The latest wave of violent extremism with a series of lethal suicide attacks in Mohmand and Bajaur agencies has come as a big blow to the government’s peace efforts in the volatile tribal belt. The latest suicide attack that left 43 people dead and more than 60 injured in the already “cleared” Bajaur agency was the follow up of a deadly militant activity in the adjacent Mohmand agency in which scores of local and foreign insurgents attacked five security forces posts in the Safi and Baizai tehsils of Mohamand agency killing at least 11 soldiers. Twelve more sustained injuries. The activity also claimed the lives of 24 militants when the paramilitary forces repulsed the attack. This was the second activity of the kind by the Mohmand chapter of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Earlier on December 6th, the twin suicide attacks at the administrative compound of the Mohmand tribal region claimed fourty lives. Over 60 got injured including 12 government officials and two television journalists in the bloodiest activity. The attackers targeted a jirga of the Mohmand tribal elders from Safi and Haleemzai tribes.
Following the suit, the militants from Khyber Agency also speeded up their activities in the recent past. The militant’s activities in the relatively calm tribal agency got momentum after the consecutive US drones attacks hit the headquarters of the banned militant outfit, Lashkar-e-Islam in Sandana area of Tira valley. The three drones’ attacks on the two consecutive days killed 32 people in all including 30 militants and two civilians. In a quick response, the militants attacked an Oil tanker near Sur Qamar in Jamrud area on its way back to Peshawar from Bagram air base in Afghanistan. The following day, two more oil tankers were set ablaze in Katakushata area in Jamrud damaging an estimated 88000 liters of oil destined for the NATO forces stationed in Afghanistan. Parangsam check post was the next target of the militants where they set the mobile vehicle of the security forces on fire. The militants also blew up a government High School in Tehsil Bara as a reaction to the recent drones attacks.
The death of the dreaded Taliban commander from Swat in a US drone attack in Tira valley has also sent a shocking wave across the Taliban ranks. Bin Yameen, a close aide of Maulana Fazlullah, the leading character in Swat insurgency, was killed in the latest US drones attack that hit Sepah area, the hometown of Lashkar-e-Islam chief, Mangal Bagh who has been fighting the security forces since the military operation was launched against his organization in September 2009. In a latest move, the arrest of Naseeruddin Haqqani by the Pakistani security forces may jeopardize the peace initiatives being brokered by the Haqqanis in Kurram agency.
The political leadership and the security agencies have been giving the impression that all is well in FATA and that peace has made its way back to the war-hit tribal belt; however the ground realities speaks the other way. 25th of December was marked with the mega sports and cultural events in Peshawar to give the impression that the city worst hit by the bomb blasts, suicide attacks and other terrorist acts in the past, is back to business. The sports gala that attracted 7000 people with almost half of them players, from across the country, was aimed at dispelling the impression that Peshawar was a tense and depressed city to live in. The motto of the 31st National games being held in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after 12 years, is, ‘Sports for Peace’. Ironically, the Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani who was due in the city for the inaugural ceremony could not turn up – most probably due to security reasons. The same day, the entertainment-starved Peshawarites enjoyed a colorful musical evening with the young pop singers at the city’s only theatre hall, the Nishtar Hall. The bold and brave minister for information Mian Iftikhar Hussain did not hesitate to take an oath from the enthusiastic youngsters present at the hall that every sacrifice would be given for getting the country rid of the extremists. The hall, packed to the capacity, echoed with ‘yes’ when the minister asked for sacrifice. The holding of the sports and musical events in the depressed city and the issuance of bold and brave statements by the dedicated and committed honorable minister like Mian Iftikhar Hussain are encouraging steps towards the promotion of peace and may change the course of events to some extent, however the latest wave of extremist militant activities in the tribal areas suggest that after a short period of hibernation the Taliban are back to business. The aggressive moves are aimed at pressurizing the government to persuade US halt the drone’s attacks and make the government go back on their words regarding the launch of a military operation in North Waziristan. Those keeping an eye on the events taking shape in the region believe the more time the militants would hire, the more they would gain strength. The question is what stops the army from launching a military operation against the militants who have gone wrong then.
The list of Pakistan’s compulsions is too long. It has to satisfy the loosing American patience regarding the launch of military operation in North Waziristan. On the other hand, developing a national consensus is another issue. The political leadership has got divergent opinion in this regard. Some of them would like the army to go hard on the militants and crush them with full might once for all in their last sanctuary-North Waziristan while others want to settle the issue through peaceful means avoiding the use of force on the sons of the soil. Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has made it very clear that military operation in North Wazirstan will be launched only after the consensus of all the political leaders is achieved. Secondly, the government is in the middle of rehabilitating the IDPs from South Waziristan and Orakzai Agencies. The launch of a military operation at this juncture may jeopardize the process of rehabilitation in the two troubled agencies. In the given scenario the government can ill afford to open a new front again the militants in North Waziristan and make room for the new batches of the IDPs. And lastly, the government is not fully prepared for the possible backlash and fallout of the to-be launched operation.
The militants have always been coming up with a matching response to the military operations launched in the past, may it be South Waziristan, Bajaur, Swat or Orakzai Agency. In response to the increasing US drones attacks and continuing military operations, the militant Taliban have, so far, targeted almost 30 cities of the country including Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Karachi during the last two years. Peshawar remained on top of the list with 42 such incidents of terror. Keeping in view the past experiences, the government is fully aware of the possible backlash which would be more visible in the troubled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The people in KP in particular and the rest of the country in general will have to bear the brunt of consequences.