Once nurtured by the Pakistani state, especially the ISI, Pakistan’s home grown Jihadis are now increasingly attacking the Pakistanis. The recent massacre of over 100 Ahmediya worshippers in Lahore’s two mosques, a brazen attack on a NATO convoy just outside Islamabad, an audacious attack on a hospital inside Lahore to free a captured terrorist -and many such others- all indicate towards Pakistan having `lost the war on terror’ on the home front. Yesterday’s monster has today turned on the master, with the mentor (read USA) finally realising that there’s nothing called `the Good Taliban’. In fact, USA is caught between having to support Pakistan in the hope that it will crack down on the terrorist hordes and being attacked by terrorists trained and launched from Pakistan. It is now apparent, even to the most skeptical that the US cannot salvage even a modicum of peace in the large crescent of instability through Afghanistan into Pakistan let alone win the war against terror.
Pakistan, which is the cradle of Islamic fundamentalism and remains the most safe sanctuary for Osama bin Laden and all other practitioners of cut throat Jihadism, is itself being gnawed at by rogue elements. Lately, there are reports that Lahore has become a safe haven for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its allies like the LeT and Al Qaeda. Despite tall claims of success in the so called war against terror, the TTP and its fellow militants were allowed to move freely in Pakistan Punjab and carry out ‘Jihad’ in the North West and Afghanistan. The TTP, is in fact an instrument of “strategic depth” for Pakistan and therefore the natural beneficiary of patronage from in the country’s civil and military establishment. The reason can, perhaps be seen in Pakistan’s traditional hatred towards India, wherein, it stage managed to let the TTP hardcore to slip out of Waziristan and escape into Punjab, so that it inches towards completing the unfinished agenda against India !
In the past, Punjabi militants were distinct from militants of tribal areas and the Army retained a semblance of control over them. This, however, is no longer true. The growing role of Punjabis marks a major escalation of extremist threats in Pakistan. Punjab being the heartland, is home to its political and military elite. Many Punjabi Taliban leaders have received military training, which makes them more lethal than rural Pashtoon fighters. Southern Punjab has today become a hub for Punjabi militants who maintain close touch with the Taliban, and travel to the tribal belt for both training and combat. The traffic is, in fact, two-way with the Punjabi militants providing safe havens to Taliban fighters, when needed. These groups, once created and controlled by the ISI, have now joined the Al Qaeda and TTP. Their aims have become increasingly maximalist-they seek not just to control Afghanistan but also liberate Kashmir as a first step to control territory within India. This is the true prize of their struggle !
To achieve this , the militants have polished their approach, expanded their arsenal and improved their tactics. They retain the option of either mixing with the foreign fighters who have taken refuge in tribal areas, or returning to the province, to stage more brazen attacks. Two outlawed erstwhile Punjabi groups-the Sipah-e-Sahiba and the Lashkar-e-Janghvi are now the operational arm of the Al Qaeda & TTP, and rule the countryside.
Next comes the political nexus. Though the Federal Government admits to the Punjabi groups being behind most of the daring strikes, there has been no disarmament or de-mobilisation campaign till date, simply because the Punjab government denies their existence. It is an open secret that the PML (N) leadership has a soft corner for these militant groups and has negotiated a deal, possibly for it’s own survival! The recent controversial remarks made by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, at Jamia Naeemia in which he “requested” the Taliban not to attack Punjab has exposed the reluctance of his government in undertaking tough measures. This is not to suggest that the federal government’s record in this regard has been any better, as it has also consistently denied the existence of terror outfits in Punjab, keeping its focus only on the TTP in the NWFP. In fact, even those outfits, hounded out of the North West by the military under Operation Al-Mizan (Pak’s biggest and boldest initiative so far), have regained lost ground. There are reports of the Taliban and it’s allied groups re-occupying vacated areas, simply by evicting the poorly armed and ill-trained police who had been left behind to secure ground after the Army operations ended.
Now with Obama having declared his country’s intentions of vacating Afghanistan within a defined time-frame, and the Afghans being ill-prepared to take over, the Taliban are just biding time- they know the Af- Pak region, later Punjab, and possibly entire Afghanistan is there’s for the taking ! Having mopped up their victory in Pakistan and Afghanistan they are bound to turn their eyes on to India, Kashmir first.