LAHORE, Sept 22: NWFP Governor Owais Ghani warned Punjab on Monday that militancy was gaining strength in its backyard.
“Militants in the tribal areas of the NWFP have established firm networking (with Jihadi groups) in southern Punjab and most fresh recruits for suicide attacks are coming from there. Militant leaders and commanders are also coming from Punjab. The militants’ field commander in Swat too is from Punjab,” Mr Ghani told a briefing arranged for senior journalists on insurgency in tribal areas.
The words of caution from the governor came soon after a number of people were detained in Punjab apparently in connection with the Marriott bombing.
Mr Ghani also warned against treating the insurgency in the tribal areas as a problem of the NWFP. “It will be ill-advised to think that the militancy will remain confined to the NWFP. Militants’ activities have already shifted to the settled areas and Punjab and they have established strong links with south Punjab. It’s a national issue, a question of survival for (entire) Pakistan.”Later talking to Dawn, the governor said he had discussed the matter with Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. He expressed the hope that the Punjab government would effectively handle the situation.
Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani is also said to be aware of the issue of recruitment of suicide bombers from his constituency. “He (prime minister) knows about it,” Mr Ghani said.
This is absolutely correct. Wonder why no one in authority pinpointed this factor before publicly.
There are many groups now operating under the umbrella title of Taliban - each with a different agenda. The particular South Punjab (Bahawalpur, Sadiqabad) and North-West Punjab (Sargodha, Jhang, Khushab) groups are the sectarian ones operating since late 1980s, and were responsible for suicide bombings of Shia mosques; Shootings of Shia Doctors and religious scholars; the bridge-bomb attempt at Nawaz Sharif near Raiwind; Suicide attacks at the Karachi US Consulate, Karachi Marriot, Karachi Sheraton French Engineers bus; All attempts at Musharraf and the one on Shaukat Aziz; The Airforce Cadets bus near Sargodha; Plus bombings at large Shia centers such as the 2007 carnage at Hangu. The Lahore FIA building bombing was also traced to these groups and some arrests made of persons from Sialkot and Gujranwala.
These groups were splintered from the original political party Sipah-e-Suhaba and its militant wing Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which regarded Shia as Kafirs and had demanded their declaration as non-Muslim. They were cracked down upon during the second Nawaz Sharif term, their literature seized and the party banned. Their operatives were hunted down and the organization dismantled.
But, quite astonishingly, Musharraf asked for help from none other than Maulana Azam Tariq, the Chief of the defunct Sipah-e-Suhaba and then an independent MNA from Jhang in 2002 elections, when he needed a single deciding vote to get Zafarullah Jamali elected as Prime Minister. Azam Tariq provided that vote and Jamali was elected by a single vote majority.
Azam Tariq was killed soon after in a hail of bullets at the Islamabad Toll Plaza, and the suicide attempts on Musharraf commenced. Did Musharraf use and then double-cross the sectarians?
These groups have large numbers of suicide bombers, networks in cities, as well as experience in Urban terror.
The Pushtun suicide bombings on the other hand, as a pattern, have been at military or paramilitary targets - initially to avenge Lal Masjid, and later in response to the Waziristan/Swat Operations.
The Pakistani security agencies know this very well. The sectarians were identified in each of the above attacks listed, many arrested or killed extra-judicially for specific involvement, but much of their leadership was arrested and then released - or simply disappeared after arrest quite inexplicably.
Riaz Basra, the operational Chief of Lashker-e-Jhangvi was one (who was claimed to have been killed in Faisalabad in a police encounter but his mother refused to identify the body as him), and recently, Qari Saifullah Akhtar who had been specifically named in Benazir Bhutto's letter to Musharraf as a threat to her life. Still he was released for lack of evidence by a Sessions Court judge.
Do these people now have powerful handlers? To work towards an agenda to Balkanize Pakistan? To alienate the Pushtuns and carry out a veritable genocide in their areas?
The evidence does point to that. The Islamabad Marriot bombing has all the indicators towards this conclusion.