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Clarity is still missing

Updated July 28, 2013

THE new government is in search of a counterterrorism policy. Meanwhile, militants that are evidently clear about their agendas and goals are busy expanding the range of their targets and diversifying their tactics.

The recent attacks on foreign mountaineers in Diamer and a university bus of women in Quetta are just two among many examples of the militants’ changing targets and attack tactics. These and other similar attacks challenge our law-enforcement agencies’ vigilance and response mechanism; they have failed to understand the exact nature and strength of the militant groups.

The protracted confusion about the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militants and their acts that exists in Pakistan at the level of the state and society not only emboldens the militants but also provides them the space to expand and strengthen their operational infrastructure and capabilities and sharpen their destructive edge.

Those who are aware of Pakistani militants’ ideology and views about the country’s social order, political system and the Constitution find it extremely hard to find a reason why the militants would stop launching attacks. The years-long spree of militant attacks in Pakistan that has intensified over time offers concrete evidence to support this fact. The attacks also indicate that the militants think ahead of Pakistan’s security agencies and law-enforcement agencies.

A diachronic comparison of the militants’ targets and attack tactics reveals that until 2008, groups affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban were using sophisticated techniques that were used by insurgents in Iraq. Such tactics were employed, among others, in three major terrorist attacks in 2008: the attack on the Federal Investigation Agency building in Lahore and attacks on the Danish embassy and Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.

In 2009, they further enhanced their operational strategies and successfully imitated the Mumbai attacks in four major assaults here: the attack on GHQ in Rawalpindi, that on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, and two on the Manawan Police Training School in Lahore.

Also, 2009 was the year when militants started targeting particular cities through repeated strikes to increase the impact of the terror, a trend that continues to date. For instance, in 2009, they targeted Peshawar, in 2010 it was Lahore and in 2011-12 they focused on Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar.

A major change noticed in the militants’ strategy in 2010 was the use of women in suicide attacks. While they have continued to do this, it has not become a popular trend. Cultural sensitivity could be one reason, but it also indicates that the militants have little female human resource available for the purpose.

In 2011 and 2012, extremists intensified sectarian-related attacks and increasingly resorted to targeted killings. Law enforcement agencies noticed that militants increasingly used the peripheries of cities, mainly recently developed settlements, as hideouts. Previously, they considered it easier to hide in more populated areas. This trend was noticed in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.

The first half of this year reflected that militants’ international credentials are getting stronger. The news of the TTP’s engagement in Syria did not, indeed, surprise many as its links with some global jihadist groups are known to all. The attack on the foreign mountaineers also indicated that local extremist groups’ nexus with Al Qaeda had now been nurtured to the extent that they had started diversifying their targets in the international context.

Most often, militants use bogus identification and wear the uniforms of the security forces; this has become a major security concern. In the GHQ, Mehran and Kamra attacks the extremists wore army uniforms and used vehicles painted in the same manner as military vehicles. They used a similar tactic in transporting explosives as well.

On the whole, a strong sense of insecurity prevails in Balochistan, Fata, Karachi and most parts of KP. Fata has been a flashpoint of the TTP insurgency and terrorism since 2004. Successive governments have failed to evolve any approach, whether military, political, talks or reintegration, to address the issue.

Despite a continuing increase in the frequency and intensity of the attacks in the country and domestic and global pressures to counter the threat, the responses of security and political circles are still to be synchronised to build a counterterrorism policy. What does this delay yield except strengthening the militants and weakening the state responses?

The persistence of critical security issues and flaws in policy and coordination provided militants the opportunity to develop their nexus with criminal networks, which ultimately resulted in a rise in crime. Militants are now involved in abductions for ransom across Pakistan. Some reports also suggest that they are aiding criminals in their activities. With regard to the militant-criminal nexuses, Karachi, Balochistan, parts of Punjab, the tribal areas and even Islamabad have become critical areas.

The police force still needs to be equipped with new technologies and resources but utilising the resources available and allocated for the force is also a critical issue. In Islamabad, the police acquired two helicopters for aerial surveillance to counter terrorism and crime in 2012, but there were serious doubts if they would be able to use them effectively.

In the recent past, scanners worth billions of rupees were disposed of because of the reluctance to use technology and on account of incompetence of the police. It has been the same case with the elite police force, which is trained for specific targets, mostly dealing with terrorists or hardened criminals; its officials are instead made to perform functions that fail to utilise their specialised skills.

Terrorists are using diverse attack tactics to hit targets across Pakistan but the state and society are still unclear about where to start. A segment of the intelligentsia and the media is also promoting confusion while missing different socio-political and religious trends pertaining to terrorism.

The clarity that is required to address the issue is still missing and it seems that the new government has also failed to assess the nature of the threat. The government should realise that confusion on its part will be conceived as a victory by the militants.