Al-Qaeda makes a point with Lahore attack
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
ISLAMABAD - After announcing the formal end to combat operations in Iraq,
United States President Barack Obama said the next target was "disrupting,
dismantling and defeating al-Qaeda", which he says is anchored in the Pakistani
The top brains of al-Qaeda, sitting in the high mountains of Razmak in North
Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan, will be cognizant of the
American designs, and factoring in the chaos caused by the devastating floods
of the past month that have displaced about 20 million people. Al-Qaeda's gaze
is also firmly on urban centers.
Militant sources tell Asia Times Online that al-Qaeda is in contact
with various "franchises", including the Pakistan-based anti-Iranian group
Jundallah, the anti-Shi'ite Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the militant Harkat-ul
Mujahideen al-Alami. The aim is to draw up plans for target-orientated attacks
rather than random terrorism.
A key focus of the plan is to spread the insurgency to the urban centers of
Peshawar, the capital of northwest Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province, Dera Ismail
Khan, a city in the province, as well as to the areas of Swat and Buner, also
in the province. It was here for the first time that in 2007 Western forces in
Afghanistan decided to treat Pakistan and Afghanistan as a single war theater.
Al-Qaeda believes that targeted attacks will have a multiplying effect and
create a wider space for chaos, and that once American and Pakistani resources
are drawn into this region, the militants will step up action in other urban
The southern port city of Karachi has served as a trial run, with the
assassination in August of a Shi'ite lawmaker from the multi-party Muthahida
Quami Movement. This had some success in unleashing ethnic and sectarian riots.
meddles while Karachi burns, Asia Times Online, August 5, 2010.
On Wednesday evening, as Shi'ite mourners trooped through Karachi's famous
Empress Market, which is full of Pashtun shopkeepers, an assailant fired
several bullets into the crowd, injuring six people. Thanks to good
coordination between the police and Shi'ite scholars, the crowd remained in
At the same time, Shi'ite mourners in Multan in Punjab province were pelted
with stones, but again the crown was kept under control.
On the same night it was a very different story in Lahore, the capital of
Punjab. At least 35 people were killed and more than 250 injured after three
bombs exploded during a Shi'ite procession.
The first explosion took place as about 35,000 Shi'ites proceeded to mark the
death in the 7th century of the first Shi'ite imam, Ali bin Abi Talib. A few
minutes later, as people fled in panic, a suicide bomber blew himself up near
an area where food was being prepared for the marchers. This was followed by a
second suicide bomber detonating his explosive belt near the end of the
The incident was clearly well-planned and obtained what was no doubt its goal -
within half an hour mobs were in control of the streets, even briefly occupying
two police stations. Shi'ite mourners vented their anger at the Punjab
government, ruled by the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz group, and its alleged
alliance with the Taliban.
Paramilitary troops were eventually called in, but it was late into the night
before some order was restored.
The understanding that Asia Times Online has gained from militant contacts is
that the Lahore attack was not for the massacre of Shi'ites per se. Rather, it
was to spread the insurgency to urban centers, and there will be many more such
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org