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Looming Jihadi Anarchy in Pakistan

First published by SAAG on March 30, 2007

There has been an increasingly disturbing challenge to the authority of Pakistan’s President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, from jihadis inspired by the Neo Taliban and Al Qaeda, who are actively supported by a group of retired officers of the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). This group is led by Gen. Mohammad Aziz, a Kashmiri Sudan from the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, Lt. Gen. Javed Nasir, Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, Maj.Gen. Zahir-ul-Islam Abbasi and Sq. Leader Khalid Khawaja.

Mohammad Aziz and Mahmood Ahmed used to be the most trusted Lt.Gen. of Musharraf when he took over as the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) in October,1998. It is they who staged the coup against Nawaz Sharif, the then Prime Minister, on October 12,1999, when he dismissed Musharraf while he was flying from Colombo to Karachi and ordered Lt. Gen. Ziauddin, the then DG of the ISI, to take over as the COAS. They prevented Ziauddin from taking over and overthrew Nawaz even before Musharraf’s plane landed in Karachi. After taking over as the Chief Executive, Musharraf sacked Ziauddin and had him arrested. He promoted Mahmood Ahmed in his place as the DG of the ISI.

The US did not feel comfortable with them because of their perceived links with the Islamic fundamentalist elements and they had to be shifted by Musharraf under US pressure in October 2001. Mohammad Aziz, who was then the Chief of the General Staff (CGS) in the Army Headquarters, was transferred to Lahore as a Corps Commander. Ahmed was also transferred to a Corps. Both of them have since retired. They were lying low for a while avoiding participating in any activities directed against Musharraf. Even now, they avoid any statements, remarks or actions, which could be misinterpreted as anti-Musharraf, but they have been increasingly hobnobbing with Hamid Gul.

Hamid Gul was the DG of the ISI under Mrs.Benazir Bhutto during the first few months of her first tenure as the Prime Minister (1988 to 90), but she removed him from the post following the fiasco of an attack by the Afghan Mujahideen and Osama bin Laden’s followers which he had organised in a bid to capture Jalalabad from the control of the then Afghan President Najibullah’s army in 1989. The attack was repulsed by the Afgan Army after inflicting heavy casualties on the invaders.

After his retirement, Hamid Gul joined the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) of Qazi Hussain Ahmed and worked for some years for the Pasban, the militant youth wing of the JEI. He is no longer with the Pasban. He now owns a flourishing road transport business and has been at the forefront of all anti-Musharraf and anti-US activities by ex-servicemen. He has also been helping the Neo Taliban and its Amir, Mulla Mohammad Omar, in running their training camps in Pakistani territory. He has also rallied the support of many ex-servicemen for the current agitation by the lawyers and the JEI against Musharraf over the suspension of Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury, the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, on March 9, 2007.

Javed Nasir, former Amir of the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ), was the DG of the ISI during Nawaz Sharif’s first tenure as the Prime Minister (1990-93). The US forced Nawaz to sack him because of its unhappiness over his perceived non-co-operation in the implementation of a project of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for the purchase of the unused Stinger missiles from the Afghan Mujahideen. Since then, he has been virulently anti-US and has been helping the Neo Taliban and the TJ. He has also been playing an active role in the mobilisation of TJ cadres to join the lawyer’s agitation. Mohammad Rafique Tarar, former President, who was removed from office by Musharraf in 2001, has also been in the forefront of this agitation. He was and continues to be an active member of the TJ.

Abbasi used to be the ISI station chief in New Delhi in the late 1980s. He was expelled by the Government of India. In 1995, the Pakistan Army then headed by Gen. Adul Waheed Kakar, discovered a plot by Abbasi and some other officers to have the General and Benazir Bhutto, then Prime Minster for a second time (1993-96), assassinated and capture power. They were working secretly with the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI). They were arrested, court-martialled and jailed. After coming out of jail, Abbasi has been active in campaigning against the policies of Musharraf. He is since reported to have joined the Hizbut-Tehrir (HT), which has many followers in the lower levels of the army.

Khawaja was also in the ISI and used to be in touch with the Taliban after it came into being in 1994 and Osma bin Laden after he shifted to Afghanistan in 1996. After leaving the ISI, he joined the Jamaat-ul-Furqa (JUF) of Sheikh Syed Mubarik Ali Shah Jilani, which has many followers in the Muslim communities of the US and the West Indies. Daniel Pearl had sought his help for arranging a meeting with Jilani. Pearl wanted to enquire about any links between the JUF and Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. It was Khawaja, who had tipped off the kidnappers of Pearl about his Jewish background and created a suspicion in their mind that Pearl had links with the CIA and Mossad. He is now in detention on a charge of instigating the women students of a madrasa of Islamabad (Jamia Hafsa) to start an agitation against the demolition of some mosques in Islamabad. This agitation has been going on for the last two months. In addition to other demands, the agitating women students, who project themselves as future wives and mothers of suicide bombers, are now demanding his release from jail. They have been shouting slogans in praise of bin Laden and Mulla Omar.

These retired officers and their followers have been actively helping the Neo Taliban by organising training camps for its recruits and by facilitating its procurement of arms and ammunition. They have also been instigating the madrasas not to comply with the orders of Musharraf for their registration and for the expulsion of foreign students. They have also been urging the tribals in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to continue to provide hospitality to the Neo Taliban and Al Qaeda in their territory and help them in their operations in the Afghan territory. They have been encouraging the lawyers to keep up their agitation against Musharraf.

The jihadis trained, armed and motivated by them have stepped up their activities not only in Afghan territory against the NATO forces, but also in Pakistani territory in reprisal for the co-operation allegedly extended by Musharraf to the US in its war against Al Qaeda and the Neo Taliban. Recent examples of the resulting escalation in the jihadi violence in Pakistani territory are:

  • An unidentified suicide bomber blew himself up at a military training ground near Kharian, 130 kilometers south-east of Islamabad, on March 29, 2007, killing one (some reports say three) soldier and wounding at least six more. Three Lt. Gen of the Pakistan Army were to visit the camp that day. It is not yet known whether he was planning to kill them and blew himself up prematurely. As the suicide attacker approached the training centre, an Army security guard stopped and asked him to show his identity card. The attacker blew himself up. This is the eighth incident involving a suicide bomber in Pakistani territory since the beginning of this year.
  • On March 27, 2007, unidentified gunmen on motorbikes hurled grenades and opened fire on an army vehicle in the Bajaur Agency, killing five persons, including two officials of the ISI, one of them a middle-level officer of the rank of Assistant Director. This attack came despite a cease-fire agreement concluded by the Army earlier this week with the pro-Neo Taliban tribal leaders of the Agency.
  • On March 28, there was a confrontation between the Islamabad police and the agitating women students of the Jamia Hafsa madrasa. The students took hostage three women from a house near Lal Masjid to which the madrasa is attached. They accused them of running a brothel. The police retaliated by capturing four members of the staff of the madrasa. The women retaliated from their side by setting fire to a police van and taking two police officers hostage. Ultimately, the two sides released their respective hostages. The deputy imam of the Lal Masjid, which is headed by Qazi Abdul Aziz, and the agitating women students have given a 15- day ultimatum to the police to release Khalid Khawaja and four other activists of their movement who have been detained. The agitating women students and their male supporters from other madrasas nearby attacked police vehicles and seized their communication sets. The pro-Neo Taliban madrasas and mosques in the Islamabad area have managed to get hold of FM radio equipment from the FATA, to which many of the women students belong, and started making anti-Musharraf and anti-US broadcasts to the people of the capital.
  • On March 26, 2007, there was a clash between the police of Tank (previously known as Tonk), a district headquarters town of the NWFP, and some recruiters of the Neo Taliban who went to a local school to recruit its students to the Neo Taliban. One police officer and one of the recruiters were killed. About 200 members of the Neo Taliban raided the town in retaliation for the death of the recruiter on March 28, looted the local banks and engaged in exchanges of fire with the local security forces for six hours in different parts of the town. The Army had to be called out and a curfew imposed in order to restore law and order.

Earlier, on March 6, 2007, the Governor of the NWFP Lt-Gen (retd) Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai, had convened a meeting attended by the Chief Minister, Mr. Akram Khan Durrani, and senior officials of the province to discuss the worsening law and order situation in the province due to the escalation in the activities of the Neo Taliban and its local supporters. According to the “Dawn” of Karachi (March 29), the local officials gave the following assessment to the Governor: ““Inaction on the part of the law-enforcement agencies has led to the Government being on the retreat. Writ of the government shrinking with every passing day. Vacuum being filled by non-state actors. Respect for law and state authority gradually diminishing. Morale of the law-enforcing agencies and people supportive of the Government on the decline. Talibanisation, lawlessness and terrorism on the rise.”

The following points were reportedly made at the meeting: The number of bomb explosions in the NWFP increased from 27 in 2005 to 35 in 2006.In the first two months of this year, there have already been 25 explosions, killing 23 persons. Talibanisation has particularly affected Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu and Lakki Marwat. There has been a resurgence of the activities of the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi, particularly in the Swat region where Maulana Fazlullah alias Maulana Radio was making full use of his illegally set up FM radio station to carry on propaganda against the Government. While the situation is getting out of control, there appears to be a total paralysis and inaction on the part of the Federal Government.

Sources in the local police force say that a time when there has been an escalation in the activities of the Neo Taliban and Al Qaeda in the FATA and the NWFP, they are finding themselves handicapped in dealing with the situation for want of adequate forces. According to them, Musharraf has been giving priority to quelling the Baloch nationalist movement in Balochistan rather than to action against the Neo Taliban and Al Qaeda. As a result, there are more security forces deployed in Balochistan than in the FATA and the NWFP. The peace agreements signed by him with the pro-Taliban elements in South and North Waziristan and Bajaur agencies were mainly intended to enable the Army to divert forces to Balochistan. This has given a free field for the Neo Taliban and Al Qaeda in the FATA and the NWFP. They have not only stepped up their offensive against the NATO forces in Afghanistan, but also launched an offensive against the Pakistani security forces themselves in Pakistani territory.

The Neo Taliban, assisted by Al Qaeda, has become Musharraf’s Frankenstein’s monster. He helped in its post-9/11 resurgence to achieve Pakistan’s Afghan agenda. It is showing signs of slipping out of his control. As regards the role of the retired officers backing the Neo Taliban with their own anti-US agenda, it is doubtful whether they would have instigated some of the incidents mentioned above such as the suicide attack at a training camp of the army and the killing of two ISI officers.

It would seem that the Neo Taliban has assumed a momentum of its own and is increasingly not amenable to anybody’s control—-either Musharraf’s or his detrators’. The international community has reasons to be seriously concerned over the goings-on in Pakistan. It is slowly moving towards a situation of jihadi anarchy.