Has what many see as Pakistan’s use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy against India and Afghanistan actually brought the country to the edge of self-destruction? Earlier this month, two suicide bombers blew themselves up within the revered Data Darbar Sufi shrine in Lahore, killing scores of worshippers.
After being in denial for too long, the Punjabi regional government has moved to ban several terrorist groups operating in the state, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which executed the November 2008 carnage in Mumbai. India wants the group’s leader, Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed, to be prosecuted. But Pakistani courts have let him off for want of evidence.
Lashkar-e-Taiba is widely believed to be close to the Pakistan Army and ISI and to carry out terrorist attacks against India at their behest. A US-Pakistani terrorist under trial in the United States, David Coleman Headley, who scouted targets in India for the group, says that Hafiz Sayeed was involved a tevery stage of the planning and preparation for the Mumbai attack.
So India will keenly watch how serious Pakistan is about proscribing the group as part of its recent decision to hunt down terrorists. In 2002, then President Pervez Musharraf banned the organization, but the terrorist group changed its name and prospered.
The Pakistani Taliban has inspired the Punjabi Taliban, which had a key role in the twin bombings at the Data Darbar shrine. Because Hafiz Sayeed has spoken out against the Taliban, decrying the terrorist methods used by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan government claims he’s actually in danger.
And the complexities to all this don’t end there. The leader of Pakistan’s second-largest political party, Nawaz Sharif, blames the US drone attacks in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas for provoking the Pakistani Taliban to pick targets within Pakistan, including the Lahore shrine. Sharif wants the federal government to open peace talks with the Taliban, which the United States is bound to oppose.
Given all these twists and turns, Pakistan’s latest decision to go after indigenous terrorist groups will likely amount to little, so deeply wedded are the interests of the terrorists and Pakistan’s security apparatus, that it will be nearly impossible to prise them apart.