Tension ramped up a notch in Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
ISLAMABAD - The discovery of a "shaped charge" - an explosive charge shaped to
intensely focus the effect of the explosive's energy - at the scene of a recent
attack in Pakistan has raised fears that al-Qaeda aims to switch from targeted
terrorist attacks to a high-level insurgency - a form of urban guerrilla
A senior Pakistani counter-terrorism official confirmed to Asia Times Online
that evidence of a "shaped charge" device was found after the twin attacks this
month at the shrine of a Sufi saint in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore in
which more than 40
people were killed and nearly 200 injured.
Shaped charges are more traditionally used to penetrate armor, but insurgents
in Iraq used them to good effect in improvised explosive devices.
"This is simply preparation for urban guerrilla warfare in Pakistan, like
al-Qaeda previously launched in Iraq," the official said.
In Iraq, the al-Qaeda-affiliated Abu Musab al-Zarqawi carried out many attacks
on shrines dedicated to the Prophet Mohammad's descendants. This contributed
significantly to the sectarian strife that nearly tore Iraq apart, which in
turn opened up space in which al-Qaeda could operate against occupation troops.
Security officials launched a massive crackdown after the Lahore attack,
arresting hundreds of militants, yet further incidents followed. Last week, two
low-intensity blasts rocked Internet cafes in Lahore, forcing the closure of
cafes across the city. On Sunday, a suicide bomb exploded at a Shi'ite mosque
in Sargodha, a city between Islamabad and Lahore, killing the bomber and
injuring at least 15 people.
Pakistan plays a crucial role in the South Asian war theater; essentially, the
more stable the country is, and the more it can contain militants, the better
it is for the Americans and their war in Afghanistan.
It was no coincidence, therefore, that before US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton's recent visit to Pakistan the newly appointed al-Qaeda number three
and chief of operations in Afghanistan, Sheikh Fateh al-Misri, sent a letter to
Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani. The message was stark and
clear: "You have seen our strength. Now you have to decide on which side you
will stand. If you don't change your policies, then be ready for a battle."
As if to follow up the words with action, Pakistani militants carried out
various attacks across the tribal regions, including in Bajaur, Lower Dir, Swat
and Charsadda. On Monday evening, a military convoy was ambushed in North
Waziristan, where a ceasefire agreement is meant to be in place. Four soldiers
This was followed on Tuesday by an attack on a Punjabi regimental center in
Mardan in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province (formerly North-West Frontier Province).
Three suicide bombers were killed and four soldiers wounded.
Military operations in the tribal areas in 2008 and 2009 were successful in
that they forced militants to pull back from urban areas, where maintaining the
peace on a long-term basis was left in the hands of the police and the local
administrations. These, though, are riddled with corruption.
Biting the bullet
Most police appointments in Pakistan are deeply politicized and made with
political consent rather than on merit. Aware of this, the Americans and top
Pakistani security agencies tried to make sure that appointments in the crucial
region of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa were made on merit.
Top to middle-ranking cadre were selected for their expertise, especially in
counter-terrorism matters. The Americans and the Pakistani military provided
large funds and training programs for the police in the province, which is
considered to be the main battle front against militants and al-Qaeda.
However, large chunks of the funds have apparently been squandered by the local
police's purchase committee, notably by paying double the amount for bullets
for AK-47 rifles and in paying for thousands of bullet magazines that were in
fact free. The committee also reportedly bought sub-standard explosive
detection devices, bullet-proof jackets and radios. (Stickers pasted on the
wireless sets said they were made by American company Motorola, when they were
The matter is under investigation by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and
American investigators, as the US is a principal donor for these frontier
In December 2008, the US Department of Defense (DoD) noted similar corruption
in Afghanistan as the US Central Command lacked well-defined procedures to
track weaponry. From 2005 to 2008, the US provided the Afghan National Army
(ANA) with $3.7 billion in weapons and equipment. The DoD maintained that many
of ANA's weapons were sold to insurgents after being declared lost or
destroyed. This lower-level corruption contributed to the US losing control of
many districts in the eastern provinces.
The last thing Pakistan wants is more arms flowing to the militants, and if the
discovery of a "shaped charge" is a portent of bigger things to come from
al-Qaeda, the heat can only rise in Pakistan if it sticks to its current pro-US
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org