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Thursday, February 15, 2024

The dynamics of subcontinental terrorism before and after Taliban takeover

A close look at Afghanistan reveals that the United States has left the country with a dynamic terrorism landscape posing local, regional, and transnational threats. In this regard, Mustafa Khan argues, the perception of the Afghan Taliban’s total takeover of the country amid a humiliating U.S. withdrawal is iconic for jihadis, and it is likely to substantially bolster their morale and strength and have the ability to change the dynamics of global terrorism.

The unilateral cancellation of the cricket engagement by NL is a huge loss for Pakistan and its wounds incurable for ages to come. What went wrong can be assessed by a look back in anger at what had happened in 2009. Early in his presidency, President Joe Biden faced a major decision on Afghanistan: to end America’s involvement in the war that started due to the 9/11 attacks 20 years earlier or to keep U.S. military forces in the country. Having long defined the core U.S. goal in Afghanistan as countering terrorism, Biden’s decision came to depend on a critical assessment of the terrorism landscape in Afghanistan and leading to a complete Taliban takeover.

The terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team is yet another reminder of how this corner of the world is wasting its energy in futility. If anything, terror will balkanize the people further. A fourth of the world population is concentrated in four countries of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka with inadequate resources. Yet the highest priority of the governments is defense expenditure rather than the human development index. That hardly makes anyone safe and secure, least of all from their perceived or real enemies.

Read more: UN must call out India on its state-sponsored terrorism in Pakistan

Territorial disputes and claims have spawned terrorism

Such a situation would benefit those who would like to arm them to teeth and make them fight each other. Or, what is worse, they would like such troubles removed from their immediate vicinity so that they can thrive and dominate according to their wish, needs and way of life.

Lahore’s attack of March 3, 2009, on the Sri Lankan players in the orchestration of this truth. Home to three major religions of the world, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, a terrorist attack here is inferred to be an attack by one group identified on the basis of religion and the target victims equally bear the religious identity of the so-called ‘other’.

The security forces that are caught in such violent situations of not their making suffer and do their duty according to their discipline and how well or poorly they are equipped. In the Lahore attack, the terrorists made a pincer advance from three sides and used awesome weapons which are bound to awe and stun anyone howsoever motivated to fight back: two car bombs, grenades, three kilograms of explosives, pistols and a detonating cable and the deadly AK 47s spraying death and mayhem as well as rocket launchers which fired antitank grade grenades.

There were two police escort vans that first came under fire. They swung into operation and gave cover to the bus carrying the players from Sri Lanka. For about half an hour the fight lasted until then the bus reached the stadium. If the police had not fought as they did, taking hostage and moving into an adjoining building for holding up the victims and demanding safe passage and ransom would have followed. The swift action is the saving grace. Even so, the score was quite high: there would be no meaningful cricket events for sometimes to come and no world cup in 2012. This is a devastating blow to Pakistan’s economy when they were just counting on making millions of dollars to stave off more bankruptcy and loans.

Read more: India is fomenting terrorism in Pakistan: DG ISPR

No western country, not even Israel has ever suffered such a fate

What is true of Lahore is true of the Mumbai attacks of November 26, 2008. Indian economy could absorb the financial loss much easier because ours is a more vibrant economy than that of our neighbors’. But the overall loss is of the whole region of South Asian neighbors.

We must hark back to the resolutions of 2005 when the same neighbors wanted to improve the life of the people and the situation in the region through cricket matches. The tension and fissiparous tendencies that always accompanied a match between India and Pakistan had started losing grip on the minds and hearts of the people. Hope for the neighborly feeling was being born. But all that is now gone with the wind.

The attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers was well coordinated. The twelve attackers not only succeeded in killing six policemen, a driver and two bystanders and injuring some half dozen players but also escaped from the scene. This is amazing by all standards because there was already a heightened sense of security not only in Pakistan but all around the subcontinent in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks of November 26 2008 a year before the Lahore attack.

Moreover, India had already pulled out of the events and therefore there was a need for extra caution. The host team and the government could not have overlooked this aspect. What is significantly underlined was that the Sri Lankan team had come in lieu of the Indian team which had canceled its visit in response to the terrorist attack on its soil.

A long-time critic of his government and former skipper Imran Khan remarked vehemently that the attack was not made by the Taliban’s or the al Qaeda and the Pakistan Prime Minister asserted that it was carried out by the same group of terrorists who were behind the Mumbai November 2008 attack. Lashkar e Taiba which is blamed for the Mumbai attack is unlikely to undertake such an attack in the province of its birth and recruitment as it would lose support for cricket is the ruling passion of the people of Punjab and much of Pakistan. Moreover, the religious angle is out of consideration here. LeT is not known to have carried out any attack on Pakistan soil itself.

Read more: Are military operations the only way to counter terrorism in Pakistan?

Pakistan as a scapegoat?

The reaction of Imran Khan deserves notice because he is excruciatingly frank that his country is made to suffer for what the world believes it is plagued by the Taliban and al Qaeda who are not this time involved in the attacks. If there is a grain of truth in this then it is ominously frightening to surmise who is behind the attacks. It does not have necessarily to be the arch-rival India. There may now be international players on the scene whom some agencies have outsourced terror. A money changer who watched the scene hardly 30 meters away remarked that the gunmen “looked Nepali or Filipino, maybe Indian.”

Of course. it is difficult if not altogether impossible to make sense of every claim and assertion. For example, the scale of the Mumbai attacks and extent of destruction do not match with the work of ten who could have done so much. Then there is the witness account that many had seen white-skinned attackers of non-Asian origin at the VT station of Mumbai. Where have they gone?

A nurse is on record saying that the attackers at the Cama hospital spoke fluent Marathi! If the attackers in Lahore spoke Pushtun then what does their appearance like Nepalese or Filipinos or Indians imply? Or, could it be that there were several groups involved in both the attacks and the terrorists of foreign origin were withdrawn in the course of the operation?

Then, right from the beginning of the Mumbai attacks television reports said that the Chabad house had ordered one hundred kilos of chicken and a huge amount of liquor. This makes one feel that there is a kind of ‘packaged terrorism’ ordered from outside. From this point in time and place, it is not possible to be definite about things but one thing still remains irrepressible that there is some kind of cooperation or coordination between groups of terrorists and agents.

The Asian subcontinent is a mosaic of different cultures but it has humanity and a fair sense of sharing in the values of what different religions have taught over the years. In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, there was a popular groundswell for sharing the suffering the victims have gone through and how to reach out to them. There was also resentment against the government and politicians who failed to respond as they were more preoccupied with corruption and mismanagement.

In what way does a Zardari or Sharif cut a different figure? There is a letter from the editor of The Post of Lahore where the writer gives vent to the feelings of many ordinary people: “My nation asks where the hell more police officials were, so that they could have stood right in front of the firing spree. My people also regret their presence at the scene so that they could have stood between the firing and the players’ bus. And believe me, if the masses would have been allowed, they must have not only ensured that any injury to any player, but have also picked up some of the culprits.”

Read more: Pakistan and its war against terrorism

According to Fareed Zakaria Muslims generally would “settle for order” and the letter of the editor is imbued with that spirit. Recall the gathering of people at the Taj hotel showing solidarity and desire for peace and resentment against corruption and ineptitude of government in protecting the life of the people. It too was an expression of the same human spirit.

Mustafa Khan holds a Ph.D. on Mark Twain. He lives in Malegaon Maharashtra, India. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.