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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What is cooking between the US and the Pakistani Army ? - Part III

In the earlier installment of this series, I discussed the North Waziristan (NW)issue and how important it was for Pakistan to have a normal relationship with the US. But, a slew of recent incidents do not bode well for the Pakistan-US relationship to recover soon. At least once a week these days, there is an incident that sets back the US-Pakistan relationship by a few notches. Suddenly, one finds that the US Administration that used to be so mindful of Pakistani sensitivities is no longer so and it is causing a lot of discomfort in Pakistan, especially the Pakistani Army. One feature of the on-going spat between the two countries is that while the entire administration, the CIA and the US Armed forces are involved from the US side, it is only the ISI and the PA who are involved from the Pakistani side, not the civilian government.

Let us see some of the recent incidents that are indicators of the worsening situation.

The revelations of Daoud Sayed Gilani alias David Coleman Headley and his buddy-turned-baddie Tahawwur Hussain Rana in a US Court under oath have nailed the nexus between the Pakistani Army (PA), Lashkar-e-Tayba, the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) and the Mumbai 26/11 terror attack. There were nothing new in these revelations that those who follow Pakistan did not know, but they have now acquired legality. In the same genre is the recent arrest of Ghulam Nabi Fai, the Director of Kashmir American Council (KAC), who was arrested in Virgina over attempts to influence politicians and opinion-makers on the Kashmir issue. The US Justice Department said the KAC had received up to $4 million in illegal contributions from the ISI. Ghulam Nabi Fai was arrested on the charge of having violated laws (Foreign Agents Registration Act, FARA) which prohibit work for foreign governments without registering with the Attorney General. The Justice Department also charged a second man, Zaheer Ahmad, with recruiting dummy donors for the KAC, through whom the ISI routed the funds. The chargesheet said that Dr. Fai reported to several ISI officials, identified as Brigadier Javed Aziz Khan, Brigadier Sohail Mehmood, Lieutenant-Colonel Tauqeer Mehmood Butt and the former head of the organisation's security directorate, Major-General Mumtaz Bajwa. Pakistan reacted sharply to the news by charcterizing it as a 'campaign of slander'. The fact that the arrest has taken place now while the US was aware for decades of KAC's connections back to Pakistan and the fact that names and ranks of ISI handlers of Ghulam Nabi Fai were also revealed in contrast to the way similar ISI handlers of David Coleman Headley were studiously kept secret for a long while, and that action came so swiftly after a hurried one-and-a-half-day trip to Washington by the ISI chief Lt. Gen. Shuja Ahmed Pasha, go to prove yet again that the US-Pakistan relationship is steadily moving towards a breaking point. It can be speculated that the ISID did not meet all the demands of the US and therefore the US decided to turn the screw a little bit more. As if on cue (most probably under prompting from the US), the Scotland Yard also initiated a probe into the activities and financing of London-based Kashmir lobby group, Justice Foundation, suspected to be another ISI-front like the KAC. A Scotland Yard spokesman told Times of India, "We can confirm we are liaising with US authorities."

The May 2 operations in eliminating Osama bin Laden at the Pakistani garrison town of Abbotabad in a house at a stone's throw away from the premier Pakistani Military Academy (PMA) have indeed been the most major proof of Pakistan's perfidy even as it claimed itself to be fighting to eliminate global terrorism and as one of the worst sufferers of terror. After the incident, Pakistan has been on an arrest spree arresting those who were suspected to have helped the US in executing the daring raid. Though this is understandable, Pakistan has not made much efforts in finding out anything about how Osama bin Laden came to reside in a garrison town for six years. The appointment of commissions to inquire into Abbottabad and journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad's death seem to be half-hearted. On May 31, the Government of Pakistan (GoP) announced a commission under a serving Supreme Court judge , Justice Javed Iqbal, only for the judge to take exception to it because neither he nor the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) was consulted before announcing his name. The same mistake was repeated in the Shahzad commission of enquiry as well a few weeks later. It was finally on June 20 that a letter was sent to the CJP asking him to suggest a name for the commission into the Abbottabad incident. So, after more than a month after a commission of enquiry was announced, the Head of the Commission was finalized. If past experience with commissions in Pakistan is any indication, these commissions are also doomed to end without revealing anything. The Commissions of Enquiry into Liaquat Ali Khan's death (the commission members along with all documents were lost when the plane they were travelling blew up mysteriously), Zia-ul-Haq's death, Ms. Benazir Bhutto's assassination are some examples which come to mind immediately. The deep nexus between the PA/ISI and the LeT revealed by another participant in the Mumbai 26/11 attacks (Ajmal Amir Kasab, one of the terrorists caught alive in the middle of the act) and the reluctance of the Government of Pakistan to proceed meaningfully in the investigation and prosecution of 26/11-associated terrorists prove that all sections of the Pakistani state are complicit in terror.

The attack on PNS Mehran that led to a pitched battle between the members of Brigade 313 (a part of Harkat-ul-Jihadi-Islami or HuJI) that lasted 12 hours and led to the gutting down of two P3-C Maritime Patrol aircraft in a well protected naval facility in the heart of Karachi show the clout of the Punjabi Taliban (a part of Al Qaeda and Allied Movements or AQAM) within the armed forces. The Pakistani Navy (PN) sources accepted that there had been considerable inside help for the attack. The intrepid Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad exposed the reasons for the attack alluding to the wheeling and dealing between the PN and the AQAM that went sour. He paid the price with his life immediately thereafter. The fact that the US decided to indict the Pakistani government (not directly the ISI though everybody in Pakistan believes that it is the 'angels' who did this) at the highest levels for Shahzad's murder is another indication of the US administration's determination to embarrass the Honour & Dignity (H&D) of the Pakistani Army and the ISI. It was unmistakable though whom the US was targetting because the indictment came from Joint Chiefs' of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, not from Secretary of State, Ms. Clinton. Adm. Mullen said that Shahzad's death was 'barbaric and unacceptable'.

The US has also demanded Pakistan target the new Al Qaeda chief, Ayman al Zawahiri. In his first trip to Afghanistan in the new role as the US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta who successfully executed the Abbottabad operation, has said that Zawahiri was located in FATA. He also said some of the top 20 Al Qaeda leaders that the US was targetting were in Pakistan. Reacting to this, the PA asked the US to share intelligence with them, knowing fully well that such a sharing will not occur. The US vice admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the Bin Laden raid, said "the US military believes that Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar is in Pakistan and had asked the Pakistani army to locate him". As usual, the Pakistanis demand proof. This is the cat-and-mouse game that the Pakistanis play demanding other countries to show proof of what was happening well within their very own borders and with their patronage and full knowledge. When in frustration the US acts either by sending in UACVs (Unmanned Aerial Combat Vehicle) or sending in US Navy SEALs, Pakistan cries foul of having its sovereignty being violated.

One more irritant in the relationship is the Shamsi airbase. Apparently, this airstrip was ceded to the Sheikhs of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for them to come hunting the endangered houbara bustards to enhance their virility. While every country takes steps to protect endangered species, here is Pakistan which allows Arab Kings and Sheikhs to hunt down the bustard. The Pakistani Air Force (PAF) Chief openly admitted to the cession of the airstrip, in the National Assembly (or Parliament). The Arabs, in turn, handed the strip over to the Americans who have been operating the UACVs from there. The Pakistanis knew about the arrangement. As the relationship soured, they demanded the Americans to vacate the airbase a few months back. Pakistani defence minister Chaudhry Mukhtar Ahmed who is known for his foot-in-the-mouth disease said that the US had been asked to vacate the Shamsi airbase. But, the US simply refused to vacate the base. Said an US official, "US personnel have not left the remote military installation known as Shamsi Air Base and there is no plan for them to do so. That base is neither vacated nor being vacated". Pakistan's information minister and a member of the Defence Committee, Dr. Ms. Firdous Ashiq Awan told reporters later that no demand had been made for U.S. personnel to leave the base. So much for Pakistani cries of sovereignty !

The radicalization of the Pakistani armed forces has reached an unprecedented and high proportion. This is not surprising since a very significant section of the Pakistani society - in spite of pious denials by the Rich Anglophille Pakistani Elite in media, Internet and diplomatic circles - has been radicalized and the troops coming from such a religiously surcharged and radicalized environment cannot be expected to be any different. Besides, the Pakistani armed forces were never secular themselves as secularism is widely and mistakenly perceived within this Islamic republic as being anti-God. On the other hand, they had always used Islam as their proud badge. Going one step further, the Pakistani Army redefined its ethos as 'Iman, Taqwah, Jihad-fi-Sabilillah' (or, Faith, Fear of Allah and Jihad in the way of Allah) during the Zia-era. This is a far cry from the slogan given to Pakistan by Jinnah which was “Unity, Faith and Discipline(Ittehad, Yaqeen aur Tanzeem)”. It was no wonder therefore when a PA officer lamented, when deployed to fight the Taliban, that he joined the Army to kill the Indians and not his own Muslim brothers. A milestone at the end of the obstacle course in the SSG (or, Special Service Group) training centre in Cherat once listed the distances to Jerusalem, Delhi and, of course, Kabul. While Kabul and India are understandable, the reference to Jerusalem betrays the ambitions of the Pakistani Army which considers itself as the 'Defenders of the Islamic Ideology' in addition to defending the geographical boundaries of Pakistan. Thus, the noted Pakistani historian and commentator Ms. Farzana Shaikh says, the Pakistani Army has been transitioned from being a ‘colonial Army’ to a ‘national Army’ and now to a ‘transnational Army’. It is an entirely different matter though that the fiercely fundamentalist Taliban described the Pakistani Army as ‘napak fauj’ (impure Army) working at the behest of CIA and FBI, in pamphlets distributed in the mosques of certain FATA agencies in March 2010. No wonder they are angry with the PA because an army that prides itself to be defenders of Islamic ideology could not have sided with the infidels and attacked the purer variety of Muslims such as the Taliban. The Army has always prided itself in being seen in the company of hardcore jihadi Islamist Taliban and also in identifying with their line of thinking. Leaders of various political parties, including Prime Ministers, have echoed such a sentiment. The accommodation between Ms. Bhutto and the Sipah-e-Saheba-Pakistan (SSP) in c. 1993 or between Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N and SSP in c. 2008 and later in c. 2010 are cases in point. The 'bad Taliban' are therefore angry that suddenly the PA has started distinguishing between the 'good' and the 'bad' Taliban. The nexus between the Army and the Taliban, which was the Army’s own creation, came unstuck in c. 2008 when the PA was forced to fight the Taliban under US pressure and the Taliban called the Pakistani Army ‘anti-Islamic’. The considerable anger against the PA for its action against the Ghazi brothers of Lal Masjid in central Islamabad added fuel to the fire. There was considerable radicalization within the society after this event. And, the PA, being drawn from the same society naturally reflects that religious extremism. A US Embassy cable from Islamabad in March 2006, leaked by the WikiLeaks in c. 2011, reports a conversation in which Pakistan's then Deputy Chief of Air Staff for Operations, Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Khalid Chaudhry, saying that the airmen, most of whom came from rural villages, were being radicalised by extremist Islamic clerics. The cable quotes AVM Chaudhry as saying, "You can't imagine what a hard time we have trying to get to trim their beards." Not that the PA were secular in the three decades after the 60s. The Islamization project launched by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and carried forward ruthlessly to very high levels by his successor Gen. Zia-ul-Haq ensured that the PA would become Islamist rapidly. By his own admission, the then DG, ISI, Lt. Gen Mahmoud Ahmed admitted to a RAND Corp. analyst as far back as circa 2000, that 15 to 16% of the army officer corps were religious extremists. It has progressed to such dangerous levels now that in February 2011, when the Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated by his own police bodyguard for his stand on the Blasphemy Law, the COAS Gen. Kiyani refused to condemn it or even issue any condolence to the Taseer family. He confided to Western diplomats that there were too many religious fundamentalists in the Pakistani Army that such an overt sympathy might lead to disunity within the Army ranks.

This 'awareness' about the PA therefore leads us to conclude that the PA is split vertically between two camps. It is axiomatic that the PA wants to avenge the various defeats it suffered in the hands of the Indian Army, most notably the 13-day Bangladesh war in c. 1971 which saw the Indian Army (IA) slice through the PA in the east, make gains on the western front, and led to the humiliating surrender at Dhaka of 93000 soldiers. This was too much of a shock for a society brought up on honour and dignity, on the myths of invincibility of Muslim soldiers in wars, on the cowardliness of the Indian soldiers and the mythical ratio of how one PA soldier equals 10 IA soldiers. Since then, it is generally accepted that the Pakistani Military Academy (PMA) cadets trained at Abbottabad, where Osama bin Laden was eventually found comfortably ensconced, always take an oath to avenge the 1971 defeat. In order to carry out this impossible task, the PA generals drew up an exotic plan of 'Strategic Depth' (SD) within Afghanistan especially as the liberation war started in c. 1979. The various Pakistani terrorist groups created for Afghan jihad were then let loose on India, the original purpose for which they were created in the first instance. Unfortunately, the AQAM went too far with its 9/11 attacks forcing an unwilling Pakistani President, Gen. Musharraf, to temporarily align with the Americans and pronounce his opposition to terror against India even if for tactical reasons only. The AQAM, driven out of Afghanistan, redefined its strategy in the wake of its betrayal by the Pakistani state. It viewed Gen. Musharraf as the head of an impious Muslim Army that needed to be delivered from the clutches of munafiq Generals. Military actions by the PA under pressure from the US caused more anger among the followers of the more pious brand of Islam. The AQAM therefore decided to reclaim the Pakistani state for itself. Thus, AQAM devised the Reverse Strategic Depth (RSD) doctrine as an answer to the SD doctrine of the PA that caused them so much grief. Today, therefore, it is a jihad between the proponents of the RSD (whose numbers are increasing by the day) and those of the SD (whose numbers are decreasing by the day). The proponents of the SD are under immense pressure from the US to do certain things that cause more bitterness among the RSD elements. It is for this reason that the PA arrested Brigadier Ali Khan, posted at the Army Headquarters, for maintaining contacts with the Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT). It was simply a case of trying to impress American masters that GoP and the PA were serious about purging the armed forces of such fundamentalist elements. Later, PA announced four more army officers were under interrogation for similar links with HuT. But, these arrests also prove how much the RSD Islamist extremists have infiltrated the PA. The leader of the RSD-supporting AQAM, Ayman al Zawahiri, continues to reside in Pakistan and continues to issue frequent exhortations to the Pakistani masses to rise in revolt against the PA. Still, the PA is demanding intelligence information from the Americans as to his whereabouts. That also demonstrates the dominance of the RSD-group within the PA. The SD Generals do not want to go overboard with their support to the Americans as they are caught between a rock and a hard place. They fear a mutiny within the rank-and-file of the PA. They are therefore unable to give up two of their remaining assets, the LeT (Lashkar-e-Tayba) and the Haqqani Shura located in North Waziristan along with other warlords such as Gul Bahadur et al.

Unfortunately for the SD Generals, their remaining friends have caused much harm to American interests and are declared as 'bad Taliban' by them. So, the 'good Taliban' of the PA are termed otherwise in the books of the US. These SD-pasand good Taliban, who are also slayers of Shi'a muslims otherwise just like the 'bad' Taliban, suddenly entered into a peace agreement with the Shi'a in the Kurram province of FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Agency) in February 2011. For several years now, the Taliban had cutoff road access for the Shi'a in this region. The sudden change was prompted by the need to have an escape route in case of PA action in North Waziristan (NW). {See this for incidents in NW} The peace deal would help the Taliban escape in such an eventuality from NW into either other FATA areas such as Orakzai or into Afghanistan provinces such as Logar or Paktya or Khost as Kurram is strategically located with a panhandle-like extension into Afghanistan. The recent spat between the CIA and the ISI has therefore been used by the PA to delay, if not altogether scuttle, the operation in North Waziristan. The Americans are not amused.

On July 20, 2011, the powerful U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs passed the Defence Authorisation bill which prohibits further security aid to Pakistan until the Secretary of State provides certification affirming various aspects of Pakistani cooperation in the war on terror. It also prohibits further civilian assistance until the effectiveness of such programmes is certified by the Secretary of State, in addition to a certification on Pakistan’s cooperation in the war on terror. The Chairman of the Committee, Congresswoman Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said “The language in this bill puts that (Pakistan) government on notice that it is no longer business as usual and that they will be held to account if they continue to refuse to cooperate with our efforts to eliminate the nuclear black market, destroy the remaining elements of Osama Bin Laden’s network and vigorously pursue our counter-terrorism objectives. I think the prospect of a cut-off of assistance will get their attention and that the games being played with our security will finally stop.” This is another big slap on the Pakistani face. The relationship may eventually recover between these two countries but it would never be the same again with mutual distrust and suspicion writ all over it. Even if it recovers, it might be for a short duration only as Pakistan seems to have decided, under Islamist influence, that the US is as great, if not a greater, threat as the Indians. And, the rise of the particular strain of virulent Islamism is an unstoppable and irreversible phenomenon in Pakistan.

(To Be Continued . . .)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What is cooking between the US and the Pakistani Army ? - Part II

Why is it important to analyze the relationship between the US and the Pakistani Army (PA) ? The reason is simple on two counts: one, it is the PA that generally runs the Pakistani government (at the current juncture, from backseat) and handles directly such sensitive issues as nuclear weapons, foreign policies vis-a-vis the US, India, Afghanistan and China; two, the US has always recognized this fact and by-passed the civilian government on most occasions and dealt directly with the PA, its client since the early 1950s. However, that cosiness is visibly changing now.

What does this change in relationship entail to Pakistan ? Pakistan's internal dynamics has been dangerously unstable for a long time now, beset with terrorism, sectarianism, increasing influence of the intolerant Wahhabi/Deobandi/Salafi mindset, poor governance, a moribund economy, an inchoate democracy that is utterly non-performing, unbridled violence among sub-nationalists as in Karachi and a host of other issues. Added to these is this increasing tension between the US and Pakistan which has the potential of destabilizing Pakistan and then impacting the region severely. The sweep of rebellions that one has witnessed from Tunisia to the UAE can easily extend to Pakistan because it has the most incendiary ingredients, among all these countries, awaiting an ignition. Such a rebellion would make the others child's play. Among the 3½ Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP), it is the US whose support is the most crucial for the stability of Pakistan. The Saudi-Pakistan relationship has gone a lot colder. The Chinese have always supported specific projects only such as nuclear power projects or nuclear weaponization or missile technology transfer etc. They do not give hard cash. The Japanese are going through a stressful period and are unlikely to be as benevolent as before. The British are a spent force and have been so for quite sometime now. They have also been facing a severe backlash of Pakistan-based Islamist jihadi terrorism, a gift of their myopic Pakistani policies for over a century now stretching back to the British Raj days. So, if the US support unravels at this critical juncture, Pakistan has everything to lose. One is unsure if the arrogant and haughty Pakistani Army which is driving these sensitive foreign policies of the civilian government, understand the magnitude of their follies. They did not realize it in 1971 and lost more than half their land and population. This time, the situation is fraught with extreme danger as the centrifugal jihadi forces may cause a civil war in a nuclear-weapon possessing Pakistan that is rapidly increasing its arsenal too. The rest of the world, especially the US, India and China cannot allow this spiralling down of Pakistan to go out of control as it poses a mortal danger to all of them.

That the US-Pakistan relationship has been rapidly on the decline has been well known for some time now. This time, it is not like the normal up-and-down seasonal variation between the US and Pakistan. The strategic dialogue between the two countries has been indefinitely postponed. American Congressmen have repeatedly talked of stopping aid. American newspapers have been widely critical, some of them very critical, of Pakistan's duplicity. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, openly accused the "Government of Pakistan" of silencing the journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad. In an editorial on July 8, New York Times accused the ISI of complicity in hiding Osama bin Laden and in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks of 2008. The editorial demanded the dismissal of Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Director General of the notorious ISID. The PA reacted immediately by saying, "This is a direct attack on our security organisation and intelligence agencies". Strong words indeed, coming from an embattled PA which turns to the US for funds, arms, ammunitions. This downturn in relations started well before the Abbottabad incident of eliminating Osama bin Laden. But, the May 2 incident accentuated the process. In its aftermath, an incensed Pakistani Army did several things. The usually laconic Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) released an unusually long (1032 words) statement on June 9, 2011 that did not disguise the PA's anger. It even had highlighted text to drive home its point and determination. A combative PA said that it would no longer accept military aid from the US and said that such aid be diverted to the economy instead. The statement also said that since circa 2001, the US had given only USD 15 Billion to Pakistan out of which PA had received only USD 8.6 Billion. It also claimed that these figures had been reconciled with the Ministry of Finance, thereby hinting the Finance Ministry that it should not try to contradict these numbers. The US, on the other hand, claims it had given Pakistan USD 20 Billion most of which was reimbursement to the PA. The statement also said that a large number of US Army trainers were being asked to leave. In fact, it expelled all the 120 American Special Operations personnel who were training the soldiers of Frontier Corps (FC) since c. 2009. This made the US angry and it decided to 'chasten' the PA as the New York Times reported on July 9, 2011. The Obama administration decided to suspend USD 800 million worth of aid and questionable reimbursement. Pakistan has also expelled the British trainers of the FC at Quetta. The rejection of 'future' aid as well as the expulsion of the US trainers were weak attempts to hit two birds in one shot - warning to the US that its leverage with the PA will be reduced and two to redeem its shattered image with an overly critical Pakistani masses angry with the incompetence of the PA whom they regard with high esteem in spite of repeated and massive failures in battle fields. It may be that the PA used this opportunity to stop the US training of the FC, a training that was probably agreed to under American duress in the first instance. Since its inception, the training has been going at a slow pace, with the PA not releasing more than 250 soldiers for training at a time when the facilities were expected to host 2000 simultaneously for a 12-week programme. Concerned with the loss of its sheen among the Pakistanis, a source of great support for the PA's exalted position within the country, from criticisms by newspaper editors, analysts and anchors of TV talk shows, the PA warned of its determination to "put an end" to domestic criticism of its actions. It said, "This is an effort to drive a wedge between the army, different organs of the state and more seriously, the people of Pakistan. Any effort to create divisions between important institutions of the country is not in our national interest. The participants {at the Corps Commanders' Meeting} agreed that all of us should take cognizance of this unfortunate trend and put an end to it."

No wonder Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan Bureau Chief of Asia Times Online, was brutally murdered within a few days after his sensational revelation on the reasons for the attack on the PNS Mehran naval base. The PA's justification for this murder is the ISPR statement. The ISPR statement also stated that from then on, intelligence will be shared with the US only on strictly reciprocal basis and with complete transparency. This is another opportunistic move by the PA perhaps in view of the imminent operations in North Waziristan (NW). In earlier operations, the Americans had given intelligence to the PAF F-16 pilots about targets and the same was expected this time too. In June last year, upgraded F-16s, that can target both in day and night, have been delivered to the PAF. In the changed circumstances, the PA decided to scuttle these inputs so that they can avoid targetting the Haqqani and allied groups still holed up in North Waziristan. For three years now, the US has been demanding operation to flush out the Haqqani Shura from NW without much success. Last year, the Pakistanis agreed but chose to launch it according to their convenience. Now, probably they want another excuse to delay the operation. The problem for the PA is that two of their major assets, the Haqqanis of Afghanistan and Gul Bahadur of NW are located here. In September, 2006, the PA entered into a 'peace treaty' with Gul Bahadur and this has generally stood the test of time eventhough in February 2009, Gul Bahadur (along with South Waziristan's Maulvi Nazeer Ahmed)joined hands temporarily with his (and PA's) arch enemy Baitullah Mehsud and said that they had overcome the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the Pakistani government which they blamed for “more losses to mujahideen than the US. It handed over 700 Arab mujahideen to the US and jailed our people”. They also pledged their support to Mullah Omar whom they accepted as the Emir of Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahideen. They proclaimed that the Shura had been formed at the express wish of Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden. As confirmation of the working of the Shura, Hafiz Gul Bahadur formally revoked on June 29, 2009, the peace treaty he had signed on Feb. 17, 2008 with the Pakistani Army. Just a day before, June 28, 2009, Gul Bahadur attacked a Pakistani Army convoy killing 40 soldiers and immediately thereafter Maulvi Nazeer Ahmed rocket-attacked the Frontier Corps’ camp in Wana. Gul Bahadur justified the scrapping of the peace deal because of the US drone attacks in North Waziristan as well as Pakistani Army action in Bannu which is under the control of Gul Bahadur. It later turned out that a more ominous reason for the united efforts of these three warlords was because of the US push in Helmand . The US wanted the Pakistan Army to prevent the Taliban from crossing the porous Waziristan borders and move into Helmand. The Pakistan Army tried to prevent it by activating rebel groups in Waziristan and trying to move the Army there. The TTP pre-empted that through its action. Thus, the Helmand offence by the US had inadvertently united the factions in TTP. Soon thereafter, Baitullah Mehsud died and the new Shura became defunct. The PA learnt its lessons. That is why it is unwilling to move on NW.

In the previous installment, we saw how the Abbottabad incident triggered various reactions and brought to fore the rifts in the US-PA relationship. But, Abbottabad was not a single straw that made the camel collapse. There have been a series of incidents. Indeed, Pakistani perfidy goes a long, long way back but for the present discussion, we may just look at some recent events.

One of the most serious incidents that occurred recently was the arrest in January, 2011 by the Lahore Police of Raymond Davis, a CIA agent, for killing in broad daylight two motor-bike borne Lahoris. Now we know that Raymond Davis was in Lahore monitoring the activities of the Lashkar-e-Tayba and the two who were shot dead by him were indeed ISI agents who were shadowing him and who possibly provoked him advertantly or inadvertantly. The PA laid its hands on Raymond Davis ttying to extract from him the various aspects of CIA operation within Pakistan. The PA forced the Government of Pakistan to handle the issue rather than itself getting involved even as it went about interrogating Raymond Davis. Anyway, this soured the relationship between the US and Pakistan until the PA was engaged by the US administration and a way out was found in the form of diyat (blood money) and other sops such as US visas for some family members of the two killed.

(To Be Continued . . .)

Monday, July 4, 2011

On Why Lashkar-e-Tayba is so Important for the Pakistani Army

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is today home to several dozen major terrorist tanzeems. These tanzeems have evolved for several decades now. Many of them appeared on the scene after the 1979-1989 period of jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviet forces. They were created to send mujahideen into the Afghan theatre in the jihad against the Godless communists. A classic case of Dar-ul-Islam (Land of Islam) fighting the kufr (infidels) occupying another Dar-ul-Islam. Some other tanzeems appeared on the scene as sectarian groups to fight the Shi'a and the much detested Ahmedis (Qadianis). Yet another set of terrorist groups had appeared even earlier to fight along with the Pakistani Army (PA) in the genocide of East Pakistan in circa 1971. The very early manifestation of the Pakistani State using terror as an accepted state policy was in c. 1947 when the lashkars of the Sutti, Sudhan, Afridi and Mehsud tribes were used in the invasion and surreptitious grabbing of the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir.

The civilian governments, including those headed by Prime Ministers such as Ms. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, extended all forms of support to these terrorist outfits, though they later lamented how Pakistan had slipped into anarchy because of terrorism, whenever they were out of power. All these tanzeems have had extensive support from the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID), the intelligence wing of the Pakistani armed forces, and the various units of the armed forces themselves. The ISI split them and regrouped the splinters in various permutations and combinations according to the exigencies of the situation. No group was allowed to become too big for its shoes, lest the tail wagged the ISI dog. The more or less effective management of these groups continued until the cataclysmic events of September, 11, 2001. The riot-act that Richard Armitage read out to the ISID Director-General Lt. Gen. Mehmood Ahmed in Washington D.C. and later Gen. Powell to the Pakistani President Gen. Parvez Musharraf, changed the situation for Pakistan overnight. Pakistan was forced to redesign its strategy of support to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Soon enough, another terror event took place, this time an attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001. This was preceded by a suicide car-bomb attack on the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly in Srinagar and a dry run on the Red Fort in c. 2000. These events so angered even a usually docile India that it mobilized its troops along the borders with Pakistan by January, 2002. The coercive diplomacy by India led Gen. Musharraf, who was now caught between a rock and a hard place, to make promises to India that Pakistani territory would no longer be used for sponsoring terrorism on India. He banned several organizations including Lashkar-e-Tayba (LeT) in January 2002. That this was another Hudaybaya-like approach is besides the point here. Anyway, the twin reversal of state support to Taliban and Pakistan-based jihadi terrorist groups, angered them.

Gen. Musharraf's strategy was to engage with the adversaries, who were formidable indeed, in a Hudaybaya-like approach. He even mentioned that approach openly in the nationally televised speech. The capitulation by a nuclear Pakistan to the US and more shamefully to Indian threats, so angered the various tanzeems that they now considered the Pakistani armed forces (especially the Pakistani Army, PA) and its Chief, Gen. Musharraf as a munafiq (hypocrite) and an ally of the Great Satan (the term usually used by Pakistani Islamists to refer to the US). He and his Establishment therefore needed to be tackled as vigorously as the Americans, Jews and the Hindus. Either the jihadis could not understand the nuanced approach of Gen. Musharraf, or they did not have faith in him or possibly both, that they decided to confront head-on the Pakistani Establishment. Two more incidents later confirmed their suspicion of Musharraf and his state apparatus and their fury knew no bounds after these.

The first was the March, 2004 incidents at Kaloosha, near Wana in South Waziristan in an operation to reportedly capture Ayman-al-Zawahiri, Tahir Yuldashev and Nek Mohammed. The Wazir and Mehsud tribes regarded the PA operation as a 'stab in their back' and bloodied the PA inflicting very heavy losses on them. The escalating cycle of violence also turned this area completely against the PA. The economic blockade imposed by the PA worsened the situation. Al Qaeda promised the locals to 'turn South Waziristan a Kashmir'. The rest has been history with PA soldiers refusing to fight the AQ and Taliban jihadis, PA platoons surrendering to the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban, Pakistan) meekly, or even running away from battlefields. Gen. Musharraf's brave Army sought a series of peace deals with humiliating conditions attached to them. Gen. Musharraf himself was targetted at least thrice, with him escaping barely in each attack. His own officers from the armed forces and the police were involved in these attacks along with the jihadis. Other top officers of the armed forces have been regularly targetted and even killed. Major military installations including the General Head Quarters (GHQ), nuclear weapon-related locations, ordnance factories, military bases, vehicles and personnel, offices of intelligence agencies, and military and police recruitment and training centres have been attacked with impunity.

The 2007 Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) event in the centre of the capital city Islamabad, was another major turning point. The chain of massive suicide bombings that followed the Army commando action at Lal Masjid, some like the Marriott etched in our memory forever perhaps, made the nuclear-armed Pakistan look completely naked and vulnerable. In c. 2008, the Taliban came within 120 Kms of Islamabad before the situation was retrieved. They caused a major diplomatic embarrassment with the Chinese by abducting Chinese nationals into the Masjid.

In the meanwhile, taking advantage of the anarchy, the sectarian outfits have been regularly killing and terrorizing Ahmedis, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs. The federal and provincial governments have been unable to do anything to stop them.

These attacks were by the Punjabi Taliban allied with TTP and Al Qaeda, together referred to as AQAM. The Punjabi Taliban are all Deobandi outfits. They do not include the LeT. Let's see why.

The terrorist tanzeems in Pakistan can be classified as Deobandi, Ahl-e-Hadees (or, Hadith), Berelvi or Shi'a. The most powerful of the Deobandi tanzeems are: Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Harkat-ul-Jihadi-Islami (HuJI), Jandullah, Brigade 313, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) etc. They are all sectarian outfits too with SSP being the shining lodestar of all sectarian terrorist organizations. Among the Ahl-e-Hadees groups, the only important tanzeem is the Lashkar-e-Tayba (LeT).

The origins of LeT, just like any other similar group, are not well defined. It is generally believed that it was launched in 1991 in Kunar province of Afghanistan. The Ahl-e-Hadees {People of the Traditions of the Prophet} do not follow any of the four traditional Islamic schools of thought as they believe that everything is available in the Hadith and anything else is ‘imitation’. They also hate syncretism. They are also identified as Wahhabis, after ibn Abd-al-Wahhab of Saudi Arabia. Though it was announced after the c. 2002 ban on LeT that it had split into Jama'at-ud-Dawah which was involved purely in charitable work, nobody accepts this excuse and we would also treat LeT and JuD as one entity and accordingly use the terms interchangeably here. Prof. Hafeez Saeed heads the JuD and he was the head of LeT earlier. Prof. Hafeez Sayeed was a co-founder, along with Abdullah Azzam, of Maktab-al-Khidmat (Office of Service) in Peshawar in circa 1979 to help the Arab jihadis. After Azzam's assassination on Nov. 24, 1989, the Maktab became Jama'at-ud-Dawah. Prof. Hafeez Sayeed was nominated to be a member of Pakistan's Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. Gen. Zia-ul-Haq's interest in LeT flowed from his close relationship with the Saudi monarchy, for whom Jama'at-e-Islami (JI) and Makaz-Daw'a-wal-Arshad, the parent organization of LeT, were the closest in ideology of all the Islamist organizations of Pakistan. Thus a very close relationship had existed between the PA and the LeT since its inception.

An American analyst of repute, Ms. Christine Fair had recently suggested that it was the domestic compulsions of the Pakistani state that enables a continued bonding between the PA and the LeT. She attributes ideological differences as underpinning the distinction between the Punjabi Taliban (Deobandi) and the LeT. I argue below that it is inaccurate. She argues that since the Deobandis classify anybody else as 'munafiq' and since the LeT/JuD follow a more inclusivist policy of not antagonising any Muslim by such a classification, the former attack the State while the latter does not. In such a case, it needs to be exlained how the Deobandis have been able to forge a very close relationship with the wahhabi al Qaeda for decades now, a relationship that has only become stronger after c. 2001.

In Pakistan, the Ahl-e-Hadees are an insgnificant minority. For example, less than 10% of the madrasseh belong to the Ahl-e-Hadees. Even then, there are 17 Ahl-e-Hadees groups managing the affairs of this sect of Believers. So, when a new Ahl-e-Hadees group was setup by Prof. Hafeez Sayeed, they did not welcome a new entity into their fold as the space was already overcrowded, especially when the new entity enjoyed the patronage of the ISI and later the PA at the highest levels. This has remained so ever since. As Prof. Hafeez Sayeed entered the Afghan jihad scenario only towards the fag end, there was not much cause for concern among the various groups. He was also limiting himself to helping the newly arriving jihadis from Arab countries. But, when these jihadi groups were let loose on J&K by the ISI after the termination of jihad in Afghanistan in c. 1989, there arose a competition between the Deobandi groups and the lone Ahl-e-Hadees LeT. Because of a chronic shortage of Ahl-e-Hadees manpower in Pakistan, the LeT tried to swell its manpower by converting Berelvis. This has been their tactic ever since. Ahl-e-Hadees men are on constant prowl to catch vulnerable Berelvis. That was how Ajmal Amir Kasab was 'caught' in a Berelvi mosque and brainwashed. Thus, the LeT had to depend upon the ISI/PA for its growth as it was shunned by everybody else, though it was otherwise well funded by KSA and rich Saudi and other Arab individuals. The PA thus managed the core terrorist activities of the LeT such as training, planning and logistics while the LeT handled other aspects such as providing the cover for PA, recruitment, indoctrination etc. The PA today have lost the trust and hence the support of all those who were their blue-eyed boys once upon a time. They are even afraid of tackling them harshly for fear of mutiny within the PA. The recent PNS Mehran attack illustrates this dilemma. The repeated arrests and releases of Qari Saifullah Akhtar is another case in point. Even Maulana Masood Azhar whose Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) owes its creation to PA/ISI, is no longer considered a friend. Thus, the PA is left holding only one asset in its hands, namely the LeT. They have therefore been a perfect complement for each other upto this point of time. Islamist jihadi groups have a notorious propensity for internecine quarrel. Therefore, only time can tell how long this partnership between the PA and the LeT will continue even as the situation in Af-Pak region turns darker.