Monday, May 03, 2010

What Explains Which Terrorist Incidents The TTP Claims As Opposed To The Ones They Deny?

I've been thinking about this issue for a while, but it's really been brought to the fore with the Times Square attempted car-bombing. The basic story, as we know, is that the Taliban in Pakistan have attempted to take "credit" for the attempt. This claim to the bombing has been widely dismissed, as typified by this NYT report
No motive had been determined in the attempted bombing, and federal and local officials said there was no evidence to support a claim of responsibility issued Sunday by a Pakistani Taliban group that has a reputation for making far-fetched attempts to take credit for attacks.

and this Juan Cole blog post
The claim made by Hakimu’llah Mahsud, a leader of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan), that his group was behind the failed attempt to set off an incendiary bomb in Time Square, is probably just grandstanding.

Now, let's assume that these dismissals are valid; that the Taliban was not responsible either directly or indirectly. The question I have been thinking about for a while, in terms of potential research topics for an academic paper, is: what explains why the Taliban take credit for some attacks (even if they are widely acknowledged to not be responsible, such as this Times Square incident) but deny others (even those that they are widely acknowledged to be responsible for, such as the Benazir Bhutto assassination)?

Clearly this is a strategic choice; it's not as if people wake up one day and decide randomly what they're going to claim and what they're going to deny. So what determines that strategic choice? I actually have no idea.

We do know what it's not. It's not determined by the scale or success of an attack. If that was the guiding measure, why would they deny a hugely successful and ground-breaking attack like the one that killed BB, but claim a sputtering, pathetic attempt that was foiled pretty easily?

It is also not a civilian vs. military issue. The Taliban regularly claim both attacks on military targets as well as civilian targets.

It is not a Muslim vs. non-Muslim issue. The Taliban regularly claim both attacks on Muslim (and Muslim countries) as well as non-Muslims (and non-Muslim countries).

I think the only way to actually figure this out would be to compile a database of denials and claims, and then parse the data. It actually wouldn't take a dedicated graduate student that long to do this. I wish I had the time, but unfortunately I cannot write this paper. But it remains an interesting question which deserves an answer.


Smci said...

I suppose it begs the question that if the likes of David Headley (Da'ud Gilani), who is a DC born, Chicago native, can change his name and conspire with Lashkar-e-Tayyiba to carry out attacks in India, why can't the TTP funnel some money to some loser in Jackson Heights and persuade him to kill people in Time Square in their name?

I mean it's plausible. But we can only go, epistemologically, on what the FBI says is the case. And they say it wasn't the TTP.

I think these guys are just crazy enough to try and strike deep in the heart of the kaafirs (Time Square?) assuming it'll scare them into leaving them alone in Waziristan?

Who the hell knows. It's all cloak-and-dagger crap anyways. No one really knows what the hell is going on without any measure of skepticism.

Saim said...

I think the answer may seem far less complex than it seems.The TTP has various tactical choices that clash with their strategic goals.

Killing BB maybe very effective for them.It is not the most popular thing for them.Strategically, owning up to it would have been a disaster.An attack in NY on the other hand, reinforces their narrative of launching a jihad against the West and defending Islamic sovereignty (for whatever it is worth).

If you look at the way they selectively disseminate their propaganda, it becomes clear that they have different messages for different audiences.Propaganda videos in Swat would be very different from press releases which are directed mainly at the conservative urban population.So while the media campaign in Swat was quite ruthless in terms of the chilling videos sent around on DVD's, the message is different when intended for the Pakistani public at large.The message shifts from their brutal tactics, to their ostensibly noble (in the eyes of many right wing apologists) strategy of making the country Islamic/ getting rid of foreign forces/ reclaiming sovereignty etc.

I realize I am broadening the scope of the original question (claiming responsibility for attacks) to their media campaigns in general.However, I do think that these claims generally fit in to their PR strategy.In fact, they form a vital cog of it.

karachikhatmal said...

i think saim has hit the nail on the head.

any attack in america is impressive - failed or otherwise. anyone would want to lay claim to that.

you ask why they would want to take credit for what is essentially a spluttering failure, and my answer is not academic. but imagine a taliban supporter/sympathizer - he is always going to be mistrustful of anything the FBI says, and as such they would start claiming that the US has 'hidden' what really happened, and that the TTP's reach extends to `NYC. thats a huge propaganda victory.

as for the BB assassination, two caveats. firstly, i don't believe that it was carried out purely by the TTP - the army's role is too damning. as such, claiming the attack may not have been permitted by the handlers etc. secondly, having seen the reaction to the attack, even if the TTP had planned to claim credit, they would have changed their minds. it would have been too stupid.

like all other pakistani politics, there is no ideology or design at work here. just good old fashioned pragmatism.

Smci said...

Yeah, Saim is right.

Taking credit for the BB thing would have made them the enemies of over a 100 million people in their immediate vacinity over night.

Whereas everybody and their Ammi would quietly understand why the US is a target of their terror, and some may even say its deserved.


Anonymous said...

Wondering when you will write a post on this?

Amna Zaman said...

Saim is right. Half of the time these people have no link to the terrorist actions but hey claim it because they want to show that they have not yet failed as an organization and take credit of it to protect their repute. Arrest like the one of faisal shahzad will be a good lead for further crack downs in time to come.

Zulfiqar said...

It is important to understand that these guys have no religion; why we keep on associating them with Islam and its teachings. Majority of the population are against TTP and their activities, so it doesn’t reflect people’s will either.

Ammar said...

The Taliban are actually quite tactful while rendering a claim to any incidents, and as some has mentioned earlier any attack against U.S or West will taken well by the general public back home, however they will not claim responsibility for attacks on crowded markets or mosques and this would cause a public outrage. So the idea is to maintain a soft corner with the public and make then believe that they target only the west and all other incidents are conspiracies

Anon #24 said...

Talibans' motive = Terror of insecurity
BB's murder = Political Chaos


Ahsan said...

The Taliban regularly claim big attacks on Pakistani civilians. The Lahore market bombings a couple months ago for one:

So it's not as if they have a problem claiming attacks that are against non-Americans, and that would make them more unpopular in Pakistan (which presumably attacks in LHR would).

Smci said...

Turns out God has a sense of humor.

The guy who reported the suspicious car to the police was a Senegalese Muslim street vendor.

Anonymous said...

What explains why people ask irrelevant questions?

Anonymous said...

"The guy who reported the suspicious car to the police was a Senegalese Muslim street vendor"...

Senegalese, not Pakistani, unfortunately....

Smci said...

hahah Yeah, I already chewed out my Senegalese co-worker for betraying their fellow Muslims.