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Pakistan: Terror Rebounds

Pakistan: Terror Rebounds

Author: Ajai Shukla
Publication: NDTV
URL: http://www.ndtv.com/columns/showcolumnsnew.asp?id=920&template=Indopakfaceoff

"Whatever security measures are required will be made. Whatever number of troops is required for the security will be deployed."

The assurance by Pakistan's military spokesman, Major General Shaukat Sultan, resonates far beyond next month's SAARC summit in Islamabad.

It is, in fact, an official acknowledgement of what has been starkly highlighted in Pakistan over the last month: the smooth surface of life in that country, is now being ruffled by a terrorist threat that is comparable to what India has dealt with for two decades.

This was already clear in early December from the elaborate security arrangements for the World Squash and World Cup Polo matches in Lahore. Instead of the sports bodies, Pakistani lieutenant generals were responsible for conducting these events.

Traffic was stopped whenever a team moved on Lahore's roads, protected by truckloads of Pakistani Army jawans. Ritwik Bhattacharya, India's top squash player, travelling back to India after his matches, was escorted to the Wagah border by a Pakistani major and twenty soldiers from the Baluch Regiment.

For the image of a country struggling to appear normal it was vital that everything went off smoothly. Lieutenant General Arif Hasan, the suave and sophisticated Pakistani general who conducted the World Cup Polo told me, "We want to show the world what Pakistan is really about and not what they think it is really about. We want to convey it to everyone that things are okay, and things are normal here and, well, we are really leading very normal lives here."

But just a day later, a powerful five-charge tandem explosion on a bridge near Peshawar came close to killing General Musharraf. And an even narrower escape eleven days later, when two suicide bombers drove their trucks into General Musharraf's convoy, has blown away Pakistan's façade of normalcy.

As Pakistan prepares for the SAARC summit, Islamabad has been sealed off from the rest of Pakistan. Entry and exit from that city are carefully controlled. But while the Pakistan Army is capable of this one-time operation, protecting the Pakistani leadership and society from an ongoing terrorist threat is a far more difficult task. The truth is that unlike India, Pakistan is not geared to respond to such a challenge.

It has taken Indian security and intelligence services over two decades to reach their present level of readiness. If Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee enjoys near-foolproof security today, two Prime Ministers before him ( Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi ( paid with their lives as India learned the ropes.

Indians today live with roadside checkpoints, traffic stoppages and security pickets outside the homes of anyone who could be a target. Pakistan, so far, has never needed such protection.

Both attacks on General Musharraf took place within the precincts of Rawalpindi cantonment, where a large chunk of Pakistan's army stays. According to some Indian analysts this proves the involvement of the army and the ISI. But the truth is that Rawalpindi Cantt is not the "high security zone" they imagine. Normal traffic flows unchecked past the gates of Pakistan's 10 Corps. For two days I drove around that area without once being stopped.

While contending that it is itself a victim of terrorism, Pakistan has done little to gear itself to face this threat. Part of the reason is the dichotomy in Islamabad's thinking: while acting against several terrorist groups, it is not yet convinced that it will have to act against all of them in order to be effective against any.

Pakistan has still to realize that the internal linkages between the components of Jehad Inc leave no room for compartmentalization while acting against it. Mohammed Jamil, one of the suicide bombers in the second attack on General Musharraf exemplifies the fusion between terrorism in Kashmir, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Hailing from PoK, Jamil joined the Jaish-e- Mohammed. He fought in Afghanistan alongside the Taliban before he was captured in Kabul. Repatriated to Pakistan, he was interrogated, declared 'white' and released. The next Pakistan heard from him was the sound of his minivan exploding just 35 yards from General Musharraf.

But Pakistan still differentiates between its operations against Al-Qaida, its crackdown on sectarian groups like the Sipah-e-Sahiba Pakistan (SSP) and the restrictions that it has placed on tanzeems operating in Kashmir. The administration believes it is politically acceptable to stand alongside America in the War on Terror, but not to cut off the lifeline to Kashmiri groups.

The Information Minister, Sheikh Rasheed, a savvy grassroots politician, who is himself a Kashmiri, clarifies the difference, "The Kashmir struggle draws its life from the way (India) treats the people there. The threat to Pakistan stems from the role we are playing in Afghanistan."

But if Kashmir is not yet an embarrassment to Islamabad, the sectarian conflict between Shias and Sunni militant groups clearly is. Most violent attacks within Pakistan have stemmed from the sectarian conflict, between Shias and Sunni militant groups like the Sipah-e-Sahiba Pakistan (SSP).

The head of the SSP, Azam Tariq was recently gunned down in Rawalpindi by unidentified gunmen. The killers, according to bazaar talk in that city, were from the 'agency', as Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, is called there.

But if Musharraf is differentiating between terrorists and freedom fighters, the jehadis see in him only a traitor. Co-operating with the United States, secular in outlook and now talking peace with India, for many jehadis in that country, there is now a clear target: Musharraf, the Traitor to Islam. The general will certainly face more attacks.

Pakistanis, from president to peasant, all point to the enormous number of Indian soldiers in J&K as proof of India's failure in Kashmir. Now, as large numbers of its own security forces get tied up in security duties, Pakistan could get a more balanced perspective of the manpower required to tackle terrorism.

And as Pakistan goes through the learning curve in dealing with such threats, it will undergo the pains that India went through in the last two decades.

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