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VIEW: Asymmetric Conflict (2007)

By Afrah Jamal


It is no longer a toss up between ‘will they?’ or ‘won’t they?’ Not when it comes to terrorist strikes in 2007. Analysts are more likely to have turned, albeit grimly, to pinpointing the ‘where’, ‘when’ and speculate about the ‘who’. The recent bombing in Karachi confirms that ‘where’ is not that difficult to ascertain as it gradually dawns on people that the attack in the early hours of 19 Oct 2007 is merely a snippet of a prolonged terror campaign. Therefore, it is futile to pretend that these are isolated incidents of violence, easily pre-empted or averted.

Foreign Correspondent, Greg Palkot covered Ms. Bhutto’s return for FOX News Channel and made a valid point in his blog - Dispatches from the Terror Front: Can Terrorism Be Tamed in Pakistan? that, “In the terror analysis business, hindsight is always 20/20”. However, concerns of the citizens in the days leading up to 18 October 2007 were worth paying attention to. Their critique in the aftermath is equally significant; whether it is to question the wisdom of blocking the main artery of Karachi for an entire day or the folly of not congregating in a reasonably secure location in view of a credible threat. So far, these issues have been sidestepped in favor of some bizarre conspiracy theories.

Ironically enough, the International opinion seems to side with Ms. Bhutto’s decision to lead a rally in such a manner; the following post by Paula Newberg argues that “Even under explicit threats, no politician returning from eight years of exile would agree to helicopter to a rally. The people, after all, are what make politics real -- they are the engine that fuels any possibility that Pakistan might one day achieve a representative democracy. So Bhutto shunned the government's offer of a helicopter and by most accounts, the bulletproof cabin that was to remove her threats, and her adoring supporters.”

That would be one way of looking at it.

However, considering that not one but four suicide squads had already ‘shown their hand’ so to speak, this argument abruptly becomes invalid. Ms. Bhutto also claims to have received names of 3 ringleaders and telephone numbers before her arrival to Karachi but according to a report in the ‘Guardian Unlimited’, this information was forwarded to the President on the eve of her return and not before.

Then there is the theory that darkness cloaked the bomber implying that a human bomb can be contained. “As the sun set, we saw that the street lights had been closed. Our security guards were having a difficulty in identifying suicide bombers....because we couldn't see.” The top leadership escaped virtually unscathed despite the darkness, and traumatized though they must be from the proximity of this attack, they need to consider that barring perhaps a thermal signature technology, detection or deterrence of this primitive but lethal threat is not a perfect science - not yet.

Allegations also link this attack to the supporters of someone (Zia-ul-Haq), who himself fell a victim to an assassination 18 years ago and shadowy military organizations. With this logic, does it also follow that these mysterious forces were behind the Tarbela Ghazi ‘fratricide’ of 12 September 2007, where 20 elite SSG officers were killed and 44 injured? Or the twin bombings near the military headquarters in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, which left 25 dead and 68, injured? What about the 28 other bombings that have occurred all over Pakistan this year alone?

If the 19 October Karachi bombings were an attack against democracy then how would we classify attacks on Pakistan’s Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao, President Musharaaf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and the Pakistani security forces? At a time when Pakistan is trying to dissociate itself from extremist elements, baseless allegations involving government officials in terrorist activities are not only unpardonable but also extremely irresponsible. They signify this states connivance or ineffectiveness; either perception could be fatal for our sovereignty.

The recently targeted party graciously considers a reevaluation of their campaign strategy but the governments proposal of moving rallies to the outskirts of the city or secured areas has met with resistance in some quarters and led to accusations of a “grand rigging plan" by others. Reckless disregard of the new realities can spell an early death for the fledgling democratic movement the world seems to be banking on with a possible replay of this tragedy. The nation demands that in the midst of an asymmetric conflict such as this, terror must now be factored in each politician’s itinerary. Its awareness is already ingrained within every civilians mind.

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