Pakistan’s leadership is facing serious challenges, despite some heartening news for the country. Rahimullah Yusufzai reports
There has been both good news and bad in recent weeks for Pakistanis, who have become used to the pattern of having their hopes for the future raised, only to have them dashed again.
The news of the assassination of three of the most powerful anti-Pakistan militant commanders in recent US drone strikes in neighbouring Afghanistan brought a sigh of relief to government officials as well as to the common people. It is felt the elimination of Hafiz Saeed Khan Orakzai, the Pakistani militant who was the emir (head) of the Islamic State, or Daesh, for its Khorasan unit comprising Afghanistan and Pakistan, the outlawed militant group Lashkar-i-Islam leader Mangal Bagh and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander Khalifa Umar Mansoor would help reduce the threat level to Pakistan. The three had organised scores of terrorist attacks in Pakistan and indiscriminately killed and maimed whoever came their way. While Mangal Bagh and Khalifa Umar Mansoor focused on Pakistan, Saeed Orakzai also carried out attacks in Afghanistan after his men captured a few districts in the eastern Nangarhar province close to the Pakistan-Afghan border.
The death of Khalifa Umar Mansoor – who, like other militants, had quite a few names and was also known as Aurangzeb, Umar Adezai and Umar Naray – was welcome news for the families of the 147 people, including 132 schoolchildren, who were killed in the barbaric terrorist attack on the Army Public School Peshawar on December 16, 2014. Mansoor had claimed responsibility for the strike and even published a picture of himself standing with the attackers before they embarked on their suicide mission. He had also claimed responsibility for some other attacks, including the one on the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, in which 22 students, teachers and other staff members were killed, and the assault on the Pakistan Air Force base at Badaber near Peshawar that caused the death of more than 30 security personnel.
There was also some other good news. Barrister Asad Ali Shah, the son of the Sindh High Court Chief Justice, Sajjad Ali Shah, was recovered by the security forces a month after he was kidnapped. The fact that he was found in the remote Tank district sited on the boundary of South Waziristan after being abducted from Karachi, located in the other corner of Pakistan, explained the kind of elaborate network built by the kidnappers-cum-militants. The three kidnappers were ambushed and killed before they could shift their prey to the tribal areas and then to Afghanistan. A splinter group of Pakistani Taliban was involved in Shah’s abduction, and was planning to exchange him for the release of Taliban prisoners and a ransom payment.
This was the latest in a series of kidnappings of the sons of important personalities in Pakistan. Earlier, the sons of both former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and the late Punjab Governor Salman Taseer were abducted by the militants and recovered from Afghanistan after three and five years, respectively. Government officials, security personnel, relatives of army generals and wealthy traders have also been taken hostage in recent years as part of the militants’ fight against the state of Pakistan.
The government also managed to peacefully hold state elections in Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK), the Pakistan-administered part of the disputed Kashmir valley, and ensured a timely transition of power. The polls were predictably won by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, defeating the ruling PPP and Imran Khan’s PTI. The victory was seen as an indicator of Pakistan’s electoral trends, though it is widely known that the party in power in the country as a whole always manages to win the polls in AJK. The former premier of AJK, Raja Farooq Haider, was again named for the post by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose party had earlier won the polls in Gilgit-Baltistan, a region in northern Pakistan bordering China.
In terms of bad news, the Quetta suicide bombing on August 7 targeting lawyers led to countrywide protests by the lawyers and a boycott of the courts. The government announced mourning for the dead as the civil and military leadership got together to review the 20-point National Action Plan that was drawn up in January 2015 in the wake of the Peshawar school attack to effectively tackle militancy, extremism and terrorism. As both the TTP splinter group, Jamaatul Ahrar and Islamic State had claimed responsibility for the Quetta suicide bombing, the focus shifted to these two Afghanistan-based militant groups and their patrons and there was a unanimity of opinion among the country’s civil and military elite that Afghanistan’s soil was being used by hostile intelligence agencies such as the Afghan NDS and the Indian RAW to destabilise Pakistan. Some cross-border attacks by Afghanistan-based Pakistani militants in Chitral and other districts reinforced this view, causing further bitterness in the already strained relations between Islamabad and Kabul.
The Quetta attack prompted the security forces to start a new military operation in the Rajgal valley in the Khyber tribal region to target militants infiltrating Pakistan from Afghanistan. The action was aimed at setting up posts on mountain peaks overlooking the Pakistan-Afghan border following reports that the militants could try to enter Pakistan as they had come under tremendous pressure due to the increase in the number of US drone strikes.
As the Nawaz Sharif government struggled to cope with these challenges facing Pakistan, opposition parties also threatened to take to the streets to force it to set up a judicial commission with proper terms of reference to probe offshore companies owned by wealthy and influential Pakistanis, including the Prime Minister’s two sons and daughter. The opposition has filed references seeking the Premier’s disqualification as a member of parliament for concealing his assets and helping his children to set up the offshore companies, as revealed by the Panama Papers. Already, the PTI chairman Imran Khan and the PAT leader Tahirul Qadri have launched campaigns to force the government to quit. Though the government at this stage seems capable of overcoming the challenge due to its comfortable majority in parliament and support from some allied political parties, the agitation could still render it weak and vulnerable.
Rahimullah Yusufzai is a Pakistani journalist and Afghanistan expert. He was the first and last reporter to interview Taliban leader Mulla Mohammad Omar, and twice interviewed Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998. His achievements have been acknowledged by several prestigious awards, including Tamgha-e-Imtiaz and Sitara-e-Imtiaz.