Eight suicide bombings since the raid by the Pakistani Army commandoes into the Lal Masjid campus on July 10 to neutralise a group of jihadi elements, who had been in control of it since January. Four in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), two in North Waziristan in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and one each in Islamabad and Balochistan.
Over two hundred killed—-the majority of them members of the security forces plus some civilians. A suicide bomber also targeted a bus carrying Chinese engineers in Hub in Balochistan on July 19. They had a miraculous escape, but the security forces escorting their bus and passers-by suffered heavy fatal casualties.
In addition, there has been at least one ambush of the army in North Waziristan, killing at least about 20 soldiers of the Army.
Pakistan on the boil or on the brink? So asks a message received by me from one of my readers abroad.
It is on the boil because of the mounting anger of different Pashtun tribals in the NWFP and the FATA whose daughters bore the brunt of the attack of the commandoes, many of the young girls perishing in the process.
The Lal Masjid was located in Islamabad, the posh capital of Pakistan. It catered to the spiritual requirements of the elite of the capital and the educational requirements of the poorest of the poor tribal children from the Pashtun belt and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK)—many of them sons and daughters of serving and retired soldiers.
The Masjid, where Zia-ul-Haq used to pray, ran two madrasas for the children of poor tribals. The madrasa for boys was located outside the campus. It was seized without any difficulty and casualties by the commandoes.
The madrasa for girls was located inside the campus. There are no authentic figures of how many were studying there and how many were living in its dormitory. The figures mentioned by wild rumours vary between a few hundred and a few thousand.
The journalists, who were taken to the campus by the Army after the raid, have been unanimous in one observation.Most of the damages and fatalities had taken place in and around the girls’ madrasa and its dormitory. There was very little damage to the masjid itself.
This was because jihadi terrorists, including Al Qaeda types acting under the instructions of Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s No.2, had taken the girls as hostages and were using them as a shield to prevent the advance of the Commandoes—-so says the Army.
There are hardly any takers for this version. The widely-accepted version is that the girls must have put up a ferocious fight and were ruthlessly mowed down by the commandoes.
Pakistani military officers, trying to justify the raid, compare President Pervez Musharraf’s decision to send the commandoes in to Indira Gandhi’s decision to send the Army into the Sikhs’ Golden Temple in Amritsar in June,1984, in Operation Bluestar.
But there is one major difference, which they do not highlight. The Golden Temple had been occupied by extremists led by Bhindranwale. There was no school for young girls inside. Nor was there a dormitory for young girls inside.Had there been hundreds of young girl students living and studying inside the Golden Temple complex, Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, would have never sent the Army inside. Or, for that matter, no other Indian leader would have done so.
Musharraf knew about the girls’ madrasa and dormitory inside—where hundreds of young girls from poor tribal families were living and studying. He knew there was a real risk of many of them being killed if the commandoes raided the place. And yet, he sent the commandoes in.
This was not the act of a strong man, as projected by some analysts. This was the act of an insensitive and unwise man.
The resulting carnage has outraged the Pashtuns.
There are dozens of Pashtuns—-many of them grieving fathers and brothers of girls killed by the commandoes— on the move in the Pashtun belt and outside wearing suicide belts, waiting to see a patrol or convoy of the security forces so that they could blow themselves up in its vicinity.
They are not from Al Qaeda.
They are not from the Neo Taliban.
They are not from any other jihadi terrorist organisations.
They are poor Jundullahs, soldiers of Allah, wanting to take revenge for the deaths of the young girls.
Everybody, who, in their mind, was associated with the operation is their target—-Musharraf himself, the other members of the security forces, the People’s Party Parliamentarians of Benazir Bhutto and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) of Altaf Hussain, which supported the raid.
So too, the Americans and the Chinese.
It will take time for the anger to subside, for the tempers to cool down.
This is the time to understand the Pashtun anger and maintain a silence till the anger subsides.
This is not the time to rub salt on their wounds and further provoke them by talking of an American raid against Al Qaeda camps in the Pashtun belt or by praising Musharraf’s action and promising him more assistance to take on the jihadis in the Pashtun belt.
All this can wait till the anger subsides.
Any unwise US attempt to take advantage of the present situation to step up its operations in the Pashtun belt with Musharraf’s co-operation could lead to an Iraq-like situation in the Pashtun belt.
Pakistan is on the brink of a destabilising situation. It brings Iraq to one’s mind, but it is not yet Iraq. It can turn into an Iraq-like situation at least in the Pashtun belt if Musharraf and his American backers do not conduct themselves with restraint and wisdom. (19-7-07)
(The writer,B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies.)