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May 17, 2011

Extracting ‘revenge’


May 17, 2011

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar.
The recent suicide bombings at the training centre of the Frontier Constabulary at Shabqadar in Charsadda district is the kind of “revenge” that the Pakistani Taliban and their allies are capable of taking to avenge Osama bin Laden’s assassination in Abbottabad. They are unlikely to cause any real harm to the Americans who killed the Al-Qaeda leader, but will continue to cause bloodshed in Pakistan and kill and maim fellow-Pakistanis and fellow-Muslims.
The death toll in the Shabqadar bombings rose as the injured men succumbed to their injuries and at the last count it was 98. Initially the wounded were 140 and some are still fighting for lives. Eighteen of the dead were civilians and the rest were all Frontier Constabulary men, including 73 recruits and seven other personnel of the force who were in Shabqadar to do some courses.
The outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the bombings. It was carried out by the TTP’s Mohmand Agency chapter and its spokesman said the attack was a revenge for Bin Laden’s killing. There was no reason to doubt the claim because this unit of the TTP, led by the young militant Abdul Wali, also known as Omar Khalid, has in the past carried out suicide bombings killing dozens of people, including government officials and pro-government tribesmen, in Ekkaghund and Ghallanai in Mohmand Agency. The TTP Mohmand Agency chapter has been ruthless in tracking down and eliminating its opponents even in places like Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Karachi. It is unforgiving in killing militants who abandon the TTP and also members of the peace committees and lashkars formed at the behest of the government to fight the Taliban. As Shabqadar is located close to Mohmand Agency and is inhabited by a large number of Mohmand tribespeople, it is an easy target for Omar Khalid’s men.
The victims of the senseless suicide bombings were made to pay the price for

someone else’s sins. America’s “war on terror” wasn’t our war but was thrust on us. The US was attacked and it sought revenge against Al-Qaeda and also the Taliban who were harbouring Bin Laden. It arm-twisted Pakistan into joining the American war effort in Afghanistan and exposed it to the kind of mayhem that the Pakistanis have been experiencing for the last 10 years. It is an open-ended war and the Pakistani ruling elite, while committed to being a US ally, failed to specify the limits of Pakistan’s participation in it.
The US after the 9/11 terrorist attacks used its vast resources and wisdom to secure itself against further harm, but Pakistan and Afghanistan had never been so insecure. The Afghan communist Saur Revolution of April 1978, the subsequent Afghan jihad and the Taliban uprising have brought immense suffering on the Afghans and also Pakistanis. The jihad declared by Bin Laden against the US and Israel destabilised the world, particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are killings followed by revenge attacks, and the death and destruction goes on.
All those slain and injured in the Shabqadar bombings had no role in the assassination of the Saudi-born Bin Laden by the US Special Forces. Those who decided to join America’s “war on terror” or used militants as strategic assets live in secure places and employ state resources to stay safe. The common people bear the brunt of the military operations and the suicide bombings.
The young recruits embodied the hopes of their poor families. Getting a job in the Frontier Constabulary isn’t easy in these times of high employment and many recruits must have bribed someone or been recommended by somebody influential to enlist in this paramilitary force. It is an unattractive and risky job, but jobless people are nowadays willing to take up any employment. The Frontier Constabulary is a kind of police force that was originally deployed on the boundary between the districts and the tribal areas, but is now used for different functions, including the guarding of embassies and diplomats’ homes. The officers come from the police force and the rest of the employees belong to the various Pakhtun tribes.
The shalwar-kameez-wearing Frontier Constabulary personnel have accompanied the police to take action against the militants and criminals, but the FC’s role in the fight against militancy and terrorism has been insignificant compared to that of the regular armed forces. The Frontier Corps, also drawn overwhelmingly from the Pakhtun tribes with officers belonging to the Pakistani army, has played a major role in this fight because it is deployed in the tribal areas and on the border with Afghanistan. Still, the Frontier Constabulary has offered its share of sacrifices in the battle and its previous commandant, Safwat Ghayyur, died in the line of duty in a suicide bombing in Peshawar last year. He was a celebrated and fearless police officer.
The pair of suicide bombings at Shabqadar was a serious security lapse, which unfortunately happens all the time in Pakistan, without much accountability. The attackers had done their homework and obtained good intelligence from inside the Frontier Constabulary Training Centre about the day and timing of departure of the recruits for home. They executed their murderous assault with precision, leaving nothing to chance and ensuring that everyone at the spot got killed or wounded. The vehicles taking the recruits to their villages and towns were all parked outside the gates of the training centre and were easily targeted. With little bit of imagination, the vehicles could have been driven inside the centre instead of being parked at the gates and made to leave at intervals instead of all starting the journey at the same time. These are unusual and dangerous times, but even those in uniform refuse to adopt measures keeping in view the risks they face.
The two bombers wanted to kill as many Frontier Constabulary personnel as possible and there could have been no better opportunity to do so than the day when recruits, after the completion of their training, were scheduled to go home on leave before joining duty. It was a happy occasion for these young men in their late teens and early 20s and their families, but it was to turn into a big tragedy. Families waiting to welcome their young sons and brothers received their mutilated bodies instead. The militants glorify each of their suicide bombers as “fidayee” and “shaheed” but they cannot close their eyes to the pain and suffering they have caused to fellow-Pakhtuns and other Muslims. In fact, Pakistan made no real contribution as both Washington and Islamabad are claiming credit for Bin Laden’s assassination, but the 100 people, including the two suicide bombers who died in Shabqadar, were all Pakistanis. For the US it is a win-win situation as the militants, by resorting to such attacks, will further lose whatever little public support they may have and Pakistan will come under even more pressure to take a tougher military action against the TTP.
Avenging Bin Laden’s assassination would make sense if the US were attacked or its interests damaged elsewhere in the world. However, this appears to be beyond the capacity of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates as no attack could be launched in the US since 9/11. It is obvious that Al-Qaeda and likeminded groups have the ambition to attack the US, but lack the capability to do so. Instead they would attack targets in Pakistan and possibly Afghanistan, because the two countries are accessible and vulnerable. In fact, the Afghan Taliban gave a measured response to Bin Laden’s killing and have yet to claim any attack against the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan as revenge for the Al-Qaeda founder’s death. Bin Laden was their guest and ally and for his sake the Afghan Taliban sacrificed everything, including their rule, in refusing to deliver him to the US. But they have shown pragmatism, unlike the Pakistani Taliban who mistakenly believe they can avenge Bin Laden’s death by killing innocent Pakistanis.

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