ISSN 2330-717X

Punjab: Frankenstein’s Conspiracy In Pakistan

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By Ambreen Agha

Salmaan Taseer, Governor of the Punjab Province, the political power hub of terror-ridden Pakistan, was killed in Islamabad, the national capital, on January 4, 2011. It was not mere coincidence that he was killed by one of his body guards, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri. Qadri was reportedly incensed by the Governor’s denunciation of the controversial blasphemy law [a punitive law against any critic or defamer of the Islamic religion, Prophet Mohammad or the holy Quran], as also his advocacy for Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death on November 7, 2010, for alleged blasphemy. As of now, the mercy petition, under article 45 of the Constitution of Pakistan, is lying with President Asif Ali Zardari.

A group of over 500 Pakistani scholars and clerics warned against any expression of sympathy for the slain Governor, saying that such expression would be tantamount to an act of blasphemy. Warning the people not to lead funeral prayers for Taseer, the clerics, part of the Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat Pakistan, a grouping representing the ‘moderate’ Barelvi sect of Sunni Muslims, praised Qadri and called him a Ghazi (Islamic warrior). When he was brought to court the day after the assassination, Qadri was showered with rose petals.Qadri is reported to be associated with Dawat-i-Islami, considered a non-violent, non-political religious group, which runs on the line of Barelvi school of thought. Consequently, this murderous act does not appear to be an attempt by a lone fanatic. Qadri was a member of the Elite Force set up by the Punjab Government for VIP protection. A note circulated by the Asian Human Rights Commission observes, significantly,

Three days before the shooting Quadri told his colleagues that he was planning to kill the governor after which he would surrender so as not to be killed himself. The Elite Force was created by the chief minister of Punjab in 1997 and since then it has become parallel to the police force. All appointments are made by the ruling party of Punjab on political basis… Controversies abounded between the ruling party and the governor’s house…

On January 5, Federal Law Minister Babar Awan blamed the Punjab Government for not providing adequate security to the assassinated Governor, and termed the killing ‘political’. On January 6, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the assassination, declaring, “The man who killed him was from among us.”

Whatever the investigations eventually reveal, it is already abundantly clear that the assassination is a manifestation of a fundamentally radicalised society that has no space for progressive or liberal thought. The system and the establishment provide a concrete base for hardliners and extremist groups, further strengthening their reach in Punjab, in particular, and in the country at large.

Taseer’s assassination is, thus, only a dramatic instance of the fanatical violence that has come to afflict Pakistan’s Punjab Province. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) a total of 316 persons, including 272 civilians, 28 Security Force (SF) personnel and 16 militants lost their lives in 22 incidents of killing in 2010. This did reflect relative diminution in fatalities, as compared to the 422 killed, including 254 civilians, 117 SF personnel and 51 militants, in 36 incidents of killing, in 2009. Though the Province registered a 25.12 per cent decline in overall fatalities in 2010, as against the previous year, there was a seven per cent increase in the number of civilians killed, suggesting declining SF operations against the radicals, as well as a drop in incidents targeting SF personnel. Significantly, the number of SF personnel killed in 2010 was less than a fourth of SF fatalities in 2009, while the number of terrorists killed fell to less than a third of their number in 2009. Moreover, most of the terrorists killed (13) were victims of internecine warfare and suicide bombings, and not any confrontation with the SFs. [Only three militants were killed during SF operations.] This data clearly demonstrates the enormous laxity shown by the SFs, working under partisan, confused and incapable political masters.

Fatalities in Punjab: 2006-2010
Year
Civilians
SFs
Militants
Total
2006
6
0
1
7
2007
96
47
14
157
2008
298
40
14
352
2009
254
117
51
422
2010
272
28
16
316
Total
926
232
96
1254
Source: SATP [Data till December 31, 2010]

A total of 22 incidents of killing, of which 12 were major (involving three or more fatalities), were recorded in 2010. 22 major incidents out of a total of 36 incidents, were recorded in 2009. The most significant among the incidents in 2010 included:

October 25: A bomb explosion at the eastern gate of the Baba Farid Shrine in Pakpattan District killed at least six persons, including three women, and injured several others.

September 1: 43 persons were killed and another 230 were injured in two suicide attacks and one grenade attack on a Shia procession marking Hazrat Ali’s martyrdom in Lahore. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ)-al-Alami claimed responsibility for the attacks, which occurred minutes apart in the Bhaati Gate locality of Lahore.

July 1: At least 40 persons were killed and 175 were injured when three suicide attackers blew themselves up inside the shrine of Lahore’s patron saint, Syed Ali Hajwairi, popularly known as Data Gunj Bakhsh.

May 28: At least 95 worshippers were killed and 92 sustained injuries, as seven assailants, including three suicide bombers, attacked an Ahmadiyya place of worship in Model Town and Garhi Shahu areas of Lahore.

March 12: At least 57 persons, including eight soldiers, were killed, and more than 90 persons were injured in twin suicide blasts, moments apart from each other, which ripped through Lahore’s RA Bazaar in the cantonment area.

Suicide bombings form a major tactic employed by the militants in Punjab. Out of the 316 fatalities in the Province in 2010, 264 occurred in just six suicide attacks. In 2009, the number of persons killed in suicide attacks stood at 284 (out of 422 total fatalities) in 19 incidents. Evidently, the lethality of suicide attacks increased considerably in 2010, as compared to the previous year. Further, there have been large numbers of killings in lethal bomb blasts across Punjab. Out of 36 Districts in the Province, the worst affected was Lahore. Five of the six suicide attacks took place in Lahore, killing 259 persons and injuring 667.

Sectarian violence, rampant elsewhere in the country, has engulfed Punjab as well, and the entire population appears almost to be into warring sects, easily flaring up in violent encounters. 56 persons were killed and 188 were injured in two incidents of sectarian violence in 2009. In 2010, the number surged to 198 killed and 524 injured, in six such incidents. In the incident on May 28, at least 95 persons lost their lives at an Ahmadiyya place of worship in the Model Town and Garhi Shahu areas of Lahore. One injured militant, identified as Muaaz, was subsequently arrested. Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah disclosed that the arrested militant hailed from the Rahim Yar Khan District and used to be a student of a madrassa (religious seminary) based in Karachi.

The unholy nexus between militants – principally the TTP, LeJ and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) – religious organisations and politicians enormously compounds the situation. Giving ample proof of the nexus, slain Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, after the May 28 incident, had stated that the Ahmadis had been targeted due to the close relations between the ruling Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) and the TTP. In a message on the social networking website, Twitter, Taseer claimed that the SSP and TTP were united and supported by Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah.

Significantly, during the National Assembly by-election for the Jhang seat [held on March 11, 2008], Sanaullah conducted a joint campaign with the SSP and its head, Muhammad Ahmad Ludhianvi. Jhang is the epicentre of the sectarian groups. When questioned on this, Sanaullah argued, “Not all banned outfits and organisations are involved in terrorist activities.” Sanaullah’s response was symptomatic of the soft approach adopted by the Punjab Government towards radical groups that espouse violence against the Ahmadis, other Muslim sects, such as the Shias, and religious minorities, who have also come under attacks from Sunni radical militant outfits.

The Punjab Information Secretary and a leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Fakharuddin Chaudhry, also received death threats from sectarian groups after he exposed close contacts between the PML-N and these outfits at a Press Conference on November 19. Fakharuddin also criticised Sanaullah and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for their alleged relations with the banned outfits, and especially the Punjab Government’s decision to take back all criminal cases against members of SSP and LeJ.

Ahmad Majidyar, a researcher from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), rightly notes that the rising militant activity and growing TTP/Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda influence in Punjab have largely been ignored, and that South Punjab has become the new base for terrorists escaping the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (FATA).

The SFs have, however, been boasting some operational successes, claiming the arrest of 867 terrorists in 49 incidents in 2010, as compared to 495 arrests made in 60 such incidents in 2009. The arrests and following interrogations indicate that there is little distinction between TTP and other radical outfits like the al Qaeda and LeJ in Punjab. On June 17, 2009, the Lahore Police arrested a terrorist involved in the attack on a visiting Sri Lankan cricket team on March 3, 2009. The arrested man was identified as Zubair alias Naik Muhammad, a member of the Punjab Taliban, an offshoot of the banned LeJ, who was also linked with al Qaeda. Similarly, almost a year later, on May 16, 2010, intelligence agencies forwarded a detailed report to the authorities concerned in Punjab, in which they identified two terrorist outfits, TTP and the LeJ, jointly planning attacks to target law enforcers and civil officers in the Province, in order to disrupt the law and order situation in Punjab. Such connections between active terrorist groups are a matter of increasing concern for those interested in containing the rising trend of Islamist extremism and terror in Pakistan.

The large number of arrests have, however, done little to dampen trends towards progressive radicalisation and terrorist violence. A lack of active Police deployment in the Province has also catalysed extremist activities and violence. The Pakistan Conflict Monitor, in its overview on Pakistan’s Police Force, estimates that, out of the 180,000 Policemen in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous Province, only 40,000 are permanently stationed in Police Stations, with the rest deployed for VIP security and traffic policing. About 6,000 Policemen are said to be permanently guarding the four private and official residences of the Chief Minister Shabaz Sharif alone. Pakistan’s security arsenal is evidently bereft of the “two Cs” – commitment and capabilities.

Unfortunately, instead of focusing on fighting the growing terrorism and extremism on their own soil, The Human Security Report Project notes, Pakistan’s top military brass have indicated that they are likely to spend the bulk of new budgetary allocations in pursuit of their long-standing strategy of developing defensive capabilities and ‘strategic depth’ vis-à-vis India.

The Punjab Province lies at the very heart of Pakistan’s perversion of power, and is marred by all the elements that propel radicalisation and terrorism in the country: a flawed combination of ineffective and corrupt Police and Security Forces, extremist religious seminaries, provincial leaders who not only tolerate, but often collude with terrorist outfits, and an overall environment that nurtures and promotes the Frankensteinian terror that has come to consume society and polity. The targeted terror, which the Taseer killing will naturally inspire in any incipient moderate constituency in the Province, can only ensure that Islamist extremism will continue to hold sway, and will silence every whisper that finds expression against it.

Ambreen Agha, is Research Assistant at the Institute for Conflict Management

SATP

SATP

SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

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