An attack on the offices of the Pakistan’s Inter-services Intelligence Agency (ISI) in the quaint town of Multan, Pakistan, killed 12 and injured many others. The recent wave of senseless violence has killed more than 400 in Pakistan in the past few weeks. The death toll in the past seven days alone has already exceeded 80, with hundreds more injured and maimed.
Make no mistake, a civil war is now underway in Pakistan. In Multan, a town famous for the shrines of Sufi saints who preached peace and harmony, the militants fired rocket launchers and hurled grenades at the ISI building followed by a suicide car bomb blast. While the militants came prepared with conventional small arms and dirty bombs, the Pakistani state and the society, however, are least prepared to deal with this menace as it spreads its tentacles to the cities and towns that hitherto escaped violence and destruction.
The militants are now targeting ISI across Pakistan. It was only in the recent past that the militants and the intelligence apparatchik enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, which undermined the democratic institutions within and outside of Pakistan. The former head of ISI, General (retd) Hameed Gul, never gets tired of boasting about his support for the Taliban and his role in rigging elections against Pakistan Peoples Party.
The monster created by the intelligence agencies in Pakistan to achieve its “strategic depth” has turned against its creator and in so doing it exposes the shallowness of the ideology that helped foster this monster in the first place.
It was only a few years ago that the same militants were considered an “asset” by the intelligence agencies in Pakistan. These non-state actors were active in South Asia and beyond. The Pakistani establishment was forced to rethink its defense strategy after September 2001 when it was made clear to the Musharraf regime that the world was no longer prepared to tolerate violence, intrigue, or unrest perpetrated by the non-state actors. Pakistan had to abandon the Afghan Taliban and other mercenaries and sectarian outfits that were carefully cultivated by the State since the military coup in 1977 by late General Zia. The successive civilian and military regimes were complacent in sustaining these rogue elements.
Since 2007, the nexus of Pakistani militants has the intelligence agencies in its target. On my last visit to Pakistan in September 2007, I woke-up to the sound of a bomb blast that killed 18 staffers of the intelligence agency, ISI, on board a shuttle bus to their work. Twenty minutes later, an other attack targeted military officers heading to work in the Royal Artillery Bazaar in the Rawalpindi Cantonment killing another seven.
The attack on ISI’s bus on September 4, 2007, occurred in the Qasim Market area in Rawalpindi Cantonment. Last Friday (December 3rd, 2009), the militants attacked a mosque in the same Qasim Market killing 40, including senior military officers and their children. The militants penetrated the highly protected Qasim Market neighbourhood, which is home to military’s senior establishment, with ease and vanished without trace after the attack.
Earlier in November 2007, the intelligence agencies came under fire again when two coordinated suicide blasts killed at least 17. Pakistan’s Intelligence agency, ISI, has been explicitly targeted by the militants. Just last month (November 13, 2009), the militants attacked the ISI headquarters in Peshawar killing 12 and injuring at least 40 others. The ISI’s building was completely destroyed in the attack.
Attack on the intelligence agency in Peshawar in November 2009 destroyed the building
Yesterday, I visited public and private schools in the early morning in Rawalpindi Cantonment. The schools’ entrances were barricaded and the children were being frisked by the security staff while their school bags were scanned for explosives. I visited the federal capital Islamabad later in the afternoon, which resembled a city braced for war. Automatic weapons held by security personnel were peeking through the cracks in the bunkers made of sandbags through out the federal capital. Even the Unicef’s head office in Islamabad was hidden behind a reinforced concrete barrier that was over 10 feet tall and two-feet wide.
My former journalist colleagues recalled that Pakistan’s armed forces did not loose high-ranking officers in the conventional wars they fought against India in 1948, 1965, 1971, and the Kargil operation in 1999. In the past two years alone, several Lieutenant and Brigadier Generals as well as other senior commissioned officers have died at the hands of militants in suicide bomb attacks and ambushes.
Despite its tumultuous past, never were the children in Pakistan frisked and searched while entering their schools. Never were Pakistanis afraid to venture into Bazaars and streets, which have always been alive with the hustle and bustle of city life. Never were the military officials asked to avoid military fatigues to conceal their identities in public. Never did the worshippers required armed guards for protection while praying at mosques.
Pakistan is indeed facing the gravest challenge since its independence. The country is at war with itself. The people of Pakistan cannot and must not lose this war against militants of all stripes. The collapse of the State and society in Pakistan could destabilize capitals from Delhi to Dublin.
It is not the time to watch Pakistan bleed. It is the time to step up to strengthen Pakistan against militants who may otherwise be knocking on doors far beyond the borders of this fast collapsing State.