Exposed jihadis put Pakistan on the spot
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - The high-profile arrest of a group of Pakistani militants in
mid-April in the restive Afghan province of Helmand by the Afghan army and
their subsequent handover to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for
grilling exposed a jihadi network running to the heart of urban Pakistan.
In the course of interrogation, the militants confessed to being recruited,
trained and then launched into Helmand after spending some time in places such
as the southern port city of Karachi and Quetta, the capital of Balochistan
They also gave details of their Pakistani leaders and their activities,
including how these leaders could move around freely
and how they owned huge religious establishments.
The report of the interrogation of the militants, circulated to all tiers of
NATO command, including the top military and diplomatic command, raises
immediate questions on the competence and the commitment of the Pakistani
government in controlling militants.
This event happened when there were already heated arguments between Islamabad
and Western capitals on the handling of the militancy, especially in the Swat
Valley, where there is a peace treaty of sorts between the government and
In the United States, President Barack Obama, Central Command chief General
David Petraeus and army head Admiral Mike Mullen have all raised questions over
the competence of the Pakistani government, while expressing appreciation for
the armed forces.
Mullen visited Pakistan twice in 10 days and met with President Asif Ali
Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani, army chief General Ashfaq
Parvez Kiani and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, among others. The message was
hammered home that it is Pakistan which is running out of time, and not a
particular section of society or government. Therefore, the entire Pakistani
national leadership has to move very quickly to bury political differences to
fight against the threat of the Taliban.
The statements were not indicative of supporting a coup in Pakistan, but a
clear warning for the entire Pakistani national leadership, whether in
opposition or in the government. American officials have already spoken in
detail of the need for them to develop a comprehensive consensus on national
policy against the militancy. This would involve removing their mental blocks
concerning the Taliban - whether for or against or because of political
compulsions. In short, the leaders have been urged to remain focused on the
US-led "war on terror".
Well-placed contacts have confirmed to Asia Times Online that as a follow-up of
these warning messages from American officials, in the next few days Sharif
will accept a power-sharing formula to join the government led by Zardari's
Pakistan People's Party (PPP) to fight against the Taliban.
In terms of this, powerful political slots will be offered to the Pakistan
Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) group. In principle, former premier Sharif has
agreed to the terms and will add his party's weight to the battle against the
Taliban. Alternatively, if either the PML-N or the PPP refuses to accept the
formula, a technocratic interim government under the auspices of the Pakistani
armed forces might take over.
This development sets the stage for a new battle against the Taliban in
Pakistan. And for the first time, Taliban command councils in southwestern
Balochistan province and across the border in Helmand and Kandhar have warned
their cadre to be aware of the possible changes in Islamabad.
While US officials were shuttling back and forth to Pakistan, seven youths were
seized by the Afghan National Army (ANA) in the Gramsir district of Helmand
Pakistani youths from the tribal areas and the cities have frequently been
arrested or killed by NATO troops in Afghanistan. Most of these youngsters went
to the country in the zeal of jihad, and they could usually be linked to
particular stand-alone point-persons.
This time it was different.
Three of the men have been identified as Enyatur Rahman (North-West Frontier
Province - NWFP), Saeed (NWFP) and Imran (Punjab). When they were apprehended
along with the four others, a Pakistani Taliban commander named Mansoor, based
in Helmand, aware of the possibility of them exposing a major jihadi network
inside Pakistan, tried his level-best to negotiate with ANA to prevent them
from falling into the hands of NATO.
But a little mishandling caused ANA to turn them over to NATO.
There is an arrangement between the Taliban and ANA all over the south of
Afghanistan, especially in Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Helmand and Ghazni
Under this, when ANA troops are sent on patrol inside Taliban areas, they pay
the Taliban to avoid being killed. The price is arms, ammunition or rockets,
which is handed over and then reported as having been lost during an encounter
with the Taliban.
In turn, when ANA arrests any Taliban fighters, they demand cash money for
their release. If the fighters are Pakistani or non-Afghan, ANA takes a little
longer to negotiate a price, but if the fighters are Afghans, ANA personnel
will not take unnecessary risks. Either they strike a deal then and there and
release the Taliban fighters, or within a few days they hand them over to NATO.
The reason is to avoid direct confrontation with the Afghan Taliban and their
tribal constituencies, which could cause problems in any prolonged
Under this arrangement, as the seven men were Pakistani, Mansoor started
negotiations with ANA for the release of his men. ANA demanded US$200,000,
Mansoor countered with an offer of 2 million rupees (US$25,000), which was
refused. Mansoor then arranged for 10 million rupees to be paid, but since
almost 10 days had passed, ANA handed the Pakistanis over to NATO.
Mansoor mishandled the situation on two counts. First, he did not involve the
Afghan Taliban command, and secondly he took too long in reaching an agreeable
Apparently, the youths soon began talking under interrogation. In particular,
they gave details of a jihadi network known for its past association with the
defunct Jaish-e-Mohammad. They also gave details of their backgrounds and how
they were recruited and how they had spent time in different Pakistani urban
centers, where the leaders of their network openly ran religious
This information was shared with concerned Pakistani quarters, but by that time
all senior Pakistani Taliban commanders had gone underground. In the bigger
picture, though, the incident provided Washington the ammunition it needed to
really go after the Pakistan national leadership and warn that the entire
country needed to stand up as one to fight against all sections and groups of
the Taliban in the country. They reminded that it is not any particular
government or political party, but the state of Pakistan that is running out of
This is where a new joint government involving Sharif could come into play, and
Pakistan will once again be dancing to American tunes.
The Pakistani Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies obviously will not stand back.
Al-Qaeda's command has already drawn up plans to stir up a reaction all across
the country - the masses will be urged to show their allegiance in black and
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org