Conflict & Justice

Militants in Pakistan more brazen after the bin Laden raid


Pakistani protesters shout anti-U.S. slogans during a demonstration against the visit of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Lahore on May 27, 2011.


Arif Ali

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The string of suicide bombings and revenge attacks launched by the Taliban after Osama bin Laden's death may have come as no surprise.

But the brazenness of the attacks has further tainted Pakistan's reputation on the international scene, analysts say, highlighting the security failure in the wake of the bin Laden raid.

The flare up began on May 13 when a suicide bomber walked into the training center of the Frontier Constabulary, a paramilitary force involved in operations against militants in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa, killing 98 soldiers.

The attacks culminated on May 22 with a 16-hour siege by militants of the Navy’s premier airbase in Karachi. Ten Pakistani troops were killed before they were able to regain control.

The Pakistani government tried to avoid such a violent backlash after the killing of bin Laden by U.S. forces on May 2, analysts said, obfuscating its cooperation in the operation and denying any prior knowledge of the raid or of the ongoing U.S. drone attacks in North Waziristan.

It seems, however, that the Pakistani Taliban was not fooled.

Security analysts here said the recent Taliban strikes are even more deadly and nerve shattering than the attack in 2009 on the army’s headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi that led to a full-fledged military onslaught against militants in South Waziristan, where the TTP was then based.

“The recent attacks are a total security failure that has sent a very negative message to the international community,” Kamal Hyder, an Islamabad-based security analyst, said. “Our enemies are more clever and more committed than our government.”

The Taliban also attacked a U.S. consulate vehicle in Peshawar on May 19 and in separate suicide attacks on police stations in Peshawar and Hangu on May 25 and 26, a total of 41 policemen were killed.

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP as it is known, a conglomerate of various Taliban groups operating in Pakistan, has claimed responsibility for all of the attacks, and warned of more in the future. The group said the rampage was in retaliation for the killing of bin Laden at the hands of both Pakistan and the United States.

Although Pakistan officially denies its involvement in the operation against bin Laden, analysts — as well as the Taliban — aren’t buying it. They said that Pakistan has attempted to give itself plausible deniability to avoid a backlash from both militant groups and the general public, which has grown increasingly weary of U.S. incursions on its soil, especially in North Waziristan, where unmanned air strikes have killed hundreds of civilians.

(Read: Obama’s hidden war: US intensifies drone attacks in Pakistan)

“Pakistan is between a rock and a hard place. Neither the West trusts Pakistan nor the Taliban,” Abdul Khalique Ali, a Karachi-based security analyst, told GlobalPost.

“On the one hand, the West is blaming Pakistan for harboring and patronizing militants. Then, on the other hand, militants are attacking Pakistani security forces for killing bin Laden and standing alongside the U.S. and the West,” he added.

Ali said Pakistan would be better off just making clear where its allegiances stand. Instead, he said, the country is drawing the ire of both sides. The county’s policy of publicly opposing U.S. drone strikes in North Waziristan while privately supporting them is creating enemies everywhere, he added.

“The government must take its own people into confidence. If it really thinks that drone attacks and other U.S. operations are in Pakistan’s favor, then it must accept it. And if it thinks it’s not in our favor, then a clear-cut message should be conveyed to the United States,” Ali said. “Otherwise, neither its own people nor the West will trust it.”

Although Pakistani forces might have been unprepared for the scale of the attacks, they don’t appear to indicate any vulnerability. The Pakistani army is one of the largest armies in the world and given the chance, analysts said, could easily subdue them.

“The militants could tease the armed forces, or hurt them … but they cannot defeat them,” he said.

Analysts believe that the renewed support pledged by U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameroon in the last week has boosted morale throughout the country’s government and army, which have been under fire for their failure to provide security in the wake of bin Laden’s death.

“People are asking questions about our relations [with Pakistan]. So we need to be clear. Pakistan has suffered more from terrorism than any other country in the world. Their enemy is our enemy,” Cameron said, addressing a joint press conference with Obama in London on May 24.

“Far from walking away, we have got to work even more closely with them,” he added.