The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is on a fresh reprisal spree against the Pakistani security agencies and elements in the Pashtun population, which have been co-operating with the government.
It has claimed responsibility for two spectacular terrorist strikes carried out as reprisals. The first attack —a remotely-controlled car bomb explosion—killed 25 persons on March 8, 2011, near a gas filling station in Faislabad , Pakistan’s third largest industrial town located in Punjab.
Faislabad has been a stronghold of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET). Abu Zubaidah, then projected as the No.3 of Al Qaeda, was arrested by the Pakistani security agencies from the house of an LET personality in this town in 2002 on information reportedly furnished by the US intelligence. He is now believed to be in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba. It was Abu Zubaidah’s arrest in Faislabad which gave the first indicator of the emerging links between the LET and Al Qaeda. Since then, the LET has continued to be active in Faislabad, but there were no fresh reports of Al Qaeda activities in the town.
After the TTP came into existence in the wake of the Pakistani military commando raid into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July 2007, Faislabad was one of the places where it set up a presence with the help of the LET. According to the Pakistani media, the police suspect that the Fasislabad explosion could be in reprisal for the death of Umer Kundi , a local Taliban leader, in a shoot-out on February 19 last year. The Faislabad office of the ISI, which is located near the gas-filling station, does not appear to have suffered any serious damage. A spokesman of the TTP has been quoted by the media as claiming that the ISI office was the target in reprisal for last year’s incident.
The Faislabad explosion was followed by a suicide attack on March 9 on a funeral procession for the wife of a pro-government Pashtun leader in the village of Adezai, 15 KMs from Peshawar in the Khyber Pakhtoonkwa (KP) province. Thirty-six persons were reportedly killed. Hakim Khan, the pro-government Pashtun leader, had helped the government in raising a village militia to counter the TTP.
The two reprisal attacks in quick succession show that the TTP’s capability for suicidal and non-suicidal strikes at targets of its choosing in the KP and Punjab provinces has not been dented by the counter-terrorism operations of the Pakistan Army. The fear of further reprisal attacks by the TTP would be an important factor influencing any final decision of the Pakistan government on the request of the US government to hand over for trial in the US Raymond Davis, a member of the staff of the US Consulate-General in Lahore, who is facing trial before a Lahore court on a charge of killing two Pakistanis on January 27.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai