Pakistan: New wave of terrorism unleashed

No end to the violence as guerrilla war escalates

A recent avalanche of attacks, killing more than 160 people, has opened the flood gates of a widening guerrilla war in Pakistan. Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked groups are striking deeper than ever inside the country, exacerbating US security fears as the war deteriorates across the border in Afghanistan.

Responding to the planned offensive against their stronghold (South Waziristan) on the Afghan border, Taliban forces have unleashed a string of devastating attacks in last two weeks, in an attempt to shake the nation. Coordinated assaults against police in Lahore and Kohat came five days after a siege at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi, known as ‘GHQ’. Now suicide attacks and assassinations are taking place on daily basis. Peshawar, Lahore, Kohat and the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi have been targeted. The string of attacks over the last 14 days have shown the limited impact of the ‘traditional military offensive’ in the Swat valley and the killing of Tehreek-e-Taliban chief, Baitullah Mehsud, in a US drone attack in August. The recent attacks were intended as a clear warning to the government and the army not to launch a military offensive in South Waziristan. The Taliban also want to prove that they still have enough fire power to launch an attack anywhere in the country.

New wave of terrorism unleashed

In response to these continued attacks, the government has beefed up security. Police and paramilitary forces have established check ponts on the main roads in the cities. Schools, colleges and universities have been closed down across the country due to security concerns. Hundreds of people have been arrested. There is growing sense of fear and insecurity in society. Business confidence is at its lowest ever level. Uncertainty and fear has begun to dominate the everyday lives of the working masses. The security situation has disrupted the lives of the people. All major events, including sports, entertainment, music and exhibitions have been cancelled. The government has failed to provide security to the ordinary citizens and they have been left at the mercy of Taliban groups. The government seems only interested in protecting the ruling class and high level state functionaries. Unprecedented high security has been provided to the ministers and top political leadership of the country. Yet no one seems safe, including top military officials.

Now Taliban militants are threatening the TV channels, newspapers and other media organisations with attacks if they do not stop their anti Taliban propaganda. Threats are also issued to educational institutions which allow for the co-education of male and female students.

Attack on GHQ

Taliban militants attacked the army’s General headquarters (GHQ) on 10 October. The whole country went into shock as soon as the news of the attack spread. The attack was carefully planned and the boldest yet against the military. Dressed in camouflage and armed with automatic rifles, grenades, mines and suicide vests, the 10 Taliban fighters who shot their way into Pakistan’s army headquarters were driven by a chilling goal; the seizure of senior military officers as hostages in order to demand the release of more than 100 high profile prisoners held by the security forces. The militants failed to achieve their primary objectives, as army commandos stormed into the building, killing 9 and capturing the injured leader of the group. The group leader, Aqeel, known as Dr Usman, a deserter from the Army medical corps, is a known terrorist, also wanted by intelligence agencies in relation to the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore earlier this year. He belongs to the Jaish-e-Muhammad (a ‘jehadist’ organisation linked with Taliban movement) and was close to Ilyas Kashmiri, Al-Qaeda’s commander of operations. Kashmiri was recently killed in a drone attack. The Tehreek-e-Taliban has claimed responsibility, calling the group that attacked the GHQ the Amjad Farouqi group. Amjad Farouqi was the mastermind of two attacks on former President General Pervaiz Musharaf, in 2003.

The militants succeeded in taking more than 28 officers and soldiers as hostages. It took the military 20 hours to clear the GHQ and rescue the hostages. This daring siege of one of the most heavily guarded military compounds in nuclear-armed Pakistan revealed the government’s vulnerability, as it prepared to launch an offensive aimed at crushing the Taliban in South Waziristan.

New army offensive in Waziristan

The GHQ is not only a symbol of military might and prestige but also serves as the most important political power centre in the country. This attack struck at the heart and prestige of the powerful military of Pakistan. The message was loud and clear, ‘if GHQ is not safe than who else is? If we can enter into the army’s headquarters, then we can enter anywhere in the country.’

The attack on GHQ revealed the increasingly close collaboration between Pashtun fighters from the largely Tribal areas along the Afghan border and militants from Punjab province, the country’s heartland. Jehadist and sectarian elements in Punjab are linked with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Religious extremist organisations, like Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-jhanghvi base themselves in Punjab.

Punjab equation

Are the Taliban in the Punjab? The question is being asked and debated more and more frequently following reports that some of the terrorists who attacked the GHQ and three buildings belonging to security forces in Lahore were from the Punjab. The existence of militants in the southern areas of Punjab has been a subject of discussion, both within the security apparatus and the media, for a significant period of time. While groups based in Jhang, Bahawalpur, Rahim yar khan, Bhakar, Mianwali, D G khan and elsewhere had previously focused on sectarian-based actions or the “jihad” in Kashmir, it is believed that more recently, they have linked up with the NWFP (North West Frontier Province)- based Taliban to target the state.

The potential for militancy in southern Punjab has been mentioned in various state intelligence reports coming in from the province. Poverty stricken areas, extremely feudal and tribal, with high illiteracy, such as areas of southern Punjab, also known as Seraiki Belt, can become safe havens for the Taliban and other groups. Hundreds of religious schools in these areas could provide shelter for religious extremists. In the past, these areas were the main bases for sectarian organisations like Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and its breakaway faction, Lashkar-e-Janghvi, which was involved in killing people from a Shia sect. Jihadist organisations made much of their recruitment for the Afghan and Kashmiri ‘Jihads’ from these areas. Most of the students in religious schools across the country come from these areas. Even the majority of religious students in the main cities like Lahore, Karachi, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Multan also come from either south Punjab or NWFP. The NWFP government has stated that it is convinced that terrorists from the Punjab are coming into its territories. It has also suggested that the possibility of bombing targets in the Punjab province should be considered, as has been done in NWFP. This statement shows the seriousness of the situation which exists, not only in Punjab but across the country. It has been known for some years that the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Janghvi had established links with Al-Qaeda. The Taliban was “fronting” some of their actions. Thousands of people were trained during the Afghan war against Soviet troops, under state patronage. More young people were trained to fight against India in Kashmir. Some of these militants have joined groups which are working closely with Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

What is dangerous is the apparent refusal of the Punjab government to accept what is happening or to do very much about it. This inaction could lead to disaster.

Will the Waziristan offensive end the violence?

The military has launched an offensive into South Waziristan. The military and government officials have been talking about this offensive since June. The NWFP governor announced the launch of an army ground offensive on 15 June. Now, the military has finally moved four months later. This delay in beginning the ground offensive raised many questions and doubts.

Doubts about the fate of the operation emerged just a week after governor’s announcement, when a pro-government leader, who was apparently being groomed by the army to defeat and replace commander, Baitullah Mehsud, was assassinated. Baitullah Mehsud himself was killed in a suspected US drone attack in August. His death led some security analysts to suggest that there was now no need for a full-blown operation, and that small-scale, localised action would suffice. But recent informal media briefings have revealed a range of reasons why the Waziristan operation was delayed. The impression being conveyed is that the country’s civilian government has not been quick enough to rehabilitate the system of administration of the areas cleared of Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters. As a result, the army has not been able to free up troops for operations in other areas. According to these officials, the army is still not properly prepared for an offensive in South Waziristan, which they say is far more dangerous than other regions. In Swat and other parts of the Malakand region, where the army launched a successful operation in early June, officials say the government has still not beefed up the local police force or filled the judicial vacuum.

As a result, the army continues to be involved in fighting remnants of militant groups for fear that, if it thins its presence, the gunmen may stage a comeback. In addition, the army carries the “logistical burden” of about 8,000 arrested militants. The army says it is holding these militants because police could not cope with such a number. Furthermore, the courts and anti-terrorism laws are inadequate to carry out trials, or achieve convictions. This loss of time has brought us to the verge of winter, which is not the right time to start a ground offensive in Waziristan, says the army.

However, some security experts have raised questions about these declared reasons for the delay. Some believe there may be two main reasons why the army delayed the implementation of its decision. Firstly, any action against the Baitullah Mehsud group in South Waziritan could draw into the conflict groups based in the Wazir tribal areas of South and North Waziristan. These groups are part of the Al-Qaeda affiliated Haqqani network, and have peace agreements with the army. They have so far concentrated exclusively on fighting inside Afghanistan, and many analysts consider their activities central to the army’ s perceived security interests. Any hostilities with them may harm these interests. The other reason was that army wanted to see the final outcome of the events taking place in Waziristan, after the killing of Baitullah Mehsud. The different Taliban factions and groups started to fight each other to take control over the Taliban movement. But Al-Qaeda intervened to stop the infighting and settle the issues between the opposing groups and factions. The army was hoping that the infighting and further divisions would weaken the Taliban and that this would lead to the situation where the army could easily take control of Waziristan. However, the Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaderships in Afghanistan succeeded in uniting these different groups under the leadership of Hakimullah Mehsud. The recent attacks and changed situation in Waziristan then forced the army to launch its ground offensive.

Now the main question is whether this military offensive will be able to stop the violence and crush the Taliban movement for once and for all. The army chief General Kayani has rightly pointed out that no matter how successful the operation is from the outset, we are unlikely to see any drop in terrorist activity in urban areas. There are pre-positioned units across the country; sleeper cells which are trained and equipped and can be activated by a simple phone call. The army might take control back from the militants, who are using the area as a base and training camp and to mastermind attacks. But it would be wrong to assume that a successful operation in South Waziristan will automatically stop the violence and suicide attacks. This operation might reduce the violence and attacks, as did the Swat operation. The army forced the Swat Taliban to retreat and destroyed their camps and bases, but they still operate in some areas of Swat with armed forces. The same situation might arise from this offensive. In the last few years, the Taliban has been able to expand their influence in most parts of the country. Military action will not be able to completely destroy this monster. It will require a well thought-out national strategy and counter-insurgency plan to fight this beast. But no such plan and strategy exists at the moment.

Mass political action by the working masses is necessary to defeat this evil. The independent mass mobilisation of workers, students, peasants, youth, women and urban poor is vital. The working and poor masses of Pakistan can have no trust in the state or military to solve the problems of war and terrorism.

Taliban – a monster nurtured by imperialism and the Pakistani state

Who has created this monster?

The Western capitalist media and governments give the impression that phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism and religious extremism is a homegrown problem and has nothing to do with Imperialist policies. However, a close look at the history of fundamentalism in Pakistan negates this. Pakistani society was a liberal and progressive society, both politically and socially until late 1970s. Then it changed. The Left was the dominant force in the trade unions, students’ movement and in the political field. 1968-69 saw an historic revolutionary movement of the working class which dared to challenge the existing political, economic and social order. This mass revolutionary uprising of the working masses and oppressed smashed the ruling class and left the state hanging in mid air. The working class felt and tasted power in their hands. Workers took over the factories; peasants took over the land and people in the cities refused to pay rent. Workers and peasants councils were running the affairs of the cities. There was no authoritative government in power in the country. Revolutionary change was in the air but in the absence of a revolutionary leadership and party, the working class failed to take power. There was a clear socialist consciousness amongst the masses and the main slogan of the movement was for a socialist transformation. This consciousness was clearly reflected in the election results of 1970, when the PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) won on a radical socialist program. The working masses rejected the religious parties and their propaganda against socialism as an ‘infidel system’.

This movement was a big blow to the religious right and establishment. Although the movement failed to bring a socialist revolution in the country, it badly damaged the interests of the ruling class and establishment. The religious right and the establishment joined hands to curtail the rising power of the working class. Western imperialist forces fully backed this reactionary and counter revolutionary alliance. A lot of money was given to religious parties like Jamati Islami to mobilise the right-wing reaction against left and progressive forces. This was the beginning of a decades-long process in which religious forces were strengthened, funded by the state. These religious forces, with the help of establishment and western powers, were successful in overthrowing the elected government of the PPP, led by Z. A. Bhutto, in 1977. With the blessing of US imperialism, the military took over and imposed Martial Law. The military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq used religion as a tool to continue its ruthless military rule. This was the beginning of the darkest era in the history of Pakistan. This military dictatorship announced the ‘Islamisation’ of society. Islam was used to repress every progressive element in society. This military regime used the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan as an opportunity to further spread radical Islamic ideology in society. This regime initiated the jihad in Afghanistan and many Jehadist organisations were established. The state encouraged the people to join the ‘jehad’ and many training camps were established. This ‘jihad’ was the co-product of the American CIA and Pakistani ISI. Western powers and oil rich Gulf States provided billions of dollars for this jihad. Thousands of Arab fighters were brought to Pakistan. Even young people from Britain and other European countries were trained in the training camps. Some religious parties also established cells and branches in European countries to recruit young people and collect financial donations. No Western government, including US Imperialism, objected to these activities. Thousands of religious schools were established throughout the country to prepare children for jehadist organizations.

Pakistani Society was largely militarised during this process. State-sponsored, these reactionary forces entered every sphere of life. In the last 30 years, the trade union movement, student organisations and Left were targeted and repeatedly attacked by the state. Pakistani society has suffered heavily because of these policies. The overwhelming majority of Pakistani people never supported these reactionary forces. According to the latest Gallup survey, 80% people said that they opposed the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. But it was the establishment and Western powers which nurtured these forces. Western powers abandoned this jihad when Soviet troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan, but the Pakistani state continued to pursue the same policies. The Taliban movement was established in the 1990s for the same purpose and again US Imperialism provided it with much needed finances.

Now the same forces who created this monster, are trying to convince us that they will eliminate it.

What Future for Pakistan?

Many Western and American think tanks and commentators are raising serious doubts about the future of Pakistan. They raise the possibility of a possible Talibanisaton, disintegration and civil wars. There is not a single commentator or writer who raised the idea of a working class uprising and revolution. There is no doubt that Pakistan is facing many serious problems including Islamic militancy, an explosive national question, crisis in the state and a possible economic meltdown. Under capitalism and feudalism, there will be no future for working class people. The ruling class has failed to solve the basic problems faced by people. The ruling class has failed to establish a functioning democracy. There is no prosperity, social or economic justice and political freedom.

There will be no change in the lives of the masses on the basis of capitalism and feudalism.

The only class which can bring change and transform the lives of working masses is working class. Socialism is the only viable system to replace capitalism. The working class has not yet started to move but once it does, the whole political scenario will become different. There is a 43 million-strong working class in Pakistan, which represents one third of the total population. The Pakistani working class and masses again and again have showed that they have the potential, courage and capability to conduct a revolutionary struggle against capitalism and the rotten ruling class.

The working class needs a revolutionary party and leadership to organise this struggle. Such a party, with clear program, strategy and tactics and mass support can win a future for the masses.

Pakistan is heading towards another showdown between the ruling class and the working class. The outcome of this showdown will determine the future of this country. The working class can not take full advantage of independence or enjoy real freedom without overthrowing capitalism and feudalism.

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October 2009