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Delhi: Fighting militancy with militancy?
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - Even as relations between Pakistan and India have thawed a few degrees, with signs of a possible new round of peace talks on Kashmir between the alienated neighbors, there are indications that under the surface the water is not as smooth as it could be.

Well-placed sources in the Pakistani government have divulged to Asia Times Online that the Pakistani Ministry of Interior has received a detailed report from intelligence saying that over the past three months the defunct al-Zulfiqar Organization (AZO) has been reactivated.

In 1979, after the military coup by General Zia ul-Haq and the execution of former Pakistani premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1981, Bhutto's two sons - Murtaza and Shabaz - formed a resistance organization called al-Zulfiqar (the Sword), which also carried out acts of terror. Its exploits included assassination attempts on Zia's life, as well as the hijack of a Pakistani airliner en route to Kabul.

In this regard, the recent arrest of Ali Mohammed Sonara by Sindh police in connection with bomb blasts in Karachi 13 years ago could be significant. Sonara was once the chief operations officer of AZO, and the government sources told Asia Times Online that Pakistani intelligence officials feared that Sonara could have been in touch with members of India's intelligence outfit, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), in connection with possible attacks against Pakistani militants.

Despite the professed best efforts of President General Pervez Musharraf, cross-border militancy from Pakistan into Indian-administered Kashmir continues, and remains a major stumbling block in the tortuous process of bringing peace to the Valley.

Now it is feared in Pakistan that the recent terror attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco will give agents provocateurs an opportunity to push their own agenda in the country. From India's point of view, it is to its advantage to have Pakistan portrayed as a hotbed of terror and to destabilize the country.

This will strengthen Delhi's case for the United States to put even more pressure on Pakistan finally to crack down on jihadi factions fighting in Indian Kashmir, including the Laskhar-i-Taiba, the Jaish-i-Mohammed, al-Badr and the Hizbul Mujahideen. Islamabad, under US pressure, has already outlawed several militant groups, but not al-Badr and the Hizbul Mujahideen. But India and Western countries have termed the banning of these organizations a farce, as most of their leaders have been freed and can be seen delivering speeches in favor of jihad against India. Concerned at this, the sources claim that India has adopted a more proactive position in Pakistan in an attempt to address the militant problem, using the AZO as a front.

After a government crackdown on the AZO in the early 1980s, Murtaza took refuge in Syria, while many other AZO members fled to New Delhi and Kabul. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of the time, led by Benazir Bhutto - Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's daughter - did not endorse the activities of the AZO and expelled its members from the PPP. Later on, after Benazir Bhutto was elected prime minister in 1988, Murtaza - her brother - returned to Pakistan and emerged as Benazir's rival and established a political faction of the PPP - Shaheed Bhutto. Many of its members were former AZO members.

During the second tenure of Benazir Bhutto as premier, intelligence agencies in 1996 rounded up Ali Mohammed Sonara, the right-hand man of Murtaza, in connection with a bomb blast in Karachi in 1990. The reason for the arrest was cited as Sonara's alleged links with India.

Murtaza was incensed by this, and stormed to the police station in a vain attempt to have Sonara released - he was later released on bail and remained that way until his apprehension again on May 14. Subsequently, intelligence agencies raided Murtaza's premises in search of alleged RAW operatives. Murtaza resisted, and in the ensuing gun battle he was shot in a hail of bullets. In hospital, witnesses said that his estranged sister Benazir gripped his body tightly and cried that another of her brothers had been killed by conspirators. Earlier, her other brother Shabaz had died in mysterious circumstances, with some unsubstantiated reports saying that he had been poisoned in Paris by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence.

After this, the AZO officially disappeared from the scene in Pakistan, although many of its old guard melted into the PPP (Shaheed Bhutto), which is now led by Murtaza's widow, Ginwa Bhutto, who is of Syrian origin.

Now, Pakistani intelligence is taking stock of the apparent revival of the AZO, and whether there would be any difference between Indian-sponsored terror attacks in Pakistan, and Pakistani-sponsored attacks in Kashmir.

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May 23, 2003

Bomb jitters in Pakistan, too
(May 21, '03)


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