September 25, 2014
Optimists have pointed to the lull in terrorist attacks since the beginning of operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan (NW) as a sign that the militant networks have lost the capability to strike at will in Pakistan. However, the attack on a Frontier Constabulary (FC) convoy targeting FC Deputy Inspector General Brigadier Khalid Javed in Peshawar on Tuesday argues that this view is based on triumphalism and hope and not fact. The convoy was attacked on its way to FC headquarters in Peshawar’s ‘high security’ Cantonment by a suicide car bomber in an innocuous vehicle. Five people including one FC guard and three innocent bystanders were killed while reports say that Brigadier Javed was injured. The bomber missed his main target but it seems the terrorists were not only able to breach the so-called ‘high security’ zone with a car packed with 45 kilograms of high explosives and additional mortar shells, they knew enough of Brigadier Javed’s movements to know when to strike. Both facts speak to a lack of preparedness for the inevitable backlash that will come from Zarb-e-Azb, which has only been delayed, not ended. The military operation has had its benefits and will make it difficult for terrorists to mount large scale operations like the attack on Karachi airport, which bespoke a high degree of sophisticated planning, intelligence, training and weaponry. It will also help the army secure the border more comprehensively, but the fact that the terrorists were beginning to view their battle with Pakistan in terms of a military engagement rather than a subversive terror campaign shows how much of the initiative they gained over the last five years. Rolling back a militant insurgency as the military says it has done does not deny terrorists the ability to resort to wholesale terrorism against the security forces and civilians, which is what persuaded the government to allow them space at the negotiating table. In fact, with the military aspect of the operation secure, the threat of terrorism against the security forces and civilians is becoming greater, and the army is not equipped to deal with it because it requires intelligence and policing to overcome.
This attack was claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) faction led by Fazlullah. However, with the terrorists splintering into discrete groups, it could just as easily have been claimed by any one of them. This presents a problem: identifying autonomous and operationally independent cells that are hidden among the civilian population. The terrorists are going back to their roots. A strategy to defeat them cannot then be predicated on defensive security alone because as we have seen, the military and the security forces cannot secure every part of the country simultaneously, especially in densely populated urban areas. Suicide bombers do not care about their own lives, only how many people they kill. Hence finding the people responsible for attacks post facto is not enough; the strategy must prevent terrorists from reaching their targets. This requires sound police and investigative work and intelligence leading to arrests, in the same way that intelligence and law enforcement agencies combined to find an al Qaeda cell located near the prime minister’s residence in Raiwind earlier this year. That was a rare instance of civilian and military intelligence working together because even after seven years since TTP was formed, the different agencies have not been able to organise a comprehensive framework for intelligence and data sharing, or created a centralised joint database of wanted terrorists and their suspected links. The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) is still moribund, the ISI, Intelligence Bureau, Federal Investigative Agency and local police do not entirely trust each other; departmental rivalries dominate intelligence sharing discussions. In the face of an existential threat, is this the time for agencies to be putting their own prerogatives before the future of the country engaged in a struggle against this threat? The answer is self-evident. With terrorists probing security arrangements, it is time for these agencies to create an operational entity that can organise and direct intelligence work as the necessary prelude and prerequisite for victory against the terrorists. *