Mosquitoes biting dogs
By Asif Akhtar A string of attacks on security infrastructure has ripped through Pakistan’s cities in the past week, causing alarm and dishevelment at a mass scale. Most of the attacks, including the most recent strike on a Peshawar police station, were attacks on security police targets. The more high profile attacks include the infiltration ...
By Asif Akhtar
A string of attacks on security infrastructure has ripped through Pakistan’s cities in the past week, causing alarm and dishevelment at a mass scale. Most of the attacks, including the most recent strike on a Peshawar police station, were attacks on security police targets. The more high profile attacks include the infiltration of the Pakistan Army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi by a band of armed militants developing into a hostage situation, and three suicide attacks on police facilities in Lahore earlier this week killing twelve police personnel and five civilians. Such attacks are largely representative of what should be expected in the coming weeks from this tit-for-tat asymmetric warfare.
Two of the sites in Lahore had been previously targeted by similar attacks, exposing a layer of unpreparedness in the security institutions, along with a sluggish rate of adaptation to the evolving threat of urban terror. Still, the security agencies were quick to declare their counter-operations a success, owing to the fact that the assailants were largely thwarted from creating a hostage situation, which they reportedly viewed as a potential bargaining chip for concessions like the release of militant operatives being held by Pakistani authorities. While the security forces responding to the attacks seemed to have mostly deflected the attack and minimized casualties, the fact that even these unsuccessful attacks caused casualties says something about the gruesome nature of the developing conflict. Also, the fact that the operatives managed to infiltrate such high-security zones buzzing with personnel with apparent ease shows the lack of alertness of security forces on their home turf.
While these tenacious attacks have exposed serious gaps in security coverage, Pakistan’s local media is split between extremes, labeling this recent wave violence either as a last-ditch effort, or as a renewed show of strength on part of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The attacks can be seen as a show of strength in the sense that they have reasserted the TTP’s ability to plan and execute large-scale attacks on high profile targets after a considerable lull following the death of Baitullah Mehsud, and reported in-fighting over his legacy. While optimistic commentators might believe that this is the TTP’s glorious last stand, and that the operation in Waziristan will put an end to such disruptions once and for all, at best, such views present sugar-coated analyses to allow the bitter pill of ensuing conflict to be swallowed less painfully.
A preemptive retaliation to the looming offensive in South Waziristan seems to be a more plausible explanation for the latest spate of attacks. If anything, the TTP and related organizations seem to be laying out the future map of conflict: opening up the urban front in response to the military’s plan to move in on their territorial and tribal front in South Waziristan. The chosen targets clearly have symbolic value, because an organization that can attack the hubs of civil security and defense establishments shows that they can pretty much operate wherever they want.
“These are not blind attacks, this is proper guerrilla warfare,” says Aamir Hussaini, a columnist for an Urdu language daily, adding that the attacks were intended to dampen the morale of the security forces, which he claims was effective since “many fresh recruits from the Manawan Police Training School have not returned” after the academy was attacked.
‘Guerrilla warfare’ is a term that’s been buzzing around in Pakistani media and analyst circles in the past week. Badar Alam, editor of the Herald magazine, considers the timely adoption of this term a response to the rude awakening following the audacious attack on the military GHQ in Rawalpindi last weekend. This suggests that opinion-makers might have already started adjusting to the renewed nature of the conflict. Alam, who compares the conflict to a mosquito biting a dog and prompting the dog to bite itself, sees the attacks increasing in intensity and perhaps even frequency as the onslaught of the Waziristan ground offensive edges closer. Foreseeing a bloodier and costlier conflict than in Swat this spring and summer, he suggests the Army could be involved for months on end, as it faces a more treacherous terrain, with which the localized enemy is far more familiar.
For now, there is no guarantee that the Waziristan operation will alleviate Pakistan’s cities from this rampage of terror any time soon. Observers like Alam are of the opinion that the militant networks of informants, facilitators, and operatives stretches far and wide into the urban centers of the country. He sees a comprehensive crackdown, aided by credible intelligence, on the critical elements of such networks, as the only durable strategy against the developing urban insurgency.
Asif Akhtar is a journalist based in Lahore. He was in the city during Thursday’s coordinated attacks on police targets there.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
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