LAHORE: JIHADIS ATTACK ANTI-CORRUPTION & ANTI-TERRORISM AGENCY
INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR-- PAPER NO.380
Fourteen members of the staff of the Lahore office of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) of Pakistan and 10 others were killed in two explosions by suicide terrorists in Lahore on March 11,2008. One of their targets was the local headquarters of the FIA in which 14 members of the staff and six others were killed. The second target was an office of an advertising agency in a residential area in which four persons, two of them children, were killed.
2. The FIA is the Pakistani equivalent of India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). It is the principal agency for the investigation of all corruption-related cases. It also co-ordinates terrorism-related investigations.It is one of the three central police agencies of Pakistan---the other two being the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Narcotics Bureau. The FIA is largely manned by police officers taken on deputation from the provinces and direct recruits. President Pervez Musharraf had inducted a number of serving and retired military officers into it to monitor the investigation of corruption-related cases against Mrs.Benazir Bhutto, Mr.Asif Zardari, Mr.Nawaz Sharif and other political leaders. Before the recent elections and thereafter, the investigations into all the corruption-related cases against Benazir and Zardari were discontinued on the orders of Musharraf, but not the investigations against Nawaz. Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani withdrew from it the serving military officers deputed for monitoring the investigations.
3. The FIA had always been considered a highly politicised agency used by different leaders for witch-hunt against their opponents. It became particularly controversial during the second tenure of Benazir as the Prime Minister from 1993 to 1996. Zardari was accused of misusing the FIA and its officers for allegedly harassing his political opponents and businessmen, who were reluctant to pay commissions.
4. Before Benazir returned from political exile on October 18,2007, her associates decided not to leave her security totally in the hands of the Government, but to make their own arrangements for her security. Zardari, then based in Dubai, co-ordinated the security arrangements. To assist him, he chose Mr. Rahman Malik, a highly controversial Police officer who was in the FIA during her second tenure as the Prime Minister. There were widespread allegations of corruption against Malik. When Mr. Farooq Leghari, the then President of Pakistan, dismissed Benazir in November,1996, he also dismissed Malik and ordered his arrest on charges of corruption. He managed to escape to London and was living in exile since then. From London, he was co-ordinating her security during her travels abroad. Sections of the Pakistani media blamed him for alleged negligence which, according to them, led to her assassination on December 27,2007, at Rawalpindi. Despite this, he continues to enjoy the confidence of Zardari and acts as one of his principal advisers. He also acts as the liaison man with the security agencies for ensuring the physical security of Zardari.
5. The present wave of suicide attacks started after the commando raid in the Lal Masjid in July,2007. Initially, the suicide terrorists were targeting the Army, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Special Services Group (SSG), a US-trained commando group of the Army, all of which were involved in the Lal Masjid raid. They then attacked political leaders, who had supported the commando action. This included some workers of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), who were attacked in Islamabad, Benazir Bhutto and Mr.Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, who was the Interior Minister during the commando action. He escaped two suicide attacks. They then attacked targets in the Army, the Frontier Corps and the Air Force, which were involved in the military operations in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Thereafter, they attacked the Naval War College in Lahore. The Pakistan Navy is a member of a multi-nation naval task force which provides naval cover to the US operations in Afghanistan. It also provides security for the unloading at Karachi of logistic supplies for the NATO forces in Afghanistan.
6. They have also attacked provincial police units and officers. Many police officers performing physical security duties were killed when the jihadis attacked non-police targets. Now, for the first time, they have attacked an important office of a central police agency. Like the CBI in India, the FIA not only investigates cases of corruption, but also supervises the investigation by the police of important terrorism attacks. Where necessary, it investigates the terrorism cases itself just as the CBI investigated the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. It has been monitoring and co-ordinating the investigation of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto allegedly at the instance of Baitullah Mehsud, the Amir of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. The attack on the FIA office came two days after the reported issue of a warrant by an Anti-Terrorism court for the arrest of Baitullah on a charge of masterminding her assassination.
7. It is not clear why the jihadis attacked the advertising agency.(11-3-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )