INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR---PAPER NO.389
One police officer and three civilians were killed and 30 injured in a car bomb explosion between a police station and a hotel in Mardan inthe North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan on April 25,2008. The police station building collapsed due to the impact of theexplosion.
2.Mardan is the home town of the new NWFP Chief Minister, Mr.Amir Haider Hoti, who belongs to the secular (friendly to India) AwamiNational Party (ANP). The ANP, which is a regional Pashtun party, emerged as the largest single party in the elections to the provincialAssembly held on February 18,2008, and also did well in the elections to the National Assembly in Islamabad. It is a member of the rulingcoalition headed by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which assumed office in Islamabad a monthago. Mr.Hoti is the nephew of Mr.Afsandyar Wali Khan, the President of the ANP. His selection by the party leadership for the post of ChiefMinister was criticised by some party circles, who viewed it as family favouritism, but this has not created any enemity to him.
3. The responsibility for the explosion is reported to have been claimed by a spokesman (Maulvi Umar) of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan(TTP). He projected it as in reprisal for the death of a commander of the Tehrik at the hands of the local police. The explosion came twodays after Baitullah Mehsud, the South Waziristan based Amir of the TTP, had circulated leaflets in the Mehsud area asking his followers tostrictly observe a ceasefire in view of the talks going on with some emissaries of the Government on a possible peace agreement.
4.The explosion also came some days after the NWFP Government, as a gesture to the TTP, had released Maulana Sufi Mohammad, thefounder-Amir of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) of the Malakand Division, who had been detained in 2002 when he and hisfollowers returned from Afghanistan after having sustained heavy casualties in an American air strike. They had rushed into Afghanistan tohelp the Taliban and Al Qaeda after the US had launched its Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7,2001. The TNSM was subsequentlybanned by President Pervez Musharraf.
5.During his detention since then, his son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah, also known as Maulana FM Radio because of his use of an FM radiostation for mobilising his followers, assumed control of the TNSM. Under his leadership, the TNSM joined the TTP and contributed volunteersfor the wave of suicide strikes in tribal and non-tribal areas after the commando action ordered by Musharraf from July 10 to 13,2007, tofree the Lal Masjid in Islamabad from the control of jihadi elements close to the Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Evenbefore the elections of February 18,2008, the previous Government had Sufi Mohammad transferred to a hospital from the Peshawar jailafter the TNSM followers of Fazlullah rose in revolt in the Swat Valley and took to arms against the Army in retaliation for the Lal Masjidcommando raid. The Army's efforts to use him to restore peace in the Valley failed. While the Army was able to free those areas of the SwatValley, which had come under the de facto control of Fazlullah and his followers, it was not able to neutralise him and his followers, whomanaged to escape into the mountains and have been operating from there. After his release by the new Government, Sufi Mohammad hascalled for an end to the attacks on the security forces. It remains to be seen what following he still commands from his former followers andto what extent his son-in-law is amenable to his influence. Moreover, Sufi Mohammad has been having many health problems. It is,therefore, doubtful whether his release would have any significant impact on the ground situation
6.The Mardan explosion also came after a month of lull in terrorist strikes in areas outside the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).The lull had given cause for hope that the wave of Pashtun anger in the tribal areas triggered off by the commando action of the SpecialServices Group (SSG) in the Lal Masjid might be showing signs of subsiding. The commando action allegedly resulted in the death of 200tribal students studying in the madrasas attached to the masjid. This anger set off a wave of Pashtun suicide terrorism not only in FATA andin the Swat Valley, but also in the non-tribal areas, including in Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Lahore, Tarbella, Sargodha etc. Mrs.Benazir Bhuttopaid with her life at Rawalpindi on December 27,2007, because of Pashtun anger against her due to her support for the commando action.
7. During the last one month, there were no acts of suicide terrorism anywhere in Pakistani territory, but there were sporadic acts ofnon-suicide terrorism in the FATA. The indications of the dilution of the anger were attributed to the overtures made by the ruling coalitionin Islamabad to the tribal elders constituting the TTP, through the Pashtun constituents of the coalition such as the ANP and theJamiat-ul-Ulema Islam (JUI) Pakistan headed by Maulana Fazlur Rahman.
8. These overtures have been accompanied by hints that the new Government intends reviewing the counter-terrorism policies followed bythe Army under President Pervez Musharraf, when he was also holding charge as the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS). These policies, whichblindly aped the American model of over-militarisation of counter-terrorism, were viewed and continue to be viewed by many as having led toan Americanisation of Pakistan's counter-terrorism policies to serve the US objective of preventing another 9/11 in the US homelandmounted from the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, without regard to the impact on the internal security and stability of Pakistan.
9. While the coalition Government has welcomed the US offer of assistance for the economic development of the FATA, it has not reactedpositively to US suggestions that in addition to the economic development, a programme should be undertaken for special training to thePakistan Army and para-military forces such as the Frontier Corps in counter-terrorism in order to re-orient them to their counter-terrorismrole, which till now has received low priority in preference to their conventional role against India. While reacting positively to all proposalsfor upgrading the counter-terrorism equipment now available with the Pakistani security forces and intelligence agencies, the coalition isaverse to any major US role in training the Pakistani forces for operations against the jihadi terrorists.
10. The TTP is not a homogenous group. It consists of leaders of different tribes in the FATA and in the adjoining districts of the NWFP, eachhaving his own inflated ego and his own agenda. The common bonds uniting them are their pro-Taliban and pro-Al Qaeda feelings and theiranti-US and anti-Musharraf anger. The desire to avenge the Lal Masjid raid by the Army is no longer as strong a motivating factor as it wasbefore the elections, but the desire to help the Neo Taliban of Afghanistan, headed by its Amir Mullah Mohammad Omar, and Al Qaeda intheir jihad against the NATO forces in Afghanistan is still a strong motivating factor. While they rallied behind the leadership of Baitullah,who is a strong supporter of Serajuddin Haqqani of the Neo Taliban, in the wake of the Lal Masjid raid and contributed volunteers for suicidemissions, the ability of Baitullah to make all of them implement the terms of any peace agreement eventually signed by him with theGovernment is doubtful. The Mardan explosion is as much a message to the Government as it is to Baitullah not to take for granted theirsupport to any peace agreement between the Govt. and Baitullah.
11. While all the tribal elders are strong supporters of the Neo Taliban, their support for Al Qaeda varies. The tribal elders of NorthWaziristan, where the training infrastructure of Al Qaeda, the IMU and the Islamic Jihad Group (IJG) is reportedly located, and the BajaurAgency strongly support these organisations. The Mehud followers of Baitullah in South Waziristan strongly support the Neo Taliban, buttheir support for the Arabs in Al Qaeda is not that strong.
12. The various tribal elders, who identify themselves with the TTP and accept at least nominally the leadership of Baitullah, have their owndefinition of who are foreigners.None of them treats the Pashtuns of Afghanistan in the Neo Taliban as foreigners. For them, allPashtuns---irrespective of whether from Pakistan or Afghanistan--constitute one community and to talk of locals and foreigners in theircommunity is absurd. Even amongst the non-Pashtuns----mainly the Arabs, the Uzbeks, the Tajiks, the Uighurs and the Chechens--- they treatthose who came into the area in the 1980s to participate in the jihad against the Soviet troops as no longer foreigners. Many ofthem---particularly Uzbeks--- have married Pashtun women and are accepted as members of the Pashtun community.
13. For them, a foreigner is an Arab, or an Uzbek or an Uighur or a Chechen or a Tajik, who had not participated in the jihad against theSoviet troops and who came into the area after the start of Op Enduring Freedom to fight against the Americans. Their number is very small.The anti-US jihad in Afghanistan has not attracted a large number of foreigners as the jihad in Iraq has. Most of those fighting against theUS-led coalition forces in Afghanistan are Pashtuns from both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and the Arab and other foreignsurvivors of the pre-9/11 vintage. If they are all to be treated as de facto locals,any agreement between the Government and the TTP, whichsays the latter would not help foreigners and give shelter to them in their territory would be meaningless.
14. The ruling coalition in Islamabad is not a homogenous group either. It is a hotch-potch of political opportunists, each biding his time andwatching over his shoulders till they are able to assert their primacy. The PPP led by Mr.Asif Ali Zardari is amenable to accepting US ideasand suggestions regarding the fight against terrorism without outwardly seeming to be doing so. They are prepared not to rock the boat forMusharraf if the US prefers his continuance as the President. Mr.Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (known as PML-N),strongly distrusts the US because of its support to Musharraf and for him teaching a lesson to Musharraf, who had him overthrown, is moreimportant than teaching a lesson to Osama bin Laden, Mulla Omar and Baitullah. The ANP is truly secular and leftist-oriented, but tooidealistic to be able to make an enduring impact on the ground situation in the Pashtun belt at a time when large sections of the belt havebeen Talibanised. Maulana Fazlur Rahman is the father of all opportunists. Nobody can say with certainty on whose side he will betomorrow.
15. It is not surprising that a coalition of this nature has not yet been able to come out with a coherent strategy to deal with jihadi terrorism.For all of them, an immediate objective is to make the current lull in suicide terrorism in Pakistani territory endure by reaching an agreementwith Baitullah, hoping that he would be able to persuade other tribal leaders to fall in line and accept his agreement with the Government.Among the conditions reportedly being imposed by him are:
Release of all those arrested during the commando action in the Lal Masjid and the withdrawal of the cases registered against them under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Withdrawal of the Army to the barracks in the tribal areas, with the responsibility for internal security re-entrusted to the Police and the Frontier Corps.
Non-use of the Air Force and heavy artillery in the counter-terrorism operations.
A reversal of Musharraf's policy of handing over to the US without following the due process of law anybody characterised by the US as an Al Qaeda suspect. Publication of a complete list of those so handed over by Musharraf and their present whereabouts and legal status.
Review of all arrests made by the Police after 9/11 under the Anti-Terrorism Act in order to identify and release innocent persons.
A re-investigation of the Benazir Bhutto assassination case. Baitullah reportedly alleges that the Army had cooked up the investigation in order to have him implicated as the mastermind.
16. While his other demands may be acceptable to the ruling coalition as a whole, his demand relating to the Benazir case is tricky---- sinceboth the Pakistan Army and the US intelligence agencies seem to be in agreement that he played a leading role in her assassination. Toaccept his condition to re-investigate the Benazir case could invite criticism that for Mr.Zardari saving his own life and ensuring his rise topower are more important than bringing to justice those who had his wife killed. Already critics of Mr.Zardari in the PPP and the followers ofthe late Murtaza Ali Bhutto, the brother of Benazir, who was killed during a mysterious police firing in Karachi in September 1996, when shewas the Prime Minister and Mr.Zardari was literally running the police department and the Government as a whole, have been drawingattention to the significant fact that Mr.Zardari is no longer as vociferous as he was before the elections in demanding an UN-sponsoredinternational investigation into the assassination of his wife. He no longer talks of the need for a thorough investigatin into theassassination.
17. Any agreement reached by the ruling coalition with the Pakistani Taliban could prove to be as short-lived as the agreements reached byMusharraf with the very same elements in 2005 in South Waziristan and in 2006 in North Waziristan. While thus focussing on reaching apeace agreement at least with Baituulah and his followers in South Waziristan and with Fazlullah and his followers in the Swat Valley, thecoalition has been silent on its attitude towards the terrorist infrastructure of Al Qaeda, the Neo Taliban and pro-Al Qaeda organisations inthe Pakistani territory. It has been equally silent on the demands being voiced in jihadi circles for lifting the ban on anti-India jihadiorganisations and anti-Shia organisations imposed by Musharraf in January 2002 under US pressure and for unfreezing the bank accountsof identified financiers of Al Qaeda and the Neo Taliban such as Al Rashid Trust.
18. Both India and the US have reasons to be equally concerned over the demands being made in Pakistan to reduce the pressure on theterrorist organisations and ultimately restore the status quo ante as it was before OP Enduring Freedom started. If the jihadis have theirway, India would be the first to feel the impact and the US thereafter. The developing situation requires close monitoring. (26-4-2008)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently Director, Institute for Topical Studies,Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )