If a Shia, you are on your own

By Ejaz Haider

Let me make it simple: if you are a Shia in Pakistan, you are on your own. This fact I state for the benefit of all those citizens of this country, Shia and Sunni, who are grieving the slow demise of Mr Jinnah’s Pakistan and expecting that the tide could be reversed through state action.

Now for the longer answer.

There is no doubt about who is killing the Shia. The Lashkar-e Jhangvi (LeJ) has repeatedly taken responsibility for it. Its captured terrorists have often stated before courts that they have killed Shias and, given the opportunity, will do it again. The identity of the killers is a settled issue.

Nota Bene: The issue of the proxy war between Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Iran, the funding to Sunni extremist groups and whatever is left of Shia extremists, and circumstantial evidence of indirect involvement of hostile agencies is important but peripheral to the main issue, i.e., the terrorists are Pakistanis and killing on the basis of centuries-old denominational differences. The current murderous spree, of course, has a modern political and geopolitical context.

A more relevant question is: if the group that is involved in these killings has not only been ID-ed but IDs itself, what is stopping the state from acting against it, and effectively?

This is where the problem begins.

The LeJ was begotten from the dark womb of the Sipah-e Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). The SSP, banned by Pervez Musharraf, has reincarnated itself as the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat. It has a certain political presence. It is technically not the LeJ, even as de facto it is. LeJ terrorists, along with the hardline splinter group of Jaish-e Mohammad (JeM), have over the last five years, come to form the backbone of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) conglomerate. The TTP is an entity that political parties now — the ANP included (in desperation) — want to talk to, even as the state considers the LeJ a terrorist entity.

So while the LeJ is a terrorist organisation providing manpower to the TTP, the state is being pressured to talk to the latter and give it the legitimacy of an insurgent group.

But this is not all. In Punjab, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is in talks over seat adjustment with the ASWJ, the Dr Jekyll to its Edward Hyde, the LeJ. Leaving aside the PML-N’s petty lying about the issue, it is a fact that it wants to placate the LeJ through a dangerous liaison with the ASWJ. The general impression is that this is being done to win votes. That’s only partially true. The primary reason is that the PML-N doesn’t want mayhem in Punjab, its central vote bank, where it wants to win and win big through a lot of development work (even if lopsided) by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

The Faustian bargain is meant to keep the LeJ, and by extension the TTP, at bay. In other words, the PML-N is doing this for the same reasons that the ANP wants to talk to the TTP. The problem with this short-term approach is just that: it is short term and allows these groups the respite and the space to strengthen themselves and emerge as even more potent contenders against the state.

What about the army and the ISI; how do they look at this phenomenon?

Short answer: they are greatly worried. Next question: what are they doing about it?

Short answer: not much.

Central question: why the hell not? This requires a longer answer and some perspective.

Fact 1: The total strength of the army is about 550,000 troops. Out of this, around 110,000 are deployed in the operational areas in the west. Approximately 60,000 to 70,000 are deployed along the Line of Control as part of 10 Corps and Force Command Northern Areas. The rest are in peacetime locations, to be mobilised to defend the eastern border when required. Additionally, there are a number of other command and staff duties to be performed.

Fact 2: Armies generally operate on the 33.33 per cent principle. At any time, 33.33 per cent are deployed, the same percentage is in training and equal numbers, more or less, are resting and retrofitting. Pakistan’s internal war has thrown this awry. The deployment has gone up to 44 to 45 per cent, training retains the same percentage and the resting and retrofitting has gone down to about 12 percent. The ops areas tenure has upped from 22 months to over two years and a high percentage of units are now awaiting second and third rotation to the ops areas. Evidently a killer.

Fact 3: The Pakistan Military Academy has had to raise the 4th Pak Battalion because the internal war has taken a heavy toll of young officers. The officer-to-soldier kill ratio is very high, upped from 1:16 to 1:14 and now stands at 1:8. This means a shortage of YOs. (Some officers consider it a matter of pride; I consider it a weakness but that’s a separate topic.)

Corollary: the army is stretched thin. It cannot be everywhere and, quite apart from operations to wrest territory, is not meant to address the problem of urban terrorism. Even the counterterrorism sub-units in the Special Services Group, like the Zarar and Karar companies, are meant for fire-fighting, not gathering intelligence and pre-empting.

And the ISI? It has the capacity to gather intel and it does. But equally, there are other organisations like the police, the Intelligence Bureau and the CID units whose primary job is to gather intel. Why are they not effective? Answer: when political governments make alliances with the very terrorists these organisations are supposed to bust, then they cannot be effective. There are other reasons too but this is the primary one.

And when Frontier Corps does get involved, sending terrorists to their afterlife, as in Quetta, the leaders of these organisations invoke the law and register cases against the FC. Recently, the new Inspector General Police (IG) Balochistan met with LeJ leaders and defended this by saying the police have to reach out to them.

The question is: if the LeJ is a banned terrorist organisation, how are these leaders at large and meeting the IG?

The confusion gets confounded. More on this next time.

Courtesy: The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2013.

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