The deadly attack on the Pakistan military headquarters at Rawalpindi has shown a new level of boldness and tactical daring among militant groups in that country. The increasingly sinister character of the militant designs was apparent in this strike wherein commandos of the all-powerful Pakistani Army were locked in an 18 to 20 hour stand-off with the militants who came close to taking over a military building and took several hostages. Sure enough, the security forces were swift to respond, freeing 39 hostages in a fairly clean operation. Three hostages were killed along with four militants, indicating that the operation had been a difficult one. The result of a costly intelligence and security lapse, the attack exposed the extreme vulnerability of the Pakistani state to the militant threat. Further, despite the gravity of the challenge these groups pose, Pakistan has held on to a distinction between “good” and “bad” jihadists — the “good” being the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohmmed waging a jihad against India and the “bad” of course being those who directly challenge the Pakistani state. But Saturday’s attack on the heart of Pakistan’s military establishment has proved beyond doubt that such distinctions do not exist. The militant captured alive at GHQ, identified as Aqeel alias Dr. Usman, has links to several anti-India jihadist groups such as the Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, and also to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Sipah-e-Sahaba, the Taliban and the al-Qaeda.
This incident underlines afresh that even though some of these groups were banned after 9/11, they have continued to exist and operate freely. It also demonstrates to the world and the United States in particular that India’s contention as regards Pakistan’s continuing links with jihadi terrorist groups is based on the ground reality. Pakistan has opposed a condition in the controversial Kerry-Lugar legislation passed recently by the U.S. Congress that Pakistan must cease support to the LeT and the Jaish, besides the al-Qaeda and the Taliban, in order to qualify for security aid. It is now clear that these groups pose as big a threat to Pakistan’s stability as to India or Afghanistan. The Pakistan Army and government have indicated that they are preparing for an all-out assault on the Taliban headquarters in South Waziristan. But it is clearly more important for Pakistan to dismantle the entire infrastructure of terror and militancy — irrespective of whether it is Pakhtun or Punjabi — as it exists within the country’s boundaries today. There is no other option for Pakistan’s leaders but to shed their ambivalence about the role of the jihadi groups and confront them head-on.