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The fall and rise of the Taliban
By B Raman

Summary
Since August last, the situation in Afghanistan has been deteriorating. Increasing numbers of better-trained, better-equipped and better-led Taliban cadres operating from sanctuaries in Pakistan have stepped up their hit-and-run raids into southern and eastern Afghanistan in order to demoralize the newly-raised army and police of the Hamid Karzai government in the hope of thereby inducing large-scale desertions.

Their attacks have been focussed on members of the new Afghan army, police and other government departments and foreign aid workers. They have avoided direct confrontations with US forces, lest they pursue them into Pakistani territory. As a result, while there have been nearly 400 Afghan government and civilian fatal casualties, the number of fatal American casualties has been only four.

The Taliban has also set up a well-run psychological warfare (psywar) apparatus in Pakistan, which is used to add to the anti-US anger in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan. While the Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has been operating jointly with the revived Taliban from Pakistani sanctuaries, the survivors of the al-Qaeda and the Pakistani components of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF) have been focussing on harassing US troops in Iraq through well-motivated jihadis infiltrated into Iraq through Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The Pakistan-based jihadi terrorists, owing allegiance to bin Laden through the IIF, calculate that if they maintain a low but sustained level of violence in Afghanistan and Iraq without unduly provoking the Americans into massive retaliation, battle fatigue will set in and force the US government to recall its boys home before the campaign for the next year's presidential elections picks up momentum.

Though the US has been saying that it is prepared for a longish stay, whatever be the cost in terms of funds and casualties, in both countries, the jihadis view this as mere bravado and have convinced themselves that the closer the elections, the weaker will be the US will to continue the fighting. The US's continued reluctance to act against Pakistan and make it pay a prohibitive price for helping the jihadi terrorists is coming in the way of an effective counter-terrorism strategy. Encouraged by this US reluctance, the Pervez Musharraf regime continues to keep the jihadi terrorists alive and active in the hope of using them to retrieve lost Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, and to achieve its strategic objective of forcing a change in the status quo in India's Jammu and Kashmir state.

Text of the paper
October 7 marked the second anniversary of the launching of what was code-named by the US as Operation Enduring Freedom. This name was given to the operation launched in Afghan territory against the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the IIF, which was formed by bin Laden in 1998 in association with 13 jihadi terrorist organizations of the world, of whom five are presently from Pakistan.

The fact that the Taliban was fathered in 1994, when Benazir Bhutto was Pakistan's prime minister, by the Pakistani Ministry of the Interior and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is well known, and details relating to its birth and the subsequent spread of its control over 90 percent of Afghan territory, including Kabul, do not need recapitulation.

Similarly, the fact that initially the US had blessed the creation of the Taliban in the hope of thereby restoring order and internal security in Afghanistan and thus facilitating the project of Unocal, a US oil company, for the construction of oil and gas pipelines from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through Afghan territory is equally well known.

However, not so well known until recently is the role of the ISI and the Pakistan army in fathering even al-Qaeda in the hope of using it for furthering Pakistan's strategic objectives in relation to Afghanistan and India. This has been brought out in an assessment prepared in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) of the Pentagon on September 24, 2001, hardly 13 days after al-Qaeda's terrorist strikes of September 11 in US territory, which has been declassified recently by the US government, reportedly in response to an application under the Freedom of Information Act.

Many other documents of the DIA and the US State Department relating to Afghanistan have also been simultaneously declassified, and these are available for perusal at the National Security Archives.

The declassified DIA document of September 24, 2001, carried the following damning account of Pakistan's role as the real host of bin Laden and his al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. It said: "Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network was able to expand under the safe sanctuary extended by Taliban following Pakistan directives. If there is any doubt on that issue, consider the location of bin Laden's camp targeted by US cruise missiles [in August 1998], Zahawa. Positioned on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, it was built by Pakistani contractors, funded by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate and protected under the patronage of a local and influential Jadran tribal leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani. However, the real host in that facility was the Pakistani ISI. If this was later to become bin Laden's base, then serious questions are raised by the early relationship between bin Laden and Pakistan's ISI."

It described Jalaluddin Haqqani as "the Jadran tribal leader most exploited by ISI during the Soviet-Afghan war to facilitate the introduction of Arab mercenaries " and the Taliban as "the handy cloak woven by Pakistan to shroud their progress".

Thus, as the Pentagon was making preparations for launching Operation Enduring Freedom, it was known even to its own experts in its intelligence community that the Pakistan army and its ISI were the creators and sponsors of not only the Taliban, but also of al-Qaeda, which emerged as the most dreaded jihadi terrorist organization of the world after bin Laden shifted from the Sudan to Jalalabad in Afghanistan in 1996, from where he subsequently moved to Kandahar.

Despite this, the US chose to rely on the Pakistan army and the ISI for logistics and intelligence support in its operation to wipe out the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the IIF. The army and President General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military dictator, who had sponsored and used jihadi terrorism in an attempt to achieve Pakistan's strategic objectives against India (destabilizing India and annexing Jammu and Kashmir) and Afghanistan (strategic depth), were sought to be projected as the US's stalwart ally in the "war against terrorism" and rewarded for their ostensible cooperation through the resumption of generous economic and military assistance, which had remained curtailed since the Pressler Amendment was invoked against Pakistan in 1990 for clandestinely developing a military nuclear capability and further cut after the Chagai nuclear tests of 1998 and the overthrow of the elected government headed by Nawaz Sharif, the then prime minister, by the army in October, 1999.

Why did the US choose to rely on the sponsor of jihadi terrorism in its attempt to vanquish it? There have been many answers to this question. None of them is totally satisfactory by itself, but all of them together give some indication of the thinking in Washington DC, which influenced the decision. Among such possible reasons mentioned by analysts, one could cite the following:

  • The need for rear bases for the US armed forces in Pakistani territory from which they could operate in Afghan territory.
  • The need for objective allies in the Pashtun community in the tribal belt on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in its operations to eliminate Osama bin Laden and other leaders of al-Qaeda.
  • The need for intelligence support from the ISI because of the poor human intelligence (humnit) assets of the US intelligence community.
  • The fear of a Talibanization of Pakistan should the military be forced to go to the barracks and its role weakened. The army was wrongly perceived by the US not as the sponsor of the jihadi forces, but as the bulwark in countering the spread of their influence.
  • The belief that only the army would be able to prevent Pakistan's nuclear and missile assets from falling into the hands of the jihadi terrorists.
  • The US perception of Musharraf as a force for stability in Pakistan and as a Muslim with a modern outlook who genuinely wanted to curb the fundamentalist forces in Pakistan.

    Why did Musharraf choose to support the US in its attempts to neutralize the offspring of his own army and the ISI, thereby abandoning instruments which they had built up since 1994 for achieving what they looked on as a strategic depth in Afghanistan and strengthening Pakistan's hold over that country? Musharraf, in his telecast to his people in early October, 2001, cited two reasons for his volte face, namely, the importance of safeguarding Pakistan's strategic assets, by which he meant its nuclear and missile capability, and the need to maintain its capability for achieving its strategic objective on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) against India.

    In other words, he chose to abandon temporarily the gains which the Pakistan army had made in Afghanistan since 1994 through the Taliban and al-Qaeda in order to protect Pakistan's nuclear and missile assets from any possible attempts at their neutralization by the US and to retain the army's ability to force a change in the status quo in J&K through the sponsorship of jihadi terrorism. While thus abandoning at least temporarily the gains on the ground in Afghanistan, he took care to protect the instruments with which these gains had been made in the hope of using them again in future to retrieve the ground lost by Pakistan in Afghanistan.

    Phase I: The Taliban
    Since it was launched on October 7, 2001, the US military operations in Afghanistan have passed through three phases. In the first phase, the government set up by the Taliban with its administrative headquarters in Kabul and its religious headquarters in Kandahar was replaced by a provisional government headed by Hamid Karzai, an Indian-educated Pashtun enjoying the confidence of the US and other Western countries.

    In the second phase, the training and other terrorist infrastructure of al-Qaeda and other components of the IIF in southern and eastern Afghanistan were destroyed through aerial and ground action. In the third phase, efforts were initiated to restore law and order and governance in the rural areas liberated from the control of the jihadi terrorist forces and to build the infrastructure of a liberal democracy in the country in the form of a constitution paving the way for free and fair elections by next year.

    Even though the undoubted success of the US-led coalition in the first phase was projected as due to the prowess of the US armed forces, it was largely due to the motivation and fighting capability of the forces of the Northern Alliance, which had been abandoned by the US and Pakistan after 1994 in favor of the Taliban. If India, Russia and Iran had not stood by the side of the late Ahmed Shah Masoud and his Northern Alliance and helped it in whatever way they could, it is doubtful whether the post-Taliban Afghanistan would have had at its disposal the hard core of an army and an administration, which represented the positive aspects of Islam and sought to give it a modern outlook, instead of taking Afghanistan back to the Middle Ages, as the Pakistan and the US-supported Taliban sought to do.

    It was short-sighted on the part of the US not to have recognized openly and handsomely the role of the Northern Alliance in helping in the liberation of the Afghan state and society from the stranglehold of the Taliban and its Medieval mullahs. Not only that. In response to the sensitivities of Musharraf, who was afraid and continues to be so that the Northern Alliance favored the restoration of the historic friendly ties between Afghanistan and India, the US has at every stage tried to limit the influence of the leaders of the Northern Alliance on the grounds that they are non-Pashtuns, and hence would not enjoy the total confidence of the Pashtuns.

    The attempts at state and administration re-building and to set up an all-ethnic army have also been influenced by an anxiety to restrict the influence of the Northern Alliance in the name of giving the Pashtuns their due share. The over-attention to the sensitivities of Musharraf and his anxiety to prevent the restoration of the historic ties of friendship between India and Afghanistan has also been responsible for the US action in having India excluded from any meaningful role in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), whose command and control have since been taken over by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and in training the new Afghan army.

    If, in spite of the unhelpful attitude of the US and the obstructive policies of the Musharraf regime, relations between India and Afghanistan have continued to develop in various fields, this has been largely due to the feelings of good will nursed by the Northern Alliance and Hamid Karzai himself towards India.

    While Pakistan reconciled itself to the temporary loss of its ground influence in Afghanistan, it took care to give shelter to the leaders and cadres of the Taliban in its territory in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan, and to help them re-group, re-train and re-arm in order to facilitate a comeback by the pro-Pakistan forces one day. Apart from a few individuals without any major importance, such as Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, the former Taliban foreign minister, the former ambassador of the Taliban in Islamabad etc, who were handed over by Pakistan to the US forces for interrogation, it avoided arresting and handing over any Taliban leader, including leader Mullah Omar, of importance to the US. (Muttawakil has reportedly now been released from US custody).

    The US calculation that its uncritical support to the Musharraf regime would prevent any Talibanization of Pakistan has already proved wrong. The coalition of six fundamentalist, pro-Taliban and pro-bin Laden parties called the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) managed to come to power in the NWFP on its own strength after the elections of October of last year. And it is part of the ruling coalition in Balochistan in association with the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League (Qaide Azam).

    Never before in the parliamentary history of Pakistan have the fundamentalist parties done as well in any elections as they did in those of last year. This was only partly due to the anti-US anger in the Pashtun belt because of the US action against the Taliban and alleged excesses by US forces against the local people. It was considerably due to Musharraf's own action in facilitating the victory of the fundamentalists by withdrawing pending cases under the anti-terrorism act against the candidates of the fundamentalist parties in order to enable them to contest the elections, while he refused to withdraw even cases relating to white collar crimes against mainstream leaders such as former premiers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif; by recognizing the certificates in Islamic studies issued by the madrassas (religious schools) as equivalent to university degrees to enable the fundamentalist candidates to circumvent the electoral provision that only graduates could contest the elections; and by engineering splits in the mainstream political parties critical of him in order to weaken them.

    Musharraf's calculation in facilitating the fundamentalist victory was two-fold. First, to convey a message to the US that if it continued to press him to act against the jihadi terrorists operating against India, there was a danger of the fundamentalist influence spreading to the rest of the country, and second, to use the fundamentalist control of the key provinces in the tribal belt as an alibi for explaining his inability to stop the flow of local support to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

    After the fundamentalist coalition came to power in the NWFP and Balochistan, the Taliban started openly re-grouping, re-recruiting and re-arming in the local madrassas, without any action being taken against them by either the provincial or the federal authorities. The provincial authorities did not act because of their openly-expressed sympathy for the Taliban. The federal authorities headed by Musharraf pleaded helplessness, ostensibly on the ground that policing and action against suspected terrorist elements was a provincial subject over which the federal government had little control in a "democratic set-up".

    Starting from December last year, the re-grouped Taliban began indulging in hit-and-run raids from sanctuaries in the NWFP, Balochistan and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on US and Afghan military patrols deployed in Afghan territory across the border with Pakistan. One such raid in the last week of December, 2002, led to a clash between the South Waziristan Scouts, a para-military unit of Pakistan, and a US patrol, which called for an air strike on a madrassa in Pakistani territory in which the assailants had taken shelter after attacking the US troops.

    This incident led to considerable anger among junior and middle-level officers of the US troops deployed in the area over the complicity of the Pakistani para-military forces with the Taliban raiders, and they started demanding that they should be allowed to exercise their right of hot pursuit into Pakistani territory during their operations against the Taliban dregs based in sanctuaries in Pakistani territory. With great difficulty, the Pentagon and the State Department cooled the anger of their field officers and discouraged their talk of hot pursuit, lest such actions destabilize Musharraf.

    Despite Pakistani assurances to act firmly against the Taliban raiders, such incidents continued to take place, but the numbers of the Taliban raiding parties were small and they mostly used small arms and ammunition. Moreover, they concentrated their attacks mostly on the Afghan members of the newly-raised Army, the police, other Government workers and aid workers of non-governmental organizations and avoided direct confrontations with US forces.

    However, since August last, the frequency, magnitude, gravity and range of their attacks have increased manifold. They often now operate in large groups numbering dozens, if not hundreds, very often move in motorized units, which give them greater mobility and an element of surprise, and have demonstrated an ability to move far deep into Afghan territory, even up to the outskirts of Kabul, and return to their sanctuaries in Pakistan unintercepted by the Afghan and American forces.

    As before, they continue to avoid direct confrontation with the American and other Western troops and have been directing their attacks mainly on Afghan government targets. Their objective is to demoralize the Afghan security forces and induce desertions in order to weaken their ability to maintain order and internal security and to convince the people that the newly-raised security forces will not be able to protect them.

    The seriousness of the deteriorating situation in southern and eastern Afghanistan is evident from a dispatch dated October 8, sent by Ahmed Rashid, a well-known Pakistani expert on the Taliban, from Kandahar to some Western newspapers and from a media briefing in Kabul by the Bush administration's special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been designated as the new US ambassador to Afghanistan, a nomination yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

    Ahmed Rashid said in his despatch: "The Taliban army is mobilizing in Pakistan for an attack into Afghanistan before the start of winter. Up to 2,500 fighters are in Balochistan province preparing to cross the border on motorcycles and attack United States and Afghan government forces, according to Western and Afghan intelligence officials.

    "The Taliban have virtually taken over several suburbs of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, and are being supported by Pakistani religious parties, the drug mafia and al-Qaeda. There is also reportedly increasing support from the Pakistani authorities - a claim denied in Islamabad. They now plan to harry US forces in Kandahar, where residents feel increasingly under siege, and Zabul. Since August, Taliban attacks have killed almost 400 Afghan soldiers, aid workers and civilians. Four US soldiers have also died. 'We have the American forces and the puppet regime of [President Hamid] Karzai on the run. They will collapse soon', said a Taliban mullah in Pushtunabad bazaar [of Quetta]. The Taliban have bought hotels, shops and houses, forcing many frightened local residents to leave. Vehicle dealers say the Taliban have bought 900 motorcycles in the past three months in the Quetta region and another 250 in Loralai. Motorcycle guerrillas roam Afghanistan's rural areas attacking aid agency vehicles and isolated police posts. For communications, they are importing hundreds of satellite telephones from the Arab Gulf states, because those bought in Pakistan are closely monitored by America's Central Intelligence Agency. Arms and ammunition are dumped inside Afghanistan. Their funding comes from the drugs trade and al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden is still in hiding along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

    "The Taliban are also deeply involved in the heroin trade which last year generated 717 million sterling in Afghanistan - a sum equal to the amount spent on reconstruction aid for the country. Logistical support for the Taliban is available from the hardline mullahs of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam (JUI) - a partner in the ruling coalition that governs Balochistan. In recent weeks, President Karzai has appealed to JUI mullahs and the Pakistan army to stop the Taliban from organizing in Quetta, but that has only infuriated the JUI. 'The Afghan government and Karzai are the stooges of America and every Muslim and every Afghan knows this', said Maulana Hafiz Hussain Sharodi, Balochistan's Information Minister. 'Only the Taliban can constitute the real government in Afghanistan'.

    "According to President Karzai, the headquarters for Taliban planning is the Shaldara madrassa in Quetta run by Maulana Nur Mohammed, who is a JUI member of parliament. 'We are proud that the Taliban are made and helped here', said Maulana Abdul Qadir, the deputy to Nur Mohammed. 'Our job is to make sure that the whole Pakistani nation supports the Taliban'. Hundreds of Pakistani Taliban are joining their Afghan brothers, although Pakistan denies that its citizens are involved.

    "US officials are perturbed at the extent of Pakistani help to the Taliban and Congress has become increasingly critical. However, the White House is still reluctant to criticize President Pervez Musharraf because of America's desperate need to enlist Pakistani troops for Iraq. Yousuf Pashtun, the governor of Kandahar province, says Pakistan has allowed the Taliban to establish six training camps in Balochistan. He accused the Pakistani authorities of 'wanting to push the Taliban into another big battle with government forces', fearing that in the next phase 'the Taliban will start urban terrorism'."

    Addressing a press conference at Kabul on October 7, Zalmay Khalilzad made the following points: The Taliban and al-Qaeda might be planning "larger" or "more spectacular attacks" in Afghanistan as part of a campaign against the reconstruction process. "We have seen a surge in activity in recent weeks, but we also see signs that the response has been quite effective, and I think in desperation they may try, or there are indications that they may try, to do something to get a lot of attention."

    The resurgent Taliban presented a serious threat across the south and east of the country, not least on the main north-south highway between Kabul and Kandahar, a priority project supported by both President George W Bush and Karzai. The first priority was for the government in Pakistan to stop border crossings and stop providing sanctuary to the Taliban and al-Qaeda members. "Pakistan cannot become a sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaeda people who want to attack Afghanistan," he said. "There has to be a decrease, and at best an end, to cross-border attacks by Taliban and al-Qaeda people from Pakistan. I welcome the recent actions by the Pakistani government, but we would like to see more, in fact, a lot more."

    The Taliban had exploited a power vacuum in many southern districts where the central government, because of a lack of funds and personnel, has failed to make its presence felt. A significant part of the US$1.2 billion that the administration has requested for Afghanistan for the coming year will go toward expanding the central government's presence in the provinces.

    The Taliban's morale and fighting capability have been bolstered by the reinforcements from the Hizb-e- Islami (HEI) headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the former favorite mujahideen of Pakistan before it created the Taliban in 1994. After the Taliban captured Kabul in September 1996, Gulbuddin and his senior associates took shelter in Iranian territory adjoining Pakistan's Balochistan, and their men were sent back to their respective villages in the Pashtun belt of Pakistan and Afghanistan to resume their normal avocation.

    The government of Iran kept Gulbuddin and his associates under strict control and saw to it that they did not indulge in any terrorist activities, but after September 11, under US pressure, it forced them to leave Iranian territory. They crossed over into Balochistan, where they were welcomed by the ISI and the dregs of the Taliban. Gulbuddin has since managed to remobilize his trained men from their villages and has played an active role in helping the Taliban to retrain and rearm its cadres.

    Since August last, the Taliban officials based in Pakistan have built up a propaganda and psywar machinery to whip up hatred of the US, not only among the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also among the Muslims of the Gulf and West Asia. They have been using Aljazeera and other Arab TV channels for disseminating their propaganda material, prepared with the assistance of serving and retired officers of the ISI.

    In a Kabul-datelined report dated October 16, the Associated Press gave the following details of such activities: "The Taliban have launched an unprecedented campaign to win money and support from Muslim militants outside Afghanistan (news - web sites) amid a resurgence by the group marked by roadside killings, ambushes and public statements boasting of their successes. After remaining relatively quiet for months, a bevy of Taliban spokesmen have been turning up on Arab TV and the Pakistani media, and a handful have started making direct phone calls to the international press, including the Associated Press. The calls have increased in step with a bolder, bloodier insurgency that has shaken faith in the Washington-backed Afghan government's ability to assert its control, and the US military's resolve at crushing the rebels.

    "Omar Samad, the Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the Taliban are using the media blitz to try to get their message out to hardliners in neighboring Pakistan who share their strict brand of Islam. 'I think it is all part of a more organized effort', he told the Associated Press. 'They have lost much of their ability to be a real threat to the whole process of change here, but they unfortunately still have substantial support among influential groups in Pakistan with money and access to arms and manpower'. 'Most of today's Taliban fighters are not the same young men as those who fought with the militia during the US-led bombing campaign in 2001', Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said recently. They are new recruits, many drawn from the poor religious madrassas of neighboring Pakistan.

    "Jalali told AP during a recent interview that several recently captured Taliban said they came to Afghanistan on the instructions of hardline Pakistani clerics, who convinced them it was every Muslim's duty to fight jihad, or holy war, against the Americans and their Afghan surrogates. One of the men said he was paid $55 in Pakistan to come and fight. With Taliban leader Mullah Omar and other top figures in hiding, captured or killed, a crop of front men - some new, some old names from the regime's heyday in power - has gone into high gear. Sometimes their claims sound outlandish: that the Taliban killed 10 US soldiers in fighting in September in southern Zabul province. The Americans say one special operations soldier died in a fall during a combat operation there. The militia also calls to take credit for recent attacks or to warn of bloody repercussions for those who collaborate with the international community. A fax sent to AP in September claimed the Taliban were behind a wave of recent killings of employees of international aid groups - often referred to as non-governmental organizations, or NGOs.

    "Aid workers have been pulled from their cars and executed in southern Ghazni, Helmand and Zabul provinces in recent months. 'Our government has always respected the people who are working in NGOs that really want to build Afghanistan', read the Taliban statement. 'But there is another kind of NGO which only uses the name NGO but is actually working and spying for the United States. We advise Taliban all over the country to attack them and extradite them from Afghanistan'.

    "A purported Taliban spokesman who calls himself Mullah Hedayatollah Akhund appeared on the Arabic television channel Aljazeera two weeks ago threatening resistance to the US-backed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Another, Mohammed Hanif, claimed responsibility for the recent assassination of an Afghan official in southern Kandahar province in a phone call to The News, Pakistan's largest English-language daily.

    "The Taliban have also used the media to manage its image. One of the main Taliban spokesmen, Sayed Hamid Agha, faxed a signed letter to AP in late September to deny a widely-circulated report that Taliban fighters had threatened to disfigure Afghans who listen to music or men who shave their beards.

    "It is impossible to independently confirm the credentials of the men claiming to be Taliban spokesmen. Some professed Taliban spokesmen are quite openly operating from Pakistan. Attiqullah Azizi, the former Taliban information minister in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, has met with journalists in Pakistan. Calls and faxes from at least two purported Taliban spokesmen appear to come from the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan. Samad said the Taliban are using neighboring Pakistan as a center of its new PR campaign, and the presence of at least some spokesmen there is of growing concern. 'Almost all of them are across the border', said Samad. 'We know very well that if the authorities across the border wanted to put an end to this, they could. There is nothing to stop them from shutting them down'.

    Phase II: al-Qaeda and the IIF
    After disposing of the Taliban setup, the US turned its attention to neutralizing the setups of al-Qaeda and the IIF in Afghan territory. The IIF, which largely consists of five Pakistani components - the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ)- plus some elements from the Central Asian Republics (CARS)and Southeast Asia (SEA) and a large number of Arab nationals of Chechen ancestry, was much easier to handle than the highly-motivated and do-or-die Arabs of the al-Qaeda.

    In the IIF, Pakistani nationals (30,000 plus) constitute the largest number, followed by Arab nationals of Chechen ancestry who did not constitute a single, composite organization, but used to operate in Afghanistan as members and mentors of the Taliban and the Pakistani organizations. Those from the CARs and SEA were much smaller in number and their presence in Afghanistan did not make much difference to the ground situation.

    The liberation of Kabul by the Northern Alliance, with the help of the American air power, and the subsequent outburst of anti-Pakistan anger in Kabul and other cities of the north, led to the hasty withdrawal into Pakistan of the dregs of the Pakistani components and their Arab associates of Chechen ancestry. Similarly, the jihadis from SEA and the CARs withdrew into Pakistan helter-skelter. While those from SEA managed to find their way back to their countries of origin via Bangladesh, where they were transported by a ship belonging to Dawood Ibrahim, the Indian mafia-cum-terrorist leader reported to be living in Pakistani passport under a different name, those from the CARs, many of whom had married Pashtun women, managed to disperse themselves in the villages of the FATA.

    Only the Arabs of al-Qaeda led by bin Laden stayed put in southern and eastern Afghanistan for some weeks and put up some resistance to the Americans. After the unsuccessful operation at Tora Bora, where the Americans managed to surround al-Qaeda dregs, including bin Laden, for some days, the latter managed to escape into the FATA, from where they dispersed themselves in small groups in the main cities of Pakistan.

    When the US started the second phase of the operations against al-Qaeda and the IIF, it sought the help of the Pakistan army to seal the border with Afghanistan to prevent the dregs from escaping into Pakistan. It similarly sought the help of the Northern Alliance to prevent their escape into the CARs. While the Northern Alliance effectively sealed the escape routes to the CARs, the Pakistan army, while ostensibly sealing the escape routes into Pakistan, let the terrorists, including bin Laden, slip into the tribal belt on the Pakistan side.

    It is significant that since post September 11 there has been no major flare-up of terrorism in the CARs, due to the effective sealing by the Northern Alliance, the action of the Pakistan army and the ISI in letting the terrorists escape into Pakistan and from there to other countries has led to a flareup of terrorism in India, Indonesia, Kenya, Yemen, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.

    The return of the Pakistani components of the IIF to Pakistan led to a series of terrorist attacks on Western nationals and local Christians in Karachi, Islamabad, Bhawalpur, Murree and on the Karakoram Highway. All these attacks were carried out by members of the Pakistani components of the IIF. There was no involvement of al-Qaeda, which used the Pakistani components for having reprisal attacks on Western nationals and Christians organized. However, some Arab nationals of Chechen ancestry and Yemeni-Balochis (of mixed Yemeni-Balochi parentage), who had joined the Pakistani organizations, were involved. For example, there was a Yemeni-Balochi involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl, the US journalist, in Karachi in January last year.

    Initially, Musharraf took the stand that bin Laden must be dead, but after the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 terrorist strikes in the US, and his interrogation, Musharraf changed his spin and admitted that he was probably alive and hiding in the tribal belt. As an excuse for the inability of the Pakistan army to deal effectively with the sanctuaries of al-Qaeda and the Taliban and their cross-border raids into Afghanistan, Musharraf has been claiming that all these dregs have taken shelter in inaccessible areas of the FATA where no British or Pakistani soldier has gone before.

    As he does in the case of cross-border terrorism into India, Musharraf has been using the same arguments to deny Pakistani culpability in the cross-border terrorism into Afghanistan. He has been claiming that the Pakistan army is too small and ill-equipped to effectively seal the border, and asks if the US with its better equipment and other technical resources is not able to prevent the infiltration into Afghan territory, how can it blame the ill-equipped Pakistan army for not being able to stop it.

    Musharraf's claims that all the dregs of al-Qaeda and the Taliban are hiding in the inaccessible areas of the tribal belt are not correct. All the major arrests of important leaders of the al-Qaeda have so far been made from the major urban centers of Pakistan outside the tribal belt. For example, Abu Zubaidah, projected as the then No 3 of al-Qaeda, was arrested in March last year from the house of a functionary of the LET in Faislabad in Pakistani Punjab; Ramzi Binalshibh was arrested from a flat in Karachi belonging to Dawood Ibrahim in September last year; Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who was also living in the same flat, managed to escape to Quetta, from where he went to Rawalpindi, where he was caught in the house of a women's wing leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, which is now a member of the ruling coalition in the NWFP and Balochistan; and Waleed bin Attash, the principal suspect in the case relating to the attack on the US naval ship USS Cole at Aden in October 2000, was caught in Karachi in April last. Many minor functionaries of al-Qaeda were also arrested in Karachi.

    In an article in the prestigious Dawn (May 10) of Karachi, Afrasiab Khattak, the highly respected Pashtun leader, has ridiculed Musharraf's contention that the dregs of al-Qaeda were operating from inaccessible mountainous areas in the tribal belt. After pointing out the various arrests made in Karachi and other places, he wrote: "It is true that many al-Qaeda followers were arrested in the tribal agencies at a time when they were fleeing out of Afghanistan after the US military operations in Tora Bora, Zhawar and Shahikot. They entered the tribal area because that is the only available route from the afore-mentioned places for crossing over into Pakistan and moving towards safer places. But, there is no question of the numerous al-Qaeda fugitives hiding in the tribal area. There are very solid reasons for that.

    "Some proclaimed offenders from the settled districts do take refuge in the tribal area, but it is done publicly and in many cases before a jirga or tribal assembly. The newcomer is introduced to everybody and the clan or family giving refuge to the person stands responsible for his conduct as long as he lives there. It is also important to know that there are no houses for rent in the area. Everyone lives along with their kith and kin in a fortress like house that has to be defended by the residents.

    "In the case of Osama bin Laden, there are additional reasons to believe that he could not have remained in the tribal area, even if he had been initially there. He cannot be unaware of the news about his possible presence in the area being widely publicized. In all probability, he would have left the area to hide in the big cities that are far safer. It is well known to everyone that the US Army is quite active along the border with a lot of aerial surveillance and electronic monitoring. Osama cannot be such a fool as to hang out in such close vicinity of US forces, knowing fully well that they will have little hesitation in crossing the border to get him.

    "In view of the past record of the present government, it is safer to assume that it is making an effort to hide behind the so-called inaccessibility of the tribal area for the failure of its security apparatus in nabbing the most wanted fugitives. The myth of no-man's land and the wild north-west comes quite handy as a spin and as a diversion when the government fails to muster the required political will for taking the bull of terrorism right by the horns."

    Since April last, there have been reports from police sources in Pakistan that in view of the splintering of al-Qaeda after Operation Tora Bora and the disruption of its command and control, bin Laden and his No 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri are no longer able to coordinate the activities of the various groups taking shelter in different cities of Pakistan and elsewhere. They say that as a result, the LET is now playing the leadership and coordinator's role in the IIF and organizing operations on behalf of al-Qaeda, not only in Pakistan, but also in the Gulf and West Asia, including Iraq.

    Speaking at a panel discussion on terrorism in the Indian sub-continent, organized by the US-India Political Action Committee and the US-India Institute for Strategic Policy at Washington DC on July 16, I made the following quantitative assessment of the terrorist infrastructure in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, which continues to threaten the world:

    Al-Qaeda: About 400 survivors of the 500-strong hardcore of al-Qaeda had crossed over into Pakistan from Afghanistan giving a slip to the US security forces in the beginning of last year. Of these, about 75 are estimated to have since moved over to Yemen and Saudi Arabia and 30 are estimated to have crossed over into Iran via Pakistan's Balochistan. Of the remaining, about 75 took shelter in Karachi and 220 in Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Balochistan, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK).

    Of the 75 who took shelter in Karachi, about 50 are still holed up in various hideouts there with the assistance of their Pakistani sympathizers and the mafia gang led by Dawood Ibrahim, who is wanted by the Indian authorities for prosecution in connection with the Mumbai (Bombay) blasts of March,1993, a precursor of mass-casualty or catastrophic terrorism. Pakistan claims to have arrested and handed over about 400 al-Qaeda members to the US. It is not clear how many of them were hardcore members, how many just sympathizers and how many Arab residents of Pakistan, who were merely suspected of being associated with al-Qaeda.

    The Taliban: About 5,000 survivors of the Taliban, including its Amir Mullah Mohammad Omar and other senior leaders, out of the pre-October 7, 2001, strength of 20,000 of the militia. Out of this, about 5,000 are estimated to have perished during the US air strikes and 10,000 to have dispersed to their respective villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The 5,000, who have taken shelter in Pakistan, have been operating against the US and allied troops in Afghanistan from their safe havens in the NWFP and Balochistan, in concert with the Hizb-e-Islami (HEI) of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the survivors of the Uzbeck and Chechen components of the IIF.

    The survivors of the Pakistani components of the IIF: Before October 7, 2001, the five Pakistani components of the IIF - namely, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad al Islami (HUJI), the LET, the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) - had a total estimated strength of about 35,000 members deployed in Afghanistan to help the Taliban and al-Qaeda in their fight against the Northern Alliance (NA). Of these, about 30,000, who managed to survive the US air strikes, crossed over into Pakistan and moved over to Karachi, Pakistani Punjab and the POK.

    Others: The survivors of the Uzbeck and Chechen components of the IIF: About 300 have been operating from the FATA. The survivors of the Southeast Asian component: About 200, who had originally crossed over into Pakistan, have since gone back to their respective countries. The HEI: About 400 of its cadres have been operating against the Afghan and allied troops in Afghanistan from sanctuaries in the NWFP and Balochistan.

    I also gave the following qualitative assessment: "Presuming he is alive, bin Laden is a relentlessly hunted fugitive and his powers of coordination, command and control have been considerably weakened and his ability to communicate with his followers dispersed in Pakistan and elsewhere has been impaired. The responsibility for the coordination, command and control of the terrorists operating against the US and other allied troops in Afghanistan has been taken over by Gulbuddin. Though there have been very few fatal casualties suffered by the allied and Afghan forces, the persistence of the hit and run attacks, with some of them taking place even in Kabul, the capital, speak disturbingly of the unimpaired morale of the dregs and the local support enjoyed by them.

    The responsibility for the coordination, command and control of the terrorist operations in Pakistan itself against American and other Western targets and in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and other parts of India against Indian targets has been taken over by the LET due to the damage suffered by the HUM and the LEJ after the arrest of many of their cadres by the Pakistani authorities following the terrorist incidents of last year in Karachi and Islamabad. There has been no evidence of the involvement of any of the Arab survivors of al-Qaeda in the incidents in Afghanistan, except in one near Kandahar, in which a Yemeni transporting explosives, along with some Taliban cadres, was reported to have been killed in an accidental explosion.

    Similarly, there has been no evidence of the involvement of any of the Arab survivors of al-Qaeda in the incidents inside Pakistan itself. Those were carried out mainly by the survivors of the Pakistani components of the IIF. Some Yemeni-Balochis were involved, but they participated as members of the Pakistani components and not of al-Qaeda. Of all the terrorist strikes which have taken place after September 11 ( in J&K, New Delhi, Gandhinagar and Mumbai in India, Bali in Indonesia, Mombassa in Kenya, Moscow and Chechnya in Russia, Yemen, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and Casablanca in Morocco), the direct involvement of the Arab survivors of al-Qaeda is suspected only in the Riyadh incident. It is assessed that the remaining strikes were carried out by the Pakistani components of bin Laden's IIF in India and by local elements operating autonomously in other countries, with the surviving al-Qaeda leadership itself playing very little leadership role.

    The al-Qaeda survivors scattered in Pakistan have been focussing on training fresh recruits of the Pakistani components of the IIF in their training camps in Punjab, the NWFP, Balochistan and the POK and guiding them in their operations, without actually participating in them. Of the Pakistani components, the LET's infrastructure in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia has remained largely intact and it is playing an increasingly active role as the standard-bearer of the IIF. It has also been in the forefront of the moves to spread the jihad to Iraq and to intensify it there. The presence of these elements in Pakistani territory and their activities from there continue to pose a serious threat not only to Indian nationals and interests, but also to the nationals and interests of the US and other members of the international community. While Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment has definitely helped the US intelligence community in some of its operations against leading al-Qaeda survivors in Pakistan, it has avoided action against the survivors of the Taliban, the Uzbeck and Chechen components, the HEI and the Pakistani components.

    In its calculation, it would need the Taliban, the HEI and the Uzbeck and Chechen elements for retrieving the ground lost by it in Afghanistan and the Pakistani components to keep the Indian security forces bleeding. These elements have, at the same time, an agenda extending beyond Afghanistan and India, which includes intensifying the jihad against the US not only in Iraq, but also wherever possible, including in US territory, as evidenced by the arrest of the LET cell in the US. The successes of the US intelligence community in its hunt for the survivors of al-Qaeda have thus far been limited to the non-tribal areas of Pakistan such as Punjab and Sindh. There has been hardly any success in the tribal belt and in the POK. This has been partly due to the complicity of the local administration with the survivors and partly due to the iron curtain imposed by the military-intelligence establishment in these areas to conceal the continued existence of the terrorist infrastructure there, which is meant to serve Pakistan's strategic objectives against India and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.

    The main focus of the UN Security Council's resolution No 1373 was on the need for and urgency of effective action against terrorist funding and sanctuaries. While there has been some action against funding, even if not totally effective, there has been practically no action against the sanctuaries. Presently, the jihadi terrorist groups operating against India, the US, Israel, the Southeast Asian countries and elsewhere in the region have almost all been using sanctuaries in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria. The concerns of the international community relating to the nuclearization of terrorism also arise from the possible dangers of weapons of mass destruction and related technology getting into the hands of jihadi terrorists from the already declared or yet to be declared state-sponsors of international terrorism. Unless effective action is taken to end these sanctuaries and to make these states accountable for their actions, there will be no respite from terrorism in the Indian sub-continent, the US, Israel and other affected regions.

    These assessments remain valid today. While there is so far no major evidence of the involvement of al-Qaeda and the Pakistani components of the IIF in the worsening situation in Afghanistan, these elements have been gravitating towards Iraq via Iran or Saudi Arabia in order to harass the US forces there. There have been widely conflicting estimates of the number who are already involved in acts of terrorism against the US troops and their Iraqi collaborators, varying between about 200 (Pakistani police sources) and about 1,000 (Israeli sources). I am inclined to accept the lower estimate of 200.

    Most of those who have gone to Iraq from Pakistan are Yemeni-Balochis and Arab nationals of Chechen ancestry and have been operating in Iraq under the umbrella of the HUM and the LET. This number does not include the sacked Iraqi soldiers and Ba'ath Party members, who have been operating independently. New charity organizations in Pakistan such as the al-Akhtar Trust, founded by the JEM, have been funding the terrorists not only in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but also in Iraq. The US Treasury Department has since ordered the freezing of its bank accounts on October 16.

    The jihadi terrorists have been saying that the US is at their mercy, with one leg caught in Afghanistan and the other in Iraq and that they should not miss this opportunity to teach it a lesson.

    Flow of funds to terrorists
    Despite the action taken by many countries under the UN Security Council Resolution No 1373 to freeze bank accounts, which are suspected to be used for funding terrorism, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the IIF have not been short of funds. The production of heroin has again emerged as an important source of funds for the terrorist organizations operating from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. There has been a steep increase in the production of opium and heroin in southern and eastern Afghanistan. In their hunt for the dregs of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the US security forces have been using Afghan warlords of the pre-1992 vintage and narcotics smugglers because of their good knowledge of the topography of the area. It has been alleged that at the request of the US intelligence agencies and security forces, many narcotics barons, undergoing imprisonment in Pakistan, were released in order to use their services; and action against opium producers and heroin smugglers was given low priority. This has contributed to the increase in the production and smuggling of heroin and in the availability of funds for the terrorist dregs.

    The last year has also seen a tremendous increase in the remittance of funds from overseas bank accounts to accounts in Pakistan. The total remittances during this period were estimated at $4 billion. The Pakistani authorities attributed this increase to the fact that Pakistanis living abroad have started using normal banking channels for their remittances due to fears that the use of the informal hawala channels as in the past might attract the suspicion of the US's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Even if this explanation is true, it could account for the transfer of only about $1.5 billion from overseas accounts to accounts in Pakistan.

    Following suspicion that the steep increase in the remittances flowing into Pakistan might be due to the transfer of the money held overseas by the so-called Saudi charity organizations associated with terrorism to accounts in Pakistan and the use of new accounts in Pakistan by organizations based in Saudi Arabia for funding terrorism, the FBI is reported to be closely monitoring all remittances of over $1,000 to accounts in Pakistan. The Washington correspondent of the News, the Pakistani daily newspaper, has reported (October 1) that the Pakistani authorities have agreed to a request from the US to report to the FBI details of all such remittances.

    The action taken by the Pakistani authorities against all suspected bank accounts in Pakistan continues to be an eye-wash. It is alleged that in many instances the holders of the suspected accounts were alerted beforehand of the impending freezing of their accounts in order to enable them either to transfer the bulk of the balance to other accounts under different names or to withdraw them. As a result, many frozen accounts of even well-known terrorists had paltry balances at the time of freezing.

    On June 14, Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan's Finance Minister, placed on the table of the National Assembly a statement giving details of the accounts frozen by the authorities. In the statement figured three accounts in Peshawar banks held in the name of bin Laden and one in the name of Ayman al-Zawahiri (name of the branch not given). Of the three accounts of bin Laden, two were joint accounts held by him along with others and one was an account only in his name. The three bin Laden accounts, according to the statement, had balances of only $306, $342 and $1,585 and the account of al-Zawahiri had a balance of $5 only.

    The statement contained a remark that the account of al-Zawahiri had remained dormant since 1993. There were no such remarks in respect of the accounts of bin Laden. Hence, they are presumed to have been active. The statement remained silent as to what were the various deposits made in the accounts and withdrawn or transferred from them before they were frozen, who were the beneficiaries etc.

    Phase IV: Governance and reconstruction
    The influence and authority enjoyed by President Hamid Karzai himself and the members of his council of ministers in the Pashtun areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan continue to be very limited. The warlords initially inducted by the US to help its forces in their hunt for the dregs of al-Qaeda and the Taliban have become a law unto themselves, showing reluctance to obey the orders of the central government in Kabul and to share the tax revenue collected by them with the central tax authorities.

    The situation has been rendered more difficult by the action of the Iranian authorities in maintaining independent channels of communications with Ismail Khan, the ruler of Herat, and often routing their economic assistance directly to him instead of through the central government in Kabul. Of late, Hamid Karzai has been trying to be more assertive and to curtail the powers of the regional heads of administration and enforce fiscal discipline on them.

    The present government in Kabul is far from being accepted by the Pashtuns as adequately representing their interests. Having failed thus far in its efforts to find Pashtun political leaders, who would be acceptable to their community and at the same time be attentive to the interests of the West, the US is alleged to be once again attracted by Musharraf's idea of seeking the cooperation of what Musharraf describes as moderate Taliban. Before the Northern Alliance liberated Kabul, Musharraf had floated such an idea to prevent its entry into Kabul, but the US did not accept it at the time.

    It is said that frustrated with its inability to restore normalcy, the US might now be tempted to give a try to the earlier discarded idea of Musharraf. As a result of the prevailing confusion, the progress towards the drafting of a constitution and the holding of elections is expected to be slow and may not be completed by next year.

    Having resisted thus far suggestions for giving the ISAF a role outside Kabul in order to supplement the efforts of the US-led teams to restore law and order and to promote economic development, the US has now accepted that the NATO-led ISAF could be allowed to operate outside Kabul, and an enabling resolution in this regard has also been passed by the UN Security Council. At the same time, officials associated with the NATO command and control mechanism in Kabul have clarified that the expanded role of the ISAF would be restricted to maintenance of law and order and economic and social development and would not relate to counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism in southern and eastern Afghanistan, which would continue to be handled by the US command in the area.

    Conclusion
    Since August last, the situation in Afghanistan has been deteriorating. Increasing numbers of better-trained, better-equipped and better-led Taliban cadres operating from sanctuaries in Pakistan have stepped up their hit and run raids into southern and eastern Afghanistan in order to demoralize the newly-raised army and police of the Hamid Karzai government in the hope of thereby inducing large-scale desertions.

    Their attacks have been focussed on members of the new Afghan army, police and other government departments and foreign aid workers. They have avoided direct confrontations with the US forces, lest they pursue them into Pakistani territory. As a result, while there have been nearly 400 Afghan government and civilian fatal casualties, the number of fatal American casualties has been only four.

    The Taliban has also set up a well-run psychological warfare (psywar) machinery in Pakistan, which is used to add to the anti-US anger in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan. While the Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has been operating jointly with the revived Taliban from Pakistani sanctuaries, the survivors of al-Qaeda and the Pakistani components of the International Islamic Front (IIF) have been focussing on harassing the US troops in Iraq through well-motivated jihadis infiltrated into Iraq through Iran or Saudi Arabia.

    The Pakistan-based jihadi terrorists owing allegiance to bin Laden through the IIF have been calculating that if they maintain a low, but sustained level of violence in Afghanistan and Iraq without unduly provoking the Americans into massive retaliation, battle fatigue would set in and force the US government to recall its boys home before the campaign for the next year's presidential elections picks up momentum.

    Though the US has been saying that it is prepared for a longish stay, whatever be the cost in terms of funds and casualties, in both countries, the jihadis view this as mere bravado and have convinced themselves that the closer the elections, the weaker will be the US will to continue the fighting.

    The US's continued reluctance to act against Pakistan and make it pay a prohibitive price for helping the jihadi terrorists is coming in the way of an effective counter-terrorism strategy. Encouraged by this US reluctance, the Pervez Musharraf regime continues to keep the jihadi terrorists alive and active in the hope of using them to retrieve the lost Pakistani influence in Afghanistan and achieve its strategic objective of forcing a change in the status quo in India's Jammu and Kashmir.

    B Raman is Additional Secretary (ret), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, and presently director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai; former member of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India. E-Mail: corde@vsnl.com. He was also head of the counter-terrorism division of the Research & Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, from 1988 to August, 1994.
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    Oct 23, 2003



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    Twin approach blurs goals
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    Warlords stand in the way
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