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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pakistan struggles with damage control
By Syed Saleem Shahzad KARACHI - Pakistan is getting the backlash it expected after the military action to root out militants from the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad, but further violent reaction could come from a new kind of enemy. The country's intelligence agencies have warned President General Pervez Musharraf to expect an explosion of violence, some of it from a loosely interlaced network of underground militants across the country. Militants claim that more than 1,500 people, mostly madrassa students, died in the attack on the Lal Masjid last week, which lasted several days. The government places the deaths at 75. According to the intelligence warnings, the reaction will include kidnappings and killings of Pakistan Army officers and family members. The president has also been informed that the Inter-Services Intelligence's (ISI's) proxy network in the tribal areas is collapsing. A manifestation of this is the Taliban's removal of Haji Nazir as commander of South Waziristan. Nazir this year led a massacre of Uzbek militants in the tribal area, in cooperation with the Pakistani armed forces. Top military and civilian leaders are trying their hardest to talk to the Pakistani Taliban in an effort to defuse the situation, but it is little-known militant groups that pose the biggest threat, and the ISI has little or no access to them. Dozens of security personnel have already been killed in the tribal areas since the raid on the Red Mosque, and more attacks are expected. Changing facesAs a general rule, Islamic militants have a strong knowledge of Islamic tenants and they have a roadmap of Islamic revolution imprinted on their minds, including a full understanding of what constitutes a model Islamic state. From recently spending time with militants in the "red" zones of the Swat Valley in NWFP and Bajaur Agency, a different picture emerges. Previous interaction over the years with militants suggested that they at least were obsessed with defeating the Western coalition in Afghanistan and reviving the Taliban government. However, the present breed of jihadis rapidly emerging in the Swat Valley, Bajaur, North Waziristan and South Waziristan is different. The militants this correspondent encountered could hardly be called "revolutionary", and they were not fully trained combatants. At best they could be described as disgruntled youths who have been manipulated by clerics, or simply fired up by incidents such as Lal Masjid. They are up in arms and want to take on the government. They say they want to kill Musharraf, but they don't know how, or what they would do next. This scenario promises to generate serious violence, but not revolution. The militants are divided into small groups, united only in a desire to fight their common enemy, the Pakistani military establishment. Of dozens of such militants this correspondent met, Rauf (not his real name) is a good example. He is a student at a madrassa in a village in the Malakand area of Swat. Rauf's journey to jihad began when a few years ago he heard one of the famous speeches of Maulana Masood Azhar, called "Babri Masjid", on an audio cassette. Azhar's Jaish-e-Mohammed was involved in the struggle over disputed Kashmir with India, and the tape dealt with the topic of a temple site disputed between Muslims and Hindus in India. An inspired Rauf went to Afghanistan for several months. He interacted with several charismatic people and chose the life of a Talib (student) and made jihad the motto of his life. "I did not read much. I only started my Islamic learning recently. Actually, my inspiration was the people around me in Afghanistan's jihadi camps. One person was Shiekh Omar [Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh - involved in the killing of US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002]. I was one of his students. He used to teach us sophisticated techniques of guerrilla warfare, including hijacking aircraft. We were all thrilled by his charismatic personality." Rauf claims that he is ready to take on the military, like his fellow villagers, once they are deployed in the Swat Valley. Maulana Fazlullah, the leader of the banned pro-Taliban Tehrik-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM - Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws) has announced that people should remain peaceful as long as troops are in the towns in the area, but once they are stationed in the mountains they are fair targets. The military establishment has hurriedly contacted a number of religious leaders to get them to use their influence in calming militants, but their authority does not extend to many of these new militants, including even Fazlullah. Last Thursday's attack on a military convoy in Swat illustrates this. The man who rammed his car into the trucks - killing himself and several policemen - was initially suspected to be one of Fazlullah's people. In fact it was Noor Mohammed, once the chief of the banned Harkat ul-Mujahideen in Malakand Agency. He had been underground for the past few years and had developed his own network of youths scattered in remote villages. Noor was a planner of asymmetric warfare, which he learned in training camps in Afghanistan. Contacts close to his network believe that he never planned to carry out the attack but was transporting explosives in his car, as well as suicide jackets. They say that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time and, when he realized he was in the middle of a convoy, he detonated some explosives, as he knew he would be caught. But whether he set out on that day as a suicide bomber or became one on the spur of the moment is not the point. What has alarmed the authorities is that he had fallen off their radar screens. They now suspect there are many more such networks as Noor's, and they could stretch across the country. This adds yet another facet to Musharraf's struggle against extremism and militancy.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at (Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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