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    South Asia
     Dec 18, 2008
Pakistan groups banned but not bowed
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - Pakistan submitted to the will of the international community and cracked down on the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure - LET), already banned as a terror outfit and linked to the Mumbai attacks last month, and the Jamaatut Dawa, last week labeled by the United Nations Security Council as a front for the LET.

One of the more sensational arrests was that of Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, the LET's operations chief who had been characterized as a villain in dozens of Indian Bollywood movies; his picture was released for the first time ever to the media.

The Pakistani electronic media, though, were unimpressed by the

 

international pressure, and hit back. They showed footage of the massacre of Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002; of atrocities committed by Indian forces against Muslims in Indian-administered Kashmir and called the Mumbai attack a reaction from within Indian society.

At the same time, on the 37th anniversary on the fall of Dhaka and the split of Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, the media played up Indian intelligence's proxy operations and the attack of the Indian armed forces that resulted in the separation of East Pakistan.

In this perspective, the media were vocal against the crackdown on the LET and the Jamaatut Dawa. They showed footage of the invaluable services rendered by these groups, especially the Jamaatut Dawa, after the devastating earthquake in Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 2005 and the one in Balochistan province in Pakistan in October.

With regards to the Kashmir quake, in which officially 79,000 people died, the media pointed out that United Nations officials and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces working in the region coordinated with the Jamaatut Dawa and even justified its armed struggle for the "liberation" of Indian-administered Kashmir.
Zaid Zaman Hamid, head of the think-tank Brasstacks, which is considered to be very close to the Pakistani military establishment, told Asia Times Online, "There are two aspects to be understood. The people who favor Jamaatut Dawa are doing so simply in opposition to Indian and United States designs. After America moved a resolution in the [UN] Security Council [to outlaw Jamaatut Dawa] it caused a lot of embarrassment to Pakistan, therefore, there is a psychological reason and a need to counter this Indian game. Even those people, groups and parties which disagree with Jamaatut Dawa are with it only because India and America are against it. This is purely a geopolitical issue."

Zaid also hosts a television show in Pakistan and often appears as a defense analyst in other shows. He is an engineer by training and was a close aid of Northern Alliance Afghan guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated in 2001. Zaid has direct connections with various players in the region.

Zaid continued, "Secondly, there is another reason [for the crackdown], and that is the government's intention to control all relief from NGOs [non-governmental organizations]. Now all relief NGOs feel threatened that they could also be targeted like Jamaatut Dawa, so people are voicing their support for the Jamaatut Dawa. Already under American pressure, Muslim charities are under fire all over the world. Forty to 50 Muslim charities have been closed down," said Zaid, who is termed a hawk by Indian newspapers.

“One reason to support Jamaatut Dawa is its clean record, whether or not it is [a front for] Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jamaatut Dawa. It was never part of domestic terrorism nor has it ever been involved in any sectarianism or sectarian violence. The main reason for the action against Jamaatut Dawa is to malign the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] because the ISI is said to be behind its formation. Trapping the ISI and the Pakistan army is the main objective and the Jamaatut Dawa is just the bait in the process," said Zaid.

Other prominent Pakistani electronic media celebrities, such as Kamran Khan, Hamid Mir and Mubashir Lucman, have expressed similar ideas in favor of the Jamaatut Dawa and questioned the authorities over who will fill the vacuum in the services it provides in the field of charity with its chain of schools and medical clinics - no other group has similar resources.

Emergence of the LET
This sympathetic viewpoint of the Pakistani intelligentsia represents the subconsciousness of a nation that has slowly evolved after the debacle of 1971. Pakistan's breakup was fueled by Indian intelligence proxy operations under which a separatist Bengali militia was built and trained in Indian West Bengal and then launched in a war of attrition against the Pakistan army, boosted by an Indian invasion.

Pakistan lost half its territory after the Indian intervention and despite Pakistan being a signatory of Western defense pacts, such as the Central Treaty Organization and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, the US and other countries did not help Pakistan.

Three main lines of thought emerged in Pakistan's strategic quarters following the 1971 war:
  • Winning a conventional war against India, which is several times bigger in size and resources than Pakistan, is impossible.
  • Ensure that the country's national strategic interests would be given priority when signing any defense agreements with Western powers.
  • The Pakistan army needed to be restructured on nationalist lines and with the promotion of Islamic values to get rid of the colonial era's traditions.

    Two major events took place within a few years of the 1971 debacle which helped fine-tune these rudimentary strategies. Islamist chief of army staff General Zia ul-Haq staged a military coup in 1977 and in 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, which gave rise to the Western-sponsored Islamic resistance against the Soviets.

    Haq handed over the task of commanding the whole resistance to the ISI and personally selected officials for this task who would be the most professional, ideologically motivated and practicing Muslims. Later, Lieutenant General Hamid Gul and Ameer Sultan, also known as the father of the Taliban, emerged as strategists for the regional Islamic guerrilla struggle.

    The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provided the money and resources and the ISI utilized these according to its military doctrine, which rotated around two major principles: The adoption of a forward strategy under which while fighting a guerrilla war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, Islamic resistance groups would also be established in the Central Asian republics to fight against communism.

    The Pakistanis acknowledged that the 1,000-year Muslim rule in India was only able to last because of its strategic depth in Central Asia; when the Mughal rulers disconnected from this region after the death of the sixth Mughal ruler Aurangzeb in 1707, they lost their writ in the Indian states and eventually British rule was established.

    Under these two major principles, with the American money being funneling to aid the Afghan resistance, Pakistan started building its strategic assets in Afghanistan to guarantee its dominance in South Asia.

    These assets were non-state actors - the mujahideen. Kashmiris were groomed in Afghan camps and then launched into Kashmir to start an indigenous Kashmiri liberation movement in 1989. The movement was fueled by several big and small Afghan mujahideen groups disengaging from Afghanistan and going to Kashmir.

    The best of these was the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

    In 1988, Abu Abdur Rahman Sareehi, a Saudi and a deputy of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, founded an organization in the Afghan Kunar Valley which recruited Afghan youths and Pakistanis in Bajaur Agency to fight the Soviets. Sareehi was the brother-in-law of Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, now named by the US Treasury and the Security Council as chief of operations for the LET. Seed money for the training camps was provided by Bin Laden.

    The organization flourished in the Kunar Valley and in Bajaur. Hundreds of youths from Pakistan belonging to the Salafi school of thought joined the organization, beside hundreds of Afghans.

    By 1989, Bin Laden was anxious to set an agenda for global resistance, and then in 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait. Bin Laden offered Saudi Arabia his volunteers to defend the country, instead of taking American help, sending details of his resources. These clearly outlined Sareehi's setup in the Kunar Valley (before the Taliban, an Islamic Emirates based on Salafi tenets, supported by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, was founded in the valley). Saudi Arabia did not take the offer seriously and signed a military agreement with the Americans to protect Kuwait and allowed US soldiers to be based in the kingdom.

    Bin Laden, already angered by the Americans for their support of Israel, condemned the Saudi rulers and called on the US forces to leave the holy land or the mujahideen would carry out attacks on them. The Saudis were aware of Bin Laden's influence in Saudi Arabia and of his considerable resources so they and the CIA launched a joint operation to counter Bin Laden's network.

    Mahmoud Mohammad Ahmed Bahaziq, (described by the US Treasury as the main LET financier in the 1980s and 1990s and now named by the Security Council as a terrorist) was a Saudi intelligence proxy planted in the network.

    He built up his influence in the network with Saudi money and eventually established Markaz Dawa wal Irshaad. The name related to a renowned Saudi office for preaching Islam. This organization was then completely hijacked by Saudi intelligence and the CIA and later operated under the name Lashkar-e-Taiba. After the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, it renamed itself Jamaatut Dawa and clearly distanced itself from al-Qaeda.

    The ISI groomed several groups, such as the Harkat-e-Jihad-i-Islami, the Harkatul Mujahideen and the Jaish-e-Muhammad, but none was as near or as dear to the military establishment as the LET. There were several reasons for this.

    First was the ethnic connection. Most of the Pakistan army comes from central Punjab, as do LET members. Second, its members were extremely disciplined, patriotic and tough fighters. In some cases, the LET was provided as good a training as the army’s elite commando force. Indeed, the LET was groomed as a paramilitary force to enable Pakistan to launch massive guerrilla operations in the event India tried to engage Pakistan in conventional warfare.

    The experiment was successful and Pakistan, with the help of Kashmiri guerrillas, engaged over 800,000 Indian forces in restive Indian Kashmir. The finest contributor was the LET.

    After the brief Kargil war of May-July 1999, (when Pakistani troops and insurgents, including those of the LET, were forced to withdraw from peaks on the Indian side of the Line of Control that separates the two Kashmirs), the outfit launched its suicide attacks strategy. Under this, small groups of two to five members of fidayeen (suicide squads) would storm a security camp or base. In another frequently used tactic, groups of LET insurgents, dressed in security forces fatigues, would arrive at remote hill villages, round up Hindu or Sikh civilians and massacre them. These two tactics were designed to achieve maximum publicity and to extract public allegiance, mainly out of fear.

    In coordination with groups like the ones associated with revered Pakistani sufi Syed Mubarak Ali Gilani - to whom US reporter Daniel Pearl was desperate to talk and was killed in the process - whose network is deep inside southern India, the LET is the most important, unconventional strategic arm of the Pakistani armed forces which, in the event of war, will play a major role by providing frontline troops. The LET is estimated to have about 10,000 to 15,000 trained fighters.

    The Western media reported that after the Mumbai attacks in late November, Indian was on the brink of conducting surgical strikes on militant camps inside Pakistan, but stayed its hand on the advice of Indian strategic institutions which were very cognizant of the reaction that could be expected from the LET and non-state actors trained by Pakistan as a lesson from the fall of Dhaka in 1971. Instead, Delhi was advised to tighten the noose around Pakistan through the United Nations.

    The LET, meanwhile, though officially banned, lives on.

    Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

    (Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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