Militants open a new front in Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - On March 25, United States intelligence, despite detailed briefing by
Pakistan, missed the chance to take out Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah
Mehsud, one of the world's most wanted men with a US State Department bounty of
US$5 million on his head.
This failure, some arrested men linked to Mehsud's banned Tehreek-e-Taliban
Pakistan (TTP) network have revealed, has set the scene for renewed unrest
across the country, starting in the port city of Karachi.
Based on specific information they had handed over, senior officials in
Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence in Islamabad were
confident of receiving a good-news call from their American friends concerning
an attack on Mehsud's sanctuary. They got the call, saying that a target had
been hit and eight al-Qaeda militants killed. The Predator drone strike was in
Makeen in the South Waziristan tribal area, the headquarters of Mehsud, but
crucially it left his compound unharmed.
The attack angered Mehsud, a senior jihadi leader told Asia Times Online on
condition of anonymity, and he has vowed revenge. "The attack has left him like
a wounded lion in the jungle, and everything and anything could be his prey,"
the jihadi said.
"However, in Mehsud's case, his anger will be vented only against Pakistan. The
reason is very technical. Three large Pakistani tribal-based networks are in
the region of North Waziristan and South Waziristan. These include the network
of Sirajuddin Haqqani, based in Dande Darpa Khail. This includes 22 powerful jehbas
[groups]. The region borders Ghulam Khan, which goes into the Afghan province
of Khost. This network is very influential and useful for attacks on NATO
[North Atlantic Treaty Organization] troops in Khost, Paktia and Ghazni.
"The second network," the jihadi continued, "is run by Mullah Nazeer and is
based in the South Waziristan region of the Wazir tribes near Angor Ada and
Shakai, which borders with Paktika. Nazeer runs the largest jihadi network in
Paktika and is the main source of attacks on NATO troops. Neither Nazeer nor
Siraj [Haqqani] is any threat to Pakistan, therefore NATO constantly attacks
their positions and demands that Pakistan also take action against them.
"In this whole game, the strangest situation is that of Baitullah Mehsud. He is
based in Makeen, which is disconnected from the border region and is near areas
close to the Pakistani security forces. That's why Pakistan is always
interested in getting ceasefire agreements with Mehsud's network, which is
numerically the largest among all [militant groups], to protect its troops.
"Any American adventurism in Mehsud's area provokes Mehsud. Mehsud does not
have any direct access to Afghan provinces, so he vents his reactions on
Pakistani troops, blaming them as co-conspirators against him," the jihadi
Mehsud's activities have mostly been restricted to North-West Frontier
Province, apart from sporadic attacks in Islamabad and its twin city,
Rawalpindi. However, after the recent developments, including the first attack
on his area, the Mehsud network and other al-Qaeda linked groups plan "real
fireworks" all over the country, according to people linked to his network who
were arrested in Karachi.
A national-security threat
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID), in collaboration with an
intelligence agency, disclosed on Monday that it had arrested a close aide of
Mehsud - 59-year-old Badshah Deen Mehsud, son of Gul Khadeen Mehsud, a resident
of Shah Noorani Goth, Karachi and South Waziristan.
Badshah, who speaks Urdu and Pashto, is affiliated with Mehsud's TTP and is a
close aide of Mehsud. One of his sons, Mehrban, also works for the TTP.
The CID's Fayyaz Khan claimed at a press briefing that Badshah provided
logistical support to Mehsud and was allegedly involved in crimes ranging from
robbing money changers and banks to providing vehicles and shelter to those
working for the TTP in Karachi. He is also said to have provided medical
treatment to injured associates.
Senior investigators have told Asia Times Online that the situation in Karachi
is very delicate and law-enforcement agencies had decided to avoid any direct
clashes with militants. That is, there was a tacit agreement that the militants
could use Karachi to raise funds and for other logistic purposes, and the
security agencies would not carry out any operations against their sanctuaries.
Most of the fund-raising was to provide support for the Taliban in Afghanistan
- a source of anger for the US. This concern was translated to a Karachi-based
political party, the Muttehida Quami Movement (MQM), which recently began a
campaign against the Taliban in the city.
This included an incident in which the MQM blew the whistle on a kidnapping
operation in Karachi by the Mehsud tribe in which several police officers were
injured. This forced the police to take action, leading to several arrests,
including the high-profile one announced on Monday.
With the "truce" with the security forces having been broken, Mehsud and his
allied groups now want to strike back, starting by creating chaos in Karachi.
They have chosen the city for two reasons:
It has the largest concentration of the Mehsud tribe after South Waziristan.
It has a non-Pashtun majority, making it ripe for ethnic violence with the
second-largest community, the Pashtuns.
In this battle, Asia Times Online has learned, the militants are searching for
ways to unnerve their enemies in top positions, including high-profile
kidnappings in the country's largest city and financial center.
The battles of the tribal areas have now unmistakably moved to the urban
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at[email protected]