VIEW: Divided they stand —Arifa Noor
Since January 2002, when President Gen Pervez Musharraf first banned five militant groups, we haven’t stopped bemoaning his inability to crackdown on these parties good and proper. If their operatives were caught, they were released soon after. The leadership, too, was treated with kid-gloves
We have a new kid on the terrorist block — Jundallah. Discovered and clamped down within a mere three days after the June 10 attack on the Karachi corps commander, the new group, according to reports based on information gleaned from state ‘sources’ has about 20 members. Besides the attack on the general it is accused of the May 26 attack near the US consul general’s residence, the April attack on a police station and the explosion at a concert. In the excitement of stumbling on the latest celebrity, few people seem to remember that until the recent arrests, most of these attacks were being blamed on the Harkatul Mujahideen Al Alami — a splinter group or a reincarnation of the banned Harkatul Mujahideen. In fact, most of the arrested suspects are said to have had Harkat links.
This reminds one of a similar series of events back in 2002, when Pakistan first experienced ‘suicide attacks’ aimed at ‘Western’ targets. The first to be hit was a church in Islamabad’s Diplomatic Enclave. Then followed by an attack in Karachi on French engineers, shooting at a school in Murree and a chapel in Taxila. These were said to have been carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammad veterans under the banner of Jamaat-ul-Furqan. The Jamaat was said to be a splinter group of the Jaish led by former Haraktul Ansar and JM commander, Abdul Jabbar. The accounts of Jabbar’s split from Masood Azhar varied from disagreements over finances to Azhar’s reluctance to authorise the attacks. However, after the cameo appearance and the proverbial five minutes of fame, the group simply disappeared. One can presume, perhaps, that Jandullah’s fate will be no different.
What is happening here? Official sources claim that what we are seeing is a fragmentation of militant groups. Analysts relying on the information warn us that the smaller terror groups, are particularly difficult to control not only because the splinters represent more radical and extreme elements but also because they can remain unnoticed until, of course, when they drawn attention — quite literally — with a bang, before once again disappearing into obscurity. The simple description is, however, not complemented by an explanation? Why are the militant groups suddenly spawning forth at a rate that puts to shame our population growth rate?
There are instances in the past, of course, of more radical and militant groups breaking away from their parent parties. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the FLN in Algeria easily come to mind. The fissures in their case are understood to have been caused by an extremely violent confrontation with the state. The repression was so extreme that it was but inevitable for the more radical members of the parties, that wanted to retaliate equally violently, to break away from the more moderate members. A second reason for the disintegration was the elimination of the top leadership by the state. The vacuum allowed younger, and in some cases quite inexperienced, individuals to gain control of dedicated cadres prepared to wreak havoc on the society.
Are the circumstances in today’s Pakistan comparable? Hardly so. Since January 2002, when President Gen Pervez Musharraf first banned five militant groups, we haven’t stopped bemoaning his inability to crackdown on these parties good and proper. Measures in that direction are widely seen as half-baked and half-hearted. Some of the parties continue to operate despite the presumed ban, albeit, under new names. If their operatives were caught, they were released soon after. The leadership, too, was treated with kid-gloves. Reports indicate that most of the militant leaders routinely flee underground ahead of law-enforcement agencies’ periodical campaigns to round up the ‘usual suspects’.
Given the facts we need to look elsewhere for an adequate explanation of the fragmentation. Has the leadership of these parties become so weak all of a sudden, that it is unable to control its operatives? Or is the ‘fragmentation’ a strategy?
One would do well to remember that the process is not new. We have witnessed it since the emergence of these parties. The SSP, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Pasban-e-Islam, for example, were set up in the first place by men who broke away from their parent organisations. At times the break-ups were caused by personal differences. The fact that these organisations lack formal structures with in-built conflict resolution mechanisms means that disputes and disagreements usually lead to smaller factions walking out in a huff. Also, in a number of cases, the leadership itself is known to have encouraged a more radical faction to distance itself from the parent organisation.
But more importantly, in a number of cases the ‘fragmentation’ was orchestrated by the secret agencies which shared a symbiotic relationship with these groups.
These agencies had learnt during the Afghan and Kashmir jihad that fragmented and numerous militant organisations were in fact desirable. (The logic apparently was that a single militant force could prove a threat for the sponsor state itself.)
Of course what the agencies failed to learn was that while smaller, fragmented forces may not be able to launch a concerted attack, they can still do a pretty good job of causing instability and mayhem. This is what is now happening in Pakistan. The militant groups that the state nurtured were never cohesive, well-structured organisations. In fact, they were extremely fluid entities having quite pervious boundaries allowing their operatives to move back and forth and the leaders to share infrastructure, resources and information. Ideology and objectives of various organisations, too, were never clear enough to merit separation, except as a formality. The only clear parameter probably was the geographical areas they operated in. Now that space has shrunk, thanks largely to the state that nurtured them. What we are witnessing now is not just new shadowy groups but also the long shadows of the state’s policies in another era.
The writer is a staff member