A threat to state and society
There were more actual and busted violent incidents during the first ten days of the month of Muharram than was the case last year. The responsibility for some of these incidents was taken by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that has a narrow hardline sectarian view of Islam and believes in using violence on that basis against people and Pakistani state.
The federal interior ministry imposed a ban on the use of motorcycles in Karachi. However, the Chief Justice of Sindh High Court removed this restriction. Within days of this ruling, the bombing incidents in Karachi and Rawalpindi involved the use of motorcycles, proving that the concern of the federal interior ministry was not misplaced.
A number of political and societal leaders were more vocal in criticising the failure of the government agencies to provide security rather than condemning sectarian and extremist groups that resorted to violence. Such a partisan approach encourages extremist and hardline Islamic groups who think that they can get away with their violent methods because some sections of the population either support them or stay quiet on their activities.
There have been two significant developments so far as terrorism and violence in Pakistan is concerned. First, the TTP has been able to spread out in the urban centres, increasing its capacity to challenge the authority of the Pakistani state. Second, the TTP has secured this access to urban centres by networking with local militant and sectarian groups. In Karachi, there appears to be a direct TTP presence in addition to networking with local groups. Elsewhere, the access is through improved and active ties with local militants. This pattern is strong in the Punjab where the sectarian and militant groups and their breakaway entities have cultivated links with the TTP. The local groups get the advantage of training some of their hardcore in the tribal areas as well as taking refuge there when the Pakistani state authorities pursue them. The TTP personnel, if and when they visit mainland Pakistan, stay with local militant groups and their affiliated madrassas or mosques.
The suicide and other bombers involved in the incidents in the Punjab do not necessarily hail from the tribal areas. Most of them are now Punjabis associated with local militant and sectarian groups. This means that militant networks have become more widespread and seeped into the society in the mainland.
Local militant and sectarian groups in the Punjab get donations from the people partly on voluntarily basis and partly because such donations save people from the wrath of these groups. In Karachi, collection of funds is both voluntary and per force. The collection of “bhatta” has become a profession there because a lot of criminal elements engage in this practice but they are not known to have any links with Islamic groups. Some hardcore political and religious workers also use threat of coercion to extract funds. Kidnapping is another method for fund raising by criminal elements.
If we put the Muharram incidents aside, there are less bomb explosions now than was the case three years ago. Now, some suicide bombers are arrested by the security agencies. This helps to understand why and how young boys become suicide bombers. These are positive developments so far as controlling terrorism is concerned.
However, the menace of terrorism is not fully under control. In Karachi, several factors like religious extremism, ethnic conflict, land grabbing, hired criminals and organised criminal gangs, engage in violence. Further, as law and order situation deteriorates, many adventurists start engaging in extortion and other criminal activity.
Balochistan is adversely affected by sectarian anti-Hazara violence and ethnic and separatist killings. In the Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the TTP and other violent groups based locally appear to be active. Peshawar faces terrorist attacks frequently because it is located next to the tribal areas.
Three major strategies are needed to cope with the menace of terrorism: immediate steps, the long term strategy, and how to cope with pro-militancy mindset.
The immediate steps pertain to enhancing security, arresting those engaged in terrorism and strengthening of the security apparatus. The security measures adopted in the first ten days of Muharram are the examples of immediate measures.
The long term measures include strengthening of police and law enforcing agencies, better intelligence gathering and the winning over of the people for countering terrorism. The military should not be used for countering terrorism in large population centres like Karachi except when all other efforts fail miserably.
The police needs to be expanded, better trained and equipped. There is a need to do more investment on the police because it can cope effectively with terrorism in populated areas. All appointments in the police should be done on merit rather than on political recommendation or on payment of illegal money. The police must be backed up by strong intelligence gathering. The Special Branch and other agencies that work regularly in urban areas should be strengthened.
Terrorism cannot be controlled without popular civilian support. The political and societal groups should rise above their partisan considerations and join together to fight against terrorism. Religious parties should also come forward instead of supporting militancy on denominational, ideological or purely political considerations. These violent groups are not going to spare Pakistan mainland Islamic parties unless they accept the commanding role of the TTP and its affiliates. The bomb attacks on Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Maulana Fazlur Rahman show that these violent groups target even those who sympathise with them. This also shows the vicious nature of these groups because they are determined to undermine Pakistan by disrupting its political and social order.
Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups are not fighting against Americans. They have not resorted to any action against the US. Their main targets are Pakistanis who are subjected to suicide and other bombings and armed assaults. If these groups continue to pursue their narrow bigoted agendas, Pakistan’s internal turmoil will intensify which will increase poverty and under-development. The negative economic fallout of terrorism makes every person vulnerable and adds to uncertainty about the future of Pakistan and its people. All Pakistanis, no matter what their political and religious orientations are, will find it difficult to lead a civilised and orderly living.
There is no choice for the people of Pakistan other than working towards ending religious extremism and terrorism and promoting political and religious pluralism, tolerance and democratic norms.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.