Pakistan under siege: Sectarian war, target killings, militant networks and what not

Lalit Shastri

Karachi attack4Karachi is once more reeling under the impact of a brutal attack on a Ismaili Shia bus which left at 45 people dead on May 13. Earlier in January, a suicide bomber had triggered a blast killing 61 at a Shia mosque at Shikarpur not far from Karachi. In the latest incident, the attackers got into a bus and shot the passengers on the head at point blank range after asking them to bend forward and to lower their heads.

Karachi, historically a very important port city and the commercial capital of Pakistan, had witnessed a wave of violence, in the last week of August 2014, when several persons, including those from the Police and a doctor, were shot dead in different parts of city. Such target killings of the Muhajir people (those who migrated to Pakistan during the 1947 partition) are common in Pakistan and more particularly in Karachi. With political parties,like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), founded to serve the interests of the Muhajir people, and other political contraptions thriving on divisive lines, there has been a rise in targeted killings and aggravation of the Sunni-Shia conflict.

Recently when I asked a friend across the border, who is a top Pakistani journalist, to share his views on Kashmir, he had responded by saying: “what to talk of Kashmir when they can’t keep their own house in order. The writ of the elected Pakistani Government, excluding some parts of the Punjab province, does not run in other parts of the country beleaguered and besieged by violence, terror and sectarian strife, he observed.

We have Baluchistan, which is endowed with huge natural wealth. Instead of using the massive deposits of copper, gold and coal for the growth and development of the country, what we are witnessing in Baluchistan is endless violence, my friend pointed out. When reminded of Sher Shah, the medieval ruler, who has the credit of building the grand trunk road connecting Kolkata with Peshawar, and told that the situation of law and order during his regime was such that a young woman laden with gold ornaments could walk fearlessly on the streets even in the middle of the night, the Pak journalist responded by saying: “what a contrast, even a man possessing only a mobile phone is not safe on Pakistani streets.”

My Pakistani friend had opened the window and helped me take a closer look at the situation prevailing in Pakistan. Here is a narrative of what I gathered from the “man on the spot” :

Militant Islamist groups and more particularly the Taliban are spreading terror within Pakistan and are also locked in regional battles in Baluchistan. Some of these groups, aided and supported by the Pak ISI, are also involved in acts of terrorism in Kashmir and what they call the “global jihad”.

The violent and hardline Islamist groups comprise of the al Qaeda, Pak Taliban and the Afghan Taliban that fled Afghanistan after the US controlled troops took control of their territory fourteen years ago. When the US started mounting pressure on Pakistan for coordinated action in the war against terror after 9/11, those supporting the Afghan Taliban in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa area of Pakistan—earlier called the North-West province– provided the base and a fertile ground to the Afghan Taliban to regroup. In this scenario, several militant groups became part of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) now known as the Pak-Taliban.

The militants network, with several hundred thousand members, is now deeply entrenched in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa area. The Pak Taliban has also made deep inroads in Baluchistan. The Haqqani group, which is part of the militant network and is supposed to be a non-state arm of the ISI is considered the biggest threat by the US.

Any discussion on the hardline Islamists groups of Pakistan would be incomplete without focusing attention on the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the military wing of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JD), a fundamentalist organisation operating freely in Pakistan. Its founder leader is Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. Lashkar-e-Taiba is closely linked to the ISI and India has evidence that it was directly responsible for the Mumbai attack in 2008. It is also active in spreading terror in Kashmir.

The Taliban presence and activities in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region is only one side of the picture. Baluchistan is another problem area where the separatists are fanning sectarian violence. In this region, the fight for control over natural resources has turned deadly with the militant Sunni Islamist groups targeting the Shias and this is leaving a violent impact even in other parts of the country. Sectarian violence has reduced Baluchistan into a Sunni-Shia battleground-especially with the Sunni militants continuously targeting the local Hazara population, which is in minority. Baluchistan has also been rocked by ethnic violence and settlers have been forced to leave the province. The Pakistani Government has lost even a semblance of control in this region.


US Secretary of State John Kerry condemns the Karachi attack

The American people, Kerry said in a statement on Thursday, stand in solidarity with the people of Pakistan, and with the global Ismaili community on this tragic day. Make no mistake: There is more strength by far in the respect and solidarity that we feel towards one another than there could ever be in any terrorist attack.

Extending his personal condolences to the families of the victims, and to the Aga Khan, who has led the Ismaili community in investing in so many important development and education projects not only in Pakistan, but around the world.Kerry said: ‘We will support efforts to bring all those responsible to justice and stand ready to provide assistance to the investigation of this tragic attack.’