Three events were of importance during the last week: Violence in Balochistan; resumption of drone attacks, leading to the killing of Omar Khorasani, leader of the JuA; and the resumption of the Afghan Quadrilateral Group in Muscat. A link could be traced to all three, and certainly, they are the Ghosts of Pakistan’s past, returning to haunt the present.
The larger question is: will it haunt Pakistan’s future as well? What is the forecast?
Balochistan: Shades of Violence
Violence returned to Balochistan during the third week of October. On 18 October, a truck carrying police officials was targeted by the Pakistani Taliban in a suicide attack, killing seven. During the recent weeks, there were suicide attacks on a Sufi shrine in Jal Magsi district killing more than 20 (05 October), and multiple incidents of motorbike-borne assailants shooting unarmed civilians belonging to the Hazara community in and around Quetta (10 September & 09 October).
Three Shades of Violence in Balochistan
One could identify three shades of violence in Balochistan. The first one between the State and the Baloch rebels. Second between the State and the TTP militants. And the third one – led by sectarian and ISIS militants – targeting Shia minorities (Hazaras in Balochistan) and the Sufi remnants in the province.
The first one – between the State and the Baloch, the former seem to have an upper hand. The Baloch militants remain divided and lack unified leadership. Perhaps, they lack the firepower as well and external linkages.
The second one is a new war and is not a part of the Baloch insurgency. Led by the Pakistani Taliban and its affiliates, it has what the Baloch militants lack – firepower and external linkages. The presence of Quetta Shura adds further strength to the TTP. In terms of manpower, the TTP also has something that the Baloch rebels lack – access to youth – from Punjab, KP and FATA.
The Pakistani Taliban has been targetting the security forces, as a part of their anti-State campaign all over Pakistan. In the recent years, they have increased their activities within Balochistan. The TTP has its base primarily in the KP and FATA. Most of the suicide attacks in Balochistan were carried out by the TTP.
The third set of violent activities is carried out by ISIS and the sectarian militants – especially the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The latter primarily target the Hazara community in Balochistan, especially around Quetta. The Hazaras are Shias and have their links to Afghanistan. While they have been living in Quetta peacefully with the local communities for more than a century, in the recent years (since 2012), they have been targeted by the LeJ.
The Quetta Shura as the Mother Ship
How do the TTP and LeJ who do not have their bases in Balochistan succeed in carrying out attacks in Quetta, the provincial capital? It is no coincidence that the violence led by non-Balochi groups have increased since Afghan Taliban moved into Balochistan and the Quetta Shura became a force. Quetta Shura is bound to encourage and provide space to other militant groups.
Also, the State, especially the Establishment in its myopic view, decided to ignore the sectarian ingress and overlook the violence against the Shia communities in Balochistan, and also the Shia pilgrims from Gilgit Baltistan who travel to Iran via Balochistan. The blowback is bound to happen. And grow bigger.
ISIS: The New Entrant
Finally, the slow but steady entry of the ISIS into Balochistan. They should be considered as the fourth non-State actor in Balochistan, besides the Baloch militants, TTP and LeJ. Some of the recent suicide attacks in Balochistan have been claimed by them, for example, the attack on Sufi shrine in Jal Magsi on 5 October 2017.
Recent statistics would reveal, the violence in Balochistan is shifting from tribal to urban regions, and from the Baloch to non-Baloch perpetrators. What does this mean? Is the new violence and the perpetrators likely to deflect the original question in Balochistan? Is there an orchestration? Or, do groups play their own little games and wage small wars under the larger violence in Balochistan?
Return of the Afghan QCG:
What does Pakistan bring to the table?
Almost after a year, the Quadrilateral Contact Group (QCG) involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, US and China met, this time in Muscat Oman on 16 October 2017. There was no statement at the end of the meeting either reviewing the talks so far or presenting a new roadmap.
The meeting is important – for this is the first meeting after Trump taking over. This is also the first meeting of the killing of Taliban leader in 2016 by an American drone, which led to the collapse of the QCG initiative.
Will Pakistan bring the Afghan Taliban to the table?
One of the primary focus of the previous QCG talks was getting the Afghan Taliban to the table. Pakistan was expected to use its influence to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table.
Much to Pakistan’s dismay, the Taliban has increased its attacks all over Afghanistan during the recent weeks. A series of suicide and car bombs in Kabul and in the eastern provinces have left a huge number of police and military recruits and officials dead.
Taliban seems to have answered the Muscat call. Increased violence all over Afghanistan during the last two weeks means Taliban has a different roadmap.
And why is the QCG important for Pakistan?
More than other three countries, Pakistan is excited about the resumption of the QCG, for two reasons. First, there is a general perception within Pakistan that the QCG is a Pakistani initiative. Second, the resumption of QCG provides an institutional mechanism for Pakistan to set an agenda, or dismiss another. For Pakistan, QCG is a diplomatic leverage, not only vis-à-vis Kabul, but also vis-à-vis Washington.
So what next for the QCG and Pakistan? Much would depend on the Taliban leadership – whether they would like to take part in the negotiations, and what will they demand in return for the same. Taking part in negotiations would be a political disaster for the Taliban. Much would also depend on how far Kabul is willing to play along.
Return of the Drones & the Killing of JuA Chief
At the Af-Pak level, the sudden surge in drone strikes was certainly the most important development of the week. And obviously, this should have been discussed at the Islamabad meeting between Pakistan and the US, and also at the Afghan Quadrilateral Contact Group (QCG) at Muscat last week.
Questions of Who and Where
It is not clear whether the drone attacks took place on the Afghan side or the Pakistani side of the Durand Line. Reports from the military sources underline that the attacks have taken place on the Afghan side. Obviously, for political reason, Pakistan would not want to be seen as colluding with the Americans and allow drone attacks on its side.
The drones have targeted the hideouts belonging to the militants of JuA and the Huqqani network. Quoting Taliban sources, a report mentioned that members of the Haqqani militants were killed, but “no prominent militants were in the area when the drones targeted”.
The place of drone attacks may not be clear, but the targets are - militants belonging to the Huqqani network and the Pakistani Taliban. The most important being Omar Khalid Khorasani, chief of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA)
Did Pakistan also share some intelligence regarding the militant hideouts and movement, as a quid pro quo? Is Pakistan yielding to the American pressure on the Huqqani network? Or, is Pakistan playing another dirty trick, by providing intelligence on the foot soldiers of the Huqqani network and deflect the criticism that the latter is a “veritable arm” of the former?
End of Omar Khalid Khorasani: Implications
JuA has confirmed the killing of its leader Omar Khalid Khorasani, in one of the drone attacks last week. Khorasani, born as Abdul Wali in the Mohmand Agency in the FATA, was one of the founder commanders of the Pakistani Taliban. Leadership issues within the TTP after the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in November 2013 (by another drone), resulted in he leaving the TTP along with other fighters to form the JuA. According to reports, he differed with Fazlullah, who took over the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban on many counts – especially in having any dialogue with the Pakistani State.
For Pakistan two questions are important: With Khorasani dead, will Punjab sleep in peace? Will the JuA disintegrate?
Khorasani had links with the sectarian militants from Punjab through another organization – Ahrar ul Hind. The latter merged into JuA in 2014; perhaps providing the much-needed outreach for Khorasani into the Punjab heartland, especially Lahore. The Wagah attack (November 2014), attacks on two Churches in Lahore (March 2015), Easter Suicide bombing of a park in Lahore (March 2016), and Suicide attack on Mall Road in Lahore (February 2017) were some of the major attacks by the JuA in Lahore.
Will JuA disintegrate? Much will depend on who will take over the JuA leadership after Khorasani. Given the sociological nature of the FATA society and its militant commanders, replacing a leader has never been an issue. From the days of Nek Mohammad, there has been a steady flow of militant commanders from below, filling the leadership. There has never been a vacuum at the top level within the Pakistani Taliban. There were too many leaders, sometimes leading to an internal power struggle; however, the new leader has always been able to consolidate his position.
Will the past haunt Pakistan’s Future?
Clearly, instability in Balochistan and across the Durand Line are the ghosts of Pakistan’s past. Certainly, the latter (cross-Durand problems) is a blowback of Pakistan’s jihadi policies of the 1980s and the 1990s.
Is there a realization within Pakistan that the ghosts of the past are likely to haunt their future as well, and even rob it? Is Pakistan devising a long-term strategy to address the issue?
The answer to the first question is yes and the second is no. There is a greater realization, especially at the public level, that Pakistan has to change its strategies towards jihad and the neighborhood. Perhaps, even the polity believes in it; but is deeply polarized and has invested all of its energy in the Panama politics during the last year.
The Establishment has been calling the shots on all the above issues; when in the recent history, the military has provided an answer for political questions? Especially in Pakistan?
* The Review is based on the Editorials prepared during the last week.