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Is Wagah Attack The Beginning of New Terror  Attacks?


Political Science




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Is Wagah Attack The Beginning of New Terror Attacks?
The recent Wagah attack must not be taken as another meaningless terror attack. It has wider implications both
for India and Pakistan. In fact, it is a declaration of war by non state militant groups and is the warning shot for a
new upsurge in terrorist activity.
Extremist violence will continue unabated on both sides of the Durand Line. Yet, it could soon enjoy a new
renaissance on both sides of the Line of Control as well. There’s something ominous about the location of
Sunday night’s horrific suicide attack in Wagah. I can smell hidden meaning , that are not so hidden.
The tragedy may portend a geographic shift in South Asian militancy – one that lurches eastward from the
Afghanistan/Pakistan border regions to the Pakistan-India frontier, and into India. With foreign troops leaving
Afghanistan, numerous militants fighting foreign forces in that country – such as Lashkar-e-Taiba – will be in
search of a new target. Redirecting their attention to India is a logical next step.
It was an attack that was waiting to happen. While few would have thought that the Wagah border, where an
aggressive closing ceremony each evening is meant to whip up nationalist fervour, would be the target of the
biggest attack yet by militants since the start of the military’s Operation Zarb-i-Azb, it is also true that it is the
security forces and installations that are usually singled out by the militants.
However, while ordinary civilians often end up as victims because they happen to be near the venue, yesterday’s
suicide attack raises the possibility of those who had come to watch the ceremony being deliberately targeted
because of their perceived support for the security forces.
The attack has claimed dozens of lives, and the focus at the moment should be on ensuring the injured survive
and that the families of the dead are taken care of. After that though the hard questions will have to be taken up
once more — if the state’s security and foreign policy apparatus is willing to reflect on what the Wagah incident
could mean for Pakistan going forward. The country clearly continues to be stalked by a complex, overlapping
and dizzyingly varied militant threat. If internal security — peace, stability and the conditions for economic and
social progress — is elusive it is because the state — the sum total of the civilian government and army-led
security establishment — has an inadequate approach.
Even with the best policies in the world, Pakistan will not overnight become internally stable and secure.
Operation Zarb-i-Azb has been treated as some kind of panacea in certain quarters, when, without a supporting
anti-militancy narrative, it can only amount to surgery on a limb of a body with many afflictions.
Whoever it is that sent a bomber to kill Pakistani civilians (in these early hours the separate claims of Jundullah
and Jamaatul Ahrar cannot be independently verified) the fact of the matter is that Pakistan has far too many
groups with options when it comes to killing Pakistanis. Until those groups are eliminated and until the steady,
seemingly endless supply of suicide bombers, fidayeen fighters and sundry other militants is shut down,
Pakistanis will not be safe. Unfortunately, there is little to suggest that the state knows how to rid Pakistan of the
religious extremism, militancy and terrorism that has blighted this country for decades now.
Finally, insecure, often defenceless, as Pakistanis are inside their own country, the site of yesterday’s attack is
also a reminder that Pakistan’s borders — east, west and southwest — are major flashpoints. Peace externally
and security internally is the only recipe for a stable Pakistan.
Additionally, this year has marked the reemergence of various anti-India militant leaders – figures that had been
relatively quiet in recent years.Take Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohammed, whose voice was heard in a recording
broadcast at an anti-India rally earlier this year. His sudden reappearance points to the possibility that he and his
like-minded extremists could be preparing for a new campaign.
Maulana Masood Azhar, a notorious militant leader in Pakistan, resurfaced when he addressed by phone
thousands of his supporters in Muzaffarabad. This first public appearance of sorts in years of the leader of an
outlawed organisation, Jaish-e-Mohammad, raises questions about the state’s policy towards militancy.

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First Hafiz Saeed was made ‘kosher by being brought into the mainstream and now Masood Azhar is back in the
arena. And let us not forget Fazalur Rehman Khalil of Harkatul Mujahideen who now regularly appears on
television talk shows and is reportedly being used by the government for back-channel contacts with the
Pakistani Taliban groups. Indeed, the reactivation of leaders of the outlawed groups does not seem accidental. It
is a disturbing development for the international community as well as for our national security.
The rally in Muzaffarabad was very well organised –thousands of people were bussed to the venue. So, it is not
possible that the local administration and security agencies did not know about the event, which was held for the
launch of a book written by Kashmiri leader Mohammed Afzal Guru who was executed by the Indian authorities.
It is true that Guru’s death triggered widespread anger on both sides of the Line of Control and the large
gathering was to be expected. But the fiery speech delivered by Masood Azhar on the occasion was bound to
raise eyebrows. He reportedly called upon Pakistani authorities to lift restrictions on ‘jihad’.
According to newspaper reports, the security at the rally was strict; cameras and tape recorders were not allowed
in. Among others, the rally was also reportedly addressed by Mufti Abdul Rauf Asghar, the younger brother of
Masood Azhar, who too was closely associated with the banned outfit. It is often argued by the civil and military
authorities that the ban on the jihadi groups was only applicable in Pakistan and not in Azad Kashmir. This is an
extremely ridiculous argument especially as it cannot explain why Azhar Masood is still operating from
Bahawalpur, his hometown.
Masood Azhar formed the JeM after his release by the Indian authorities in exchange for the passengers of a
hijacked Indian Airline plane in December 1999. It soon emerged as one of the fiercest jihadi group in the
region. In addition to guerrilla activities in India-held Kashmir, the militant outfit maintained close ties with the
former Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Several of Masood Azhars family members held government jobs in Kabul. Hundreds of JeM activists received
training in camps in Afghanistan, bringing them into close contact with Al Qaeda. The group’s newspaper, Zarb-
i-Momin, became a mouthpiece of the Taliban regime.
Outlawed by General Pervez Musharrafs military government, the JeM was also placed on the international
terrorist groups list after it was alleged to have masterminded the attack on the Indian parliament in December
2001, which had pushed the two countries to the brink of war. Following the ban, the JeM splintered into several
factions and continued its militant activities. These factions have reportedly been involved in many terrorist
attacks that have taken place inside Pakistan. Some of the splinters also maintain close links with the sectarian
groups such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi.
Despite his group being banned, Masood Azhar was never detained and lived freely in his home in Southern
Punjab where the JeM has strong roots. It is often said that Masood Azhar had lost control over his banned outfit
and was not responsible for any terrorist actions attributed to those who belonged to JeM. But his latest address
to the Muzaffarabad rally confirms that he has continued his jihadi activities, though he maintained a low profile.
The audiocassettes of his speeches and his publications are freely circulated. The widely circulated Zarb-i-
Momin continued to publish despite the proscription of the JeM.
The resurfacing of Masood Azhar and other militant leaders exposes the duplicity of our policy on militancy. The
country has paid dearly for using militancy as a tool of our regional policy in the past and it is high time that it is
stopped. More recently, al Qaeda announced a new South Asia affiliate. It claims it wants to establish a presence
throughout the broader region, including Bangladesh and Burma.
Let’s face it: India is likely the biggest target. The new affiliate’s leader, Asim Umar, has long been an al Qaeda
propagandist (he also had an affiliation with the Pakistani Taliban), and his diatribes often fixate on India. Umar
has often invited Indian Muslims to mobilise for jihad. “How can you remain in your slumber when the Muslims
of the world are awakening?” he has demanded of them.
It’s doubtful al Qaeda Central launched this new faction as a response to the Islamic State’s outreach in the
region (South Asia, with its various al Qaeda-aligned militants, is an unlikely spot for Islamic State to gain major

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Instead, al Qaeda – which reportedly has sought this new affiliate for several years, before Islamic State had
become what it is today – simply wants to strengthen its presence in a part of the world where it believes it has
lost influence in recent years. And with Asim Umar at the helm, this means that India will figure prominently in
this plan.
To be sure, militancy will not be leaving Afghanistan anytime soon. The withdrawal of foreign troops will create
security vacuums that strengthen jihadists there. Additionally, if the pronouncements of their leaders and
spokespersons are to be believed, various Pakistani militant groups – from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi to Pakistani
Taliban factions – claim they will be marching into Afghanistan to join in the Afghan Taliban’s fight.
And of course, to state the obvious, militancy will certainly not be leaving Pakistan anytime soon. The country’s
security situation had been deceptively calm in recent months since the military launched its offensive in North
Waziristan. Still, so long as ties with all militant groups are not severed, militancy will not end. It’s as simple as
that. It’s telling that, as of this writing, most, if not all, of the groups claiming responsibility for the Wagah attack
have staged or attempted attacks in Pakistan during the relatively quiet last few months.
Additionally, arguably the sole target of the North Waziristan offensive, the Pakistani Taliban, is rapidly
fracturing – thereby setting the stage for new and possibly more ferocious sources of anti-state terror.
The upshot? Extremist violence will continue unabated on both sides of the Durand Line. Yet, it could soon
enjoy a new renaissance on both sides of the Line of Control as well. And unfortunately, it’s the innocents who
will suffer the most, such as those Pakistanis in Wagah.

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