The country is facing a new wave of terrorist attacks after a relative calm for a fairly extensive period and it has understandably caused alarm.
In fact, such a trend isn’t new or surprising as this has happened in the past as well. The militants lie low when the situation isn’t in their favour as they want to avoid losses. They have returned to strike hard whenever the circumstances are to their advantage or in case the security and law-enforcement agencies lower their guard. This also shows that the battle to control militancy in Pakistan and stamp out terrorism is going to be long and tiresome.
Peshawar and Quetta, capitals of militancy-hit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, respectively, have particularly been under attack in recent weeks. Some of the terrorist strikes are sectarian in nature. Soft targets such as the passenger vehicles transporting people to their hometowns to celebrate the recent Eidul Azha festival have also been attacked. Targeted killing of policemen, intelligence agencies personnel and pro-government tribal and village elders and peace committee members has also been taking place these past months.
The general feeling until now was that the ongoing Zarb-e-Azb military operation in North Waziristan has dealt a severe blow to the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its allied as well as splinter groups and diminished their capacity to strike back. While this was true to an extent as the militants lost control of some of their strongholds in North Waziristan’s headquarters, Miranshah, its second biggest town, Mir Ali, and Boya, they still managed to minimise their human losses by escaping from the battlefield in time. Reorganising their command and control centres, reviving communication networks and activating sleeper cells operating in urban centres across the country obviously took time.
The resumption and frequency of terrorist attacks shows that the local militants and their “foreign guests” have partially and gradually recovered from the setbacks that they suffered in the initial phase of the military action in North Waziristan and also in Khyber Agency’s Tirah Valley and thus able to launch terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings, bomb explosions and targeted killings.
The militants have made no secret of their plans to seek revenge for the military operation that was launched in North Waziristan on June 15. Every claim of responsibility made by the TTP and other groups for the recent attacks invariably contained the statement that these were carried out to avenge whatever was happening in North Waziristan.
Besides, the military operation has reportedly prompted some of the militant factions to set aside their differences and make a common stand against the Pakistan government and its security forces. If true, this isn’t surprising because the fractious Pakhtun tribes inhabiting the tribal areas have throughout history joined forces to fight a common enemy whenever an outside force invaded their territory.
However, the militants don’t represent all the tribes and are, therefore, a divisive force unable to put up the kind of strong resistance that the Pakhtun tribal confederation managed in the past. Moreover, most tribesmen don’t consider the Pakistani military as an alien force and won’t pick up the gun to fight it.
It seems the failure of the recent militants’ attacks on important military targets forced them to go for lesser and softer targets. The terrorist attacks on the Pakistan Air Force airbase at Samungli and the Pakistan Army Khalid Aviation airbase, both sited in Quetta, and the Pakistan Naval Dockyard in Karachi were foiled by the security forces in a manner that must have surprised the militants and prompted them to rethink their strategy.
One such soft target was the Shia community, which suffered three recent bombings. Two bomb explosions took place in Peshawar and Kohat targeting vehicles carrying Shia passengers and killing more than a dozen innocent persons. The Hazara Town locality in Quetta housing the Shia Hazara community was attacked once again as a suicide bomber struck despite heightened security and killed seven people. Targeted killing of prominent Shia clerics, doctors and teachers continued along with the slaying of some Sunni clergymen mostly in Karachi.
After a four month gap, Peshawar suffered a suicide bombing near the Cantonment Railway Station in which six persons lost their lives. The apparent target was Brigadier Khalid Javed, the Deputy Inspector General of Frontier Corps, the paramilitary force fighting in the frontlines against the militants in Fata. He survived but an FC soldier was killed and some were among those injured. Questions were being asked as to how a suicide bomber driving an explosives-laden vehicle managed to cross the several roadside security checkpoints and entered the high-security Peshawar Cantonment area. There were no easy answers, though government officials pointed out that the security lapse happened after months during which a number of attempted terrorist plans were thwarted.
There could not have been a softer and easier target than the Mohammad Khwaja Camp for IDPs from Orakzai Agency in Hangu district. The bomb explosion killed eight persons and caused injuries to another 12. The camps for dislocated people weren’t being attacked in the past, but now these have come under attack in Hangu, Jallozai and other places.
Passenger and other aircraft using the Bacha Khan International Airport in Peshawar are also coming under attack as they begin landing and three such firing incidents in the airport’s funnel area have now taken place and caused temporary suspension of flights by the local and Gulf-based airlines. An exclusive, 175-member police force has now been raised to secure the airport’s funnel area and surroundings to prevent attacks on the planes. A female passenger was killed and two flight crewmembers were wounded in one such incident in June in which bullets fired from a machinegun hit them when the aircraft flew low to begin landing. Two more firing incidents took place in August and September but no loss to life was caused and the aircraft, including one carrying Nato supplies escaped disaster. The government has to secure the Peshawar airport if it doesn’t want the foreign airlines to discontinue international flights to this important and busy airport.
The targeted killing of cops and the attacks on anti-polio workers are now a common occurrence and most people take such incidents for granted. The threat posing the vaccination teams trying to protect children from getting afflicted by polio was highlighted once again when three vaccinators were shot dead in Mohmand Agency on October 8.
All eyes are now fixed on the military action in North Waziristan because it has been described as a necessary and most significant battle in the war against terrorism in Pakistan. The army has claimed that more than 1,000 militants, including foreigners, have been killed in North Waziristan to-date and about two dozen have surrendered.
The fresh wave of terrorist attacks have brought the military and the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif under pressure as it was earlier being claimed that the army action in North Waziristan would control terrorism in Pakistan to a large extent. Nawaz Sharif finally visited Miranshah for a day trip on October 9 to show solidarity with the troops and become the first Pakistani prime minister to visit North Waziristan.
Under pressure from opposition leaders Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri due to their unending protest sit-ins in Islamabad, he used the occasion to further strengthen his relations with the Army chief General Raheel Sharif by praising his leadership and send a strong message to the people that he was fully in control of the political situation in the country. However, his government would have to take firmer steps to check the terrorist attacks because failure to do so would cause further uncertainty among the people and embolden the militants.