Thursday November 30, 2023

Who killed the Ismailis?

It is still unclear which militant group was involved in the terrorist attack on a bus transporting members of the Ismaili community in Karachi on May 13. Responsibility was initially claimed by two militant groups and there was a controversy over the real perpetrator of the gruesome attack. This is

May 20, 2015
It is still unclear which militant group was involved in the terrorist attack on a bus transporting members of the Ismaili community in Karachi on May 13. Responsibility was initially claimed by two militant groups and there was a controversy over the real perpetrator of the gruesome attack.
This is how militants operate when they want to create confusion and sidetrack the investigators. The police and intelligence agencies follow different leads to find a clue and such conflicting claims could create doubts and add to delays in their work. However, investigators cannot be misled for long because they have had enough experience dealing with militancy and working out terrorist strikes in the past.
Also, it doesn’t really matter who and which militant group carried out this particular attack; militants are basically all the same and have a common goal of destabilising Pakistan, spreading fear and showing that the government and all its institutions are helpless in stopping terrorist attacks and protecting citizens. This means the government needs to have the same tough approach towards all the armed militant groups that are responsible for mayhem in different parts of Pakistan.
The authorities were initially careful not to jump to conclusions until headway was made in the investigation into the May 13 attack. However, Sindh’s elderly Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, facing criticism for his laidback style of governance and his inability to govern effectively due to presence of competing centres of power including one led by former President Asif Ali Zardari, has now claimed discovery of evidence showing the involvement of the Indian intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), in the attack. If that is also the conclusion of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agencies and other investigators, they would also have to figure out which militant groups are taking orders from RAW and whether these linkages are direct or were cultivated in Afghanistan.
In the latter case, improvement in relations between Islamabad and Kabul could be stalled if Pakistan continues to insist that it is being destabilised by RAW, which is using training camps in Afghanistan. Another point worth noting is that even if RAW is sponsoring acts of terrorism in Pakistan, it is employing Pakistanis to do the job. There is a need to find out why Pakistanis are willing to do India’s bidding to harm their own homeland. Such a possibility was certainly unthinkable in the period prior to the 9/11 attacks on the US.
Soon after the attack on the Ismaili bus passengers, the mysterious Jundullah claimed responsibility for the horrendous attack in. And, true to form, the claim was absurd – as have Jundullah’s past claims been.
Jundullah has been making such big claims after militant attacks in Pakistan and sometimes even for those carried out in other countries without ever being able to produce any evidence to support its role in these incidents. It has yet to provide any video footage or pictures of its suicide bombers because it simply doesn’t have the capacity and the manpower to undertake such major attacks.
If one were to keep count, it has by now claimed responsibility for some of the worst militant attacks in Pakistan including the one on November 2, 2014 near the Wagah border post with India, the church bombing in Peshawar, those targeting the offices of the ISI in Sukkur and Peshawar and many more. All it had to do was make a few phone calls to journalists eager for information. Jundullah and certain other armed groups haven’t really felt the need to provide evidence to back their wild claims because sections of the media are ready to publicise whatever claim is made.
Jundullah’s spokesmen – earlier Ahmad Marwat and now Fawad Marwat – could be the same person. Marwat is a Pakhtun tribe inhabiting Lakki Marwat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but neither officials nor local people in the district have heard of militants by the name of Ahmad Marwat and Fahad Marwat. Ahmad and Fawad, in case they are different characters, are usually the first ones to claim responsibility for terrorist attacks.
Most of the alert members of the media who are contacted by them, or who get to know about it from other journalists are by now aware that Jundullah’s claims lack authenticity and, therefore, don’t deserve to be reported. However, some reporters promptly report Jundullah’s claims despite knowing that the group is either fake or too small to organise complex terrorist strikes. One feels these journalists are doing a disservice to journalism by knowingly giving credence to unsubstantiated claims made by a group that lacks credibility.
Don’t they know that Jundullah had even claimed responsibility for the May 2012 killing spree in France in which the 23-year old militant Mohammad Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, was shot dead by French commandoes after he had killed seven persons, including three soldiers and later a rabbi and three schoolchildren at a Jewish school? Jundullah had also instantly claimed responsibility for the killings of around 10 mountaineers and trekkers at the base camp of the so-called killer mountain, Nanga Parbat, in June 2013 in Gilgit-Baltistan. Subsequently, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was found involved in this attack and some of the planners and attackers were apprehended from the Diamer district in Gilgit-Baltistan. All these claims in the end proved untrue.
How can one take an organisation such as Jundullah seriously, which has repeatedly been shown making exaggerated claims? And one thing all should know: this is not the Jundullah of Sunni militants of Iranian Baloch descent involved in past attacks in Iran’s Seistan-Balochistan province. This is a different Jundullah, but not much is known about its leadership and strength. Even if it exists, it certainly isn’t as powerful as is believed to be on the basis of its frequent and unsubstantiated claims of responsibility for terrorist attacks.
The next claim of responsibility was made by the Islamic State (IS) or Daesh as it is known in Arabic. In a statement posted on the jihadist Twitter account, the IS claimed that its soldiers carried out the attack on a bus transporting Ismaili ‘infidels’ in Karachi, killing 43 ‘apostates’ and injuring around 30.
Though media reports pointed out that it was the first official claim of responsibility by the IS leadership of an attack in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, the local Khorasan chapter of the IS had earlier asserted responsibility for an assault targeting Pakistani security forces in the Orakzai Agency in Fata a few months ago. And prior to that, the IS’ Khorasan unit had claimed responsibility for an attack in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan, in which around 50 people, mostly government employees, were killed outside a bank while collecting their monthly salaries.
This claim was made by Shahidullah Shahid, the IS spokesman who in the past held the same position in the TTP. His claim was immediately rejected by another IS leader Abdur Rahim Muslimdost, an Afghan author who was imprisoned by the US at the Guantanamo Bay prison and was among the first Afghans to announce allegiance to Daesh. The IS leadership based in Iraq and Syria made no claim of responsibility for the Jalalabad bombing. All this showed the lack of coordination among the top IS leaders, chapters and cadres. In fact, the Iraq and Syria-based IS leadership doesn’t really have much contact with their Khorasan chapter, which in turn is split between Afghanistan and Pakistan units and is unable to coordinate much with each other.
Identifying the perpetrators of the latest Karachi terrorist strike is certainly going to be challenging, but the bigger challenge would be to track down and eliminate the killers who easily made good their escape. By killing 46 Ismailis without sacrificing any of their own (the Safoora Chowrangi attack didn’t involve any suicide bombing), the militants could be emboldened to undertake more such attacks and still manage to escape.
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar.