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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 16, April 4, 2009

Behind Terror Attack on Lahore Outskirts


Thursday 9 April 2009, by SC

Less than a month after the terrorist attack near Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium on March 3 targeting Sri Lankan cricketers—the first terror attack suffered by cricketers anywhere (as brought out in these columns a month ago in this journal’s March 7, 2009 issue)—Lahore had to once more bear the brunt of yet another terror strike: this time it took place at a police academy complex at Manawan on the outskirts of Lahore (just 12 km from the India-Pak border at Attari-Wagah). And what analysts and observers have not failed to note is the timing of this latest strike: barely three days after US President Barack Obama unveiled his new Af-Pak strategy that introduces certain new elements into the US-led ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan (which has to perforce cover the Pakistani territory bordering on its western neighbour as the Taliban-Al-Qaeda insurgents find sanctuary there thus resulting in US assaults in the area with the help of their drones).

Obama did not mince words in highlighting the fact that Pakistan had become the epicentre of the Taliban-Al-Qaeda terror: “Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that the Al-Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the US homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan.” He further described Pakistan’s northwestern region adjacent to Afghanistan as “an international security challenge of the highest order” as well as the “most dangerous place in the world” being “almost certainly” home to the Al-Qaeda’s top leadership, notably Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. But what was no less significant was his Administration’s proposal to establish a “Contact Group” to include regional players like India, Russia, China and even Iran alongside the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan—this proposal reflects an internationalist approach on the part of the new US President to effectively tackle the Af-Pak problem striking a radical departure from the Bush Administration’s isolationist and unilateralist outlook.

The militant groups operating in Pakistan’s wild northwest are now known to be behind the March 31 attack on the Manawan police academy. In fact Baitullah Mehsud, the commander of the Pakistani Taliban, has already claimed responsibility for the operation. (Gul Khan, the only terrorist to have been apprehended alive, is believed to be a member of Mehsud’s group and came to Lahore from Afghanistan; Pakistan’s Interior Ministry chief has also declared that the attack was planned in South Waziristan.) That Mehsud chose, in the same breath, to announce his group’s plan to launch a terror strike on the White House in Washington stunning the world proves that the attack’s occurrence being so close to Obama’s unfolding of his new Af-Pak policy was not coincidental; and this announcement vindicated Obama’s observation that terror attacks, as per intelligence reports, were being planned on the “US homeland” from the Al-Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan (though he stressed ‘Al-Qaeda’ and not the Taliban, the links between Mehsud’s Pakistani Taliban and the Al-Qaeda do not bear elaboration).

It is noteworthy that shortly after Obama spelt out his new Af-Pak course of action, Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari declared: “It is time that we all recognise that terrorism has roots across the region. A regional strategy therefore needs to be developed.” Specifically he urged all countries in the region to work together to halt the free flow of weapons, drugs and money. Zardari is also reported to have hailed Obama’s new line as a “welcome development” that will “herald a change” in the regional setting.

The situation is, however, complex since the Taliban-ISI ties have not been snapped as yet. Nevertheless, both Obama and Zardari have been harping on new ideas to grapple with the seemingly intractable problem that has defied solution for so long despite the induction of US and NATO troops in large numbers. And these assume doubtless significance in the wake of the latest terror strike near the India-Pakistan border on the outskirts of Lahore.

A positive Indian response to this new strategy does not brook the slightest delay. The antipathy towards Pakistan of the average Indian bureaucrat-diplomat, retired or serving, must not be allowed to come in the way of formulating such a vital response.

April 1 S.C.

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