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Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Pakistani Taliban said moving closer to capital

By Junaid Khan

MINGORA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani Taliban are moving into a new area in northern Pakistan, clashing with villagers and police in a mountain valley, police and district officials said on Wednesday.

Separately, a Pakistani Taliban commander said the Pakistani military and the United States were colluding in U.S. drone aircraft attacks and the militants would take their war to the capital, Islamabad, in response.

Surging militant violence across Pakistan is reviving Western concerns about the stability of its nuclear-armed ally. Pakistan is crucial to U.S. efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.

U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, were in Pakistan for talks on security strategy this week.

In a development that will deepen the West's concerns, scores of Taliban have moved into Buner district, 100 km northwest of Islamabad, from the Swat valley where authorities struck a peace pact in February aimed at ending violence.

"About 20 vehicles carrying Taliban entered Buner on Monday and started moving around the bazaar and streets," said senior police officer Israr Bacha.

Villagers formed a militia, known as a lashkar, to confront the Taliban and eight of the insurgents were killed in a clash on Tuesday, police said.

Two villagers and three policemen were also killed.

"People don't like the Taliban," Ghulam Mustafa, deputy chief of Buner, told Reuters by telephone.

Muslim Khan, a Taliban spokesman in Swat, was defiant.

"What law stops us going there?" Khan said. "Our people will go there and stay there as long as they want."


Authorities agreed in February to let Islamists impose Islamic law in Swat to end more than a year of fighting.

Critics said appeasement would only embolden the militants to take over other areas. Pakistan's Western allies fear such pacts create safe havens for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.

Pakistani Taliban commander Mullah Nazeer Ahmed said in an interview with al Qaeda's media arm, Al-Sahab, that Pakistan was behind U.S. drone attacks on militants.

Authorities were misleading the public by saying it was the United States carrying out the strikes, he said, and it was the Pakistani army that sent spies to facilitate them.

"All these attacks that have happened and are still happening are the work of Pakistan," Ahmed said, according to a transcript of the interview posted on Al-Sahab's website.

Alarmed by deteriorating security in Afghanistan, the United States has since last year stepped up drone strikes in Pakistan.

Pakistan objects to the strikes, calling them a violation of its sovereignty that complicates its effort to fight militancy.

Other Taliban commanders said recent violence in Pakistan has been in retaliation for the drone attacks and threatened more.

Ahmed said Pakistani Taliban factions had united and would take their war to the capital: "The day is not far when Islamabad will be in the hands of the mujahideen."

Ahmed also blamed the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency for sowing divisions between factions, saying the ISI was the Taliban's main enemy.

Some U.S. officials have said recently the ISI maintained contacts with militants and there were indications ISI elements even provided support to the Taliban or al Qaeda militants.

Such accusations have angered Pakistan, although a military spokesman denied reports that ISI chief Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha had snubbed Holbrooke and Mullen by refusing to meet them on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider and Zeeshan Haider)


Jehadi group’s trademark gets stolen

Abdullah Khan

Lashkar-e-Tayyaba’s trademark has been stolen, and the irony is that the stolen trademark is now being used against Lashkar’s own support base. The recent attack on the Manawan Police Training School Lahore, after the previous attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in the same city, is the latest example of this peculiar development. India has been facing such attacks, usually referred to as ‘fidayeen attacks’, since 1999. 

This terminology was also used by the Indian media in their news coverage immediately after the Mumbai attacks with headlines such as, ‘Mumbai under Fidayeen attack’. Although Lashkar-e-Taiba had denied involvement in these attacks, yet Indian, British, and Pakistani intelligence still hold this group, which is active in Kashmir against Indian occupation of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, responsible for the Mumbai events in the light of their own investigations. Pakistan has taken more than half a dozen Lashkar commanders into custody, including Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, who is one of the four leaders on whom the United Nations had enforced sanctions on December 10, 2008, and had frozen their assets. Lashkar-e-Taiba had introduced the tactic of fidayeen attacks back in 1999 when the then prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, had announced the withdrawal of Pakistani forces and Kashmiri fighters from the mountains of Kargil in his Washington Declaration, which they captured in the winter of that year, and where a fierce and bloody battle had been fought in the months of May and June. During this battle, Pakistani forces had shot down two Indian war planes and had even captured the pilot of one of the aircrafts. The Indian army had faced such huge loss of life in this battle that it had had to hand out contracts to private firms for the mass manufacture of coffins for transportation of its dead soldiers from the frontlines. Corruption is rife to such an extent in India’s armed forces and its Ministry of Defense that kickbacks and commissions of millions of rupees were paid and received for the manufacture of these coffins. An inquiry was also initiated later regarding this sordid affair, but that is not what I am writing about today, although I do intend to write in detail about the widespread corruption in the Indian armed forces at some later date.

Lashkar-e-Taiba’s leadership had warned the then prime minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, through a press statement that ‘the second round of jihad had now begun’, which had meant that India should now expect fidayeen attacks on Indian forces in Kashmir. In the fidayeen style of attack anywhere from two to ten, or sometimes even more heavily armed fighters make a commando-style entry into the target facility and try their best to inflict heavy losses. If they achieve their desired goal, they try to escape from the location; otherwise they fight until death instead of surrendering. According to a report of the Indian Express which was published after the Mumbai events, the first fidayeen attack occurred at the Battalion Headquarters of the Indian BSF (Border Security Force) in Bandipora, in which three attackers had caused havoc at the BSF Headquarters.

Activities and operations of Indian forces deployed in the Kashmir valley are controlled from the headquarters of the 15 Corps which is located in the Badami Bagh area of Srinagar. But although this location is considered to be the safest place in terms of security for the Indian forces in Occupied Kashmir, yet three fidayeen of Lashkar-e-Taiba attacked this secure headquarters site on November 3, 1999, dressed in the uniforms of Indian troops and were able to infiltrate and mix with other soldiers by taking advantage of the pandemonium and confusion. These fidayeen were so daring and bold that they made their way to the office of the spokesman of the Indian forces, Maj. Parshotam, in the commotion and killed him, and then audaciously used his telephone to call the British news organization, the BBC, to accept responsibility for the attack. Moreover, two of the attackers were able to escape the premises in an Indian forces vehicle, while only one of them was killed. The success of this type of daring attacks raised the morale of this group tremendously with the result that in the year 2000, some attackers of this group left Kashmir and not only attacked the Red Fort based Indian army barracks in the heart of the Indian capital, New Delhi, but also defiantly accepted responsibility for the said attack. A Pakistani citizen, Muhammad Ashfaq, faces the death sentence in India for his involvement in this attack and his case is pending hearing in the Indian Supreme Court. Fidayeen attacks were therefore considered to be a hallmark of Lashkar-e-Taiba in the subcontinent, while other militant groups in the area also began copying Palestinian and Tamil militants and used suicide attacks as a tactic quite successfully in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Lashkar, however, instead of moving towards suicide attacks, maintained its distinctive style of fidayeen attacks and with time, tried to perfect this technique further. Even though India blames the suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul on Lashkar, yet if one accepts this as truth, even then it would be a rare incident in Lashkar’s history of resistance.

American intelligence officials and experts on militancy had expressed fears after the Mumbai attacks that other militant groups, including Al Qaeda, may try to mimic this style of attack and those misgivings have turned out to be entirely true. Yet ironically, instead of India or America becoming a victim of this style of attack, as had been expected, the Pakistani province of Punjab and its capital, Lahore; considered to be the nexus of Lashkar sympathizers, has itself fallen prey to this particular style of attacks. The leadership of this group therefore, which had announced numerous times in the past that it will never carry out any militant activities on Pakistani soil, is deeply embarrassed and completely flabbergasted, to say the least, at this bizarre development, because after every attack which uses the Lashkar trademark style, the finger is immediately pointed toward this group due to its previous use of this style outside Pakistani soil. This group, which has enjoyed popular public support in Punjab, is extremely worried, understandably, under these circumstances, that if such attacks continue and its name keeps getting mentioned, it could turn out to be fatal for its popularity among the Pakistani populace. 

What is interesting is that this group can neither register a case against the theft of its trademark in any court of law, nor can it have a notice issued to the stealers of its trademark under the Copyright Act.

—The writer is an expert on regional security issues and Indo-Pakistan relations.