Terrorists have fully exposed their ambitions while attacking the Hazrat Ali Hajvari shrine in Lahore on July 1. The rapid expansion in their targets indicates that they have decided to fully exhibit their ideological, political and sectarian aims through violence. They have chosen the Punjab province and specifically the capital, Lahore, as a battlefield. With the rise in terrorist attacks testing the nerves of the security apparatus, insufficiently trained to cope with such challenges, the terrorists are continuously changing their operational tactics. From 2006 to date, Punjab has witnessed 174 terrorist attacks, which killed 1312 security forces personnel and civilians. These attacks include 39 suicide attacks as well, out of which 15 reported in Lahore.â€¨â€¨The situation can be compared with 1996-98 when sectarian violence had gripped the province with 204 terrorist attacks, killing 361 people. Lahore, alone had shared the 64 attacks. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahabah and Sipah-e-Muhammad were major culprit behind these attacks. Even at that time, Mian Shabaz Shariaf was the Chief Minister and his government had taken serious steps to address the issue.
These initiatives taken included the establishment of Mutahida Ulema Board to check the proliferation of sectarian literature and federal government had set up Anti-Terrorism Courts. However, these initiatives failed to fix the problem and ultimately the â€˜taskâ€™ was given to Punjab Police. From September 1998 until the removal of Sharif Government in October 1999, the Punjab Police killed as many as 36 sectarian terrorists in â€˜encountersâ€™. The sectarian organizations alleged that they were fake encounters. Can the government adopt this strategy now? There would be many question marks but the major difference between these two phases is that the terrorists are now more sophisticated in their tactics, and have expanded their agendas and range of targets.
Targets and threatsâ€¨â€¨According to the various security think tanks reports, the rise in terrorist incidents was gradual. From 2001 to 2005, only seven terrorist incidents were reported in the province but 2006 was the turning point and 28 terrorist attacks were reported during this year, which killed the 28 people. Next year, the same number of terrorist attacks was reported but the killings rose to 113. The years 2008 and 2009 faced 35 and 45 terrorist attacks each year, which killed 219 and 420 respectively. However, during these two years, terrorists introduced new techniques and succeeded to breach the security measures. Compared to this, from January to July this year, there have been a total of 37 terrorist attacks in the province. The range of terrorist attacks indicates that Punjab is facing four kinds of security threats
.â€¨â€¨Attacks on security forces: Army and Security forces personnel are the primary targets of terrorists. Security forces have faced 33 terror assaults from 2006 to 2010, including the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) building, Naval College, Manawan police centre and ISI building attacks. Assaults on the Manawan Police Training Centre in Lahore and the militaryâ€™s General Headquarters (GHQ) in the garrison city of Rawalpindi had the most devastating effect, in terms of demonstrating the reach of the terrorists.
Sectarian violence: Eleven major sectarian terrorist attacks have been reported in Punjab during last five years. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and its affiliate groups have claimed responsibility for these sectarian attacks. This trend reveals the close nexus between the Taliban and several major sectarian and militant groups in Punjab, which are now labeled as â€˜Punjabi Talibanâ€™. This Taliban-sectarian outfits alliance is now expanding its targets. The killing of Mufti Sarfaraz Naeemi was the first indication, and the horrific terrorist attack on Data Darbar is a manifestation of the expanding sectarian agenda.
Communal targeting: Communal targeting has also increased in the province. During 2009 targeting of a Christian neighborhood in the Punjabi town of Gojra on August 1 was the most horrific instance of communal targeting. At least 50 houses of Christians were torched in by a banned militant outfit. This year Ahmadiyya communityâ€™s places of worship were brutally attacked in an organized guerrilla style leaving a hundred worshippers dead.
Attacks on cultural and secular symbols: When Punjabi Taliban visit their native areas, they motivate the local people to take action against what they call anti-Islamic activities of barbers, cosmetics sellers and CD shops. The intent of the Taliban was clear when they attacked markets crowded with women, such as the Moon Market in Lahore. The Taliban and their militant allies oppose freedom for women and particularly abhor their shopping for cosmetics, etc. They view it as obscene and had banned women from public spaces during their brief period of influence in Swat. Shops and businesses catering to women could be highly vulnerable in the future as well. In Punjab, especially in Lahore, attacks on cultural festivals, theaters and cinemas indicate the growing radicalization and the presence of violent radical cells in the city.
Operational tacticsâ€¨â€¨The nexus of Al-Qaeda, Taliban and militant groups has grown stronger in the last few years, and signs of this collaboration are visible in many terrorist attacks during the recent years. Terrorists, for the first time, used explosives-laden vehicles to hit highly protected buildings in the Punjab. It was noted in 2008 that terrorist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and Taliban were using sophisticated techniques that had been being employed by insurgents in Iraq. These new techniques were traced in three major terrorist attacks: the FIA building attack in Lahore and attacks on the Danish Embassy and Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. In the FIA attack, terrorists used a pick-up truck loaded with over 50 kilograms of C4 plastic explosives, a tactic that was strikingly similar to the botched April 2005 attack on Iraqâ€™s notorious Abu Gharib prison by Al-Qaeda that aimed to free detainees and target US forces. The method adopted in the Marriott suicide bombing demonstrated the growing nexus between Al-Qaeda and local terrorist groups and their enhanced capabilities. In 2009, they imitated the Mumbai attacks in four major attacks in Pakistan, mainly in Punjab: the attack on the militaryâ€™s General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi; the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team and two attacks on the Manawan Police Training School in Lahore. Terrorists used fake identifies and attacked while wearing security forcesâ€™ uniforms. In the GHQ attack, the terrorists wore army uniforms and used vehicles painted in the same manner as military vehicles. They used a similar tactic in transporting explosives as well.â€¨â€¨In response, security forces took several new initiatives to curb terrorism. The terrorists also changed their targets and tactics. In 2009, a new strategy adopted by the terrorists was to target a particular city through repeated strikes to increase the impact of terror. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa capital Peshawar is the best example where terrorists struck 170 times during in 2009 and killed 445 people. Now its look like they have chosen Lahore for this purpose. â€¨â€¨(To be continued)
Muhammad Amir Rana is the Editor of a quarterly research journal â€˜Conflict and Peace Studiesâ€™. He can be reached atÂ mamirranayahoo.com