Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Back in the spring, when the Pakistani Taliban still controlled the Swat valley, video footage of a girl being flogged became one of the most powerful images of their rule. The footage, shot on a mobile phone and circulated on YouTube, turned public opinion against the Taliban and helped lay the groundwork for a military offensive there.
In the latest spate of bombings sweeping Pakistan, women have again become targets. First came the twin suicide bombing on the International Islamic University in Islamabad which included an attack on the women’s canteen. Then last week, more than 100 people were killed in the car bombing of a bazaar in Peshawar which was frequented largely by women.
“It was the deadliest bombing in Pakistan in two years and its target was clear: not the police, not the security forces, not political leaders, but Peshawar’s women,” wrote Rafia Zakaria in the Daily Times. ”The site of the blast, Peshawar’s Meena Bazar, as is well known in the area, is an exclusively women’s shopping area where women and children shop for clothing, household wares and similar goods. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of those killed were women and children.”
“While the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have denied involvement in the bombing, investigations, the modus operandi of the attack and most importantly the target of the bombing all point to their culpability. Most significant of these factors is that the attack targeted women. It is after all females who have borne the brunt of the TTP’s onslaught since they began their reign of terror in the northwest of Pakistan. As the Taliban’s war against the Pakistani state has ensued, the marginalisation of women, the destruction of schools constructed for their education and their banishment from public spaces like the Meena Bazar have been a central facet of the Taliban’s campaign of terror and hatred. This latest attack thus fits perfectly into this grimly familiar design. The massive and indiscriminate killing of scores of innocent women and children who had dared to leave the walls of their home inculcates the very fear that the Taliban seek to instil among Pakistani women across the country.”
When Northern Ireland’s Omagh bomb exploded, killing 29 people, I was in England, by cruel coincidence attending the wedding of a young man who had been badly injured in another attack in the town of Enniskillen more than a decade earlier.
I had just switched my phone on after leaving the church on a glorious, sunny Saturday afternoon when my news editor called. “There’s been a bomb. It sounds bad. We’re trying to get you on a flight.”
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has held out an olive branch to Pakistan by renewing an offer to talk, while also calling on it to take action against militants operating from its territory. India’s Press and Information Bureau has the excerpts of a speech delivered in Kashmir. in which Singh held out “a hand of friendship” to Pakistan. It’s worth reading in detail because it was clearly carefully prepared, endorsed politically by Congress president Sonia Gandhi who accompanied the prime minister, and according to The Hindu newspaper. an attempt to advance the peace process with Pakistan.
India and Pakistan, he said, had made progress in peace talks started in 2004, and had been able to open up trade and travel across the Line of Control (LoC), the ceasefire line dividing Kashmir. “These are not small achievements given the history of our troubled relationship with Pakistan.”
Pakistan’s militants have unleashed a guerrilla war in cities across the country in retaliation for a military offensive against them in their South Waziristan stronghold. But while they have seized all the attention with their massive bomb and gun attacks, what about the offensive itself in their mountain redoubt ?
Nearly two weeks into Operation Rah-e-Nijat, or Path of Salvation, it is hard to make a firm assessment of which way the war is going, given that information is hard to come by and this may yet be still the opening stages of a long and difficult campaign.
The militants have carried out four attacks and killed at least a dozen people since the army launched an assault on their South Waziristan stronghold, while more than 150 people were killed in a deadly spree preceding the offensive – including a brazen raid on army headquarters in Rawalpindi.
A spate of gun and bomb attacks seen as a response to the Pakistan Army’s offensive in South Waziristan has sent jitters across Pakistan, including in the normally peaceful capital Islamabad.
Conventional wisdom would have it that the attacks on both security services and civilians would eventually turn the people against Islamist militants rather as happened in Iraq at the height of the violence there. But as yet, there is no sign of a clear and coherent leadership emerging that might be able to forge a consensus against the militants.
The Jihadica website has just posted an item about an apparent rift between al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban in the so-called Quetta shura led by Mullah Omar.
“Mullah Omar’s Afghan Taliban and al-Qa’ida’s senior leaders have been issuing some very mixed messages of late, and the online jihadi community is in an uproar, with some calling these developments ‘the beginning of the end of relations’ between the two movements,” it says.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have questioned before the value of the “AfPak” label, which implies that an incredibly complicated situation involving many different countries can be reduced to a five-letter word.
Having spent the last couple of days trying to make sense of the suicide bomb attack in Iran which Tehran blamed on Jundollah, an ethnic Baluchi, Sunni insurgent group it says has bases in Pakistan, I’m more inclined than ever to believe the “AfPak” label blinds us to the broader regional context. Analysts argue that Jundollah has been heavily influenced by hardline Sunni sectarian Islamist thinking within Pakistan which is itself the product of 30 years of proxy wars in the region dating back to the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan towards the end of the same year.
A week after suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents attacked the headquarters of the Pakistan Army, a suicide bomber killed six senior Revolutionary Guards commanders and 25 other people in Shi’ite Iran in one of the deadliest attacks in years on the country’s most powerful military institution.
Were these two events connected only by the loose network of Sunni insurgent groups based in and around Pakistan? Or are there other common threads that link the two?
from India Insight:
New Delhi said this week it will adopt "quiet diplomacy" with every section of political opinion to find a solution to the problems in India-ruled Kashmir about four years after it opened a dialogue with separatist groups there.