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Posted on: Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Pakistan’s Changing Militant Landscape Post 2014: Implications for National and Regional Security

The Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) COMSATS in collaboration with Hans Seidel Foundation (HSF) organized a seminar on the topic, “Post 2014 Pakistan’s Regional Security Situation” on August 7, 2014 at the Islamabad Campus. The speaker Mr. Abdul Basit from the Singapore Institute----- made a presentation on, “Pakistan’s Changing Militant Landscape Post 2014: Implications for National and Regional Security”.

Introducing his topic he clarified that his core focus will be on internal security and its implication for the region. He said the prevailing situation in Pakistan is partly the outcome of its strategic geographical location, partly our own policies, and partly what Americans have done in Afghanistan. He explained that in Pakistan there has been a significant shift in the security paradigm. Pakistan army’s green book 2013 has a new chapter on internal security wherein the non conventional warfare has been included. Secondly, he said, General Kiyani has declared on record that India may not be the number one enemy anymore, it is the internal separatist groups, the militant groups inside Pakistan which pose eminent threat to Pakistan. The national internal security policy document forwarded by the PMLN government also endorses this viewpoint.  This paradigm shift, he said is the outcome of Pakistan army’s experience of war in FATA and Swat where they had a very limited experience of counter insurgencies, counter terrorism, they did not know the terrain, they did not know what kind of enemy they were dealing with the fundamental obstacle to fight with the militant was the Muslim against the Muslim. However, he said, still there are many mundane issues Pakistanis are still debating: whose war is it? Are we fighting a proxy war? Is militancy the outcome of drone attacks or the other way round? at a broader political and strategic level there has been a continuous debate for a military versus a negotiation based solution to deal with the militants. There is no one answer to these controversies. So far the military operation really did the trick both in Swat and South Waziristan.  Similarly, it is going well in North Waziristan so far, without very serious backlash. However, he was of the view that this was not a permanent solution, the dilemma of counter terrorism is that the moment army declares the victory they come back in pockets.

To explain how the militant’s landscape has changed over the last decade Mr. Basit divided his presentations in to four domains: Taliban militancy, Kashmir insurgency, Sectarian terrorism, and Baloch separatism.



1.Taliban Militancy

Mr. Basit argued that American with drawl from Afghanistan will multiply Pakistan’s problems like the influx of refugees, sanctuaries of TTPs in border areas of Afghanistan, Indian presence in Afghanistan, structural entrenchments of actors who really have their own long term agendas and these agendas are not related to American presence or withdrawal. Furthermore, counter terrorism operation will come to an end after American withdrawal while the Talibs demanding implementation of shariyah will continue to push for their agenda. He said a talib is a talib because he believes in shariyah; he gets killed for it and kills for it. In this situation the kind of talks we were having previous month between the government and the TTP to start with us was a non starter because the government being the custodian of the constitution cannot give anything to Taliban which is contrary to the constitution. So Tahreek – e - Taliban have a very clear agenda for Pakistan post 2014.

Mr. Basit gave a detailed account of the shift of TTP leadership out of FATA to mainland Pakistan in Malakand with Fazolullah as the head of TTP. Healso described the role of Sajnaa faction, WaliurRehman faction and Umer Khursanni who are close to Al-quaida. So the leadership going to Fazalullah was a clear indicator of long term planning that the Taliban have been involved in. Recounting the Taliban activities since 2013 including a letter to Ulaama of Pakistan seeking of fatwa about democracy in Pakistan whether it is in accordance with teaching of Islamic shariyah or not, targeting political parties they considered were against them and sparing others etc., he said they very clearly drew a line that with us or against us type of a thing. He said the anti-US statement coming from Taliban have been halted completely since May 2013 elections; a clear indication of focus changing from Afghanistan and America to Islamabad.

He pointed out that Talibans spread towards south of Karachi and their statements that the battle for imposition of shariyah implementation in Pakistan or jihad will be fought in Karachi and in the streets of Punjab again confirms their focus on Pakistan post 2014. Furthermore, the blend of Al-quaida and TTP is also another worrisome development for the security establishment in Pakistan. The elimination of their Arab leadership except for Dr. Zawahiri and Saif-ul-Adal, killing of Osama by US Navy Seals and others in drone attacks, has shifted the leadership to Pakistanis. Currently the Al-quaida’s head in Pakistan is Farman Shinwari, and he comes from Khyber Agency. He has three brothers, all of them have fought in Kashmir jihad, Ustad Farook is the media spokes person of Al-quaida in Pakistan. Therefore, most of Al-quaida’s core videos are uploaded by Al-quaida media wing Al-Sahaab in Urdu, and they focus on Kashmir, issue of South Asia such as the repression of Muslims in Xinjiang, China’s province and Burma. So there is a clear; shift they have a global outlook but focus for now is very regional. The Soviet and the US with drawl are glossed in the literature in their magazines and in their jihadi blogs and they see themselves as a victor of this war, and this thing has emerged as a model for jihadi groups around the world.

2. Kashmir Insurgency

Al-quaida clearly sees Kashmir as an unfinished agenda of jihad because when Americans came they shifted their theatre from fighting the Indians in Kashmir to go and fight in Afghanistan. The likes of TTP  who have emerged in their ranks have encouraged the Kashmiri jihadis to adopt their model in Afghanistan. Kashmiris now clearly relate to this model saying the way America withdrew from Afghanistan, one day India will have to withdraw from Kashmir. This is a very worrisome development in terms of having regional implications on security and peace between India and Pakistan specially and also between Afghanistan and Pakistan because these groups have now presence in Afghanistan. He said, they are rebuilding their training centers they are moving their manpower there and they want to use Afghanistan as a launching pad to train and then infiltrate jihadis into different parts. Pakistan unfortunately due to its geography is at the receiving end. For Pakistan truly the solution to all its problems clearly lies in sorting out and putting its house in order. He warned that the activities of these militants who are beyond the control of military establishment, could result in another Indo- Pakistan war. So Taliban have their broader, long term strategic designs for Pakistan they are not dependent on US departure and presence in the region anymore they have their allies in Afghanistan. The TTP and Afghan talibans have ideological, ethnic, geographical and historical linkages so they are bound to reciprocate the hospitality and refuge they enjoyed in Pakistan and that is clearly happening with  Fazalullah being in Nooristan, Khalid Umer Khurasaani sitting in Khunarh and other leaders sitting in border areas. He suggested that if Pakistan wants to control these insurgents the right choice is to take advantage of the US presence. American presence is blessing for Pakistan because there is a nexus between the Afghans and the talibans, and whatever cooperation Pakistan can get from Afghans can only be through good offices of Washington. He related the current success of operation in North Waziristan to cooperation from the other side of border due to the American presence. It will become impossible after the American withdrawal as more than seventy percent of the Afghan generals have indicated to the American military officers that you leave and we leave before you. So such is the situation there so whatever Pakistan can get from the Afghans can get now and if this does not happen now then we are in a long haul, this insurgency will go on. He said cannot insurgencies cannot end unless the external cooperation or external support that any insurgent group is getting is cut.

3. Sectarian Militancy

Mr. Basit related the spread of sectarian militancy to the alliance between sectarian groups like Sippah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangwi with Al quaida on mainland Pakistan after clamped down on these groups by Musharraf. These guys have a mishmash of ideology blended with anti Shia sentiment. So they are a double edge sword, very trained unlike TTP they are very sophisticated they have their Madrasa network on mainland Pakistan. Attacks against the Hazara Shia community in Baluchistan show they can carry out very sophisticated and multiple coordinated attacks, intelligence is fantastic and the most worrisome part is that they enjoy the support among the masses. He also pointed out the intra Sunni, Brailvi, Deobandi divide where the previous practice of ideological debates and differences but not violence is being replaced with militancy. He said the Lashkar-e-jhangwi has adopted the salfi ideology and they see the world in very clear black and white terms; one is Daar-ul-Aman and other is Daar-ul-Harab. Daar-ul-Aman is for those people who comply with their version of sharia and anybody who is outside Daar-ul Aman falls into Daar-ul Harab and it is okay to kill them or to raise jihad against them.Therefore Brailvis, Ahmadis, and the Shia all are attacked.

 Mr. Basit informed the participants that sectarian militancy of Sippah Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangwi predates 9/11, it predates Kashmir Jihad, and it also predates Afghan Jihad. The origin lies somewhere in 1964 riots in Jhang, and it is the responsibility of the security establishment to deal with it as it is a problem of law and order. The success to deal with it depends on smart intelligence, and it depends on reinventing your policies because a state has to be a neutral between two religious and political groups as long as the triad nature of this relationship exists. A biased state position in favor of one or the other group then the triad  collapses and there is a head on collision and currently what we see is a head on collision. As a result Shia militancy has revived in Pakistan, Sipah-e-Muhammad has been reactivated and they have picked up arms. However, they do not carry out suicide bombings or indulge into large scale bombings rather they are involved in tit for tat targeted killings of deaobandi leaderships. In 2012 Shia killed more deabandi activists of Sipah Sahaba and different other allied organizations in Karachi than the number of Shias killed by deabandis and Lashkar-e-Jhangwi militants. The intensification of violence between Sunni and Shia and its geographical spread will continue as long as the state does not reorient its policies towards being a neutral arbitrator. He warned that the nexus of these groups with Al-quaida is really worrisome as they learn suicide bombings, bomb making techniques, multiple coordinated attacks etc., from them.  So they are not the old guard they are a huge generation of jihadis who are clearly very violent.


4. Baloch Seperatism

Mr. Basit said the intensity of attacks by the Baloch insurgents has declined because the two leaders who were previously in Afghanistan have moved out to London and Geneva and the Baloch know that the support they were getting from Afghanistan will not be available anymore. Afghan Taliban will not spare any Baloch insurgent on their soil. The differences between the Baloch and TTP insurgents is ideological, these are nationalist, separatists with an ethnic agenda. The local insurgency is thriving but the external linkages have been will be cut down so it will be in the reach of Pakistani military establishment to take care of it. However, it does not imply that there is a military solution to issues in Baluchistan, clearly it has to be resolved through political dialogue.

However, he pointed out that it is not so simple; the bad news is that what essentially started as a demand of autonomy is turned into full blown demand for separatism and unlike the previous insurgencies which was led by one charismatic leader this insurgency is more or less leaderless. However, the tribes are not divided anymore, the killing of Akbar Bugti led to the reemergence of the grand jirga after 126 years. All the tribes came together and they passed a resolution seeking revenge of his killing. The insurgency gets support from middle class and the baluch Diaspora provides funding for the insurgency.  He was of the view that the demand for autonomy has reached the point of no return because now the baluchs are very aware of the land they are sitting on, how lucrative their location is, they have a port, they have minerals, where they are situated they can link to regions, so they have every reasons to part away with Pakistan. Furthermore, the literature that is spread carries quotes of leaders like Chi-Guevara and known insurgents who fought against colonial rulers. He rightly pointed out that these insurgents are well versed in exploiting the latest means of communications like the social media, print media, electronic media, protests in the world capitals and particularly the UN head quarters. So not just through the gun, they are doing it by political means; they are very active in social media.

Mr. Basit concluded by spelling out some of implications of the recent trends in militancy in Pakistan. He was of the view that the going trend of radicalization in Pakistan will further increase because the state structures are unable to deliver even the basic necessities and people have every reason to rebel against the system. People who have ideological tendencies lean towards the Islamist organizations, and people having secular tendencies in Baluchistan will join the separatist organizations. So we see a growing trend of radicalization in Pakistan. To support his argument he quoted a United States Institutes of Peace survey in which the young people of different universities in Pakistan were asked a question about their identity that who are you ? Around 75 to 80 % of them identified them as Muslims only 15 to 20% were saying that we are Pakistani. However, he did not consider it to be a relevant measure to judge radicalization in Pakistan. It was just one indicator that how things can turn around in Pakistan. Secondly, he said all borders of Pakistan will remain volatile for next three to four years due to allegations of the neighboring countries. He said the objective of the 2008 Mumbai attacks masterminded by Hardat-ul-Jihad-ul-Islami Al Almi, because they thought if this happens and if they can precipitate a war between India and Pakistan through these attacks, they will get the space they needed to expand in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. Thirdly, he said Pakistan needs to revise the policing structure because there has been an urbanization of militancy. From 2013 the  insurgents are shifting from FATA to mainland Pakistan were they have their allies with in the form of Punjabi Taliban, the Asmatullah Muaavia and Lashkar-e-Jhangwi so that they want to start their activities on mainland Pakistan. Finally, he maintained that the threat perception and orientation has to be changed; the state needs smart intelligence policing which is more proactive and preventive rather than reactive and a fire fight approach, and at the same time in term of sectarianism they need to start a debate that they need to identify the overall character of the state. We are neither republic nor Islamic, this is confusing and fascinating at the same time because we have been a state for 66 year without knowing who really we are?