Lahore Blast: Terrorist act or false-flag operation?

Blast outside Hafiz Saeed's house at Lahore on June 23, 2021 (Photo: AFP)
Blast outside Hafiz Saeed's house at Lahore on June 23, 2021 (Photo: AFP)

When a massive blast shook Allah Hu boulevard, an upscale residential area of Jauhar Town in Lahore on 23 June killing three persons and injuring 21 others, no one knew for sure who was behind this attack. Neither was it clear who the intended target was.

However, Punjab’s Inspector General of Police [IGP] Inam Ghani was quick to confirm two things- one, that the it was an act of “terror”, and two, it was orchestrated by a “hostile” intelligence agency. Though he didn’t name who exactly the person in the crosshairs of the assassins was, but while highlighting how a “major loss” had been averted, because “there was a police picket outside the high-value target’s house”, he revealed that the person concerned was someone who really mattered.

It subsequently turned out that the person IGP Ghani was referring to as the “high value target”, who if harmed would have been a “major loss”, was none other than Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT] co-founder, Jamaat-ud-Daw [JuD] chief and 2008 Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed. Normally, for a high-ranking police official to address a UN designated terrorist serving a prison term on terror financing charges as a “high value target”, would besomething unheard of. But, in a country where the Prime Minister refers to 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden a “martyr” on the floor of National Assembly, for a lowly IGP to address to Saeed thus, is nothing unusual!

However, since Saeed is currently supposed to be serving out his jail sentence in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail, the Punjab IGP’s couched reference to him being the intended target of the Jauhar Town bomb blast made no sense. Similarly, even though this blast occurred near his house, the IGP’s claim of a “major loss” being averted seemed farfetched. How could the LeT co-founder who was lodged in a Kot Lakhpat Jail be harmed by a bomb that exploded outside his house more than 4 k.m. away? Unless of course, Saeed was present at his home that Wednesday morning when the blast took place.

While there was no official confirmation of IGP Ghani’s revelation about Hafiz Saeed being the intended target of the bomb attack, surprisingly, there wasn’t any official rebuttal either, and so, even the ‘politically correct’ Pakistani media widely reported that the JuD chief was indeed the intended target. So, it’s obvious that instead of serving out his time in jail, Hafiz Saeed was instead staying at home with his family. Though the very thought of a convict spending time at home instead of a jail may sound ludicrous, but in Pakistan there’s nothing unusual about this. Readers may recall that another 26/11 mastermind and senior LeT commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi fathered a child while he was ‘officially’ incarcerated in Pakistan’s high security Adiala jail after the 2008 Mumbai attacks!

During a joint press conference five days after this attack, Punjab Chief Minister [CM] Usman Buzdar and IGP Ghani reconfirmed that an “anti-Pakistan intelligence agency” was involved, without disclosing its identity. But this wasn’t necessary because by stating that the “basic target of the Lahore blast was the FATF conference,” it was crystal clear that Buzdar was referring to India’s Research and Analysis Wing [RAW]. However, a non-related but most impressive part of this conference was his disclosure that “The Counter-Terrorism Department [CTD] of the Punjab Police has unearthed the network of all Pakistani and international suspects involved in the blast within 16 hours of the incident”.

In a subsequent press briefing held on 4 July, Pakistan’s National Security Adviser [NSA] Dr Moeed Yusuf stated that “Today I can tell you, with full confidence, and without any ambiguity, that this whole attack is directly connected to India’s sponsorship of terrorism against Pakistan.” He even claimed that “We have identified the main mastermind and the handlers of this terrorist attack, and we have absolutely no doubt or reservation in informing you that the main mastermind belongs to RAW, the Indian intelligence agency, is an Indian national and is based in India.” However, like always, Islamabad failed to disclose the identity of this ‘RAW agent’ of Indian origin, even though IGP Ghani claimed that as far as the Lahore blast was concerned, “the telephone calls, WhatsApp calls, the whole record, everything [related to the attack] is with us.”

Many consider Punjab CM’s claim of having “unearthed the network of all Pakistani and international suspects involved in the blast within 16 hours of the incident,” just an attempt to salvage the reputation of Punjab Police. But fresh inputs suggest that this could well be true since the authorities got wind of this attack at least two weeks before it took place. In a piece titled “Lahore blast: The man who knew the plot,” [The News International, 3 August 2021], Umar Cheema has quoted a counter terrorism department [CTD] official telling ‘The News’ that:

  • A person named Naveed who was part of the bomb attack plot changed his mind and spilled the beans regarding this devious plan to policemen at the police picket outside Jamaat-ud-Dawa [JuD] chief Saeed’s house on June 7. The CTD official revealed that police in turn had shared this information with JuD officials.
  • Naveed lived in Dubai before returning to Pakistan, where he may have met fellow Pakistanis and co-conspirators Peter Paul David [who bought the car used in the blast] and another conspirator named Sajjad Shah.
  • An Afghan national named Eid Gul settled in Pakistan was the one who fitted explosives in the car and drove it to the blast site.
  • This plot was financed by one Samiul Haq, who had shifted from Dubai to Turkey.

The CTD official also confirmed that Naveed was questioned both by security agencies as well the Criminal Investigation Agency [CIA]. However, the most intriguing part is that despite being an invaluable asset who could identify the conspirators, Naveed was subsequently released! This inexplicable development raises a very disturbing question- even if Naveed was released as a favour for him exposing the plot against the JuD chief, when the identities of conspirators were known to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, why weren’t the potential plotters taken into preventive custody? Needless to say, had this basic security measure been instituted, the loss of three precious lives and serious injuries to 21 others, could have been avoided.

So, the only plausible explanation for such a humungous and incomprehensible security oversight on Islamabad’s part is that in all probability, this incident was in essence, a novel ‘false flag’ operation’ orchestrated by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies aimed at serving two purposes. One, to buttress Islamabad’s unproven but oft repeated allegations that New Delhi was manipulating international terror financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force [FATF] to ensure that Pakistan remained on its grey list a semblance of credibility. Simultaneously, by timing this attack when FATF was in the final stages of deciding whether to retain or remove Pakistan from its grey list, Islamabad probably reckoned that it could use this contrived bomb blast to earn the international terror financing watchdog’s sympathy by projecting itself as a ‘victim’ of terror unleashed by its Eastern neighbour!

Some may opine that the inference of Pakistani intelligence agencies orchestrating the Lahore bomb blast just to malign India is too farfetched. While there’s no doubt that this argument does sound a bit outlandish, but then, what else does one infer when despite getting prior information of a plot supposedly hatched by RAW, from the very horse’s mouth itself, Islamabad does nothing to prevent it? Secondly, why did ISI squander the golden opportunity to substantiate Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s allegation of New Delhi being involved in “planning as well as promotion and financing of terrorist activities” inside Pakistan by failing to roundup the entire gang of so-called RAW operatives who were planning this bomb attack? Lastly, if it really has clinching evidence of India’s role in the Lahore blast [as Qureshi, Pakistan’s NSA and Punjab IGP claim], then why is Islamabad dithering over making the same public?

With Islamabad displaying such a callous and uncharacteristically passive response to what it now claims to be a terror attack orchestrated by its nemesis RAW, there are all the reasons to suspect that there’s much more to the Lahore bomb blast than what meets the eye. Yet, the one thing which is certain is that whether it is by omission or commission, the Lahore blast indisputably falls well within the realms of a ‘false flag operation’!

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