ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Feeding sectarian tension is the last thing Karachi needed after the terrorist attack on a large Shia procession. But that is exactly what Interior Minister Rehman Malk unwittingly did when he quickly blamed ‘religious extremists’ for the attack, which in other words means Sunni militants.
That’s what the enraged crowds wanted to hear to bring Pakistan’s business hub to a halt.
Despite all his experience in the Federal Investigations Agency [FIA], Mr. Malik missed an important clue: In all the sectarian incidents Pakistan witnessed until 2004, none of the feuding Pakistani Shia and Sunni groups used suicide attackers against each other. This method was introduced in Pakistan a couple of years later by a shadowy group called Pakistani Taliban, whose manpower is partially Pakistani but its arms and funding are coming from powerful and organized supporters inside US-controlled Afghanistan.
The US says it’s unable to stop the support for anti-Pakistan terror from a US-controlled territory just as Pakistan is unable or unwilling to help in stopping the attacks by the Afghan Taliban against the US military in Afghanistan.
There are strong reasons why Islamabad should look at India for the terror wave inside Pakistan. It is strange why Mr. Malik won’t consider this possibility. His position becomes more untenable considering how his pro-US government has been reluctant to confront Washington and New Delhi on issues pertaining to Pakistan’s legitimate interests.
The position of Karachi’s largest political party MQM and its UK-based chief Altaf Hussain is worse. His support for the military operation against terrorists on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan should be appreciated. But Mr. Hussain has been exploiting recent terror attacks to get back at his political opponents. Mr. Hussain’s city has seen Indian-instigated terrorism over the years. But MQM chief never once criticized India for its meddling inside Pakistan, not even when Pakistani intelligence officials confronted Washington recently with evidence of Indian terrorism.
Even Mr. Zardari’s ruling PPP tried to use the attack in its own legal battle over corruption charges and its tussle with the country’s powerful military over national security issues. Several of its spokespersons claimed the attack was the work of ‘anti-democracy’ forces.
Sectarian terrorism in Pakistan is linked to Iran and Arab countries. Iran’s new rulers after 1979 began exporting the ‘revolution’ and its Arab neighbors reacted. This clash is not indigenous to Pakistan. It’s not a battle that Pakistanis owned. Both Iran and Arab countries scaled back their support for sectarian Sunni and Shia terror groups in Pakistan over the past decade. Countermeasures by Islamabad helped reduce the footprint of the sectarian groups in Pakistan in recent years. When money from Iran and Arab countries dried up, so did their proxy Sunni-Shia war on Pakistani soil.
That’s why Pakistan saw no major sectarian attack in the past five years. The last major attack occurred in Quetta in March 2004, and it was not a suicide attack.
The Karachi attack is unique in several ways.
The attack in Karachi was preceded by a terrorist explosion two days earlier in a public area with no specific target. It was meant to spread panic and instability. Pakistan saw similar attacks during the 1980s and early 1990s. Our investigators and intelligence analysts are familiar with this footprint. Those attacks were executed by agents working for the Indian intelligence.
But two days before Karachi, there was an attack on a Shia procession in Azad Kashmir. This attack is also of special interest to Pakistani security analysts.
There has not been a suicide attack targeting Shias in Pakistan’s Kashmir before. The region is right next to India but too far away from south Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan, the hub of suicide attackers in Pakistan.
The only other suicide attack in liberated Kashmir’s capital, Muzaffarabad, happened in June this year. It targeted a Pakistan Army truck and killed two soldiers. It is unthinkable for anyone belonging to Pakistan’s religious groups, and especially groups fighting India in the occupied part of Kashmir, to attack Pakistani soldiers stationed there to keep an eye on India.
The June 2009 suicide attack and then Sunday’s attack against the Shias in Pakistani Kashmir confirms a theory gaining currency among Pakistani security analysts. This theory goes back to 2006, when an unknown Pakistani Pashtun named Abdullah Mehsud was released from Gitmo after serving three years there. He was not handed back to Pakistan but sent back to Afghanistan. He was allowed to reenter Pakistan. Once here, he organized a militia and kidnapped Chinese engineers and attacked Chinese interests in Pakistan. In three years, his project has expanded into a major terror operation, well funded and armed. His militia introduced suicide attackers who kill Pakistanis, civilian and military. Former President Musharraf’s blunder of pitching the Pakistani army against its own tribesmen provided the perfect excuse for Abdullah’s terror militia to recruit gullible and poor Pakistanis to kill other Pakistanis. CIA drone attacks, which killed more than 750 innocent civilians so far, indirectly help that militia, which is called the Pakistani Taliban, to recruit suicide attackers from among the affected people and tribesmen.
The terror militia, despite being surrounded from all sides in Pakistan by Pakistani soldiers, continues to receive state of the art weapons, ammunition, fuel and funding, all from Afghanistan. When Pakistanis confronted senior US military and intelligence officers about this, their answer was that the money is coming from the drug trade controlled by the Afghan Taliban and that the advanced US-made weapons in the hands of the Pakistani Taliban, used to kill Pakistanis, were stolen from the US-trained Afghan National Army.
However, the drug trade in Afghanistan is not controlled by the Afghan Taliban but by the warlord allies of US military and intelligence in that country. These warlords are part of the US-backed government. But more interestingly, their drug trade is supported by the CIA in Afghanistan.
In October, someone in the US intelligence community, probably trying to embarrass CIA, leaked a sensitive piece of information to the New York Times. The information said that Afghan President’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, considered one of the biggest drug traffickers in Afghanistan, is on CIA payroll. The agency’s spokespeople later tried to minimize the damage by justifying it as part of the war effort.
This was a serious leak. This is how CBS News described it, “release of this sensitive information is troublesome and potentially game-changing in a dangerous war.”
Pakistan should have taken up this matter with its US ally but the country is too destabilized right now to focus.
But the implications for Pakistan are deadly. The CIA, or at least rogue elements in the agency, is directly involved in sustaining the terror capability of the militia in south Waziristan. This militia is CIA’s asset. And it is being used to punish Pakistan and its armed forces for not fully endorsing the US plan for the region, including accepting a larger role for India at the expense of Pakistani interests.
The Indian role here is critical. India is responsible for poisoning the Afghan well for the Americans and for everyone else. India is the missing part in the story of how US lost Afghanistan.
India’s intelligence officers offered their services to the Americans at the start of the occupation. Their argument was attractive. India is an expert on all things Pakistan. India played the same role with the Soviets, helping them unleash a wave of terror bombings across Pakistani cities during the 1980s.
Except the pro-US government of Mr. Asif Zardari in Islamabad and a few supporters cultivated by the US Embassy here, almost everyone else in Pakistan understands this background to the continuous acts of terror in Pakistan.
In the case of the suicide attack in the capital of Azad Kashmir, the autonomous government there concluded from the available evidence that India’s intelligence agency, RAW, was involved in that attack. Kashmir has not witnessed any sectarian attacks before. Nor has there ever been attacks on the Pakistani military there except by the Indian army across the ceasefire line. This is an important thread that the Pakistani media ignored. But the government of Azad Kashmir didn’t. The Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir directly accused India of masterminding this terror act in Kashmir.
After the attack in Karachi, groups of people unleashed organized vandalism in the heart of the business district. After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto this week a year ago, organized groups conducted selective targeting across the province of Sindh. Those targets were carefully chosen to spark language-based riots and divide Pakistanis. On Sunday, the same day of the suicide attack in Kashmir, one of the closest friends of Mr. Zardari and a man with a record of corruption, tried to ignite those tensions again when he revealed that he and some if his colleagues were plotting the breakup of Pakistan during the riots last year and were stopped by Mr. Zardari at the last minute.
These characters have been imposed on the people of Pakistan by the United States and the United Kingdom through a ‘deal’ with Musharraf. This deal allowed Washington to execute a regime-change in Pakistan and install a puppet government without the need for a war and invasion, as in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Americans are interested in Karachi because it’s the closest fully operational seaport for the use of NATO forces in Afghanistan. But this link is incomplete without Balochistan, because of the new Gwadar port but also because of its proximity to Iran and the Gulf.
Terrorism and destabilization will continue in Pakistan. By the current standards, Pakistan is headed for serious domestic instability if the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military don’t stop the slide.
Pakistan needs to:
1. Openly accuse the United States and its Indian ally of destabilizing Pakistan and the region.
2. Warn India about its direct involvement in terrorism.
3. End Pakistan’s involvement in America’s bungled war in Afghanistan.
4. Launch direct talks between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban in order to stabilize the Pakistani tribal belt.
5. Stop CIA drones and declare them a failure. Over 750 innocent Pakistanis, mostly women and children, were killed in the drone attacks with no first-tier al Qaeda leaders worth mentioning eliminated.
6. Take punitive measures against India for stealing Pakistan’s water supply from the rivers of Kashmir and for supporting terrorism inside Pakistan. These punitive measures must include stopping Afghan land trade with Indian through Pakistan and the prospect of indefinitely closing Pakistani air space for Indian flights until India stops support for terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan.