Sunday, July 05, 2009

Pakistan: Taliban targeting scientists and engineers

See also:

Why the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is now targeting scientists and engineers working in Pakistan's strategic weaponry establishments such as the Army-run Heavy Mechanical Complex (HMC) at Taxila and the Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL), which is responsible for the development of Pakistan's military nuclear and missile capabilities. Both these establishments have come up with substantial Chinese assistance---the HMC since 1979 and the KRL since the 1980s.

2. This question should be of great concern to the Pakistani authorities following a reported attack by a single suicide bomber riding on a motor-bike on a bus in which scientists, engineers and others working in a Pakistani strategic establishment were traveling on the evening of July 2 on the Rawalpindi-Peshawar road. Initial reports had said that at least six persons were killed and 36 others injured when the suicide bomber rammed his motor-cycle fitted with an explosive device against the bus. The Pakistani authorities subsequently claimed that the suicide bomber was the only fatality.

3. The are conflicting versions of the establishment in which the persons traveling in the bus were working. While the "Dawn" of Karachi and the "Daily Times" of Lahore described them as the staff of the KRL, the "News" has described them as the staff of the HMC. Amir Mir, the well-known Pakistani correspondent, has described them as the staff of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). One thing seems to be certain--- those traveling in the bus were working either in the HMC or in the KRC or both. If they really belonged to the ISI as reported by Amir Mir and were not scientists and engineers as reported by other sources, the possibility is that they were part of the physical security set-up at these establishments.

4.Even though no claim of responsibility has so far been made by the TTP or any of the organisations associated with it, the needle of suspicion points to the TTP which had in the past similarly targeted buses carrying the staff of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the Islamabad/Rawalpindi area and Air Force officers in the Sargodha area. The HMC manufactures, inter alia, tanks and armoured personnel carriers with Chinese assistance.

5. Since the commando raid of the Pakistan Army into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July,2007, there has been a wave of suicide attacks in the non-tribal areas on the Pakistan Army, the Special Services Group, which led the commando raid, the Air Force, the Navy, the ISI, the Federal Investigation Agency and the Police, but there has not been any attack on scientists and engineers working in the military-industrial-nuclear-missile complex. They are amongst the most popular of Pakistan's security bureaucracy. Pakistani society venerates them for giving Pakistan a nuclear and missile capability and for strengthening its capability for the production of arms and ammunition. Attacking them runs the risk of antagonising the Pakistani society----- including the mainstream fundamentalist parties which lionise these scientists and engineers.

6.If it turns out that those traveling by the bus were scientists and engineers and not ISI personnel as claimed by Amir Mir and if it further turns out that it was the Pakistani Taliban which carried out the attack, why did it take the risk? The only possible answer is that the Taliban had calculated that the only way of exercising pressure on the military to slow down, if not halt, its military operations against the Taliban is by threatening to target strategic establishments such as the HMC and the KRC. The Armed Forces and the Police have so far taken in their stride the increasing suicide attacks on their personnel and establishments. Will they treat with equal equanimity attacks on scientists and engineers and strategic weaponry establishments if such attacks are repeated or will they once again make peace with the Taliban to halt such attacks? An answer to this question will depend on the Taliban's capacity to keep such attacks sustained.

7. The attack on the scientists and engineers, if true, coming in the wake of the suicide attack on some Army personnel in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir can be interpreted as indicating the Taliban's determination to fight with no holds barred----- even to the extent of damaging the strategic capabilities of Pakistan either in respect of Kashmir or in respect of its nuclear, missile and other military arsenal --- in order to force the army to stop its operations in the Pashtun tribal belt. (3-7-09)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
Putting principles before profits