between the two countries.

PM Nawaz Sharif must move swiftly to muster collective wisdom and energy for effectively meeting the current national security challenge.

Afrasiab Khattak is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs