A three-in-one bloody affair

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Situationer

M. Ziauddin

The Lahore ‘suicide’ blast of Monday last has turned out to be a three-in-one bloody affair. It could have been directed at the Pakistan Super League (PSL) final and at the same time aimed at demoralizing the police force as well as used for sectarian slaughter. But perhaps the sole intention of Jamaatul Ahrar (JUA), the organization that has claimed the responsibility for the blast was to deter the organizers of the PSL from holding the finals in Lahore and the police force as well as the sectarian element got caught up in the ghastly episode only coincidently, by chance.
This conjecture sounds somewhat plausible if one assumed that such high level presence of police personnel at the venue of the protest was impromptu and not a routine matter. And the sectarian element seems to have gotten involved even more coincidently because the two martyred officials—DIG Capt. (retd) Ahmad Mubeen and SSP Zahid Ikram Gondal—who were negotiating with the protestors, were known in the police force and among their friends and acquaintances for their professional dedication and valor and not so well by their sect.
So, if it is assumed that the gory message was intended for the organizers of the PSL or for that matter to the state of Pakistan that it will be continued to be denied the normalcy that it hopes to regain by bringing international cricket back to the country one immediately arrives at the conclusion that it is perhaps India that is behind this and other similar bloody incidents occurring in Pakistan from time to time. Many of us also attribute such incidents to the anti-Pakistan elements in the Kabul government.
But for India and Afghanistan to successfully stage such bloody events, they would certainly need to have on their pay-roll some misguided local militants. It is these local agents of foreign hands that we need to apprehend but before even embarking on this mission we need to establish for sure that indeed, it is India or Afghanistan or both in tandem are behind these incidents.
But then perhaps the Lahore incident was actually a two-in-one. Perhaps the purpose actually was sectarian plus getting even with the police force of Punjab for the so many cuts the latter has lately inflicted on the body of sectarian terror groups based in the province. And the PSL thing was a bonus. But was it?
Perhaps the JUA had no idea that its sectarian motivated suicide attack on the two police officers would result in unleashing intense uncertainty about the PSL final in Lahore which it had perhaps never intended and which prompted the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa to pledge full support to authorities for holding the match on and according to schedule.
Perhaps the JUA, driven by its sectarian antipathy, had been closely watching and shadowing the two police officers for some time and bidding for the right time and place which it found on Monday last and the sole suicide bomber was, as is being claimed by the Punjab government had placed himself right behind DIG Mubeen before setting off the bomb.
Militants belonging to the Thereek-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and local sectarian outfits have been targeting the security agencies including military and the police force personnel for years. Most of the TTP militants are said to have crossed over to Afghanistan where it is said to be operating under the leadership of Mullah Fazlullah under the guidance of the Afghan intelligence. However, the sectarian outfits are still very much operational inside the country, especially in Punjab and particularly in Southern Punjab.
Over the years, a nexus is seen to have developed between these sectarian groups and those militants that are described as ‘our’ militants on the one hand and on the other the main political parties of the country. This nexus is said have been developed because the political parties are said to be finding it increasingly difficult to keep the so-called Islamic radicalism from their rank and file.
It is not the institutions of religious education or madrassas alone that are responsible for causing intolerance and radicalization in Pakistani society. A great deal of the problem also lies in the public school system, which subsequently feeds into the higher education system of colleges and universities.
Now that the Operation Zarb-e-Azb against militant hideouts and sanctuaries in Fata, especially in North Waziristan, is nearing its conclusion and the process of reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDP) has begun, it is time to revisit the state of the economy or non-economy of a region that has been under the virtual control of the Taliban for almost a decade to see how the militants could be denied the resources that they require to mount suicide attacks like the one they mounted in Lahore on Monday.
Fata’s economy, mainly pastoral-based, has remained in the clutches of the Afghan Taliban for years. The semi-autonomous region, bordering Afghanistan, has increasingly been defined, of late, by the Taliban militancy. The tribesmen are frequently reported to have access to high-tech gadgets, sophisticated weapons, luxury vehicles and links not just across the border in Afghanistan but also internationally. Money rather than faith is said to have been a major consideration in the militancy-infected areas, both as a source for financing the militancy as well as an incentive for control over smuggling routes or trade in or through the region.
According to a mid-2009 study published by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (“Fata: Tribal economy in the context of ongoing militancy” by Asif Mian), Taliban’s share in the tribal economy is said to be higher than understood in general. According to one estimate, Taliban collect around Rs4 billion annually. The Afghan Taliban have long made their money in the opium trade. There are abundant natural resources in Fata such as marble, copper, limestone and coal which offer a potentially thriving mining industry. Trade with neighboring Afghanistan has played an active role in Fata’s economy, and items imported and exported to the country via trucks pass through supply routes in Fata. The area has also been influenced to a great extent by the active Afghan opium trade. This has made Fata a transitional point for smuggling and trafficking of goods, as well as black markets. There is a sizeable indigenous weapons and firearms manufacturing industry in the region. Illegal trade of arms and narcotics, transit trade to Afghanistan via foreign exchange transactions through hawala, hundi and goods transport are among the major businesses in the tribal areas. The roads used for the transportation business had remained under Taliban control and could only be used subject to payments to the militants. The Fata areas controlled by Pakhtun militants are known to be major narcotics trafficking routes to Europe and beyond.
Hundreds of thousands of people are associated with the weapons’ manufacturing industry now controlled by the Taliban. These weapons are traded in huge markets in Darra Adam Khel, a town located between Peshawar and Kohat in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa, Sakhakot (Malakand), Bara (Khyber Agency), Peshawar’s Karkhano Market, Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan, and in Mohmand Agency. Some income-generation avenues are specific to particular tribal districts in Fata. Proceeds from a well-established marble industry are one of the major sources of income in Mohmand Agency, while trade of timber from forests in North Waziristan contributes substantially to the tribal district’s economy. Protection money extorted during transportation of marble and timber through Taliban-controlled areas also fills the militants’ coffers.
Smuggled goods are big business in all seven tribal districts, and traders in nearly every Fata agency have defined their niche market. If one agency is known as a trading hub for smuggled tyres, another deals exclusively in smuggled cars, weapons or chemicals. Indirectly controlled by Taliban, Karkhano Market situated in Peshawar’s Hayatabad industrial area, has 4,857 shops. Estimates suggest that around 40 per cent population of Bajaur, Mohmand and Khyber agencies is directly or indirectly associated with this market. Goods are brought to Karkhano Market from Iran, Central Asia and China through different routes. Karkhano shopkeepers have contacts in the world’s biggest markets. The tribes in Fata have a well-established hawala system, which is very efficient. Anyone wishing to make a financial transaction with an individual or institution anywhere in the world can do so in the tribal areas, irrespective of the amount involved and without any concern over the transaction’s reliability. It is estimated that in 2009, $5 million were taken out of the country through hawala or hundi annually.