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Pakistan's border attack

Shamil ShamsNovember 3, 2014

Islamabad claims that an ongoing military operation in the country's northwest has weakened Islamist militants. But Sunday's suicide attack at an India-Pakistan border crossing tells a different story.

Rescue workers and police shift the bodies of the victims of a suicide bomb attack in Lahore, Pakistan, 02 November 2014 (Photo: EPA/RAHAT DAR)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/ Rahat Dar

There has been a relative lull in terrorist attacks in Pakistan since June when the South Asian country's army began an offensive against militants in its restive northwestern region of Waziristan. Since then, the government has been claiming that operation "Zarb-e-Azb" has crippled the Pakistani Taliban and the numerous al Qaeda affiliated groups. It also says that the capacity of these banned outfits to launch attacks - which have lost 1,100 militants over the past four months - has also been significantly reduced.

But experts say that the suicide bombing on Sunday at the India-Pakistan Wagah border proved that the jihadist organizations in Pakistan are still quite potent. The attack was massive and left a grisly scene in its wake. At least 60 people - including women and children - were killed and more than 130 were wounded.

Pakistani and Indian soldiers lower the flags of their countries during a daily ceremony at the Wagha border near Lahore on July 17, 2011 (Photo: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)
Huge crowds gather on both sides of the border to see the display of military pageantry every eveningImage: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Revenge attacks

The border crossing in the eastern Pakistani town of Wagah is a highly secured area. Huge crowds gather on both sides of the border to watch the display of military pageantry every evening. The fact that the suicide bomber could enter an area manned by Pakistani soldiers and paramilitary forces, and was able to detonate his explosives, not only highlighted the security failure, but also that the Pakistani extremists are still strong despite operation "Zarb-e-Azb."

Two militant organizations - the outlawed Jundullah group and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)-affiliated Jamaat-ul-Ahrar outfit - were quick to claim responsibility for the attack. They are one of the many loosely aligned militant groups in the nuclear-armed nation responsible for attacking military personnel, politicians and the public.

"This attack is revenge for the killing of innocent people in North Waziristan," Jamaat-ul-Ahrar's spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told the local newspaper Dawn. "We will continue such attacks in the future," he added.

Jundullah's spokesman Ahmed Marwat also said that the Wagah bombing was a reaction to the military operation.

Militants still strong

Expert opinion in Pakistan has pointed to more than one reason for the unsuccessful military operation.

Islamabad-based journalist for Dawn, Irfan Haider, says that the North Waziristan military offensive has been weakened by a lack of coordination between the civil and military intelligence agencies.

"The militant organizations are operating with different names, making it difficult for the federal and provincial governments to deal with them," Haider told DW, emphasizing: "The people need to know about the results of the operation."

A soldier walks past trucks heading towards North Waziristan to bring refugees fleeing the military offensive against Pakistani militants, on the outskirts of Bannu, in Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province June 19, 2014 (Photo: REUTERS/Zahid Mohammad)
The military operation against the terrorists has failed in its objectives, say expertsImage: Reuters

However, Abdul Agha, a Pakistani analyst, is of the view that his country's ubiquitous army is responsible for the continuing strength of the TTP. "They are nurturing and supporting a number of militant groups. The result is that they are still very active," he told DW.

Commenting on the army operation, Agha said that "the government is going after the [militant groups] that have turned against the state, or who don't agree with its long-term plans vis-à-vis Afghanistan. Pakistan wants to eliminate some and will preserve some for the future."

The blame game

But Farooq Hameed Khan, a Lahore-based security analyst and former military official, has a different take on the issue. He told DW that Indian involvement in the Wagah attacks should not be ruled out.

"The Pakistani government suspects that the militants groups responsible for the attacks receive assistance from the neighboring country," he said, adding that the security forces did a good job by obstructing the suicide bomber, otherwise the death toll could have been much higher.

"Had the bomber been able to target the Indian officers on the other side of the border, its political repercussions would have been unimaginable," Khan said.

Haider also agrees with Khan's assertion: "Although the terrorists groups in Pakistan have claimed responsibility of the Wagah attack, it could be possible that New Delhi might be involved as claimed by several security experts."

Pakistani Taliban patrol in their stronghold of Shawal in Pakistani tribal region of South Waziristan (AP Photo/Ishtiaq Mahsud, File)
"We will continue such attacks in the future," says Jamaat-ul-Ahrar spokesmanImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

No change in policy

"In the past, the military launched several offensives against the Taliban, but we know that the militants are still operating in the country," Agha said, underlining yet another opinion analysts hold, namely that there has never been any clear-cut strategy to uproot terrorist organizations from the country because the Pakistani establishment still considers Islamist extremists an important ally.

Islamabad wants to use them in Afghanistan after the NATO pullout in the coming months, some say, while others assert that the Pakistani military hopes to regain the influence in Kabul it once enjoyed before the US and its allies toppled the pro-Pakistan Taliban government in 2001.

"Until the Pakistani state abandons its pro-Islamist narrative, there won't be an end to the terrorist attacks. You can't absolve yourself from the responsibility by blaming everything on India or other countries," he added.