Scant details: Al Qaeda presence?

Updated August 22, 2013


INITIAL reports about the busting of an illegal telephone exchange in Lahore that was allegedly facilitating Al Qaeda once again highlight the dependence of foreign militant networks on local groups. In fact, the militants cannot operate without these franchises and affiliates — worryingly, present even in urban centres. The official response to the advice to identify these local networks has been lacking in consistency. Crackdowns have been few and restricted to jerky, superficial searches often aimed at stereotypical suspects. Thus the raid on the exchange working under the grand global title of International Technical Hub is an occasion for putting the country’s security and intelligence network on the path to a longer, deeper involvement in a task which can only be delayed at great risk to the public.

It is too early to say what the Lahore exchange raid signifies in the context of the war against terrorism. Conclusions are tough to draw since many questions need to be answered first. In Punjab, where the government is accused of showing leniency towards militants, could this discovery prove to be a turning point? Or, is it a warning to demonstrate what the intelligence agencies are capable of achieving if Pakistani militants do not heed the latest government call for dialogue? Just as it has become difficult to separate Punjab from the centre after the establishment of the PML-N governments in both Lahore and Islamabad, many observers are inclined to establish a link between Monday evening’s call for negotiations by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Tuesday morning’s raid on the telephone exchange. It is not so much the evidence that the material — reportedly, thousands of SIM cards — seized in the raid may provide but how the government wants to engage with the militants which will decide the future course of any official action.

Meanwhile, the absence of action by Pakistani authorities has been used to justify a certain series of Pakistan-related steps by the US — from drone attacks to the latest incident in which Washington has declared a madressah in Peshawar a terrorist outfit. While no doubt this designation will — and should — put pressure on the Pakistani authorities to investigate closely the madressah’s purported links with banned groups, the reasons the US has given for this move are not sufficient. More explanation is required on how the seminary was training groups as different in their approaches and designs as Taliban and Al Qaeda on the one hand and Lashkar-e-Taiba on the other. Clarity is needed on all fronts in the war against terrorism.