Page last updated at 10:28 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 11:28 UK

Audacious militant tactics stun Pakistan

By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Islamabad

Pakistani soldiers
The army HQ in Rawalpindi is one of the most heavily guarded places in Pakistan

It is perhaps the sheer audacity of the attacks on security installations in Lahore - and in Rawalpindi just days earlier - that has taken the authorities by surprise.

That may be the only excuse the security apparatus has for its handling of the assaults.

In particular, the failure to stop the attack on the army's headquarters in Rawalpindi on 12 October defies the imagination - especially as details about a forthcoming attack had been published on the front page of a national daily several days before it happened.

The News International, a local English-language newspaper, had published the details of a report by the interior ministry that an attack on the General Headquarters (GHQ) was imminent.

The 5 October report said that fighters from militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi - with the support of the Taliban in South Waziristan - were planning such an attack.

Scene of October Swat suicide bombing
The militants seem to be able to strike targets with impunity

It said attackers meant to penetrate security by using army uniforms to get into the compound and wreak havoc at the heart of the military's command.

"It is simply incredible that the agencies, despite being aware of these facts, could not stop this attack," says Raza, an employee at a local multinational.

"If I, as a common citizen, was aware through the news this was going to happen, what does that say about our security services?"

Innovative tactics

Lahore represents the first time this year attackers have struck at multiple targets in one city - and the first time ever simultaneous attacks have hit Lahore.

Militant targets have been assorted: from a busy market in Peshawar to the UN in Islamabad, nothing has seemed safe or out of reach.

A Pakistan army soldier stands guard on a rooftop at the site of a weekend attack on the army headquarter in Rawalpindi
The Taliban have shown that even military bases can be attacked

Clearly the militants remain a potent force and can strike anywhere in Pakistan.

Some experts have pointed to the new and innovative tactics employed by the militants.

The use of security forces' uniforms has raised the bar when it comes to the difficulties of spotting such an attack.

Since the Taliban started to carry out regular strikes, a majority of their targets have been the security forces.

Their brazen approach has caught the security agencies flat-footed time and again.

The latest attacks come as Pakistan's government has been claiming that Taliban militancy is on the back foot. The army has been more cautious but broadly agrees.

One substantial setback was the death of Taliban supremo Baitullah Mehsud who was killed by a US missile in August 2009.

But within the space of less than 10 days in early October, attacks across Pakistan claimed more than 100 lives.

New militants?

The difference is that where previously the militants originated from the tribal areas, now there is an increasing representation from the Punjab and other parts of the country.

In this regard, the most significant comments came from Iftikhar Hussain, information minister of the troubled North West Frontier Province.

"It is clear where the new wave of militants are coming from," he told newsmen after the attack on the GHQ.

"There needs to be a Swat-like operation in southern Punjab."

His comments were based on the fact that the responsibility for the Rawalpindi attack was claimed jointly by the Tehrik-e-Taliban (Amjad Farooqi group) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Amjad Hussain Farooqi was one of Pakistan's most wanted militants until his death in a shoot-out with security agencies in 2004 in Pakistan's southern Sindh province.

He is seen as the pioneer of attacks on security forces and masterminded several attempts on the life of President Pervez Musharraf.

What is most interesting is that he was a member of Jaish-e-Mohammad, one of Pakistan's most dangerous militant groups, which has revitalised its operations since 2007.

Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud (right) holds a rocket launcher
The Taliban's tentacles are spreading across Pakistan

But other Punjabi militant groups such as the Harkatul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are also back in action.

These organisations have always tended to form the vanguard for al-Qaeda in this region.

They have also been the ones who have fervently promoted anti-Indian feeling in this region.

Following a 2002 ban, much of their cadres were either killed or sent to prison, and the leadership detained.

But since 2007, the leadership of these groups has been able to replenish their resources.

Since this time - and for reasons best known to the state alone - there has been a slackening in the enforcement of the ban on these groups.

They have been able to open accounts under new names, operate websites and carry out "welfare activities" for the collection of donations.

The money has come both from small donations by common citizens and large private donors in Pakistan and abroad.

Within the country the city of Karachi remains the source of the largest revenue collection, while much money has also come from immigrant workers in Europe and the Middle East.

Flush with funds and new recruits, they are now set to carry out a new jihad - against the Pakistani state and security structure to bring it to its knees.

'Jihad is an obligation'

In this regard, what is surprising is not the militants' actions, but the state's response to them.

A recent event which a friend witnessed in Karachi epitomises this.

Outside one of the biggest mosques in the centre of the city, right after prayers, a small group of men stood around a booth for donations.

Their identity was proclaimed proudly on the donation booth.

All were members of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, banned by the government of Pakistan and listed as major terrorist organisation by the US.

Their chants could clearly be heard through the milling crowd: "Like prayer and fasting, Jihad too is an obligation."

It was like a tentacle reaching out from a time when holy war was sanctioned by the state.

Close by a group of soldiers stood by in their vehicle.

For them, it seemed, everything was as it should be.

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific