International Terrorism Monitor- Paper No. 538
Two soldiers of the Pakistan Army were killed and three others injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), early on the morning of June 26,2009.
2. The Pakistani media has carried conflicting versions of the suicide attack. The "News" ( June 26) reported that "a suicide bomber ripped through an Army vehicle near Shaukat Lines, Muzaffarabad" without giving other details. The "Daily Times" of Lahore (June 26) reported that "he blew himself up near an army vehicle."
3. However, in its online edition of June 26, the "Dawn" of Karachi gave a different and more detailed version. To quote it: " According to witnesses, a bearded man in his twenties walked through a ground used by army personnel for physical training and local youths as a playground and entered the barracks of non-commissioned army men at about 6.30am. 'The bomber was intercepted by a soldier whom he tried to engage in a conversation presumably to attract other soldiers around for causing maximum casualties’ and then blew himself up, official sources said. A soldier was killed on the spot and four others were injured and taken to the Combined Military Hospital where one of them died. An army pick-up parked a few yards away overturned and another vehicle was damaged. The blast was heard in most parts of the town. An intelligence official said the ground was splattered with blood and limbs. He said four legs and other limbs had been found in the ground and under the overturned vehicle which indicated that more than one bomber might have been involved in the attack. The junior section of the Army Public School, several other educational institutions and the 5-AK Brigade headquarters are around the place where the blast took place."
4.The "Dawn" report gave another significant detail. It said: "The barracks fall under the 5-AK Brigade of the Azad Kashmir (AK) Regiment which is reportedly taking part in the operation against militants in Swat and adjoining areas."
5. The Azad Kashmir Regiment (AKR) has had an interesting history. When the Pakistan Army tried to capture Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in 1947-48, it first sent into the state a large number of Mehsuds, Wazirs and other tribes recruited by it in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and trained and armed by it. Pakistan denied any responsibility for their actions and projected them during the debates in the UN Security Council as Kashmiris, who had risen in revolt against the then Maharaja of J&K and the Government of India. It used to describe them as Kashmiri irregulars over whom it had no control.
6. After the 1948 ceasefire, the Pakistan Army constituted these so-called irregulars into a unit called the Azad Kashmir Regular Forces (AKRF), which was shown as a para-military force of the POK Government. It was placed under the over-all control of the Pakistan Army. The tribals of the AKRF were again used by the then President Ayub Khan for spearheading the invasion of J&K in 1965. The invasion, which led to fighting between the Indian and Pakistan Armies, failed.
7. When the Bengalis of the then East Pakistan rose in revolt in 1971, Yahya Khan sent the fanatic tribals of the AKRF to East Pakistan where they indulged in large-scale massacre of Bengalis. In 1972, in recognition of its "services" in East Pakistan, the Pakistan Army absorbed the AKRF into the regular army and renamed it the Azad Kashmir Regiment (AKR). Its Regimental Center is located at Mansar, Attock District, Punjab. Initially, the AKR consisted largely of Pashtun tribals recruited in the FATA officered by Punjabis. Now it has a larger percentage of Punjabis. Exact present figures of Pashtuns and Punjabis in the AKR are not available.
8. When there were fears in Pakistan of a military retaliation by the Indian Armed Forces after the Mumbai terrorist attack of November 2008, Baitullah Mehsud, the Amir of the TTP, had reportedly said that if India attacked Pakistan, the TTP would stop its fight against the Pakistan Army and join it in fighting against India. This was welcomed by a Pakistani Army spokesman as a patriotic gesture. Subsequently, there were reports of differences developing between the TTP on the one side and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami(HUJI) and the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) on the other because of the unhappiness of these four Kashmir-centric organisations over the attacks being carried out by the TTP on the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). They reportedly felt that the TTP and other organisations should focus on attacking the NATO forces in Afghanistan in collaboration with the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda and should not attack the Pakistan Army. Only the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), the anti-Shia organisation, supported the TTP's fight against the Pakistan Army. They felt that since the Pakistan Army was letting itself be used by the US against Al Qaeda, attacks on it were justified.Following these differences, the TTP reportedly ordered these four organisations to close down their training camps in the tribal belt.
9. Since the TTP came into existence in 2007 after the Pakistan Army's commando raid into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July,2007, it has carried out over a hundred acts of suicide terrorism.Many of them were in non-tribal areas and important cities and cantonments such as Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi, Lahore, Sargodha and other places. Many of these attacks were directed at the Army, the ISI,the Special Services Group (SSG), the US-trained commando group, the Air Force, the Navy, the Police and the Federal Investigation Agency. Recently, the TTP had warned of an attack in Multan from where the operations of the helicopter gunships in the Swat Valley are co-ordinated.
10. But it had carefully refrained from any act of suicide terrorism in the POK. This is the first time there has been an act of suicide terrorism in the POK, which has been attributed to the TTP. The Associated Press and sections of the Pakistani media have quoted Hakimullah Mehsud, a close associate of Baitullah, who is responsible for the TTP activities in the Orakzai, Khyber and Kurram areas and who also coordinates Taliban attacks on trucks carrying logistic supplies to the NATO troops in Afghanistan, as claiming responsibility on behalf of the TTP for the Muzaffarabad attack. A person claiming to be Hakimullah was reported to have told the AP over phone that the attack was made to prove that Baitullah had not been weakened by more than a week of strikes on his suspected hideouts in South Waziristan.. “We are in a position to respond to the army’s attacks, and time will prove that these military operations have not weakened us," he reportedly said. It also needs to be noted that since the co-ordinated hunt for Baitullah started, Hakimullah's men have stepped up their attacks on Shias in the Kurram Agency.
11. Presuming that this call was, in fact, made by Hakimullah and that it was the TTP which had carried out the attack, the Muzaffarabad attack reflects the concerns of the TTP and Baitullah over the co-ordinated operations launched by the Pakistani and US forces in South Waziristan in order to neutralise Baitullah and his close associates. The TTP has apparently come to the conclusion that only fears of reprisal attacks in the POK could prevent the Pakistan Army from reinforcing its ground forces in South Waziristan for the operations against Baitullah and his forces.
12. The Pakistan Army, which has by now got used to a wave of suicide attacks all over Pakistan, is unlikely to be deterred from the South Waziristan operation by a single attack in the POK by the TTP. But if there are more such attacks and in quick succession, it might be unnerved by the prospects of instability in the POK as a result of its operations in the NWFP and the FATA. As of now, the TTP does not appear to have the capability for sustained operations in the POK. Even if it has, it is unlikely to use it since any attempt to create instability in the POK would aggravate the divide between it and the people of Pakistan. Its anti-Army activities in the POK could also be opposed by the anti-India, Kashmir-centric jihadi groups.
( 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 )