Feb 22, 2009

Sectarian violence

From afar, the breakout of sectarian fighting in D.I. Khan may appear as yet another depressing phase in an internecine local conflict. But that would be misleading. The devastating suicide bombing of the funeral procession of a slain Shia local carries all the hallmarks of imported violence. Looming large over all sectarian violence in Pakistan in recent times is the figure of Qari Hussain.
A militant commander based in South Waziristan, Hussain, who is also known by the nom de guerre Ustad-i-Fidayeen (teacher of militants), is believed to be a recruiter and trainer of suicide bombers and has infused his ideology with a virulent stream of sectarianism. In January, a 40-minute video recording handed out in Peshawar by Hussain’s group contained a disturbing series of images.
In addition to claiming responsibility for a number of high-profile attacks, including the truck bombing of the FIA centre in Lahore last year and an attack on an ISI office in Rawalpindi in 2007, the video showed indoctrinated boys and young men swearing to launch more attacks. What was hard to miss was the overtly sectarian nature of the propaganda.
Adding credibility to the Qari Hussain connection to the attack in D.I. Khan on Friday was the use of a suicide bomber described by eyewitnesses to be around 20 years old. A report by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding has highlighted the use of young men from the two Waziristan agencies as suicide bombers: ‘Analysing the 2007 database of 26 cases of suicide attacks in Pakistan (out of a total of 61) where [the] Special Investigative Unit of Pakistan’s FIA recovered crucial evidence, [the FIA] concluded: ‘More than 80 per cent of suicide bombers belong to [the] Mehsud tribe (residing in South and North Waziristan) and were aged 15 to 20.’
Only an investigation into the D.I. Khan bombing can determine if the circumstantial evidence pointing in the direction of Waziristan and Qari Hussain is in fact true. But, as we have stressed before, the different strains of militancy in Pakistan have overlapped to the point where it makes little sense to treat sectarian violence as separate from Al Qaeda attacks and militancy in Punjab as different from that in Fata and northern Pakistan.
Qari Hussain is the embodiment of those overlaps, and some continuing contradictions: he has targeted the state, attacked Shias in Punjab and the NWFP, and fought with fellow Mehsud tribesman, leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud. Defeating the hydra of militancy does require different tactics at the local level, but there must be overall strategic coherency too.
Currently, Pakistan is fighting the militants piecemeal in different areas of the country. That must change; the militants must be pursued across the length and breadth of the country simultaneously.

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