THE RISE AND
RISE OF AL-QAEDA, Part 1 Militants make a
claim for talks By
Syed Saleem Shahzad
KABUL - The capture by militants
of a fort in Pakistan near the Afghan border is
not just another isolated incident in the volatile
region. It represents a concerted fightback by
al-Qaeda to derail any peace initiatives unless
the group itself is directly engaged, rather than
local resistance leaders.
several hundred insurgents armed with assault
rifles and rockets stormed the remote Sararogha
Fort in the South Waziristan tribal area and
routed its garrison from the Frontier Constabulary
(FC), a paramilitary force formed of men from the
military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said
40 militants had been killed in an exchange of
fire when they managed to enter the fort after
blowing up a wall.
A Taliban spokesman,
Maulvi Omar, however, claimed that 16 FC personnel
had been killed and 24 more captured. He said only
two of his men had been killed, while a dozen had
sustained injuries. "The fort is still in our
control," the self-proclaimed Taliban spokesman
added in a phone call to the offices of a
Unrest has escalated
in South Waziristan since the government singled
out Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud for his
alleged involvement in the assassination of former
premier Benazir Bhutto on December 27 in the army
garrison city of Rawalpindi.
All the same,
Islamabad has tried to defuse the situation by
negotiating with selected Taliban leaders. Most
recently, a Pakistani Taliban shura
(council) headed by Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North
Waziristan responded positively to a government
offer of a ceasefire, despite opposition from
Takfiri elements who view non-practicing Muslims
The backlash was immediate.
Militants launched attacks in Mohmand Agency,
followed by Wednesday's mass assault.
response is orchestrated by al-Qaeda from its
camps around the town of Mir Ali in North
Waziristan. Al-Qaeda views any peace agreements
with the Pakistani Taliban as a government
maneuver to split the militants, and also says
Islamabad has been consistently intransigent over
Al-Qaeda demands that it be the
chief interlocutor in any peace talks, and it has
set its bottom line: guarantees of the withdrawal
of all security forces from the tribal areas;
enforcement of sharia law, the release of Maulana
Abdul Aziz of the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque),
who was apprehended last year; and that President
Pervez Musharraf step down.
ideology Al-Qaeda has fought back strongly in
the tribal areas after being forced onto the back
foot as a result of Pakistani security operations.
Its hardline message is well summed up by a video
now in circulation, a copy of which Asia Times
Online has viewed. It comes from the camp
of Tahir Yuldashev, leader of the Islamic Movement
of Uzbekistan, in Mir Ali. It carries bloody
footage, including that of severed heads, backed
by messages from top Takfiri ideologues in the
tribal areas, including Abdul Khaliq Haqqani and
The video traces some of the
successes of the insurgents, including mass
surrender scenes of Pakistani armed forces in
South Waziristan and detailed footage of the
October 2007 war in North Waziristan - the biggest
battle in the history of Pakistan's tribal
regions. There are scenes of Pakistani F-16s
bombing towns and the retaliation of the Pakistani
Taliban. The video claims the killing of 150
Pakistani soldiers and shows footage of their
bodies, burnt vehicles and seized equipment.
The video is primarily a declaration of
war against the Pakistani army and urges to
struggle to continue until Islamabad is captured.
The video portrays Musharraf as the prime accused.
With propaganda material such as this,
al-Qaeda aims to stamp its authority on the area.
At the same time, Jundullah, a purely militant
outfit whose objective is to target Pakistan's
pro-US rulers and US and British interests in the
country, has been revived. Its members receive
training in Afghanistan and South Waziristan.
The curtailment and revival of
al-Qaeda The mastermind of a new approach
in Iraq was former US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad
and US commander in Iraq General David Petraeus,
who introduced peace ideas in early 2007 which
resulted in Anbar Awakening. This is an alliance
of about 200 Sunni sheikhs drawn mostly from the
Dulaimi tribe and dozens of sub-clans who were
fighting against al-Qaeda.
money and aid from the US, they established links
with indigenous Iraqi tribal resistance movements
in Samarra, Tikrit and Mosul to target al-Qaeda,
which has proved successful in curtailing the
group's operations in Iraq.
initiative was copied by the British in southwest
Afghanistan and by Pakistan's Inter-Services
Intelligence in South Waziristan and North
Waziristan, with channels of communication with
the Taliban being established.
leadership within the Taliban was nurtured and
given arms and money by the Pakistani army. The
outcome was the massacre of Uzbeks in South
Waziristan and the removal of al-Qaeda bigwigs
from North Waziristan.
diligently sowed the seeds of its ideology among
the downtrodden and dead-end jihadis of Pakistan's
underground militant organizations, such as the
Laskhar-i-Jhangvi and the Jaish-i-Mohammed, who
felt betrayed over Islamabad's withdrawal of
active support for the struggle in Kashmir.
This effectively stemmed the rise of the
neo-Taliban, and Pakistani and Afghan warriors
have fully embraced the global jihad ideology of
Al-Qaeda believes it has
sufficiently changed the situation in Pakistan and
Afghanistan and that the first regional dialogue
with al-Qaeda - involving Britain, the United
States and Pakistan - will start in South Asia.
Indeed, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden,
in audio and video messages last year, surprised
many when he urged the West for dialogue.
Of course, this was not a straight-forward
offer of an olive branch, but an indication that
al-Qaeda aims to be the main negotiator of Muslim
issues, rather than local groups such as the
Taliban, Iraqi tribes and Hamas in Palestine.
In Pakistan and Afghanistan, this is
International players trapped in their game
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia
Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be
reached at[email protected]