PASHTUN SUICIDE TERRORISM---AN UPDATE
INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR--PAPER NO.370
Suicide terrorism is not new in South Asia. The Sri Lankan Tamils belonging to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Punjabi Muslims belonging to the anti-Shia extremist organisations of Pakistan such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) have been practising suicide terrorism for some years.
2.However, the Khalistani terrorist organisations of Indian Punjab, the indigenous Kashmiri terrorist organisations of India's Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the terrorist/insurgent organisations of India's North-East, the Maoist terrorist organisations of India and Nepal and the jihadi terrorist organisations of Bangladesh did not practice suicide terrorism. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) repeatedly failed in its efforts to persuade the Khalistanis to take to suicide terrorism. Even in Pakistan, the non-sectarian jihadi terrorist organisations such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM---previously known as the Harkat-ul-Ansar) , the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) did not practice suicide or suicidal terrorism till 1999.
3.The position started changing after Osama bin Laden shifted to Afghanistan from the Sudan in 1996 and formed his International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People in 1998. The HUM, the HUJI and the LET, which joined the IIF, took to suicide or suicidal terrorism thereafter and introduced the virus into the Indian territory ---initially in J&K and then in other parts of India. So did the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), which came into existence in 2000 due to a split in the HUM, and joined the IIF. But the small number of Indian Muslims, who joined these organisations, as well as the indigenous Kashmiri organisations kept away from suicide terrorism. The incident in Glasgow on June 30, 2007, in which an Indian Muslim from Bangalore tried to crash a car filled with fuel and a gas cylinder into the local airport was the first confirmed instance of the involvement of an Indian Muslim in an act of suicide terrorism.
4.Almost all the Pakistani Muslims involved in acts of suicide or suicidal terrorism in the Indian territory were Punjabi and Mirpuri Muslims. Like the Khalistanis and other terrorist/insurgent organisations of India, the Pashtuns, who live on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, did not believe in suicide terrorism. This modus operandi (MO) was not used by them against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s or against the troops of the Government of President Najibullah after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops or against the troops of the Northern Alliance headed by the late Ahmed Shah Masood. In fact, none of the ethnic groups of Afghanistan---the Pashtuns, the Uzbeks or the Tajiks--- practised suicide terrorism.
5.Even the advent of bin Laden and his Al Qaeda into Afghanistan in 1996 could not induce them to take to suicide terrorism. That was why for killing Masood on September 9, 2001, through an act of suicide terrorism, he had to depend on Arab volunteers. However, the position started changing after the US troops started their military operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda on October 7, 2001. The Pashtuns and the Uzbeks also started practising suicide terrorism. Initially, it was the Pashtuns on the Pakistan side of the border, who took to suicide terrorism against the Pakistani security forces in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Then, the Pashtuns from both sides of the border took to suicide terrorism against the Western and Afghan forces in Afghan territory. This was followed by small numbers of Uzbeks taking to suicide terrorism in Afghanistan as well as Uzbekistan.
6.The UN has made an interesting study on suicide terrorism in Afghanistan by a team of competent professionals led by Ms. Christine Fair, formerly of the Rand Corporation and now of the US Institute of Peace, Washington DC, who is quite knowledgeable on jihadi terrorism in the Indian sub-continent. The results of this study were released by the UN on September 9, 2007.
7.According to this study, the number of suicide bombings in Afghanistan increased from 17 in 2005 to 123 in 2006 and touched 103 till August 31, 2007. The report added that most suicide bombers were Afghan nationals, but received training or support in Pakistan's tribal region where many were recruited from madrasas (religious schools). Unlike the suicide bombers of Al Qaeda, who came from a well-to-do and educated background and were well-trained and well-motivated, those of the Neo Taliban came from poor families and were poorly educated. According to the report, although the vast majority of suicide bombers targeted military and government establishments, around 80 per cent of the casualties were innocent civilians.
8.The report did not sufficiently highlight the following facts: firstly, the majority of the suicide bombers were Pashtuns---- Afghan as well as Pakistani; secondly, while the Pakistani Pashtuns belonged mostly to the FATA and some to the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), the majority of the Afghan Pashtuns were from the refugee camps in Pakistani territory; thirdly, these Pashtuns took to suicide terrorism only after the US went into action against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and the US counter-terrorism actions---particularly the disproportionate use of the Air Force and heavy artillery--- resulted in a large number of civilian casualties; fourthly, the Pashtun anger against the US increased after bombings on madrasas in the FATA located near the border, which were suspected to be training camps for terrorists, in which a large number of young students were killed; and fifthly, though the Pakistani Army took upon itself the responsibility for the bombings, the Pashtuns believed that the bombings were actually carried out by the US troops based in Afghan territory.
9.The Pashtun anger was against the US as well as the Pakistani security forces. The anger against the Pakistani security forces further increased after the raid of the Pakistani military commandoes belonging to the Special Services Group (SSG), to which Gen. Pervez Musharraf belonged, into the Lal Masjid in Islamabad between July 10 and 13, 2007. In this raid, about 300 young girls studying in a madrasa inside the masjid campus were alleged to have been killed. Practically all of them came from Pashtun families of the FATA and the NWFP.
10.As a result of this anger, there was a surge in acts of suicide terrorism by the Pashtuns in Pakistani territory. These attacks initially started in the FATA and the NWFP and then spread to Islamabad, the capital, Rawalpindi, where the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army are located, Tarbela Ghazi, where important establishments of the SSG are located, and Sargodha where officers and trainee pilots of the Pakistan Air Force were attacked. The Pashtun suicide bombers have been targeting military and police personnel, though, as in Afghanistan, more civilians than personnel of the security forces were killed except in Rawalpindi and Tarbela Ghazi, where many personnel of the security forces and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were killed. There was also a large number of targeted killings of Pakistani army personnel by the Pashtuns in South and North Waziristan.
11.According to statistics of the Pakistani Interior Ministry,there were 56 acts of suicide terrorism in Pakistan during 2007, resulting in the death of 419 members of the security forces----the majority of them from the police and para-military forces--- and 217 civilians. The most important civilian killed was Mrs. Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister. As against this, there were only six incidents in 2006 in which 46 members of the security forces and 91 civilians were killed.
12. Of the 56 incidents of 2007, there were only four during the first six months of the year. The remaining 52 took place after the Pakistani commando action in the Lal Masjid. Three events of the second half of 2007 led to a wave of suicide terrorism--- the commando action in the Lal Masjid and the alleged death of a large number of tribal girls; the suicide committed by Abdullah Mehsud, a former inmate of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba, when he was surrounded by the security forces in Balochistan on July 27, 2007, and the army operation in the Swat Valley of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in December, 2007, against the members of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) headed by Maulana FM Radio Fazlullah, who had captured de facto control of it, when the NWFP was ruled by a six-party coalition of religious fundamentalist parties called the Muttahida- Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). The coalition quit office in protest against Pervez Musharraf's action in contesting re-election as the President from the outgoing Assemblies elected in 2002. Thereafter, the Army went into action.
13.The largest number of suicide attacks in a month was in July. There were 15 suicide strikes between July 14 and 31, 2007--- an average of one a day. The second largest number in a month was in December, 2007. There were 10, including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. There were eight in August, seven in September and six each in October and November, 2007. One of the six in October was the unsuccessful attempt to kill Benazir Bhutto in Karachi on October 18.Of the 52 suicide attacks in the second half of 2007, five were against political leaders--- two against Benazir in Karachi and Rawalpindi, one against some workers of her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in Islamabad and one each against Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, a Pashtun leader of the PPP who had deserted her in 2002 and supported Musharraf, and a junior Minister of the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League (Qaide Azam). Sherpao was the Interior Minister at the time of the Lal Masjid raid. He and the junior Minister escaped being killed. The PPP workers in Islamabad were targeted because Benazir Bhutto had supported the commando action in the Lal Masjid. The suspected killers of Benazir were reported to have told the Police that they killed her because of her support to the commando raid in the Lal Masjid and her backing to the US war against terrorism.
14.There was one directed against the Chinese working in Pakistan. In Hub,Balochistan, Chinese engineers travelling by a bus escaped death when the bus was attacked by a suicide bomber. There was no attack against American targets despite a strong anti-US feeling.
15.The remaining 46 attacks were against targets associated with the Army, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Special Services Group (SSG) and the Air Force. The police were not the primary targets, but a large number of them died because they were deployed in large numbers to protect the targets. Whenever the police guards suspected anyone and called him for frisking, he blew himself up.
16.Of the 56 attacks during 2007, 23 were in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), 21 in the NWFP, including four in the Swat Valley, nine in Punjab, two in Balochistan and one in Sindh. Of the 23 in the FATA, only two were in North Waziristan and one in the Bajaur Agency, where, according to the US, the terrorist infrastructure of Al Qaeda is located. The remaining 20 were in South Waziristan, where there are no confirmed reports of any Al Qaeda infrastructure. All the attacks in South Waziristan came from areas which are controlled by the Mehsuds. In the areas controlled by other tribes, there were no incidents of suicide terrorism. Two cantonments saw repeated suicide strikes--- Rawalpindi (5), where the General Headquarters of the Army are located, and Kohat (3) in the NWFP where an Army cadet school is located.
17.During the second half of 2007, there were two calls for suicide attacks in reprisal for the Lal Masjid raid by Pakistan Army Commandoes. The first was issued by Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi of the Lal Masjid before he and his student supporters were killed by the commandoes. The second was by Osama bin Laden in his message coinciding with the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 strikes in the US Homeland. The call given by Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi before his death at the hands of the Army had a greater impact on the tribal population in South Waziristan and the Swat Valley than the call of bin Laden. The death of Ghazi was followed by one act of suicide terrorism almost every day for 15 days.
18.Since the police was not able to detect most of these incidents, it was not clear how many of these were the outcome of outpouring of anger by individuals not belonging to any organisation and how many were orchestrated and co-ordinated by organisations such as Al Qaeda or the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan of which Baitullah Mehsud is the Amir.
19.According to the Pajhwok Afghan News agency, during 2007 there were 137 suicide attacks in Afghanistan resulting in 1730 casualties. Even though the number of suicide attacks was less as compared with 2006, the casualties were 1.5 times higher. There were 141 suicide attacks in 2006 with 1166 casualties. However, according to the UN study mentioned in a previous para, there were only 123 suicide attacks in 2006. There is thus a discrepancy in figures.
20.The number of civilian casualties was higher this year than during 2006. Three hundred civilians were killed and 757 wounded in 2007. In the security forces,171 policemen were killed and 213 wounded, 37 Afghan National Army (ANA) personnel were killed and 50 wounded. Twelve foreign soldiers were killed and 54 wounded.
21.One hundred and forty suicide attackers killed themselves in these 137 suicide attacks.Three suicide terrorists killed themselves in one attack in the Nangarhar province. Some of the suicide attacks were most bloody like the one at Baghlan in which 80 persons, including six MPs, were killed. Thirty policemen and many civilians s were killed in a suicide attack across Kabul police headquarters in June 2007. In another suicide attack in the Baharistan locality of Kabul city, 27 ANA troops were killed.
22. Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said even though they had threatened far more suicide attacks in 2007, they changed their tactics and diverted their plan to ambushes: "We want to hurt the opposition.Instead of losing our colleagues, we use other tactics to inflict more loses to enemies"
23.Forty-two suicide attacks were carried out in Kandahar, the largest in any province,22 in Kabul and 21 in the Helmand province.Khost and Paktika reported 11 each while seven were in Kunduz. Paktia, Nangarhar, Zabul, Nimroz, Urozgan, Logar, Herat, Farah, and Balkh also witnessed suicide attacks in 2007. Takhar, Kunar, Laghman and Maidan Wardak witnessed suicide attacks for the first time.
24.The torrent of anti-US anger in the Pashtun tribal areas has now been joined by an equally strong torrent of anti-Pakistani Army and anti-Musharraf anger, with each aggravating the other. The Pakistani security forces have literally been reeling under the impact of this spreading prairie fire of Pashtun suicide terrorism. Not much is known about the identity of the individual suicide bombers due to poor investigation by the Pakistani police officers. In fact, the Police officers are afraid of vigorously investigating these incidents due to a fear that they might themselves be targeted by future suicide bombers.
25.From the circumstantial evidence available from the Pakistani media and police sources, the following factors emerge:
• While the suicide bombers have been coming from all Pashtun sub-tribes, the Mehsud sub-tribe of South Waziristan headed by Baitullah Mehsud has been contributing a large number.
• Many of the suicide bombers did not belong to any organisation. They were angry individuals acting as Jundullas or soldiers of Allah in order to give vent to their anger. However, the Pakistani media identifies them as belonging to the Pakistani Taliban or as pro-Taliban.
• While Al Qaeda has been exploiting this anger for its own purpose, there is no evidence to show that it has been orchestrating the wave of suicide attacks. All it has been doing is to keep the anger alive and encouraging Jundulla terrorism by disseminating video and audio messages praising the concept of martyrdom. On July 14, 2007, the day after the Pakistani military commandos captured control of the Lal Masjid, As-Sahab, Al Qaeda's propaganda and Psywar wing, had put out a video of past clips of Osama bin Laden and others, in which they had glorified martyrdom in the cause of Islam. "Arise wherever you are and martyr yourself"----that was the hidden message it sought to convey. The video's central message was: "‘By Him in Whose Hands my life is! I would love to attack and be martyred, then attack again and be martyred, then attack again and be martyred." The Pashtuns have been following this advice on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
• Many of the suicide bombers were not recruits for suicide terrorism, but volunteers. Some of them were self-trained while many were trained by the Uzbeks belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Union or Group in their training camps in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. The Mehsuds are strong supporters of the Uzbeks. There is no evidence of Al Qaeda training.
• There was very little involvement of Punjabi and Mirpuri volunteers in the wave of suicide terrorism in the tribal areas.
26.In its issue of August 3-9, 2007, the "Friday Times" of Lahore wrote as follows: "Recruits are formally registered with the Taliban as suicide bombers and given a receipt indicating their registration number. At any given point, there are thousands in line waiting to sacrifice their lives, an observer returning from South Waziristan told the weekly. If one of them is selected to be the next bomber, the news is a cause for celebration in his household. Once confirmation arrives of his death, the funeral prayers are substituted with congratulatory messages for the family....Women, because of the Taliban's strict anti-wife-beating policy, are largely in favour of them..... This is part of the strategy of winning over the mothers, who, according to the Taliban, have the greatest influence on the child as he grows up. Women are thus actively involved in the process of indoctrinating children in favour of the Taliban."
27.This Pashtun anger on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border can be contained and hopefully reduced only by a change in the present counter-terrorism methods of the American and Pakistani Armed Forces, which involve a disproportionate use of force, resulting in a large number of civilian casualties----particularly children studying in madrasas. It is alleged that during the three years from 2005 to 2007, at least 600 children studying in the madrasas were killed by the Pakistani security forces during their bombing of tribal madrasas suspected to be terrorist training centres, either on their own or at the instance of the Americans. While no one can find fault with bombing of clearly identified terrorist training camps, the bombing of madrasas because of a suspicion that they are in fact terrorist training centres is adding to the anger. (16-2-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-Mail : email@example.com )