Q. What is your reaction to today’s suicide bombing in a market in Peshawar?
A. This is the deadliest terrorist attack in the country since the terrorist bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, and it clearly indicates that Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has started to implement what its leaders pledged recently: to avenge the death of their leader Baitullah Mehsud and other losses suffered by Taliban, such as in Swat, in recent months. Perhaps the most tragic aspect of a terrorist incident, whenever and wherever it occurs, is that its primary victims are common people who just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Q. Do you think it is a terrorist backlash to the army’s security operation in Swat?
A. Absolutely. After succeeding in Swat, the army is about to launch a counter-insurgency offensive in South Waziristan, which is the main source of Taliban terrorism across Pakistan. So, the TTP is trying to pre-empt this offensive by engaging in pure al-Qaeda sort of terrorism, which does not distinguish between the armed and the unarmed. Such terrorism is undertaken for a host of immediate and long-terms purposes. The immediate ones include terrorizing and intimidating common people in the region so that they could pressure the government for reconciling with the terrorists and their demands.
Q. But how can you say that Swat is a success?
A. Well, the most important leaders of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi there have either been captured alive or they are dead, except, of course, its top leader Fazalulah. The civilian setup in the area is restored; and a considerable portion of the internally-displaced population from the area has returned home. That is why I call it relative success.
Q. But tell us why all of a sudden TTP terrorism has intensified.
A In my opinion, as soon as we had defeated the pro-Taliban forces in Swat, we should have built upon this success and launched the military offensive in South Waziristan. After all, terrorism in Swat was being significantly directed by the TTP leadership in South Waziristan. This unnecessary delay in South Waziristan operation seems to have allowed the TTP to regroup and launch a terrorist backlash in the Frontier province particularly and elsewhere in the country in general. Kohat, Bannu, Peshawar and Islamabad have become a particular target of this terrorism.
Q. Do you see a foreign hand in this terrorist activity?
A. Well, the security environment in this region as a whole is so complicated that the possibility of a link between domestic terrorist groups and their external sponsors can never be ruled out. However, unless confirmed evidence is available about such linkage, we simply cannot name names. However, I must say that Pakistan army and civilian government are deeply concerned about India’s increasing clout in Afghanistan, or the close ties between Afghan and Indian governments. In such circumstances, if India is guided by its traditional enmity with Pakistan, then its probable indirect support to organized terrorism by Taliban in the country should shape the perceptions of the country’s security establishment.