Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fighting while ‘talking’ The state of security in the country generally, and in the federal capital Islamabad in particular, was badly exposed the other day when the main courthouse complex in the heart of the city was attacked by terrorist gunmen and suicide bombers. The security arrangements were so lax that the gunmen comfortably walked in, sprayed the area with gunfire and, when challenged by whatever rudimentary police presence was available, blew themselves up. In the melee, Additional District and Sessions Judge Rafaqat Awan was particularly targeted it seems. Whether this had anything to do with his rejection last year of a plea to order a murder case against Musharraf for authorising the Lal Masjid operation in 2007 is not known. Some reports speak of one gunman deliberately gunning down the judge after asking him to say his final prayers. The carnage left 11 people dead, including the judge, and 25 injured. The policemen on duty, despite reportedly being untrained in anti-terror operations, resisted valiantly to the extent they could, but the general police response to the emergency was tardy at best. The incident has proved seriously embarrassing for the government in general, but particularly for Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, who had said only the other day that Islamabad was secure. In what is emerging as a pattern in such attacks, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) denied responsibility for this as well as another attack in Khyber Agency that killed two soldiers and wounded six. A ‘new’ outfit calling itself Ahrarul Hind claimed responsibility for the Islamabad attack. Not much is known about the shadowy group, except that they have rejected the idea of a ceasefire confined to the tribal areas since they claim to be urban-based. In the murky world of the jihadi groups, it is difficult to determine whether the ostensible ‘differences’ that come to light from time to time amongst various groups are real or a tactical device to maintain credible deniability. The attack in Islamabad has evoked the usual round of condemnations, ‘demands’ and comments. For example, the Opposition in the National Assembly decried the attack as a ‘grave security failure’, to which the redoubtable Chaudhry replied that point scoring on such instances would be a great injustice to the government and the Opposition should instead give concrete suggestions to tackle the problem. Chaudhry Nisar told the house that seven suspects were in custody and the government was pursuing three lines of inquiry: whether the TTP carried out the attack, whether it is the work of forces opposed to the dialogue, and third whether there is any ‘international’ connection. While no possibility should be overlooked in an investigation, it is difficult to take seriously the second and third lines of inquiry, if for no other reason because conspiracy theories aside, there is so far no evidence that could point in the direction of the latter two possibilities, subjective statements by sundry apologists of the Taliban like Maulana Samiul Haq and Imran Khan notwithstanding. Even Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chimed in with the theory of unnamed ‘forces’ inimical to the government’s peace efforts sabotaging the negotiations. The top civilian and military brass did meet to discuss the security situation generally and the Islamabad attack in particular, but not much is known of what transpired. The prime minister was to meet the government’s negotiating team yesterday (Tuesday). What remains to be seen is whether the team, reportedly divided internally, will survive and play some further role or be disbanded as some of its members have suggested. While the Senate has demanded a detailed statement by the government on the Islamabad incident, MQM’s Altaf Hussain, from the safety of London, has urged the government to hit back and crush the terrorists. The Supreme Court Chief Justice has taken suo motu notice of the incident and the lawyers’ community throughout the country has boycotted the courts on Tuesday in protest at the attack on the judicial system of the country. The only thing remaining now is to see what, if any, the response of the government will be to the strategy and tactics of the Taliban to pretend to be ‘talking’ while fighting.

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