Jihadis strike back at Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - The US-inspired move to stabilize Pakistan by bringing together the
exiled liberal and secular former premier Benazir Bhutto and President General
Pervez Musharraf to form a national-consensus government indicates Washington's
overriding desire to maintain Pakistan as an important base in the "war on
terror", as well as to secure large infrastructure projects in Pakistan and
The idea has taken firm root, with talks between representatives of Musharraf
and Bhutto continuing, and an announcement expected
within a couple of days. No opposition alliance, whether it be the six-party
religious alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal or the All Parties Democratic
Movement, is in a position to threaten the government.
No political opposition, that is.
Al-Qaeda members based in the Pakistani tribal areas of South Waziristan and
North Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan see this development as a
serious challenge to their survival. In response, they have drawn together the
Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, jihadist groups and, last but not least,
a significant number in the Pakistani security forces to "nip the evil in bud".
This they aim to do by offering fierce resistance to Pakistani forces across
the country from bases in North West Frontier Province and elsewhere, as well
as to any coalition forces that stage raids from across the border in
Taliban a step ahead of US assault, Asia Times Online,
August 11.) After this, they will rejoin the Afghan offensive with renewed
On Tuesday, militants send a bloody message on their intentions. Two suicide
bombers attacked two areas in the high-security zone of the garrison city of
Rawalpindi (the capital Islamabad's twin city), killing 27 people and injuring
more than 80. Most of the victims belonged to the defense services. An Interior
Ministry spokesman linked the bombers with militants in Waziristan.
Last week, in a stunning show of strength, militants abducted 410 officers and
soldiers of the security forces in the Waziristans. The Pakistani press
initially reported numbers of 100, then 200 and later 300. This clearly
underlines the vulnerability of the ruling military establishment.
"You don't see any law enforcer in FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas],
especially after sunset. The militants hold the real authority," Zulfiqar Ali,
who reports from the area, was quoted as saying by Inter Press Service. He
speculated that the fact that the militants could seize and hold such a large
number of soldiers indicated their size and strength and said it was possible
that the government had already lost control of the tribal areas.
This vulnerability can be traced to July, when security forces stormed the
radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad, which had close links with
militants in the tribal areas. Many militants holed up in the mosque were
killed, but such was the backlash that Pakistan retreated from a planned
operation against the Taliban's and al-Qaeda's assets throughout the country,
despite a massive deployment of troops in the tribal areas. An uneasy truce in
the tribal areas between militants and the authorities was called off by the
New lease on life for militants
Rawalpindi is full of secret detention centers known as "safe houses" in the
language of the secret services. All high-profile terror suspects, including
those involved in plots to kill Musharraf in 2003 and 2004, coup plotters and
those involved in sabotage operations, are held in these centers. The suspects
number in the hundreds.
The saga of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry changed everything. He was
suspended in March by Musharraf for alleged abuse of office, but subsequently
reinstated by the Supreme Court. This marked a major milestone in the history
of the Pakistani judiciary and the birth of unprecedented judicial activism,
which included the Supreme Court ordering the authorities to release "missing
people" detained in the secret detention centers of intelligence organizations.
Dozens were released, including al-Qaeda's Pakistani chief, Mustafa (one name).
 Militants had tried for a long time to strike deals to have him freed, but
Pakistan, under foreign pressure, would not do so. It took the courts to secure
Soon after the militants were released, the Lal Masjid operation took place,
which further emboldened them to reorganize into various groups. On August 25,
this message was disseminated through e-mail to all national and international
Dusk on July 10 witnessed the fall of a gallant
warrior. Perhaps the bravest this land has seen. His revolutionary pride
refused to bow down before a system which is based on tyranny and oppression.
He might be dead, but he lives through the cause his blood sanctified. To our
nation, which has been enslaved for the past 300 years, he gave the will to
resist the ruling class and the imperial powers with the slogan Shariat ya
shahadat [rough translation: We are
ready to die for the enforcement of Islamic law]. We
are back with a bang.
The message was released with photographs of Abdul Rasheed Ghazi,
the deputy prayer leader of Lal Masjid, who was killed on July 10. Also in the
last week of August, a video compact disc was released of the Lal Masjid
operation in which a background voice promised a wave of suicide attacks
throughout Pakistan to avenge the incident. Supporters of the Lal Masjid, not
only in Islamabad and Rawalpindi but also in other parts of the country,
activated their followers.
Then a car was snatched at gunpoint from Inter-Services Intelligence officials
in Rawalpindi. This prompted the authorities to issue orders that officials
avoid all unnecessary movements in civilian areas and not to travel without
guards in uniform. In the same period, militants raided a secret detention
center in Rawalpindi, firing some shots before escaping. This week, before the
twin suicide blasts, four army personnel were kidnapped in broad daylight from
Qasim Market in Rawalpindi.
Concerned officials opened back-channel talks with the militants. Fazl Karim,
who slit the throat of US reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi in 2002, was
released without fanfare from detention in Karachi. Though Pakistan claimed an
unconditional handover of 18 security personnel in Waziristan last week,
sources told Asia Times Online that more than 1,000 militants were swapped.
The 410 security forces, however, remain in the captivity of militants in
Waziristan. In addition, dozens of security personnel are either killed or
kidnapped just about every day in the tribal areas of Mohmand, Bajaur and the
Security officials point out that Tuesday's twin bombings once again show the
level of the militants' penetration of the security forces. The bombers were
easily able to transport themselves and explosives into a high-security area;
clearly they had active help from insiders.
"This is natural retaliation for the oppression of Lal Masjid students and
teachers. The government massacred hundreds of people and used white phosphorus
to annihilate them, and now they expect peace?" Abu Hafs, a spokesman for the
Lal Masjid movement, told Asia Times Online in a telephone conversation.
Musharraf and his allies have been the target of militants for many years, and
survived. This time, however, it could be different.
Asia Times Online contacts in the tribal areas say that al-Qaeda, the Pakistani
Taliban, Uzbek militants and the Afghan Taliban have shelved their differences
and agreed on a single agenda. This is to remove all Western allies from
Pakistan and to continue attacks on the establishment until the military
leadership alienates itself from the "war on terror". They also want the
release of all suspected militant prisoners in Pakistani jails and
This approach is the same as the one adopted in April 2006, when militants made
sure that Pakistan would not carry out operations on their bases, and only then
they entered Afghanistan for their successful spring offensive.
After a deal is finalized with Bhutto, it will be a litmus test for the
Pakistan Army as an institution whether it backs the deal in favor of
Washington or expands it and makes a bargain with the militants so that it can
survive for another day - and make life more miserable for the Western
coalition in Afghanistan.