The cold blooded assassination of Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, following that of Governor Salmaan Taseer has made apparent the modus operandi of the Taliban-Al Qaeda, in this, the latest phase of their war strategy: Target a prominent politician who explicitly opposes their extremist ideology on humanitarian grounds, pass a fatwa and then execute with telling efficiency. The objective is to demonstrate that it is the Taliban-Al Qaeda ideology rather than the Constitution of Pakistan which defines what is acceptable. Equally, it is they who determine the guilt of an errant individual and the punishment to be given, rather than Pakistan’s Judiciary.
The writing is on the wall. It is time for the democratic government and the security apparatus to get their act together to defend Pakistan and its people.
Conversely, through these assassinations the extremists are attempting to de-legitimize the government by showing that it has failed to protect the lives of its leaders, let alone ordinary citizens. What makes this failure endemic to the existing institutional structure is that organs of the state itself, which are supposed to provide security to citizens, are undermining it. This is illustrated by the statement of the Advocate General of Balochistan, General Salahuddin Mengal, in his reported statement before the Supreme Court recently: “We are recovering dead bodies, day in and day out, as the Frontier Constabulary and police are lifting people in broad day light at will, but we are helpless.” It is not surprising therefore that the Supreme Court in a recent court order observed, “……the law and order situation is required to be tackled in accordance with the Constitution and it is the duty of the State including the Federal as well as Provincial governments to protect the lives and properties of the citizens in terms of article 9 (Security of Person) without any discrimination”.
The relationship between the state and citizens in the context of security is fraught because of another factor: The widespread perception that Pakistan’s premier Intelligence Service (ISI) treats with kid gloves some of the deadliest extremist groups who were earlier nurtured as “strategic assets”.
What then is the war strategy of the Taliban-Al Qaeda? It is clear from their declarations as much as their systematic actions that the Taliban-Al Qaeda seek to capture the Pakistani state, or as large a part of it as they can. Their strategy is informed by the classic principle of guerilla warfare: Undermine the will to fight of Pakistan’s military, the government and their civilian support base. They have attempted to achieve these goals in three phases: First, was to capture significant swathes of Pakistan’s territory, initially in FATA and then the settled areas of Pakhtunkhwa province. In this phase the extremists were driven back by the Pakistan military by what is regarded as one of the quickest and most efficient combat operations in the history of modern counter insurgency. The second phase of Taliban-Al Qaeda strategy was to spread out to the major urban centers and establish sleeper cells there. At the same time, gun and suicide bomber attacks were mounted against key military, intelligence and police installations to undermine morale. The third phase consisted of assassinating some of Pakistan’s key political leaders, first Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, then Governor Salmaan Taseer and now Minister Shahbaz Bhatti. This was combined with organizing a propaganda apparatus with a national outreach, for capturing the ideological space. This was done by winning allies amongst elements in the media, madrassas, selected sectarian groups and some of the main stream religious parties.
The danger to the state and society of Pakistan lies in three eventualities: (a) Continued violence reaches a point where governance is seen to collapse. This would create the possibility of a military managed formation of a “national government” dominated by right wing parties, with a representation for the Taliban. (b) Widespread mayhem through simultaneous terrorist attacks in key cities, as a prelude to an extremist counter revolution. (c) A Mumbai style attack against an Indian city which could trigger a devastating war between Pakistan and India.