A new wave of terror

July 5, 2020

Attacks on the Pakistan Stock Exchange building and Rangers personnel in Sindh have set alarm bells ringing for law enforcement agencies

Karachi: Multiple dead in June 29 terrorist attack on Pakistan Stock Exchange.

Recent attacks on Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) building and Rangers personnel in Karachi and other parts of Sindh province have set alarm bells ringing for law enforcement agencies.

Security officials privy to the development believe that after back-to-back attacks in Karachi, Ghotki, and Larkana on Rangers personnel on June 19, and the attack on stock exchange seem to be terrorist activities of the recently-forged alliance of Baloch and Sindhi ethnic separatist groups, and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-London with support from a neighbouring country. However, they hold that the nexus will be unable to create serious law and order problems.

Until September 2013, when the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz federal government with the backing of the military launched a targeted operation in Karachi, the metropolis used to be a hub of major terrorist campaigns waged by religious and political militants, which impacted peace in Karachi on an almost daily basis. The year 2013 was the bloodiest, as 2,700 people got killed, according to statistics maintained by law enforcement agencies.

However, the spree came to a halt when the crackdown targeted perpetrators - Taliban groups, sectarian outfits, armed wings of ethnopolitical parties, and criminal gangs.

In the last two years, Karachi has seen the foiling of two major terrorist attacks aimed at hurting the country’s economic activities as well as its relations with China, which in partnership with Pakistan is developing a China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The first of those attacks were carried out at the Chinese consulate in November 2018 and the other on June 29, when terrorists targeted the PSX building.

None of these attacks was carried out by Al Qaeda, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or a sectarian group. Both were perpetrated by a faction of the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) - led by Bashir Zaib, a former chairman of the Baloch Students Organisation.

A few years ago, the BLA leader Aslam Baloch alias Achu had separated from group head Hyrbyar Marri, who is in the United Kingdom in self-exile, and formed his own faction. After his death in a suicide attack in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in December 2018, Zaib became head of the faction.

On the other hand, the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA), a recently proscribed little-known Sindhi separatist outfit, has claimed responsibility for the five attacks on Rangers in various cities on June 19 and June 10. The SRA is a splinter group of the Sindhudesh Liberation Army (SLA) headed by Shafi Burfat, who is also living in Europe. The group is currently headed by Syed Asghar Shah.

Raja Umar Khattab, a senior counterterrorism police officer, says that banned separatist groups from Sindh and Balochistan have become a new security challenge. “Sindhi militant groups, such as the SRA and the Sindhudesh Liberation Army used to carry out small-scale terrorist activities while Balochistan’s separatist groups have a history of carrying out large-scale attacks,” says Khattab.

“Ahead of the US withdrawal and the intra-Afghan peace process, local and regional patterns of terrorism will be

re-invigorated and several groups will mark new targets and areas to continue terrorism,” says Abdul Basit.

“But the recent wave of terrorist attacks shows that RAW, India’s spy agency, has been behind it. It is using separatist groups from Sindh and Balochistan for subversive activities.”

The law enforcement officials also say that the groups are weak and pose no serious threat because they do not have a vast organisational structure and lack a support base.

The MQM, one a powerful political force, has already split into ‘good MQM’ and ‘bad MQM’ because of ongoing operation on the group since its founder’s August 22, 2016 hate speech. A large number of party leaders and workers have distanced themselves from him and formed MQM-Pakistan. The remaining group is now unofficially called MQM-London.

While law enforcement officials are still investigating the nature of the relationship between MQM-London and Sindh militant outfits, they believe that members of the former have been aiding the militants of the latter in carrying out subversive attacks.

Recently, a new militant group, Mohajir Freedom Fighters (MFF) claimed responsibility for a recent attack on the relatives of an MQM-Pakistan MPA in Karachi’s Orangi Town area.

According to law enforcement officials, it is too early to say whether the MFF is meant to be a distraction.

A law enforcement official has hinted that the Interior Ministry may ban MQM-London along with some factions of the JSQM. The Jeay Sindh Tehreek, another Sindhi ethnic party, has also recently come under the radar after its chief Dr Safdar Sarki, who is a US national, appeared in a video with the MQM founder a few months ago.

“The attacks have geopolitical underpinnings and should be seen in the context of India-China border dispute and the intra-Afghan peace process,” says Abdul Basit, a research fellow at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore.

“Ahead of the US withdrawal and the intra-Afghan peace process, local and regional patterns of terrorism will be re-invigorated and several groups will mark new targets and areas to continue terrorism”.

The writer is a The News staffer. Email: [email protected] and Twitter: @zalmayzia

A new wave of terror: Attacks on PSX building, Rangers in Sindh set alarm bells ringing for LEAs