Pakistan experienced a “Black Sunday” in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province. On the evening of March 27, the city suffered a suicide bomb attack in a public park killing at least 70 people, including 29 children, and leaving 340 injured, as of the evening of March 28. This was Pakistan’s deadliest attack since December 2014. Thus far there has not been any news of any Chinese nationals hurt. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar,which split off from the Pakistan Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the bombing and vowed that there would be more attacks on schools, government and the military.
Links to the Brussels terrorist attack?
Just last week a series of terrorist attacks by the Islamic State took place in the Belgian capital Brussels. Two attacks within a week.Previously there were reports that the Pakistani Taliban had shown interest in IS. Could the Pakistan park attack and the Brussels terrorist attack be linked? Is there an IS shadow behind this attack too?
Li Wei, counter-terrorism expert and the Director of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations Research Center for Counter-Terrorism, said that, judging from the current evidence, there is no direct connection between the two attacks. From the point of view of the Pakistan-Taliban, they are able to create social panic and oppose the government’s action through the series of attacks. Moreover, Pakistan Taliban’s aim is to establish a theocratic State, thus the religious factor is a major element in its attacks.According to CNN reports, the Pakistan-Taliban’s faction which claimed the responsibility of attack also said that it was targeting Christians.
Zhao Gancheng, South Asia expert and the Director of the Asia-Pacific Center Shanghai Institute for International Studies, also raised the same point. He told reporters that over the past two years the Pakistan government launched an offensive to eradicate the Pakistan-Taliban in the Northwest frontier mountain area, resulting in increased retaliation by Pakistan-Taliban. Before the Lahore park attack, there was an attack on a university in the north-west border in in January that killed at least 21 people. However, the target area has now shifted from the northwest border area to the center of power and wealth. Attacking Lahore, which is not only the capital of the largest and richest province of Pakistan, but also Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s political power base,is a very strong provocation, according to a BBC report.
However, Li Wei believes that while on the surface it seems that Pakistan-Taliban is retaliating against the government’s crackdown, behind all of this is a deeper political intention to use terrorist attacks to force the government to shift from secularism towards a theocratic country.
Does the Pakistan-Taliban have links with IS?
As for the relationship between Pakistan-Taliban and IS, based on the information currently at hand, it seems a little complicated and bewildering.
Early in 2014, a small armed group originally a part of the Pakistani Taliban declared its allegiance to IS leader Baghdadi, with plans to send troop reinforcements to Syria and Iraq. However, in 2015 the Pakistan-Taliban reiterated their allegiance to the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
Meanwhile the Islamic State was also actively seeking to expand their influence in South Asia and reached out to Pakistan at the same time. Some IS members distributed pamphlets in the streets of Peshawar city in the northwest part of Pakistan.
Li Wei believes that despite no declaration of allegiance to IS by the Pakistan-Taliban, it does not rule out IS influence on some of its militants. However, as a whole there is no indication yet that the Pakistan Taliban has officially teamed up or formed an alliance with IS.
Previously the Pakistani government had also stated there is no evidence that IS forces have emerged in Pakistan. Neither has the IS formally claimed any allegiance of the Pakistan-Taliban nor have they ever claimed any responsibility for Pakistan’s domestic attacks.
Why is it caught up in an infinite loop?
After Sharif came to power in 2013 he had tried to address the security problems through peace talks. In the first half of 2014, during Pakistani government’s peace talks with the Taliban, violent activities did indeed reduce and the two sides even achieved a short-term ceasefire. But it did not last long as negotiations gradually reached an impasse. The Karachi airport attack in June that year resulted in a complete breakdown of the peace talks. In the same month, the government launched the offensive code-named “sword action”,aimed at completely wiping out the Pakistan-Taliban.
However, this did not extinguish the flames of terrorism. The Pakistan-Taliban launched the deadliest terrorist attack ever in Pakistan’s history at the end of 2014, attacking a military children school in Peshawar in the north-western part of Pakistan. At least 130 people were killed and 120 people were injured in the attack.
Later, the Sharif government adopted a “zero tolerance” stance against terrorists and struck a series of tough anti-terrorist blows.But just when the Pakistan military was celebrating the success of their 15 month old “sword action” offensive, the Pakistan-Taliban again showed its presence and power in the form of a surprise attack at Pakistan’s Badaber Air Force Base on last September 18 killing at least 26 soldiers and four civilians.
Why does the security situation in Pakistan always fall into an infinite loop:”terrorist attack—cleaning up—another retaliatory terrorist attack—repeat clean up…” ?
“As domestic and foreign factors are intertwined, the security situation in Pakistan is very complex. The anti-terrorism situation is also not very optimistic”, Zhao Gancheng points out. One aspect is that it is very difficult to eradicate Pakistan’s national religious extremism, national separatism and political extremism in a short period of time. The Government of Pakistan also supports the anti-terrorism efforts by United States while Pakistan-Taliban is vehemently anti-American. If government military operations are characterized as anti-terrorism, then the Pakistani security forces are (perceived as) fighting for the United States too which provokes the Pakistan-Taliban and results in a stronger retaliation.The other aspect is that the Pakistani Taliban is in a partnership with the Afghan Taliban—their “foundation” is intertwined. This “foundation”provides funding assistance and arms to Pakistan-Taliban and ro some extent that also leads to attempts to seize Pakistan’s internal authority. Therefore, in maintaining the security and social stability, the Pakistan Government’s hands and feet are tied by a multi-faceted problem.
Li Wei pointed out that the Pakistan-Taliban’s loose structure and internal differentiation increases the government’s difficulty in fighting and conducting negotiations.Moreover, there are serious internal power struggle and factional conflicts in Pakistan-Taliban.Some “doves” hope to negotiate with the government but some “hawks”would rather fight. Ultimately it is very difficult to advance the peace talks.