Taliban put Pakistan on
notice By Syed Saleem Shahzad
With trouble on the battlefield, US Senate
Majority Leader Bill Frist has recommended, for
the first time since September 11, 2001, the need to
bring the Taliban into the Afghan government. At
the same time, Pakistan is secretly playing its own game
of carrot and stick in Afghanistan to influence events to
However, two quick warning
signals to Islamabad this week convey the
unmistakable message that regardless of what
Washington or Islamabad might
desire, the Taliban are the ones who will decide
which carrots and which sticks to play.
Last month could prove to be pivotal in
determining the ultimate fate of the Taliban and
Afghanistan, and even the United States' "war on
The Taliban, after the success of
this year's spring offensive, have drawn up a
blueprint for an Islamic intifada in Afghanistan
next year in the form of a national uprising and
an internationalization of their resistance.
This followed a "peace" deal between the
Pakistani Taliban in the Waziristan tribal areas
on the border with Afghanistan in which Islamabad
agreed to release some al-Qaeda suspects in return
for the Taliban stopping cross-border activities.
President General Pervez Musharraf then
went to Washington, where he announced that
foreign forces in Afghanistan would be given the
right of hot pursuit into the tribal areas. He
also said the authorities would take action
against former army officials associated with the
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for supporting
That all is not well with
this agreement is illustrated by two events this
week. First, a missile landed in Ayub Park, the
highest-security zone in Rawalpindi, just a few
hundred meters from Musharraf's official residence
at Army House. The next day, several rockets
apparently linked to a mobile phone for firing
were found near parliament in Islamabad.
Asia Times Online has learned that the
incidents were a clear show of disapproval in
Waziristan over Musharraf's basking in
"Washington's charm", and that he had not
implemented a key aspect of the peace accord - the
release of al-Qaeda suspects - despite numerous
In other words, the Pakistani
Taliban are using their own stick to keep
Islamabad in line.
The sore point, as
mentioned, was the release of "al-Qaeda-linked"
Pakistani militants arrested in Pakistani cities.
The Pakistani authorities did release many, but a
few, whose arrest was also known to US
intelligence, were not. Musharraf said they would
be freed once he returned from Washington, but
this did not happen. Negotiations were still
taking place when an incident happened that
angered the Pakistani Taliban.
arrested Shah Abdul Aziz of the Muttahida
Majlis-e-Amal, a six-party religious alliance, is
a member of the National Assembly from Karak in
North-West Frontier Province. Though his direct
party affiliation is with the
Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam led by Maulana Samiul Haq
(the father of the Taliban), his real status
derives from his being a veteran mujahideen from
the days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
He vocally supports the Taliban, Arab militants
and Osama bin Laden, and his fiery speeches on
these topics are compiled into compact discs that
are popular among the Pakistani Taliban.
Shah Mehboob Ahmed is a younger brother of
Shah Abdul Aziz and also enjoys a great deal of
respect among local as well as Afghan Taliban for
helping the mujahideen.
The story starts
when Mehboob hosted a British-born Pakistani,
known only as Abdullah, who was on a list of
wanted people. Abdullah then went to Islamabad and
met with the biggest Taliban-supporting cleric,
Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, at Lal Mosque. As Abdullah
left the mosque, he was picked up by intelligence
agencies. One of the leads acquired from Abdullah
was that he had been hosted by Mehboob. So Mehboob
was also detained.
Shah Abdul Aziz, the
member of parliament, contacted ISI high-ups about
his brother's arrest and was informed that he
would be released soon after formal
investigations. However, neither Abdullah nor
Mehboob was released.
This took tension
between the Pakistani Taliban and the authorities
to boiling point, with the former charging that
not only had Islamabad not fulfilled its promises
to release all Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees, but
it was violating the agreement and arresting such
people as Mehboob and Abdullah.
responded that the two were part of Indian
intelligence's proxy network, and that was why
they had been held - not because of any possible
links to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The Pakistani
Taliban did not buy this and made it clear that as
the authorities had violated the agreement, they
should be ready to face the Taliban's music.
At this point Musharraf said in an
interview in the US that some retired ISI
officials could be assisting Taliban insurgents,
adding: "We are keeping a very tight watch and we
will get hold of them if that at all happened. I
have some reports that some dissidents, some
retired people who were in the forefront in the
ISI during the period of 1979 to 1989, may be
assisting the links somewhere here and there."
This set off heated debate in Pakistan,
leading some people to speculate that Hamid Gul,
one of the most popular Islamist generals and
Musharraf's immediate boss and close associate
before September 11, 2001, might be arrested.
Speaking to Asia Times Online, Gul termed
Musharraf's statement a reflection of his
"impulsive nature" and said he was in danger of
opening up a "Pandora's box".
of all this, according to signals reaching this
correspondent, is that Musharraf has been put on
notice. The first two incidents this week caused
no damage. That was possibly the intent. This is
unlikely to be the case with the next ones.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia
Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be
reached at[email protected]