What Terrorists Want
Weekly Pulse
Oct 30-Nov 5, 2009
What the history of organized non-state terrorism since the anarchist terrorism in Russia in late 19th century tells us that all terrorists have some immediate purposes and long term goals. Terrorizing people, publicizing their causes, compelling state authorities to over-react, recruit more terrorists from amongst a population sympathetic to the causes of terrorist organizations are identified as some of the immediate purposes that terrorists want to achieve through terrorism. Their long-term goals are essentially political, including staging a communist revolution, establishing a separate state for a particular ethno-nationalist group, or preserving a racist socio-political state system.

In Pakistan, the demand of Shariah system in the Malakand Division by Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-Muhammadi was certainly a specific political goal that its militant followers had been trying to achieve since November 1994, when the first TNSM uprising occurred in the region. In the process, especially following the security operation at Red Mosque in Islamabad in July 2007, TNSM committed several terrorist acts against security personnel and unarmed civilians. As a result of resolute military offensive in Swat and beyond, TNSM has effectively been routed from the country’s terrorist scene. This success against terrorism is now being followed in South Waziristan, where Pakistani army and air-force aims to exterminate diehard Taliban, Uzbek and other terrorists.

While the aim of the state security forces in this new theatre of war against terrorism in the country is quite clear, the terrorist forces they are fighting against—Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and their foreign terrorist allies—seem to lack a clear-cut political goal that TNSM in Swat and all other terrorist organizations in history always categorically stated. It is absolutely unclear what Taliban really want from Pakistani state and society. Is their terrorist ambition only confined to secure the release of their leaders and compatriots in Pakistani prisons? Do they want to gain political autonomy in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas?

Does the TTP also have a version of Shariah, just as TNSM did, which its leadership wants to enforce in the tribal areas? Are the local Taliban group and its terrorist affiliates waging this war because Islamabad has in recent years pursued a peace process with India to amicably settle all conflicts, including Kashmir, with which they traditionally sympathize? Are Taliban attacking Pakistanis in the streets, at marketplaces and university campuses because their government is cooperation with the United States and the international community to bring peace to Afghanistan? Or, more specifically, do Pakistani Taliban want that their Afghan counterparts, because of their largely Pashtun ethnicity, are politically aggrieved in the government setup and security structure created in the aftermath of the latter’s downfall in late 2001.

Unanswered Questions

What do they want? What are they fighting for? In the absence of clearly-stated political goals on the part of TTP, the only conclusion that we can draw is that the terrorist movement may be playing into the hands of al-Qaeda, which is an international terrorist network committing terrorism locally, regionally and internationally. The presence of hundreds, if not thousands, of members of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an al-Qaeda-linked Central Asian terrorist group, besides Arabs and Chechens in South Waziristan seems to confirm this possibility. Unlike TTP, al-Qaeda's immediate purposes and broader goals are categorically stated and clearly identifiable. Given that, if TTP has not declared its broader goals for which it does and claims terrorist activities in Pakistan, and if local Taliban are only doing what their parent organization al-Qaeda desires, the real question arises, what al-Qaeda wishes to achieve in Pakistan and the region through terrorism by TTP and its local and foreign terrorist affiliates.

If we go by the emerging terrorist pattern in recent weeks, one thing is absolutely clear: the terrorists have expanded their target range from attacks against security apparatus to acts of terrorism in the civilian space, not sparing even institutions of Islamic learning such as the International Islamic University. The randomness of terrorist targets has surely galloped during the period.

The immediate purposes behind Taliban-led terrorist wave, inspired by al-Qaeda, are clearly evident. The topmost purpose among them is simply to terrorize all the people of Pakistan, whether they live in cities, towns or villages, and consequently derail the normal pace of life in the country. The suicide bombings at Islamic University, in which scores of innocent students, girls and boys, lost their lives, was intended to generate a nation-wide scare and secure a forced closure of educational institutions across the country.

There is an economic angle to al-Qaeda-inspired or directed terrorism in the country. The reason major cities, such as Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Peshawar, are bearing the brunt of this terrorist activity is an outcome of the terrorist motivation to create a sense of insecurity in the settled areas so that the general business activity is effectively scuttled. Well over a hundred thousand residents of South Waziristan have been displaced in recent weeks, which is in addition to close to a million and a half people who had to leave their homes for safer places largely in the Frontier province from Swat and Bajaur as a result of TNSM and Taliban terrorism and have not yet returned home.

Forced Displacement

Thus, in the tribal areas, Taliban and al-Qaeda are solely responsible for the forced displacement of Pakistani citizens who have consequently lost their homes, livelihood and well-being. Their sufferings are not due to successive security operations in the region in recent years, from Bajaur to Swat and now to South Waziristan, but because TNSM, Taliban and their terrorist affiliates in the process of implementing al-Qaeda’s political agenda for Pakistan and the region committed a spree of terrorist activities against security personnel and unarmed civilians, thereby leaving no choice on the part of the country’s civilian government and security establish to respond militarily against local terrorist groups acting as pawns of an international terrorist network.

If al-Qaeda is the main force behind TTP and its foreign and local terrorist affiliates, then what al-Qaeda has politically attempted to gain internationally, especially in other Muslim countries, by committing a type of terrorism by abusing the name of Islam is duly applicable to Pakistan. The most important outcome of its terrorist activities whether they took place in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Turkey is the killing of fellow Muslims in large numbers and defaming of the religion of Islam.

At the behest of al-Qaeda, Taliban and their local and foreign terrorist affiliates also seem to be contributing to this heinous process of Muslim-on-Muslim violence and the castigation of the image of Islam in the world. Through their rampant terrorist activities, they have proved beyond doubt their enmity to enlightenment and education. They have no regard for human life and do not spare fellow Muslims from their attacks. They do not have any religious authority to deny a student the right to education, and even to claim the enforcement of their brand of a regressive religious order in the country.

Islamic Learning

Two suicide bombers struck Islamic University. TTP claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack, without explaining why it did commit such a heinous act. If the strings of this local terrorist organization are effectively in the hands of al-Qaeda, then we can easily comprehend the motivation of terrorists in this case. Islam is a great religion, and its followers for several centuries in Western Dark Ages created a model of religious co-existence that is yet to be excelled by the followers of any other Abrahamanic and other global faiths. Al-Qaeda and its predecessors throughout history since the decline of Islamic civilization in the 13th century and beyond have shown utter determination to demolish this rich Islamic legacy of religious tolerance, scientific discovery and free thinking.

That is why a sacred place of Islamic learning such the International Islamic University in Islamabad was made a victim of TTP suicide bombings. It was a pinpointed attack on female students sitting in the university cafeteria and male students attending a class in the Shariah faculty. Al-Qaeda has demonstrated that it has no regard for religious institutions, and that it is determined to destroy the great religion of Islam. It can be argued, therefore, that TTP and other local and foreign terrorists in FATA and Frontier and Punjab provinces share al-Qaeda’s agenda of defaming Islam. All of these groups subscribe to a misguided ideal of violence, resources and personnel to carry out terrorist attacks against the innocent.

Goal of Destruction

Besides defaming Islam, they are bent upon destroying Pakistan. That is why their terrorist acts are carefully calibrated to derail the normal pace of life, to scuttle the business activity, to prevent people from acquiring education, Islamic or otherwise, to prevent progress in the democratic process, to make the country more and more unattractive for foreign tourists and investors. Call them immediate purposes or broader goals, they are certainly meant to demobilize the Pakistani nation as a whole. And if al-Qaeda is actually leading the bloody terrorist show in the country, then capturing political power of the only nuclear armed country of the Muslim world with the help of local terrorists can be considered as a long-term Pakistan-specific ambition on the part of the global terrorist network.

The broader goals of al-Qaeda-inspired or directed terrorist wave in Pakistan are not just driven by domestic factors alone; their manifestations are visible in the country’s regional standing. A nuclear-armed country facing a worsening terrorism-ridden security quagmire certainly sends shivers down the spine of international community. So, destroying Pakistan’s standing as a viable nation-state is one of the primary ambitions of the forces of terror currently on the rampage in the country. Creating and recreating conflict situations for Pakistan in the region is another rational terrorist motivation that only an international terror group can plan and carry out, as a relatively primitive force such as Taliban cannot be expected of having such vision and foresight. That is why while Pakistan’s troubles over terrorism with India and Afghanistan were not yet over, the recent suicide bombing in Iran by al-Qaeda-linked Jundullah have created another regional rift between Pakistan and Iran.

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