To be read in continuation of my earlier article titled No More Lollipops
Between 25 and 30 people were killed and 66 injured on September 4, 2007, in two acts of reprisal terrorism directed against Pakistani Army targets by two unidentified suicide bombers in the Rawalpindi cantonment of Pakistan where the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army are located.
The first attack, believed to have been carried out by a suicide bomber on foot, came at 7-15 AM. His target was a bus of the Pakistan Army, which was carrying staff, civilians as well as uniformed personnel, to their place of work. There were 38 persons in the bus, of whom 18 were killed instantaneously. The remaining were injured and have been admitted in hospital.
The second attack came at 7-20 AM just behind the GHQ. It was carried out by a suicide bomber on a motor cycle. His target was an unidentified senior army officer, who was travelling to work in his staff car. While he appears to have escaped, seven to 12 passers-by were killed and many more injured.
While some reports said that the targeted bus was carrying employees of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission to work, others said it was actually carrying some civilian and uniformed staff of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). While Army spokesmen have admitted that the bus belonged to the army, they have refused to identify the inmates.
While it is clear that the suicide bombers had targeted vehicles linked to the army, it is not certain that they were aware that the passengers in the bus were employees of the Atomic Energy Commission or the ISI.
Both Rawalpindi, the seat of the Army, and the nearby Islamabad, the capital, had in the past seen many acts of terrorism. There were two acts of terrorism in Islamabad in July this year and there were two attempts to kill President General Pervez Musharraf in Rawalpindi in December, 2003. In March, 2003, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM), who allegedly orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US at the instance of Osama bin Laden, was found hiding in the house of a woman leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) in Rawalpindi.
There has been, as in respect of past terrorist strikes, no claim of responsibility for the two attacks. While the suicide bombers are yet to be identified, usually well-informed tribal sources believe that the two strikes were carried out by the followers of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Mehsud sub-tribe of the Pashtuns, who is closely allied to the Taliban of Mulla Mohammad Omar, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) of Yuri Yuldeshev. The IMU earlier used to operate from South Waziristan, but it now operastes from North Waziristan.
Some media reports, quoting Pakistani media spokesmen, have attributed the two incidents to Al Qaeda, but there is so far no evidence of direct Al Qaeda involvement. As reported in my earlier paper cited above, a fresh wave of anger, which initially started after the raid of the Pakistani Army commandoes on the Lal Masjid in Islamabad between July 10 and 13, 2007, has further intensified after the death of Abdullah Mehsud, a pro-Taliban tribal leader of South Waziristan and a former detenu at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba, at Zhob in Balochistan on July 23, 2007. According to the Pakistan Army, he blew himself up when he was surrounded by the security forces. But, his supporters allege that he was shot dead at point-blank range by the security forces.
This anger has taken the form of attacks on the Pakistan army vehicles and outposts in South and North Waziristan and the kidnapping of a large number of personnel of the Pakistani security forces by the Mehsuds. The followers of Baitullah Mehsud in the Waziristan area are presently estimated to be holding about 200 personnel of the Pakistani security forces, whom they have taken hostage to demand the release of Mehsud tribesmen arrested by the Army.
There are three main causes for the tribal anger against the Army sweeping across the tribal belt. Firstly, the commando raid in the Lal Masjid, in which 300 girls of a madrasa, all from tribal families, were allegedly killed. Secondly, the death of Abdullah Mehsud. Thirdly, the re-opening of the Army security posts in North and South Waziristan after the raid on the Lal Masjid. Pro-Taliban tribal leaders see this as a unilateral violation by the Army of the peace accords with some tribal leaders signed in South Waziristan in March 2005 and in North Waziristan in September, 2006. Under these peace accords, in return for a commitment by the tribal leaders not to assist foreign terrorists, the Army had withdrawn its posts from the area.
The US was unhappy over these agreements and has been claiming that they have facilitated the resurgence of the Neo Taliban and the Neo Al Qaeda from sanctuaries in North Waziristan. While the tribal leaders strongly deny the presence of Al Qaeda in their area, they do not deny the presence of the Neo Taliban and IMU members. They do not look upon the Pashtuns of the Neo Taliban and the Uzbecks, many of whom have married Pashtun women, as foreigners. They contend that their allowing them to stay in their areas does not amount to a violation of their commitment.
The situation in the tribal areas has been further aggravated by widespread anger among tribal women against the Army due to the alleged killing of 300 tribal girls during the raid in the Lal Masjid. They have been encouraging their sons to take to suicide attacks to avenge the deaths of these girls.
While the continuing tribal anger and the new women's anger and the resulting acts of jihadi terrorism would be welcomed by Al Qaeda, there is as yet no evidence to show that Al Qaeda has been the source of this unceasing wave of suicide terrorism in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and even in the capital and Rawalpindi.
Musharraf's position, already weakened by his confrontation with the judiciary, is likely to be further weakened by the tribal anger against him and create misgivings in the Army that he is becoming a liability to the Army as an institution.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.