Insurgency in Pakistan: what next?

October 16, 2009

After last weekend’s attack on the headquarters of the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi, one of the questions being asked with a rather troubling air of inevitability was: where next? That question was answered on Thursday with a string of attacks across the country, including three in Lahore.

So now, what next?

Many expect the attacks to continue, as militants based in the country’s heartland Punjab province unleash a wave of violence ahead of a planned military offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in their stronghold in South Waziristan.  Few are prepared to predict either how much worse they could get, nor exactly how Pakistan will respond.

The blogger “Londonstani” at Abu Muqawama writes that, “the media, foreign and domestic, seems to be split between two narratives: ‘Militants are getting stronger and we are stuffed’ or ‘This is the last gasp of militants who are about to be ground to pulp by the army’”.

He argues however that “the downfall of militancy of this kind is built into its success. It can only really thrive when it is seen as a by-product of unpopular government policies, foreign occupation etc. But when the militancy gets powerful enough to pull off spectaculars like the operations today in Lahore, that’s when the local population see it as a threat in its own right. When it starts looking like a realistic possibility (even if pretty distant) that Taliban types might soon be telling you how to live, ambivalence towards their activities falls away.”

But in a column in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, Nadeem Paracha writes that it may yet take a while for Pakistanis to drop their ambivalence. 

“What is it that makes these terrorists so sure and confident about themselves? It’s simple. We do!” it says.

“It is the sheer hesitancy that we show towards fully realizing the grave dangers these terrorists hold,  and a weird, inexplicable sense and understanding of reality that most Pakistanis look to be suffering from, that gives these terrorists the psychological edge and opening; providing them as convoluted a justification to commit acts of barbarism in the fine name of God, as is our own habit of ending up actually recognizing their many deeds as being either a sympathetic socio-political outcome, or, of course, a wild conspiracy by our many (largely imagined) enemies lingering on our borders.”

No one is suggesting that Pakistan is about to be overrun by Islamist militants. But what is clear is that there has been a step-shift in the nature of the insurgency in Pakistan. This is more than mere geography, as the violence spreads increasingly from the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan into the heartland of the country. It is more even than the rising frequency of attacks. What is perhaps most worrisome is that there appears to be a coherence to the attacks that has not yet been fully understood.

Does the apparent mayhem mask a clear strategy on the part of the militants which goes beyond targetting security forces wherever they can as a pre-emptive strike against the planned offensive in South Waziristan?  Which militant organisations are involved among the Punjab-based groups and the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-e-Taliban? And how does the attempt to destabilise Pakistan fit with the situation in Afghanistan?

Britain’s Guardian newspaper says in an editorial the implications of the attacks over the last week or so are profound.

“Militant attacks of this sophistication and scale represent more than just a pre-emptive strike against a long-heralded army offensive in South Waziristan …  A new front has been opened. It is a battle that the army cannot afford to lose, because it is being fought in the Punjab itself, the very heart of the Pakistani state.”

Security analysts argue that historically insurgencies have failed far more often than they have succeeded, although there might be months, or years, of  “irregular warfare” (in the case of Pakistan this has meant suicide bombings and fedayeen attacks).

If you wanted to apply that framework to what is happening right now in Pakistan, you would need to understand both the nature of the state and the nature of the insurgents. Much has been written about the state in Pakistan. But how much do we really know about the insurgents? Until we work that out, it seems unlikely that anyone can answer with any confidence the question of what next.

(Reuters photos: soldiers and police in Lahore)

Comments

Hi Myra

I have been following your blogs & comments for a few days now, what i have understood is that you always seem to favor India talking to pakistan. Hope all re aware that India has lost more than 200000 lifes from 1988 (both civilian & military) while loosing 3000+ life all westerners are jumping to the sky and you all want us to talk to Pakistan to solve the problem.I do not understand wht rationale or morale all are having? do you want Indian to forget about 200000 kith & kins we have lost? or do you want us to forget how west have been ignoring our screams on state sponsored terrorism by pakistan. I have seen one attitude that sucks with all these westerners is that when it comes to their people & life its sweet & when it is Indians they are not bothered about it. what ethics or morale it is? i have also seen many people preaching morality to Indians, what do you think we have been doing? al the way along we have been giving enough time and oppurtunity to Pakistan to work with us but they told something in the front and bombed us on the back. Noe Myra you say we are obsessed with war on Pakistan. this refelects your lack of sensitivity towards India’s plight with devil terrorism.
I am sorry that the so called westerners are not clear on what they talk or preach.
Kindly understand on what to talk & preach

Posted by SN | Report as abusive
 

Terrorism for any nation is bad.
Whether they foster it or use a weapon.

Posted by Amit | Report as abusive
 

This white supremacy theory has got no end. They are so stuck in it that that they don’t know what to do. So they keep on coming up with new theory. Sometimes they fiddle with black (misery of Africa), sometime they fiddle with yellows (China, Japan, Hiroshima), sometime they fiddle with browns(SubContinent), sometimes they fiddle among own (WW I and WW II). After all the fiddling, they begin to preach universality of peace. With money in pocket they come out to preach peace. Maybe it is time for the dragon to wake up and take the reigns of United Nations.

Posted by Q&A | Report as abusive
 

Mohammed Siddiq:

“I maintain an optimistic attitude at most times. There were times when I used to expect the worst when I heard any type of tap, tap, tapping at my door.”

–>Optimism is good, but it has got Pakistan now where. You should tell the likes of Ahmed Quaraishi and Mohammed Anjum, on this blog to be more positive, as they represent the greater view of Paks who choose to keep enmity with India, for no real reason.

BTW, I would gladly accept your happy halloween, but I did not ask “trick or treat”, I think the Taliban (Frankenstein) may be doing that on your door and they definitely come with all sorts of trickery for everybody in Pakistan. Just keep treats hand for them. Happy Halloween.

Frankenstein has been trick or treating in your cities lately, in case you were too busy being optimistic.

Posted by GW | Report as abusive
 

In the wake of these latest attacks in Iran and given all the problems Pakistan has, the future is bleak for Pakistan.

Posted by GW | Report as abusive
 

Mansoor:

@Rajeev, please don’t assume that all Pakistanis have similar opinion. Its a bit insulting to say “so and so and other Pakistanis”.
— Posted by Mansoor Siddiqui

–Mansoor: Oops I did not know that I will offend you with my previous address: “Mansoor Siddiqui and other Pakistanis:” Perhaps I should added “friends” at the end and that would have done the job. I just wanted your or any other Pakistani “friend’s” opinion? And it is understandable that the opinions differ from person to person.

@Also use of words like “wiping off” is a bit sinister.
– I am trying to imagine how one could call “Wiping out terrorists” (preferably “terrorism” as sinister). Is that not what PA did in SWAT and is doing in S. Waziristan? The ground realities are much worse where along with terrorists, innocents also die.

@ Punjabi Taliban is an entity created by the media. Just because a few thugs belong to Punjab does not mean that Punjab has suddenly become radicalized or something. If the Indians have the Naxalites making mischief it does not mean that India is about to become a communist country. However government should enforce rules on all madrassahs, even consider completely absorbing them in a public school system.”
– Thanks for the detailed reply and got a hint that you think there are just “few thugs” in Punjab but no terrorists and no radicalized Punjab. Then what do you call LeT, JeM and the radicalized South Punjab in Pakistan? Should I take it as your opinion that you do not call the abovementioned groups and many other Lashkar-hypenated-groups as terrorists?

@3. Punjabi Taliban is an entity created by the media. Just because a few thugs belong to Punjab does not mean that Punjab has suddenly become radicalized or something. If the Indians have the Naxalites making mischief it does not mean that India is about to become a communist country.”
–I have not heard media use the word “Punjabi Taliban”, did you? Media says there is collaboration between Punjabi militants and the Pakistani Taliban in recent suicide bombings. That is different from saying “Punjabi Taliban”. Now which militant organisations or “thugs” are involved among the Punjab-based groups is unknown. Calling them “thugs” is an example how a common man hesitates to label a terrorist as terrorists. Come on! These “thugs” have killed your Army in GHQ and police in elite police academy and what more will take you to call a spade a spade? There is a good reason to call these Punjab-based terrorists as “terrorists” not “thugs”.
Indian PM does not mince words and says that Maoists are the biggest internal security threat to India, and is appropriately responding to that without waiting for India to turn into a communist country. Also, naxalites do not cross the border and kill the foreigners but the same cannot be said for Punjab-based groups. If you have forgotten, the example is Ajmal Kasab from Punjab. Perhaps you do not see that as a problem.

@The lone fire tender (with the weak trickle) that was brought to fight the blaze in the Taj during Bombay attack was completely laughable.

-You quit getting laughing on Indian insecurity blunders for your own sake since blunders in Mumbai terrorism will not fix terrorism in Pakistan. Even at that time, did you notice the first step in Mumbai attack was the breach of Pakistani naval security which did not detect who escaped with what, assuming Pakistani navy did not know who is escaping.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

GW
I’m glad I was able to get you in a lighter vein. Pakistan is a hospitable country and lets no “trick or treat” guys go unrewarded. Even the TTP will have their “reward” soon – as well as al-Qaeda. As I advised earlier: sit back in your favorite chair and watch PA perform in SWA. I am sure you would not have seen such performance from any naighbouring armies. That should cheer you up.

Posted by Mansoor Siddiqui | Report as abusive
 

Rajeev,
1. I objected to the “wiping out” remark by you to emphasise that professional armies avoid using expressions like that. PA is operating within its own border and is not about to wipe out its own brethren or their women and children. The invaders (Uzbeks & Sudanese etc.) will be rounded up and if they do not surrender then they will be shot. The locals hired to do their dirty job will be given the option to start behaving or face punishment. They already have been given the option by the COAS.
2. The terrorists who attacked Bombay, including Kasab, should be given the maximum punishment. Any outfit, religious or not, connected with the cowardly attack on Bombay, should be equally punished. We grieved equally with you all. However I was angry at the lack of security. Why doesn’t the Taj and all the big hotels in India and Pakistan not have working “stand pipes” in the buildings and fire hydrants around them? We must be critical. The GHQ attackers should not have been allowed to go beyond the first gate. The later Commando action was however good as it succeeded in getting most of the hostages out who would have been killed in any case. The Indian Commandos who landed on Nariman House were very brave and did the right thing pretty well. Your contention that Pakistan Navy should have stopped them before they left the Pakistani shore is a little far-fetched. Coast around Karachi, including the Indus Delta is completely craggy and the Navy or the Coast Guard cannot patrol it. They will need hundreds of vessels for that. The Indian Navy, on the other hand were warned that a seaborne attack was expected in that area. This was totally ignored. Like probably the GHQ were also told that an attack was planned on it and they did not take adequate measures against it.
3. I think we all, both Indian and Pakitani bloggers, should show some restraint and be objective.

Posted by Mansoor Siddiqui | Report as abusive
 

“Punjabi Taliban is an entity created by the media. Just because a few thugs belong to Punjab does not mean that Punjab has suddenly become radicalized or something”
- Posted by Mansoor Siddiqui

It wasn’t very long ago when you guys were saying the same sort of things about TTP, that they are just a bunch of rag tag militants gone wild & pose no serious threat to the Pakistani state & now you seem to have the similar attitude towards Punjabi groups like LeT etc. I guess, since their terror activities so far have been mainly directed towards India, you don’t really care much about them. But if the recent attacks in Lahore & Rawalpindi are of any indication, these Punjabi groups are also starring to put the hurt on the Pakistani state. Those who don’t learn from past mistakes, are doomed!

“The lone fire tender (with the weak trickle) that was brought to fight the blaze in the Taj during Bombay attack was completely laughable”

I find it amusing that in typical Pakistani fashion, you find the need to unnecessarily bring India into an unrelated topic & mock it. Anyways, no one’s denying the fact that Indian cities are unprepared & vulnerable to terror attacks. Since you refer to the Mumbai attacks, lemme remind you that all Pakistani terrorists who carried out those attacks were killed/apprehended whereas there have been numerous attacks in Pakistan (Marwan Police academy, Sri Lankan team attacks, Lahore attacks etc) when none or just a few of the terrorists were killed/apprehended.

Posted by Mortal | Report as abusive
 

I cannot believe all this is going on while Mushy boy is on a lecture tour of the USA, critizising the US-India ties.

ALL hostilities towards India from 1989 to present have originated in Pakistan. Now Pakistan has been told to clean up the mess it created.

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive
 

“GW
I’m glad I was able to get you in a lighter vein. Pakistan is a hospitable country and lets no “trick or treat” guys go unrewarded. Even the TTP will have their “reward” soon – as well as al-Qaeda. As I advised earlier: sit back in your favorite chair and watch PA perform in SWA. I am sure you would not have seen such performance from any naighbouring armies. That should cheer you up.
- Posted by Mansoor Siddiqui ”

–>Mr. Siddiqui, we need more sobering, rational Pakistani’s like you running Pakistan and reforming it. It is too bad that the Pak Army does not have more people like you, Pakistan would be a different type of place, in that it would be more progressive and prosperous.

One thing, though, you have not made a distinction between good and bad terrorists, do you not believe that all terrorists even those supported by Pak Army are detrimental for peace with India, especially the JuD, HuM and LeT?

Think carefully before you answer, as Indians, we do not have proxy armies, and did not start the last 4 wars with Pakistan. You guys started them and we have maintained the 400,000 Army in Kashmir as a defensive posture, to keep you honest. Do you think that it is time for Pakistan to reform and focus on building itself?

Honestly, as Indians, we find it quit absurd that Paks are keeping such a huge military expense against India due to Kashmir. Kashmir is easily solved…kill and destroy all proxy armies and both sides remove their armies and accept the current LOC as the defacto border.

We Indians also believe that Pak Kashmir belongs to India, but we have been letting that one go and never started any wars with you over that. Prince Maharaja Hari Singh legally condeded all Kashmir land to India for protection from Pathan thugs who were sent there to conquer it, but in a strange twist of fate, the Pathans decided to rape and loot, which greatly slowed their advance onto Delhi.

The time has come for Pakistan to come to terms with its past and focus on stabilizing its heartland.

Posted by GW | Report as abusive
 

http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.h tml?id=2125570

Myra, here is a link to an article on the National Post. It suggests that Pakistan may well be on the brink of a civil war. This article backs up my opinions from a previous blog post I did, where I mentioned that the heartland of Pakistan is now under attack and that civil war and chaos may break out.

The militants sent a clear message to Pakistan itself, that they are at war with Pakistan, when they attacked Islamabad University, a place of higher learning, something that represents a place where one can learn independent, critical thinking skills with the ability to question and grow.

These Militants are hellbent on keeping Pakistan backwards. Average Pakistani’s must take note of this, they, the militants want to take your country, anyway they can. It is high time to make peace with India and focus all Pak Army resources, even the Kashmir ones to engage the militants head on, proactively and head on.

Any stalling and befuddling or half efforts by the Pak Army will put avg Pakistani citizens in harms way and give the militants open house to do as they please in the cities, like in Karachi, where 3million Pashtuns live, and that city is rife with the possibility of Urban Militantism, as mentioned in the article.

Pakistan has limited assimilative capacity to absorb terrorist strikes, since its internal security is already weak, it will be that much easier to create chaos in the cities.

If the Pak Army is going to be reactive, then the militants are always one step ahead.

Posted by GW | Report as abusive
 

Watch this video. This has the power to temper hard feelings on both sides of the border. We just need ten more people like this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJYPa79cP u4&feature=fvw

At times like these, the people of India and Pakistan should help each other and politicians will see this and change themselves accordingly.

 

President Zardari has been ‘very’ absent recently. We have yet to hear his condemnation of these attacks.
Where is he?
Has he been refrained from leaving his quarters by the military?
His absence is very suspect.

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive
 

“The terrorists who attacked Bombay, including Kasab, should be given the maximum punishment. Any outfit, religious or not, connected with the cowardly attack on Bombay, should be equally punished. We grieved equally with you all” – Posted by Mansoor Siddiqui

We haven’t had many Pakistanis (or rather, any Pakistanis) come out & say something like this on the blog, so I’m glad to hear it & I appreciate it.

Posted by Mortal | Report as abusive
 

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