On Sunday, November 2, more then 50 people died in Lahore at the hands of a suicide bomber. The TTP and Jundallah hurriedly claimed responsibility for the heinous act. And we can all now go to sleep peacefully with the conclusion that this might be some Pashtun radical from Waziristan, who has struck a blow in retaliation for the military operation taking place there. All we now have to do is to watch out for people and communities that may look different or have links with the northern part of the country.
Sadly, we will not take the trouble of linking this incident to another act of brutality that took place two days later in Kot Radha Kishan near Lahore, in which a Christian couple was beaten and then burnt to death in the brick kiln where it worked, by the local people for allegedly committing blasphemy. As Christians are a minority, whose majority belongs to the socioeconomically lower class, the couple was either mad or suicidal to have desecrated the Holy Quran, if we are indeed to believe in the allegation. In a country where the mob is the accuser, the judge and the implementer of a judgment, why would anyone take this kind of risk? Many sane people have talked about making provisions that would reduce, if not eliminate, the risk to innocent people from the misuse of the blasphemy law.
Coming back to the suicide attacker, is there really a difference between how he and his handlers operated, and the homicide of those in Kot Radha Kishan? In both instances, it is the creation of an ideology that merely uses faith to create a belief system to gain power. More important, the second incident just superimposes the fact that people did not probably come from outside to kill innocent people. They live right amongst us.
Jundallah or the TTP are basically names, which are used to confuse ordinary people and hide the links that militants have with one another and across regions. The names create categories that tend to hide details, such as the fact that be it Jundallah or the TTP, they are both born from the womb of militant groups like the Sipha-e-Sahaba Pakistan and its sister concern, the Lashkar-e-Jhangavi. While the Jundullah busied itself in Balochistan and across the Iranian border, other sister concerns born of the same womb, like the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) remained focused on Kashmir and India. Born with state collusion and al Qaeda money in the early 2000s, the JeM has a base in Punjab and urban Sindh. In the last year or so, it has resurfaced in places like Karachi. Unlike the Jundallah or the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, whose boss sits close to the capital and was inducted into the Difa-e-Pakistan Council, the JeM’s selling point was never sectarian violence, but hostility towards India.
Then there are other groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which markets itself on the basis of its desire to free Kashmir and fight India. The LeT/Jamat-ud-Dawah (JuD) network concentrated on building itself as a welfare organisation with no links with terrorism. In fact, people were tweeting about how the JuD’s sub-organisation, the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation, was rescuing people after the Lahore blast. One doesn’t doubt these facts that ought to be presented side-by-side with the reality that the LeT/JuD recruits people, not on the basis of welfare work, but its call for jihad. Its billboards, hoardings and graffiti attract and invite the youth towards a certain cause and no other.
The reason that the attack on Wagah may not be retaliation for Operation Zarb-e-Azb is possibly because this appears more focused on destroying any build-up in India-Pakistan relations than simply avenging the reported death of militants in the north. Given the fact that Punjab is full of militants to such a degree that there would be a blood bath in almost every street if the militants were serious in responding, indicates that the strategy of the attack was built around a specific purpose (even Lt General Khalid Rabbani had recently mentioned the need to end militant networks in Punjab if militancy was to be eliminated). In this case, the signal was certainly the political government, which has not abandoned the idea of improving trade relations. More important, the message was also to the trader, merchant and farmers’ communities in Punjab, which seemed to be inching closer to an understanding that building trade relations is the key to improving state relations and also improving their own lot in Pakistan.
In the past couple of years, Indian and Pakistani governments had also involved key players from the business, industrial and agriculture sectors to become part of bilateral negotiations. Hence, the initial reservation from the farming sector was gradually diluting. Trucks lined up on the Wagah/Attari border indicates both persisting problems in improving trade ties, but also the potential. The trader-merchants and farming communities on the Pakistani side are certainly more eager in thinking about commercial links beyond Kashmir. Not that they propose abandoning the Kashmir cause, but many believe that it should be put on the back burner while Pakistan improves its economic conditions, in this case, through enhancing trade with India. When asked about trade versus resolving the Kashmir issue, a lot of trader-merchants and farmers, for instance, would remind me not to ask political questions, indicating how many had moved beyond framing bilateral ties in a particular manner.
Interestingly, the LeT/JuD trader and farmer associations are the only ones hell-bent against trade ties. Even if we are to imagine that Jundallah and the TTP were involved in the Wagah border attack, though there is weak evidence to prove the claim, the signalling is for the general public and the trading community rather than the state, which continues to hold itself hostage to a number of militant outfits. But such compromises are written in blood and surrender. Let us not forget that if the IS could free itself and capture the state in Iraq, so can others.
The de-linking of the state from non-state militants is just one step that may not happen without changing the narrative. A state generally unwilling to exercise control would, in any case, be on a path towards committing collective suicide.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 6th, 2014.