Pakistan's militants ready for more
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Tuesday's attack in the Pakistani city of Lahore on a convoy carrying
Sri Lankan cricketers was carried out by disgruntled Punjabi militants seeking
to extract concessions from the government, Asia Times Online has learned.
And the 12 highly trained gunmen who fled the scene after killing six police
officers and wounding six of the cricketers had planned to take the sportsmen
hostage, not kill them, high-level sources maintain.
The militants, working directly under the command of a joint Punjabi and
Kashmiri leadership based in the North Waziristan tribal area and allied with
al-Qaeda, planned the Lahore operation. The object was to hold the cricketers
ransom in exchange for
jailed militants and the safe passage of their colleagues to North Waziristan.
A spokesperson at the Sri Lankan Embassy at Islamabad also said on Tuesday that
he did not believe the Sri Lankan players were meant to be killed as all fire
was aimed at the police protecting the players.
The gunmen's plan to take hostages was foiled by the fierce resistance put up
by the elite commandos of the Punjab police in the escorting convoy. They stood
their ground and were quick to return fire. An assistant superintendent of
police in the bus carrying the cricketers was smart enough to immediately urge
the driver to speed to safety inside the Gaddafi Stadium where the Sri Lankans
were due to resume their five-day Test match against Pakistan. The Sri Lankan
team later presented the driver with their playing shirts as a sign of
Items recovered from the scene of the attack just a few hundred meters from the
stadium included bags containing AK-47s, light machine guns, hand grenades,
small rocket launchers, plastic bombs and wireless sets.
Inspector General Khawaja Khalid Farooq of the Punjab police said the militants
were carrying sufficient weaponry to fight for many hours. They also had
plentiful supplies of food, such as almonds and mineral water.
Video footage of the incident shows the gunmen as extremely composed and well
trained and dressed in urban attire, including running shoes - nothing like the
rustic mountain-dwelling Taliban fighters who invariably wear traditional
clothing such as turbans, long robes and sandals. They also appeared to be in
excellent physical condition.
All indications are that the militants are "good sons of the soil" trained by
Pakistan's premier secret service, the Inter-Services Intelligence's India cell
to fight against the Indian security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir. The
ISI shut its Kashmir operations a few years ago and many militants joined
forces with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Indeed, the appearance and modus operandi of the gunmen resembles that
of the 10 gunmen who attacked Mumbai in India last November in a two-day
rampage of violence that led to the deaths of 180 people, including all but
once of the militants. Investigations showed that the men were linked to the
banned Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has deep roots in the Kashmir
These "Kashmir" militants are mostly non-Pashtun (unlike the Taliban), with the
majority being ethnic Punjabis.
Troubles in the mountains
The attack on Tuesday is most likely related to events in the Swat Valley,
where the government last month signed a peace treaty with militants after
several years of fighting. The accord also allowed for the implementation of
sharia law in the area.
Before the Swat agreement was inked, the Pakistani Taliban presented their
demands. These included a financial package worth 480 million rupees (US$6
million) for compensation for families that had lost members through death or
injury or which had lost property as a result of the operations of the security
forces. They also demanded the release of prisoners.
The government accepted all of the demands, but it refused to release those
prisoners who were not from Swat. At the top of this list was Maulana Abdul
Aziz, a radical cleric from the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad who was
arrested in July 2007 while fleeing from the mosque after security forces
stormed it. The government also refused to release several other militants,
including a very important person, who were recently arrested in Islamabad.
The Punjabi militants were clearly upset at having their demands rejected,
while the Pashtuns got what they wanted. The attack in Lahore was meant to
redress the "injustice".
Ironically, the peace agreement in Swat is itself now at risk.
On Sunday, militants violated the agreement by detaining a few paramilitary
Frontier Corps personnel who were later released. The next day they attacked a
military convoy and killed a soldier.
In response, the army on Tuesday arrested a few important Taliban commanders in
the Swat Valley. Maulana Sufi Mohammand, the main driver behind the peace
agreement, then appealed at a press conference to both the Taliban and the
security forces to abide by the agreement. Otherwise, he said, he would no
longer stand as a guarantor of the deal.
A new phase of militancy
At the time of the United-States-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Pakistani
and Taliban groups linked to al-Qaeda had little ability to execute planned and
coordinated attacks. At best, they could carry out sectarian assassinations
against Shi'ites or plant bombs at religious congregations.
All this changed from 2003 onwards when Arabs and Pakistani militants started
regrouping in the South Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan.
(See The legacy of
Nek Mohammed Asia Times Online, July 20, 2004.)
The attack by the jihadi group Jundullah in 2004 on the then-corps commander
Karachi's motorcade could be termed as the militants' first well-planned
operation. Although the attack was unsuccessful, the militants opened
coordinated fire from several directions and had an exit strategy in place. The
only blunder was that a cell phone was dropped at the site, which led to the
arrest and destruction of the whole network.
About this time, the militant training camps were closed in
Pakistan-administered Kashmir as Islamabad re-orientated as a partner in the
US's "war on terror". Several respected commanders, such as Maulana Ilyas
Kashmiri and Abdul Jabbar, were arrested, causing much humiliation among the
country's former "heroes". At this point, several top fighters joined the
Afghan resistance in the Waziristan tribal areas.
These highly trained militants, courtesy of the Pakistani state, brought with
them considerable expertise and muscle and they began training local youths.
Some of their most successful operations were the attacks on the Kabul Serena
Hotel in January 2008 and on a national parade in Kabul in July 2008. A
hallmark of these militants is that they are well versed in modern warfare and
that they are ruthless in achieving their goals, even at the expense of
Their attack in Lahore on Tuesday is testimony to this; they are now prepared
to take the war theater to urban centers to get their comrades released, and
anybody is fair game - from cricketers to high-profile personalities including
ministers, diplomats, politicians and other influential people.
The emergence of these new zealots is an ominous development for a country
already mired in militancy in its border areas. And things could get a lot
worse as Asia Times Online has learned that Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq
Parvez Kiani has returned from a visit to Washington committed to a much more
pro-active approach against militants.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at[email protected]