Wednesday, October 8, 2008

On Bhakkar Suicide Bombing and Beyond

That a Shia politician was attacked in the case of Bhakkar suicide bombing is quite obvious. More than twenty five innocent people - Shias and Sunnis - were killed in the tragic incident. The apparent target, PML-N MP Rashid Akbar Niwani, survived but suffered leg injuries. However, the incident should be seen in connection to another suicide bombing that recently targeted the ANP leader, Asfandyar Wali Khan, in Charsadda. What should be obvious is that the logic of the Bhakkar attack is more than just "sectarian". It is not simply a particular community that is the target here (by extremists supposedly motivated by irrational sectarian prejudice); it is the state that is the actual target and the attacks are being carried out in a very systematic and calculated manner. What we are seeing is not a "Sunni vs. Shia" conflict per se. In fact, most Pakistanis, Sunnis and Shias alike, are against sectarian violence and terrorism. The logic of the current wave of violence is primarily 'political,' which explains the timing, targets, and objectives of these attacks.

What is the 'state' here? Could be many things. The civilian government is but one of its various composing elements. These various elements need not necessarily be targeted by outside forces; different elements within the state could also use violence to undermine others. Perpetrating ethnic and sectarian violence, unfortunately, is a convenient tool for instigating fear and destabilizing governments and political opponents.

The Possible Parties in the recent wave of violence: Various strands of Taliban (recently on news channels in Pakistan, some pundits, mostly attached to the establishment, are trying to make a distinction of 'good' vs. 'bad' Taliban - 'good' are those that fight inside Afghanistan against the US, 'bad' are those that fight inside Pakistan); rogue elements within the ISI and their supported extremist/sectarian groups all over Pakistan; local ethnic and/or separatist groups; the civilian government; the military establishment; the regional and global powers and their intelligence agencies.

Possible targets: The civilian government; the military establishment and the ISI; and/or the political process/stability in Pakistan.

Possible objectives: Reaction to Pakistani and US military incursions, particularly in Fata; undermine and dissolve the US-supported Zardari's civilian government; fomenting controlled chaos to justify US military presence in the region; the nuclear assets; and/or destabilization of Pakistan.

Wallahu Alam!

Editorial: Sectarian killers enter Punjab
DailyTimes, October 8, 2008

A PMLN member of the National Assembly, Mr Rashid Akbar Niwani, was recently attacked by a suicide-bomber in the Punjab city of Bhakkar, killing 25 of his guests and injuring him. He was targetted because he is a Shia and no one is in doubt about the sectarian nature of the attack. It is safe to say that the attack has been mounted by a sectarian organisation. Neither is it a secret that most such organisations are fighting Al Qaeda’s war in Pakistan along with some other hardline Deobandi militias. The footprint of the Taliban is clearly visible there.

Bhakkar has seen only some sectarian mayhem but came in the cross-hairs of the killers since its nextdoor city of Dera Ismail Khan in the NWFP became the scene of Shia slaughter recently. Mr Niwani’s brother says the family had received threats but the government could do very little to save them. Yet the Shia of Bhakkar were worried after the DI Khan hospital suicide blast in September and feared that the storm would come their way in Punjab. The Friday Times of September 12, 2008, writing about the government’s neglect of the sectarian stand-off in Kurram Agency and the subsequent follow-up attacks in DI Khan, had written, “The Shia of nextdoor Bhakkar are scared because they are influential in the city and can be targeted”.

Mr Rashid Niwani was one MNA who had spoken out in parliament several times against the growing sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias. Therefore one must say with sadness that our politicians are more involved in squabbling over the spoils of office than they are concerned with sectarian violence which is very much connected with the presence of Al Qaeda in Pakistan and enjoys the support of some erstwhile state-supported jihadi militias who kill Shias as an article of faith. The conversion of Al Qaeda into an avowedly sectarian outfit happened in 2006 when it supported the anti-Shia massacres executed by its leader Abu Musab Al Zarqawi in Iraq.

The roots of Al Qaeda’s sectarianism go into the past as well and can be dated with the firming of its contacts with the Taliban government of Mullah Umar and the training of Pakistani jihadis in its camps. When Sipah Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi went on the rampage and used Afghanistan as their safe haven, Pakistan’s requests for the extradition of the sectarian killers were turned down by Mullah Umar with the backing of Al Qaeda. It is sad that despite this, Pakistan’s intelligence agencies went on supporting the Taliban government. What is even more worrisome is that after the death of the sectarian killer Abu Musab Al Zarqawi in Iraq in 2006, the jihadi militias were allowed to hold his public funeral in absentia in Lahore.

The state has apparently classified sectarian killings as a low priority threat to itself and doesn’t see it as an extension of Al Qaeda’s terrorism in the country. Under General Pervez Musharraf, the Northern Areas kept smouldering for nearly three years with little reporting and even less preventive action by the government. This year we have seen the siege of Kurram Agency, the culturally most developed tribal agency in the country and fit for integration into the settled territory together with Bajaur. The last time the Shia of Kurram suffered a massacre at the hands of Taliban-supported killers, the interior advisor, Mr Rehman Malik, gave the killers an ultimatum of 72 hours. Now it is weeks and no action has been taken.

Nor are the politicians overly concerned. The infighting among the political allies is unrelenting and new alignments are being predicted amid great instability. The opposition that is today going into the in-camera briefing of parliament on the war in the Tribal Areas is openly saying it will be of no use. After having demanded an airing of the issue in parliament they are already predicting that it would fail to convince them to change their critical view of the military action against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The extra-parliamentary Jama’at-e Islami is out on the streets, leading a march opposing the war because it thinks it is America’s war. The lawyers are making furious preparations for their next “decisive” rally in Islamabad on November 3, 2008. None of this is going to help reduce Pakistan’s instability and curb the killing of Shias in the country.

The ANP leader Asfandyar Wali Khan, who narrowly escaped death at the hands of a suicide-bomber in Charsadda, wants to know if the state is willing to change its policy after the change of guard in the ISI. A front-page report in a newspaper on Tuesday quoted the ANP leader as saying: “All we want to know is whether these changes are for real or it is just a change of faces”. Who is going to answer him?

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