Saturday, June 28, 2008




After a three-month futile courtship with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan ( TTP) headed by Baitullah Mehsud of South Waziristan, the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) headed by Maulana Fazlullah of the Swat Valley in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and other jihadi organisations, the Pakistani Government headed by Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani has ordered a clean-up operation in the Khyber Agency and South Waziristan of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and in the Swat Valley. The operation started on June 28,2008, in the Khyber Agency.

2. While the resumed clean-up operation in South Waziristan and the Swat Valley is meant to put down recrudescence of jihadi terrorism by the TTP and the TNSM, which is a member of the TTP, the new clean-up operation in the Khyber Agency is designed to put down inter-sectarian, inter-tribal and inter-Mullah clashes, which have already caused a large number of deaths in the Khyber Agency and are threatening to spread to Peshawar, the capital of the NWFP. The Khyber Agency, which is adjoining Peshawar, has been seeing increasing attacks by local tribal jihadi groups on convoys carrying oil and other essential supplies for the NATO forces in Afghanistan from the Karachi port.

3. The courtship with the TTP, which was accompanied by a suspension of operations by the security forces and the TTP against each other and peace talks , has reportedly seen a 40 per cent increase in the infiltration of Taliban terrorists from the FATA and other areas into Eastern Afghanistan, thereby enabling the Neo Taliban of Afghanistan, headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar, to step up its attacks on the NATO forces. A wave of panic in Peshawar in the wake of forays by Khyber-based jihadis into the city for intimidating sections of the local population, including some Christians working in a local hospital, growing resentment in the Shia community of Pakistan over continuing attacks on Shias in the Kurram Agency of the FATA allegedly by Khyber-based Sunni terrorists and repeated expressions of serious concern by US commanders in Afghanistan over the casualties inflicted on NATO forces and members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) by infiltrators from Pakistani territory made the Government sit up and take notice of the deterioration in the situation right across the tribal belt and order action by the security forces even at the risk of a collapse of the peace talks, which could lead to a revival of acts of suicide terrorism in the non-tribal areas, including Islamabad, Rawalpindi and other cantonment towns and even in Punjab. While the courtship and the peace talks did not lead to real peace in the tribal belt, they did lead to a steep fall in acts of suicide terrorism in the non-tribal areas.

4. The decision to order the clean-up operation was taken after a meeting of some members of the Cabinet on June 25,2008, which was briefed on the deteriorating situation by Gen.Pervez Ashfaq Kiyani, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS). Normally, the alarming situation should have been discussed by the National Security Council (NSC), which is chaired by President Pervez Musharraf. The Gilani Government avoided requesting for a meeting of the NSC. Nor did it brief Musharraf about the decision to order a clean-up operation. However, Gen.Kiyani, at his own initiative, called on Musharraf on June 27,2008, briefed him on the proposed course of action and took his clearance before implementing the decision of the Cabinet.

5. Well-informed sources say that he has been finding himself in a difficult situation with the Cabinet giving instructions in national security matters without consulting Musharraf or even keeping him in the picture. However, Gen.Kiyani has been trying to be correct by frequently meeting Musharraf, who continues to be his direct boss as the President and the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The decision to relax restrictions on the movements of Dr.A.Q.Khan, the nuclear scientist, and on his interactions with the media also appears to have been taken by the Cabinet despite cautionary advice by Musharraf not to do so lest it add to US concerns over Pakistan.

6. The entire decision-making process in national security matters is in a mess, with too many cooks adding to the potency of the jihadi broth. While Gilani is the de jure Prime Minister, in matters relating to action against terrorism it is Rehman Malick, a close confidante of Asif Ali Zardari,the co-chairperson of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), who has been issuing confusing and contradictory instructions----sometimes to the Army, sometimes to the para-military forces such as the Frontier Corps (FC), sometimes to the Police and sometimes to the provincial Government of the NWFP. He is designated as the Adviser on Internal Security with the status of a Cabinet Minister. It is alleged by well-informed police sources that he takes his orders directly from Zardari without keeping Gilani in the picture. Thus, one has a strange situation with Gilani giving instructions without consulting Musharraf and with Malick issuing instructions at the instance of Zardari without consulting Gilani.

7.The NWFP Government was extremely unhappy over the manner in which Malick----on his own without consulting either Gilani or the provincial Government of the NWFP headed by the Awami National Party (ANP)--- announced the suspension of the peace deal negotiated by the provincial Government with the TNSM. When this caused friction in the ruling coalition at Islamabad of which the ANP is a member, he denied having issued any such order.

8. This growing confusion in the action against terrorism has resulted in a situation in which the Cabinet has reportedly ordered Gen.Kiyani to undertake the clean-op operation, but at the same time, instructed that he should use only the Frontier Corps (FC), which is increasingly infiltrated by pro-Taliban tribals, for this operation and should not use regular army troops. One does not know whether Musharraf approved of this or whether he instructed the COAS not to hesitate to use the Army if he considered it necessary to do so.

9. During his negotiations with the Government, Baitullah was demanding that the Army should be withdrawn from the FATA and that the responsibility for maintaining internal security should be re-entrusted to the FC. Even while ordering the clean-up operation, the Gilani Government has taken care not to hurt the sensitivities of Baitullah by ordering that the FC should be in the forefront of the clean-up operations and not the Army.

10. Last year,Musharraf inducted the Army in large numbers into South Waziristan and ordered it to act against the TTP because of reports of collusion between FC personnel and the TTP and the surrender of a large number of FC personnel including officers with their arms and ammunition to the TTP without putting up a fight. US commanders in Afghanistan make no secret of their doubts about the dependability of the FC, which they look upon as the secret protector of the Talibans of various hues, which have come up in the tribal belt.

11. There are Talibans and Talibans in the tribal belt-----some accepting the leadership of Baitullah and others not; some claiming to fight against the Americans and not against the Pakistan Army and others fighting against both; some consisting largely of Punjabis such as the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), which is active in parts of the Swat Valley, and known locally as the Punjabi Taliban and others consisting largely of Pashtuns and hence locally known as the Pashtun Taliban; some such as the Pashtun Taliban claiming to be waging a jihad purely for local objectives such as the enforcement of the Sharia in the tribal belt and others such as the Punabi Taliban claiming to be fighting for the pan-Islamic objectives of Al Qaeda; some virulently anti-Shia and others not.

12. Whenever they are not operating against the Pakistani security forces and the Americans, they keep operating against each other, dubbing and killing each other as American agents. The tribal belt on the Pakistani side of the border is ablaze with inter-sectarian, inter-tribal and inter-Mullah clashes over who is a better Muslim and who is closer to Allah. Disputes over the distribution of the growing narcotics money from Afghanistan among themselves are adding to the gravity of the situation. It is jihadi anarchy of the worst kind, the like of which the history of Pakistan has not seen. Every Mullah, who is some Mullah, has his own FM Radio station through which he keeps instigating his followers to attack rivals and the security forces. To keep the FC inactive, these Mullahs allegedly give its officers a share of the narcotics money.

13. These radio stations have been instigating the Pakistani Taliban---Punjabi as well as Pashtun--- to attack American military and intelligence officers and NATO supply convoys in Pakistani territory. They have been calling for attacks on ships bringing NATO supplies to the Karachi port and on the Karachi offices of truck companies whose trucks are used by the NATO. They have been calling upon the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Group (IJG) and the Chechens to step up their jihad in Russian and Central Asian territories to disrupt the movement of NATO supplies through this route.

14.The Khyber Agency, better developed than the other Agencies of the FATA,is inhabited mainly by the Afridi and Shinwari tribes. Like the Swat Valley, it used to attract a large number of domestic and foreign tourists. The Agency was relatively peaceful till 2003. Trouble broke out in 2003, when a a local tribesman by name Haji Namdar returned from Saudi Arabia after performing Haj and set up an organization called Amr bil maroof wa nahi anil munkir, meaning the organisation for the “Suppression of Vice and Promotion of Virtue” . He started a campaign against music, dance, films and the TV and started punishing Muslims who did not regularly attend prayers in the mosques He started an FM radio station on which Mufti Munir Shakir, a virulently anti-Shia Mullah from the Kurram Tribal Agency, used to make anti-Shia broadcasts.

15.Mufti Shakir formed an organisation of his own called the Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) with its headquarters in the Bara town of the Khyber Agency. To counter the activities of the Wahabi-Deobandi LI, Pir Saif-ur-Rahman, a Mullah from Afghanistan who had settled down in the Agency and who belonged to the more tolerant Barelvi sect with its advocacy of Sufi traditions, started his own organisation called the Ansar-ul-Islam (AI). The AI also started making FM broadcasts against the LI and its Wahabi-Deobandi followers. In 2006, the two organisations came to frequent clashes. Following this, a jirga of the local Afridi tribes was held and the two were forced to leave the Agency by the local tribesmen in February 2006.

16.Following their expulsion, one Mangal Bagh Afridi, a 35-year-old local tribal, who had fought in Afghanistan with the Mujahideen against the Soviet troops, took over the leadership of the LI, which established its control over the whole of the Bara sub-division of the Agency.In April 2008, the LI extended its control to the Jamrud region of the Bara sub-division after a series of bloody clashes with the local Kukikhel sub-tribes of the Afridi tribe.The main artery connecting Peshawar to Kabul goes via the Khyber Pass. The Agency has two sib-divisions called Bara and Landikotal. Bara borders Peshawar.

17. The leadership of the Ansar-ul-Islam was taken over by one Maulana Mehboobul Haq. It is not known whether he too is a Barelvi or a Deobandi. However, under his leadership, the AI continued with its policy of resisting the activities of the LI. This resulted in many clashes with a large number of fatalities in the Teerah Valley of the Agency. The Pakistani security forces, which were preoccupied with their operations against the Taliban in South Waziristan and the Swat Valley, did not intervene in the Khyber Agency. Taking advantage of this, the LI consolidated its hold in the Khyber Agency and started enforcing its ban on music etc and punishing Muslims not attending prayers in the neighbouring areas of Peshawar too. It kidnapped 16 Christians, but released them later without harming them. It claimed that it mistook them for Muslims indulging in unislamic way of life, but released them on coming to know that they were Christians.

18. Mangal Bagh denies any links with Al Qaeda or the TTP. He does not accept the leadership of Baitullah. He says his fight is not against the Pakistani authorities, but against Muslims who are not living the life of true Muslims. While supporting the Taliban's jihad against the NATO forces in Afghanistan, he denies that his men are involved in the jihad against the NATO forces. Following a scare in Peshawar that the LI was about to attack Peshawar and capture it, he said in an interview on June 26,2008: “I am not about to attack Hayatabad or any other part of Peshawar.Ours is a reformist organization trying to promote virtue and prevent vice. We have rid Bara of drug-traffickers, gamblers, kidnappers, car-snatchers and other criminals and we want to cleanse Jamrud as well of those selling drugs and liquor and running gambling dens. That was the reason for us to send our mujahideen to Jamrud to accomplish the job. Lashkar-e-Islam is now able to enforce its code of conduct in almost the whole of Khyber Agency except parts of Jamrud inhabited by Kukikhels and a two-kilometre stretch of territory in Maidan area of Tirah valley. We have 120,000 men under arms who at a short notice would be able to assemble in case of need. All I have to do is to make an announcement on our FM radio channel and my mujahideen volunteers would be ready to fight for the Lashkar-e-Islam. I have no links with Al Qaeda or Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. I didn’t send my fighters to fight on the side of Taliban in Waziristan, Swat and Darra Adamkhel. The Taliban (of Mullah Mohammad Omar) are waging a jihad in Afghanistan for a just cause against foreign forces in their homeland. However, there are so many Taliban groups (in Pakistan) that it is difficult to tell as to which one is genuine."

19. Peshawar has on three sides areas over which the Pakistani security forces have no effective control. The Khyber Agency is under the effective control of the LI, which does not form part of the TTP. The Darra Adamkhel and Mohmand areas are largely under the control of the TTP. This situation has caused alarm not only to the non-religious political parties and the administration, but also to the traditional religious parties of the pre-9/11 vintage, who find a new generation of Mullahs of different hues supplanting them and making them increasingly irrelevant. Compared to the newly-emerging Mullahs of today, the pre-9/11 vintage appears rather moderate.The Reuters has quoted the Jamiat -ul-Ulema-Islam chief Fazlur Rehman, a member of the ruling coalition, who used to support Al Qaeda and the Neo Taliban in the past, as warning as follows: " “It’s just a matter of months before news comes that the entire NWFP has slipped out of control.”

20. Nobody seems to be in effective control in the free-for-all tribal belt of Pakistan---- neither Musharraf nor Gilani nor Zardari nor Gen.Kiyani nor the provincial Government of the NWFP. It has to be seen to what extent, under these circumstances, the clean-up operation succeeds. ( 29-6-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )