Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Pakistan: The terrorists’ strategy

[General Musharraf has with this decision clearly ‘announced’ that he is here to stay in both top offices, President and COAS, for the foreseeable future, come what may. Since there is little likelihood of the fractured opposition mounting a serious challenge to the regime, he is likely to get away with it, barring acts of God or an internal upheaval in the regime. On the former, one cannot presume to know the Almighty’s plan, but on the latter, one can venture that with the new order at the top of the army’s command, it may well be ‘business as usual’ indefinitely.]

The terrorists’ strategy
Rashed Rahman


There was a time when the gossip brigade were more interested in which bureaucrat was ‘in’ and which ‘out’. That mantle has now passed to speculation concerning generals. This is only fitting, since it is they who will be the ultimate decision makers on most matters of national importance as far as the eye can see

The suicide bombing of an Imambargah in Sialkot reveals a pattern the terrorists are employing in their strategy to counter the Musharraf regime’s offensive against them. Like earlier sectarian outrages in Karachi and Quetta, the strike on the Imambargah in Sialkot was intended to inflict maximum damage in terms of innocent people killed and wounded. It was also intended to demonstrate that despite being “on the run” (as General Musharraf and other government spokesmen describe it) in the cities as well as in FATA, the terrorists are able to hurt those whom their theology of extremist Sunnism regards as Wajib-ul-Qatl (roughly translated as ‘deserving of being put to death’) and at the same time expose the regime for its inability to protect the minority denomination within the pale of Islam, and by extension other religious minorities. It is being speculated in this context that the unfortunate incident in Nankana Sahib was instigated by some elements interested in embarrassing the regime in terms of its opening to India and failure to uphold the sanctity of minority religious shrines.

The reaction of local people in Sialkot after the Imambargah massacre was understandably nothing short of inflamed. Sialkot has not so far been known for sectarian conflict. For about three hours after the incident incensed people gathered around the Imambargah refused to let police and law enforcement agencies inside. Massive damage was caused to public and private property by the blind fury of the angry crowds before and during the funerals of the (by now) 31 victims who died because of the blast. Despite troops being called out to maintain order, the people of Sialkot have expressed their no-confidence in the regime’s law enforcement and security abilities. The danger is that hotheads amongst the affected community may take the law into their own hands to mount retaliatory actions.

The perception that the regime is unable to prevent terrorist incidents (difficult even at the best of times) or maintain security of life and limb of citizens hurts the regime in its pocket the most. Investment is shy because of concerns about the law and order situation, amongst other factors. The terrorists’ aim is to keep the drought of investment going through such relatively inexpensive actions, thereby throwing the economic plans of the regime awry. So far, despite the successes against the religious fundamentalist terrorists, for example the recent slaying of Amjad Farooqi, regarded as the mastermind behind the two assassination attempts on General Musharraf, the terrorists are managing to keep one jump ahead of the authorities. The urgency of reaching the heart of the terrorist network and smashing it has never been felt as acutely as now, for related security and economic reasons.

Although unconnected directly, the decision by General Musharraf to appoint a new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and a Vice Chief of Army Staff has put the lid on speculations about General Musharraf’s intentions. The clear signal received from these appointments is that with the departure of the last of the October 1999 coup makers (General Aziz on October 7), the new arrangement of the army’s top brass has ensured Musharraf loyalists call the shots. The added bonus is having a man of General Ehsan’s undoubted abiliy sitting in the National Security Council.

There was a time when the gossip brigade were more interested in which bureaucrat was ‘in’ and which ‘out’. That mantle has now passed to speculation concerning generals. This is only fitting, since it is they who will be the ultimate decision makers on most matters of national importance as far as the eye can see.

General Musharraf has with this decision clearly ‘announced’ that he is here to stay in both top offices, President and COAS, for the foreseeable future, come what may. Since there is little likelihood of the fractured opposition mounting a serious challenge to the regime, he is likely to get away with it, barring acts of God or an internal upheaval in the regime. On the former, one cannot presume to know the Almighty’s plan, but on the latter, one can venture that with the new order at the top of the army’s command, it may well be ‘business as usual’ indefinitely.

The writer, currently a freelance contributor, has held editorial positions in various Pakistani newspapers

Pakistan Times 05/10/2004