The ‘image’ and the ‘reality’
A suicide bomber blew himself up at the exit gate of a packed Qayyum Stadium in Peshawar on Tuesday, killing four people and wounding 13. The occasion was the conclusion of the Third Inter-Provincial Games at which speakers were congratulating the NWFP government for staging the event and “improving” Pakistan’s image as a “normal” state where people took part in sports and were opposed to terrorism.
The Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants in Darra Adam Khel have claimed responsibility for the attack and explained that the target was the senior NWFP minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour. (Mr Bilour was on his way out but had not yet reached the exit gate when the explosion occurred.) The suicide-bomber was about 20 years old and could be from any one of the vast array of terrorist organisations that were once a part of Pakistan’s jihad assembly line. Recently, a large number of TTP militants, including foreigners, were arrested from the Darra.
Far from projecting an image of “normality” the games have once again presented Pakistan as a dangerous place where normal social activity like playing and investing money is not routinely done. The world cannot miss the contrast with India where a hugely popular cricket test series has been won by India and a popular night cricket tournament called the ICL is in progress with a Pakistani team that could well make its way to the finals. For those of us who point to bombings in India and also protest discrimination on the part of the countries which send their teams to India and not to Pakistan, the Peshawar blast must come as a heart-breaking event.
The ruling ANP in the NWFP is being targeted by the terrorists to achieve political ends through fear. In Pakistan everybody contests the textbook definition of terrorism but what the TTP is doing comes pat on it: “The deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change”. The ANP leader Mr Asfandyar Wali earlier narrowly escaped death at the hands of a suicide-bomber at his residence. Understandably, the ANP leaders at the Qayyum Stadium were visibly shaken by the Tuesday bombing.
The idea behind the bombing campaign is to make the ANP resign office. The TTP feels better facing a clerical alliance in power in Peshawar than politicians who represent the essence of Pakhtun culture. If allowed to complete their tenure, the ANP intends to revive the legacy of the Pakhtun pride inhumanly crushed by the beheading activities of the TTP and its patron Al Qaeda. But the TTP wants particular political change. It wants the PPP to disappear from the centre and the ANP from the NWFP. It wants to change the public opinion that tilts in favour of these two parties and was responsible for their success in the 2008 elections.
The consolidation of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the Tribal Areas took place when the clerical alliance, the MMA, was in power in the NWFP and Balochistan following the 2002 elections. Analysts now say that President Pervez Musharraf and the MMA reached a covert agreement under which the former ensured his legitimacy through the 17th Amendment and the MMA got to deploy its policy of converting the province into a region of extreme religious identity as envisaged by the Taliban. Unfortunately, the politics of alliances has placed the ANP and the clerical JUIF in the same coalition in Islamabad.
Recent developments foreshadow a face-off between the ANP and the JUIF. The JUIF blames the ANP for the making public of a land scam that reveals a little more of the details in the Musharraf-MMA covert relationship. Maulana Fazlur Rehman and his deputies have gone on the warpath and are accusing the ANP of secretly advancing the separatist cause of Pakhtunistan by scheming to lump all the Pakhtun regions of the country together and declare them a separate political entity outside Pakistan. The intensity of this squabble does nothing to alleviate the danger of the trouble the NWFP is facing from the Taliban. In fact, it makes it more intense.
Pakistan’s image is mud; its favourite sport, cricket, has practically receded from the domestic scene. But that is far less important than what might happen in Islamabad if things get out of hand. The ANP, feeling extremely hurt, might put pressure on the ruling PPP to decide between them and the JUIF. Unable to arbitrate between them, the PPP might run the risk of being accused of non-seriousness in its alliance with the ANP. (For instance, the ANP might mount pressure for a change of governor and become further alienated if Islamabad doesn’t oblige because it is subject to all kinds of structural pressures.)
The PPP can’t survive by merely repeating the mantra that “we are not slaves of America”. The wave against it — buoyed by a media-mujahideen campaign applying such pressures on the government as demanding the withdrawal of the army from FATA, taking on the Americans, rebuffing the IMF, rebuilding the nuclear charisma of Dr AQ Khan, etc — is relentless. The TTP is hoping to add its muscle to this media campaign to improve its chances of a takeover of FATA. The road to hell is truly paved with the best of intentions. (Daily Times)