Monday, March 30, 2009

LAHORE UNDER ATTACK, PAKISTAN UNDER SIEGE

Terrorists have struck in the very heart of Pakistan once again, this time even more dramatically and more purposefully than when they had attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team on March 03, 2009. Wearing police uniforms, around 20 heavily armed terrorists attacked the Police Training Centre in Manawan area of Lahore this morning, killing at least 12 and wounding 70 others.

As per reports coming in as this is being written, the terrorists have taken control of the centre and are holding 800 policemen hostage. Attack helicopters are circling the sky, the city has been placed under curfew, armoured carriers have moved in and the Special Action Group of the Army is preparing to launch an assault to eliminate them and free the hostages. Almost seven hours since the attack was launched, firing is still on, one terrorist has been killed and a couple of them have been injured. This time, the terrorists are clearly digging in for a long fight to the bitter end. The similarities with what happened in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 are striking.

Pakistan is under attack. From within. Just a couple of days after President Barack Obama said that "Al Qaeda and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within", unidentified jihadis have graphically demonstrated that the threat they pose is real and that the American President has his finger on the button about the danger that Pakistan faces to its very existence in its present form. Pakistani President Zardari has been saying for long that his country is in danger of being taken over by the Taliban. But his country has so got used to being in a state of denial since 1947 that it has simply lost the capacity to honestly accept the reality that has steadily hollowed the state from within and brought it to the brink of collapse.

When terrorists attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team, to me it was clear that the message of their attack was beyond the obvious and was far more dangerous and fundamental than was immediately apparent. Expectedly, Pakistan relapsed into a denial mode and there were even allegations that India was behind the attack. Certain that Radical Islam was now aiming for the very heart of Pakistan, for the state of Pakistan itself, I had then anticipated that the attack on the Sri Lankan team would be followed by a graduated increase in attacks on "un-Islamic" symbols like cinema halls, music shops, girls not fully covered up etc. to convert Punjab and Sindh also into fully Islamic territories. With the Taliban already less than 150 kms from Islamabad and operating with relative ease even in other parts of Pakistan, the danger was too stark to be dismissed.

Today's attack on the most visible symbol of the law and order machinery of the Pakistani state in the heart of Punjab province which itself is the heart of Pakistan shows that the Islamists are in a real hurry to devour the whole nation. Worse, the ease with which they have planned and executed this attack and the previous one proves that their tentacles have already spread deep and wide, including within many organs of the establishment. That is a disturbing fact that has to be faced squarely by not only sane elements in Pakistan but also the US and India. Only then can the challenge of radical Islamists be successfully countered.

The Americans say that the ISI is continuing to help the Taliban fighting NATO troops in Afghanistan by giving them money, supplies and strategic planning guidance. If the ISI is double-crossing the Americans so blatantly, is anyone under any illusion as to what it would be doing with terrorist groups that it has spawned to take on India? Why do you think there was such a coordinated effort to deny any involvement of Pakistan in the Mumbai terror attack till there was no choice but to admit it? Why do you think even after the admission that part of the conspiracy was hatched in Pakistan, the trail has gone cold? Why do you think that after the cosmetic arrests of a few Lashkar-e-Toiba leaders in the wake of Mumbai 26/11, the outfit is continuing its activities as vigorously as ever, as the recent encounter in Kashmir in which 17 terrorists were killed shows?

The fact that the ISI is able to do operate unchecked against both the Americans and the Indians without any fear of the state should leave no one in any doubt that support for its covert operations has the blessings at the highest echelons in the Pakistani military establishment. General Pervez Kiyani was heading the ISI under Musharraf before he took over as Army Chief from him. If he does not know how the ISI operates and what it is up to then who will? Musharraf himself has repeatedly being saying that it is the ISI and the Army that all but define the state of Pakistan. Need anything more be said? If both of them do not know what is happening in the ground beneath their feet, then it is either a shameless lie or Pakistan is inexorably headed into a dark, dangerous abyss.

Lahore is under siege. Jinnah's Pakistan is under attack. Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik says that this is an attack on the sovereignty of Pakistan. He believes that the elements operating in Afghanistan are most likely behind this attack. The Taliban have dramatically arrived in the heart of a seemingly helpless Pakistan much before any one thought they would. They could not have reached there in this manner without a measure of local support and the help and guidance of a section of the establishment.

This leads straight to the deduction that it is not the Pashtuns alone who have come under the influence of radical, Wahhabi Islam and the Al Qaida which is its most visible, militant face. There are many Punjabis too who have crossed over ideologically. They are the ones who are using the structures of the establishment that they are part of to destroy it and replace it with the set up that they had put in place in Afghanistan after the Soviets were driven out of that country.

What happened in Afghanistan earlier led to 9/11. What is happening in a nuclear Pakistan has frightening implications for the whole world, should Radical Islamists succeed in overrunning the remaining parts of the country, its heartland. The Americans already know that the Al Qaida and the Taliban are thriving in the Western parts of Pakistan. That is one reason why President Barack Obama has said that Pakistan is central to America's war in Afghanistan.

Today's attack in Lahore is a clear sign that Radical Islamists have moved into Pakistan's core. America's war on terror has now all but spread physically to the whole of Pakistan. More ominously, its enemy must soon include the ISI and will eventually include a significant chunk of Pakistan's military leadership, if not its rank and file. Fighting and defeating such elements who are part of and often indistinguishable from the liberal elements that define the state of Pakistan is not going to be easy. Nor is this war going to be short.

The the future of the whole world is inextricably linked to the drama of death that has been unleashed by the Al Qaida and similar Islamists who want to establish the rule of their version of Islam over Pakistan and the whole world. This is the one "world war" in which defeat is not an option, no matter what the cost.

UPDATE

Pakistani security forces have succeeded in ending the siege 8 hours and 40 minutes after it began. One terrorist has been killed, three have blown themselves up and one, believed to be a Pashtun, has been captured. The injured are being screened to find out if there is any terrorist among them. The interior Minister of Pakistan says that the attack was carried out by the Taliban.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Readers may also read:
1. Zakaria's Afghan strategy: salvage or surrender?
2. India needs to ready itself for a post-Pakistan scenario
3. All cylinders on fire, where is Pakistan heading?
4. Kashmir and Afghanistan are two sides of the same terror coin
5. Attack on Sri Lankan cricketers: no room for pretence now