On Monday the sudden and dreadful finality of mortal existence asserted itself yet again. That morning terrorists stormed the district courts complex in the heart of the federal capital. They indiscriminately sprayed the precincts with gunfire, hurled hand-grenades and then suicide bombed the courtroom of Additional District and Sessions Judge, Rafaqat Awan. The carnage killed 11 blameless people, including the judge, while 25 others were critically injured.
The atrocity, which was the deadliest of its kind in Islamabad since September 2008 when a truck bomb rammed into the Marriott Hotel, was almost an exact replication of the attack on the Peshawar district courts on March 18, 2013. Yet only a few days earlier the interior minister, who is in the habit of making morbidly inaccurate claims, bragged that the country’s capital was secure. He told the media that a rapid reaction force equipped stun guns and other modern gadgetry was in place in Islamabad to ward off terrorist attacks.
If this was the forerunner of the rapid response mechanism envisaged in the compendious national security document, one can only pray for the intervention of providence to shield the citizens of Pakistan from the perils of actual existence. Media reports reveal that it took the police more than 40 minutes to reach the district courts complex after the attack.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which announced two days earlier that it had decided to put its terrorist operations (thoughtlessly described as a ceasefire by the government and the media) on hold for a month, distanced itself from the hideous outrage. Responsibility was roguishly claimed by an obscure TTP splinter group, the Ahrar-ul-Hind.
The outfit came into the limelight on February 9 when it announced its rejection of any settlement with the government that did not ensure the complete imposition of the Shariah. Its spokesman, Asad Mansoor, viciously castigated “those who hope that peace would come to Pakistan through an agreement or ceasefire with the Taliban without the enforcement of the Shariah” as ridiculous. This, he explained, was the reason for Monday’s bloodletting in Islamabad which was yet another triumph for the supremacy of his absurd beliefs.
The Ahrar-ul-Hind is said to have been founded recently by two brothers from Hizro, a sleepy little town in the Attock district of Punjab. Most of its members, like those of Jundul Hafsa, are former students of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid. They are all, without exception, fanatically committed to the objective of avenging the military attack on the mosque in July 2007.
This lends credence to reports that judge Rafaqat Awan was specifically targeted in the March 4 attack because last year he had rejected a petition that had sought the indictment of former president Pervez Musharraf on charges of murder charges for ordering the siege and subsequent assault on the Lal Masjid. An editorial in one of the major newspapers even cites firsthand accounts that the judge was asked by one of the terrorists to say his final prayers after which he was mercilessly gunned down. However, Chaudhry Nisar told the National Assembly on Thursday that Rafaqat Awan had been accidentally killed by a nervous security guard.
The mission statement of the Ahrarul Hind, as its unusual name implies, is the imposition of its interpretation of the Shariah not only in Pakistan but also in the South Asian Subcontinent and then on the entire world. The first step towards the establishment of this global caliphate is the withdrawal of the army from the tribal areas. The Al-Qaeda fingerprint is unmistakable and the same worldview is shared by all other TTP factions.
The unalterable goal is the capture of power on the pretext of enforcing Islamic law. The TTP’s offer of abstaining from terrorist attacks for a month came only because it had been severely mauled by the stern military response to the brutal killing of the 23 Frontier Corps personnel. The outlawed group only understands the language of force. It dreads the possibility of military operations as much as it does drone strikes.
This was in evidence yet again on December 2, 2013 when the TTP spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, issued an astonishingly stupid statement in which he actually welcomed the government’s decision not to appoint Lt-Gen Haroon Aslam, whom he described as the ‘butcher of Swat,’ as the new army chief. He was referring to the commando operation led by General Aslam that had pulverised the Taliban stronghold at Peochar as a result of which Mullah Fazlullah scampered like a terrified rat across the border to the Haqqani network-controlled areas of eastern Afghanistan.
It was only the fear of the devastating strikes by the Pakistan Air Force and the selective ground operations by the army that compelled the TTP to announce a pause in its ghastly agenda of mass slaughter and destruction. Yet in the first five days since then there were six terrorist outrages from which the TTP distanced itself but did not condemn.
It is able to do this because organisationally the outfit is structured as a loose terrorist conglomerate of between 40 and 50 extremist groups who operate independently. As explained in my article ‘The head of Medusa’ (February 23), this “not only serves as a force multiplier but also provides the TTP’s central shura a mechanism for denying terrorists attacks whenever there is need.”
The government should have seen through the TTP’s hypocritical offer of a temporary cessation of terrorist attacks but it has, instead, taken the bait hook, line and sinker by calling off the precision airstrikes. The murderous outfit and its franchises have thus been granted the time to regroup and relocate.
The gains that have been made in the last few days as a result of the surgical strikes are about to be squandered at the negotiating table. The stalled dialogue with the TTP has not only been revived but on Thursday it was also decided that the composition of the government’s committee of mediators would be altered to include those with the authority to take decisions as well as a representative from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. Tribal representatives have been left out of the reconstituted committee although it is the fate of their region that will be decided should the talks get underway.
A semblance of common sense emerged from the corps commanders meeting on Friday which decided that airstrikes against terrorist hideouts would continue in the event of future attacks on military installations. Later Defence Minister Khawaja Asif chimed in with the statement that full-scale military operations could be launched as early as this month if the insurgents violate what he described as “the ceasefire.” He has obviously brushed aside the several terrorist outrages over the last few days.
Earlier in the week I received a sobering email from a certain Mr SM Dar saying: “…While I am greatly impressed by your knowledge of Quranic injunctions and insight into Islamic jurisprudence especially because you appear to come from a liberal, secular background, I am somewhat intrigued that you…have missed out on a Quranic verdict which clearly condemns the Taliban and their likes to eternal punishment in hell. I am referring to verse 93 of Surah Nisa’a.”
The verse he has referred to reads: “But whoever deliberately slays another believer, his requital shall be hell, therein to abide; and God will condemn him, and will reject him, and will prepare for him awesome suffering.” These timeless words should be included in the opening statement of the empowered government committee of negotiators when they establish the first direct contact with the TTP central shura in the coming days.