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Jumping the Shark

20/10/2009

Today’s suicide bombing attack at International Islamic University in Islamabad is just the latest in a series of bold attacks – see herehereherehere – in the past several weeks. And that list is by no means exhaustive. Terrorism is, among other things, a strategy of imposing costs. And the tactical acumen displayed during some of the recent attacks makes clear the TTP and its allies are fully capable of imposing costs on Pakistan in return for the current offensive into S. Waziristan.

I heard about today’s attack on NPR this morning as I was drinking my coffee and scrolling through today’s news. The correspondent, whose name I did not catch, suggested something along the lines of: “along with the spate of recent attacks this one might be the tipping point for the militants.” I’m clearly paraphrasing and, to be honest, was only half listening once the report had gone from facts to analysis. Qamar Zaman Kaira, Pakistan’s information minister, expressed a similar sentiment:

“It is a show of their desperation after the military operation in Waziristan. Their real faces are now exposed in front of the nation. The whole nation will have to be united to face them.”

I know these are just the types of things people say after an attack and so it’s a bit unfair to assail such statements as if they were studies analysis. Nonetheless, I fear like we’ve heard this all before. The attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team were supposed to be the sign the thing that galvanized Pakistani society. Since, you know, cricket is a pretty sacred activity there.

 

Then the attack on the police training facility outside Lahore was supposed to be the thing that galvanized the police. Then the Taliban’s foray into Buner was supposed to be the thing that galvanized the Army. And, of course, killing Baithullah Mehsud was supposed to be the thing that helped forge a renewed Pakistan-U.S. relationship. Until Kerry-Lugar of course.

I do think that a lot of people in Pakistani society, the police force, the security services and the military are galvanized. The Army is, after all, in the process of invading S. Waziristan. However, forgive my cynicism, I don’t think that means the insurgency in Pakistan has jumped the sharkjust yet. And I’m not quite sure what the citizenry can actually do about that.

First, we have no idea how the operation in S. Waziristan will actually turn out, or what happens if militants decide to set up shop next door in Haqqani-land next door in N. Waziristan. Second, while I am seriously in favor of disrupting the safe haven that exists in the FATA, I do think it is important to keep in mind that groups like JeM and LeJ – which are contributing heavily to these attacks – are Punjabi groups. Yes they operate closely with the TTP in FATA, but they also have networks [and in the case of JeM, physical infrastructure] in Punjab.

Does Pakistan need to do counter-insurgency in the FATA? Absolutely. But it also needs to improve its counter-terrorism capabilities in Punjab, and really throughout the rest of the country. ICG had a couple of pretty good reports last year – here and here – on the structural inadequacies facing Pakistan in this regard. This is not to take anything away from the men and woman who are working hard to prevent these types of attacks.

I know people who work for the Intelligence Bureau and the Anti-Terrorism Force, and they’re committed to preventing these types of attacks. However, I’m yet to see the type of structural reforms necessary within the police force and the intelligence agencies necessary to dismantle the networks that make attacks in Pakistan’s heartland possible.

For starters, I’m curious if anyone out there knows of improvements or planned improvements in terms of a) better inter-agency intelligence sharing; b) increased funding and training for Pakistani police; or c) increasing capacity within intelligence agencies that are not the ISI.