Afghanistan strikes back at Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - After a number of recent incidents, it is emerging that for the first
time since the fall of the communist regime in Afghanistan 13 years ago, Afghan
intelligence, likely with foreign assistance, is active in Pakistan.
At the same time, several attacks on Pakistani military bases - the most
recent a suicide attack on Wednesday morning that killed at least 35 soldiers - add to
the overall volatility of the country. And this comes at a time that the top
brass are gathering at
General Headquarters in Rawalpindi to make a vital decision on Pakistan's role
in the "war on terror".
Last week, a car bomb ripped through the office of the inspector general of
police in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Pakistan's Balochistan province.
One policeman and two other men were killed.
This followed a bomb attack in Peshawar, the provincial capital of Pakistan's
North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), in which nine people were killed and more
than 30 injured.
And on Tuesday, NWFP Governor Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai escaped unhurt in a
rocket attack while he was addressing a council in Wana, headquarters of the
South Waziristan tribal agency.
Initial investigations into the Quetta attack pointed to suspects of
Afghan-Uzbek origin. A subsequent massive raid netted more than 70 Afghans, a
few of whom admitted connections with Afghan intelligence.
A joint investigation team comprising Military Intelligence, Inter-Services Intelligence and
the Intelligence Bureau then grilled these suspects and concluded that the
sophisticated and organizational nature of the operation was beyond the known capabilities of
Afghan intelligence on its own.
"KHAD [Khadamat-e Etela'at-e Dawlati, Afghanistan's secret police] was the most
active agency in the region throughout the 1980s, but most of its
counter-intelligence missions were assisted by the [Soviet] KGB. KHAD's
external wing carried out bomb attacks in cities such as Peshawar, Quetta and
Karachi, as well as assassinations of mujahideen leaders," a senior security
official told Asia Times Online on condition his identity not be revealed.
"Now, no KGB services are available to Afghan intelligence, and none of the old
Soviet-trained Afghan officials remain. Thus it is a matter of surprise for
Pakistan to see Afghan intelligence using methods which only a few intelligence
agencies, considered the best in the world, are capable of applying," the
security official said without giving names but clearly hinting at British, US
and Indian intelligence.
Information acquired from the suspects rounded up in Quetta and other parts of
the country revealed a network working through the Afghan consulates in Karachi
and Quetta, where the Afghan Foreign Ministry had attached a number of staff
who were not career diplomats but activists of the Northern Alliance. The
Northern Alliance, a mostly non-Pashtun grouping, bitterly opposed the Taliban
during their rule from 1996-2001.
According to Asia Times Online contacts, during interrogation some of the
suspects talked of plans for death squads to launch attacks in Karachi and
Islamabad. The facilitation was to be through the Afghan consulates in Quetta
The death squads were to target top religious leaders considered pro-Taliban.
One of the names learned by this correspondent is Maulana Noor Mohammed (a
member of parliament from Quetta), in addition to some non-political clerics in
the tribal and border areas.
Certainly, such killings would anger the large pro-Taliban following in
Pakistan; at the same time, they would likely fuel sectarian strife in the
country as the blame would fall on Shi'ites.
More instability would be the obvious result.
Army in the firing line
On Wednesday, a suicide bomber blew himself up at an army parade ground in the
town of Dargai in NWFP, killing at least 35 soldiers and wounding 20. Dargai is
The first reaction would be to assume that this attack had nothing to do with
Afghan intelligence operatives - why should they attack the Pakistani army,
which is ostensibly on their side?
But if it was Afghan intelligence, as a section of Pakistani intelligence
is convinced, the argument is the same as it was for the Quetta attack. In
that incident the attackers selected the office of the inspector general of
police because insurgents in Afghanistan target Afghan police and the Afghan
National Army (ANA), in what the Afghan government calls Pakistan-sponsored attacks.
So these would be tit-for-tat responses.
Wednesday's attack could also have been undertaken by al-Qaeda-linked
militants. Indeed, they would be the immediate suspects. This would be because
they are seeking revenge for the air attacks on a madrassa (seminary) in
Bajour agency last week in which 80 people died. US drones are believed to have
been involved in the attack, which officials said targeted militants.
Further, the militants would want to sabotage peace deals between Islamabad and
the tribal areas. North and South Waziristan recently concluded deals under
which the army would withdraw in exchange for the tribals stemming the flow of
militants across the border into Afghanistan. Bajour agency was on the brink of
signing such a deal when the air attacks came.
According to Asia Times Online contacts, the Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan
(HIA) led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, once the favorite of Pakistan's groups, has
come out into the open in southwestern Afghanistan in a form of alliance with
local Afghan governments. Gulbuddin has been considered an important player in
the Taliban-led insurgency.
HIA commanders have taken control of many villages and towns. Here they have
hoisted HIA flags alongside those of the local Afghan administrations, which
are already filled with former HIA members. Hekmatyar has already signaled for
a deal with the Afghan administration in Kabul.
Certainly Hekmatyar would not have changed his attitude
toward foreign forces in Afghanistan and still demands that they announce a schedule for
leaving. But Hekmatyar has always been against killing ANA or members of the
police. The present arrangements in parts of the southwest between the HIA and
Afghan administrations are purely local and not between North Atlantic Treaty
Organization forces and the HIA.
Nevertheless, this is an important development and a positive one from Kabul's
point of view.
At the same time, a number of Baloch insurgents, including top commanders of
the Baloch Liberation Army, are in Kabul - again, for the first time since the
fall of the communist regime in Afghanistan in 1992. The Pakistani government
has been battling an insurgency in Balochistan province for many years. The
last thing it would want is the insurgency to receive support - moral or any
other form - from Afghanistan.
Pakistan has been walking between the devil and the deep blue
sea ever since it signed on to the "war on terror" in 2001 after ditching the
It has constantly been criticized by Washington and Kabul for not doing enough
to root out al-Qaeda militants and Taliban elements in its territory, while at
the same time President General Pervez Musharraf has drawn open hostility
(including assassination attempts) from militants, clerics and even sections of
the armed forces.
As stated above, Pakistan recently tried to bring some security to the
semi-autonomous tribal areas by signing agreements with the Pakistani Taliban
in North Waziristan and South Waziristan, and was about to strike one with
Pakistan tried to convince Washington that such deals would be beneficial
to the "war on terror", but Washington thought just the opposite, with visions
of a vast uncontrollable zone emerging in Pakistan as the strategic backyard of
the anti-US movement in Afghanistan. Thus the widespread conviction that the US
took matters into its own hands by launching the Bajour attack.
Apparently, Musharraf wanted to follow up this action with further attacks on
suspected militants, but was dissuaded from doing so by his top brass, who
argued for reconciliation with the Taliban at all costs.
As a result, Musharraf is back to square one with regard to Washington and the
Taliban: he just doesn't know which way to turn. The reports of Afghan
counter-intelligence activity in Pakistan make the decision all that much more
Boiled down, Pakistan has
three choices, all of them tough:
Go head-to-head with Pakistan's militants and face intense instability in which
Afghan intelligence would be ready to play its part;
Strike a Waziristan-like deal with militants and face Washington's
wrath in the shape of more air strikes and other conspiracies, including
even a coup;
Reassess its whole policy in the region and come up with something that would
allow Islamabad once again to gain friends in Kabul as well as keep its Western
According to reports from Waziristan, a new video by al-Qaeda leader Dr Ayman
al-Zawahiri will be released soon in which he will call for a global jihad
against the US and its ally, Pakistan.
Against this background, Pakistan's top brass will debate the options above.
Whichever path they choose, it will have a defining influence on the "war on
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at[email protected]