INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR---PAPER NO. 529
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakisan (TTP), headed by Baitullah Mehsud, is reported to have claimed responsibility for the commando-style terrorist attack involving the use of hand-held weapons and a car bomb in Lahore on May 27,2009, in which 15 police officers, an officer of the Lahore office of the Inter-Services Intelligence ( Lt-Col Mohammad Amir) and 10 others were killed. The terrorists were reported to have used a mix of RDX and TNT in the car bomb. This illustrates once again the growing menace of the proliferation of small arms and ammunition and powerful, military-grade explosives all over Pakistan which enables the terrorists to procure them easily for use anywhere in the country. No attempt has been made to stop this proliferation.
2. According to Amir Mir of the "News" (May 28), the terrorist attack was suspected to have been carried out by the Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), an anti-Shia organisation . According to Amir, Qari Mohammad Zafar is currently the chief operational commander of the LEJ. However, the statement of the TTP claiming responsibility for the attack does not refer to the LEJ.
3.According to a report disseminated by the British Broadcasting Corporation on May 28,2009, a deputy to Baitullah Mehsud, who identified himself as Hakimullah Mehsud, told the BBC by telephone that the attack was in response to the army's operation in the Swat valley. He warned as follows: "We love the people of Pakistan, and because of this love we politely ask the citizens of Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Multan to please evacuate their cities because we have marked out government targets there against whom we will carry out attacks as have never happened before."
4.While Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi have been the targets of frequent attacks by the TTP, Multan has now been threatened with a major attack. It is located in the Seraiki belt of southern Punjab. The Seraikis constitute about 60 per cent of its population. The rest consist of Punjabis, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Balochs and Mohajirs. It has a large number of Sufi shrines and is known as the city of Sufis. It is a popular pilgrimage centre for Sufis, who have been the targets of the Taliban which looks upon Sufism as unislamic. The majority of the population of Multan are Barelvis known for their tolerant traditions and their opposition to the Wahabised Deobandis. It is also the home town of Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Quereshi. The Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) headed by Maulana Masood Azhar, which operates jointly with the TTP, has an active presence in the Seraiki belt. Bahawalpur, in the Seraiki belt, is the home town of Azhar.
5.The II Corps of the Pakistan Army based at Multan is actively involved in the anti-Taliban operations. Its 14th Infantry Division was made responsible in 2007 for the operations against the followers of Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan. Multan is also an important base for the Air Force and the Army Aviation Corps. The helicopter gunships used against the Taliban in the Swat Valley are co-ordinated and serviced by the base in Multan.
6. The TTP's threat to attack Multan in retaliation for the military operation in the Swat Valley indicates the precise intelligence which the TTP has of the deployments of the Pakistani armed forces and the identities of different units involved in the anti-Taliban operations and the location of their rear bases, which could be attacked.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studieas, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )