This week, thousands of protesters marched along GT Road from Lahore to Islamabad. They said they were there to defend Pakistan and to protest the reopening of the Nato supply route. But in close vicinity to the ralliers’ gathering in Gujrat, seven Pakistani soldiers and a policeman were murdered. Yet, the reaction from these men was relatively muted despite the proximity of the attack to both their cause and physical location. The leaders among them unequivocally condemned the killings.
The Jamaat-i-Islami’s Munawar Hassan said that the shootings were by “anti-state elements”. Jamaatud Dawa’s Hafiz Saeed claimed that the attacks were conducted by “another Raymond Davis” — in other words, the CIA. He was more specific than Munawar Sahib, but clearly offered no substantiation. In fact, publicly available evidence points not toward any foreign intelligence agency, but to Pakistani Muslims who, like Hafiz Saeed, claim to engage in jihad.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) Ehsanullah Ehsan boasted that his group was behind the murder of the Pakistani security personnel. He said, “we proudly claim responsibility for the killing of seven Pakistani soldiers in the Gujrat district.”
The Americans said that they killed the Pakistani soldiers in Salala by accident. Whether you believe them or not is a separate issue. But they did not gloat about their actions. In contrast, the TTP has not only accepted responsibility for what it stated was intentional murder, but it has done so with ‘pride’. The slaughter in Gujrat wasn’t an anomaly. The TTP loves killing Pakistani soldiers.
Have you seen any of their videos? Intiqaam — an early next-gen jihadist film that predates the forming of the TTP, but was made by an antecedent group — features a youngster beheading Pakistani soldiers. That was a Pakistani child made to murder Pakistani soldiers by Pakistani men. There wasn’t a white face in the video, nor plaid shirts. But there were lots of shalwar kameezes and chappals as well as bloodstained Pakistan Army uniforms.
What the massacre in Gujrat speaks to is the fundamental crisis within Pakistan’s jihadists — a crisis that is unfolding not only in far away Fata, but in the heartland of Punjab as well.
This crisis began after 9/11 when then-ruler Pervez Musharraf decided to ban several Kashmir-oriented jihadist groups. It metastasised after the army conducted operations in Fata for the first time in 2003. And it blew up after the Lal Masjid operation in 2007. From 2007-10, nearly 7,800 civilians were killed in terrorist attacks, exceeding the previous four years by almost 500 per cent.
Since then, terrorist attacks have dropped considerably. The TTP and its allies have been hit hard by military operations in Swat and six tribal areas, as well as tough police and intelligence work in cities like Karachi and Peshawar. But the war is not over. The residents of Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa know that all too well. Quetta’s Hazara Shias, who fill the city’s body bags, are canaries in a coal mine, warning of what lies ahead.
For some jihadists, this is no longer about setting the army back on the straight path. Recently, al Qaeda’s al-Sahab media outfit published a new Urdu-language documentary titled Batao Tum Kis Ka Saath Do Ge? It paints the Pakistan Army as the devil’s soldiers. It asks the viewers to make a choice: whether they’re with al Qaeda — and its quest to form a caliphate from Morocco to Malaysia — or with the Pakistani state.
This is the war Munawar Hassan and Hafiz Saeed avoid addressing publicly. They condemn the killing of Muslims and targeting of the Pakistani state by militants. But they refrain from mentioning the TTP by name or vaguely allude to it while claiming that it’s backed by foreign intelligence agencies.
In doing so, they consciously avoid a tough discussion that needs to take place. It’s a discussion about their role in Pakistani society. Should violent non-state actors and their supporters have a place in Pakistan? Is it possible for the state to maintain a distinction between the so-called good and bad jihadists? Or is the entire jihadist enterprise inherently unwieldy, with today’s good guys becoming tomorrow’s enemies? And if it is, how do you close this chapter in Pakistan’s history without setting the book on fire?
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2012.