The aftershocks from the 7/7 and 7/21 attacks on the London tubes and the Sharm el-Sheikh bombing in Egypt extend to Pakistan. Several of the London terrorists were of Pakistani descent and are believed to have trained and attended madrassa in Pakistan. The initial investigation of the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings in Egypt pointed to men of Pakistani origins (this was later dismissed by Egyptian intelligence). Whether directly related to Pakistan or not, the finger has been pointed in its direction, and recent terrorist attacks highlight the presence of radical Islamists in Pakistan.
President Pervez Musharraf has responded by ordering foreign students attending madrassa to leave the country, and rounding up over 200 clerics and students. His latest move is to reject the establishment of Shariah law, which mirrors the laws of the repressive Taliban regime, in the western tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. The Islamists are naturally unhappy.
Already several clerics have made thinly veiled threats to bring “chaos” to the province if the central government in Islamabad ignores the “democratic will” and scotches the Bill in the supreme court.
The clean up of the madrassa and the establishment of government control in the western tribal provinces are welcome steps towards ridding Pakistan of jihadi influences, but Musharraf leaves much to be desired when it comes to dealing with the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). B. Raman of the South Asia Analysis Group refers to LeT as an Al Qaeda Clone and explains how it operates as al Qaeda’s regional affiliate.
Though it has changed its name to Jamaat-ud-Dawa to escape the consequences of the order banning it issued by Gen. Pervez Musharraf on January 15,2002, it continues to be referred to by many Afghans, Pakistanis and Arabs as the LET. Since the beginning of this year (2003), it has been trying to perform the role previously played by Al Qaeda as the co-ordinator of pro-bin Laden networks all over the world, as the supplier of funds to the networks in different countries and particularly in South-East Asia and of suicide volunteers, arms and ammunition and explosives to the surviving Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan etc.
Lashkar-e-Taiba is the ideal al Qaeda affiliate, operating within the International Islamic Front. At the establishment of the International Islamic Front, the Egyptian Jihad Group, Egyptian Armed Islamic Group, Pakistan Scholars/Ulema Society, Partisans Movement in Kashmir and the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh, openly declared their membership. However other regional terrorist organizations kept their membership secret, in order to give plausible deniability and shield them from international scrutiny. This creates confusion within the media and goverments, and leads to inaction against al Qaeda affiliates in their midst.
Pakistan’s reluctance to deal with the Lashkar-e-Taiba can be directly related to Kashmir. Support for Kashmiri independence from India has widespread support within Pakistan among Islamists and secularists alike, and the LeT is viewed as a valid resistance to India’s presence. The links to al Qaeda are ignored for the greater good of ‘freedom’ for Kashmir. Dan Darling neatly sums up the problems faced by Musharraf when dealing with domestic terrorists.
Areas of the Northwest Frontier Province, Baluchistan, and Azad Kashmir have become de facto havens for al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Hizb-e-Islami. There’s a lot of internal Pakistani politicking that severely hampers the fight against al Qaeda. The US consensus is that Musharraf is doing everything he can against the international terrorists, but is being far more reserved about acting against local or regional groups like the Taliban or Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). LeT has been basically subcontracted by al Qaeda to run its infrastructure, propaganda, and recruiting efforts in South Asia while the central leadership remains underground. It’s the whole attempt to distinguish between good/bad jihadi groups that is going to bite Musharraf sooner or later, but for now that’s likely to be the Pakistani policy for the immediate future.
Musharraf is in an unenviable position. Cracking down on the domestic terrorists is fraught with political risk and very real personal hazards. Allowing groups like the LeT to continue operations will eventually lead to terrorist attacks being linked back to Pakistan.
Musharraf has moved in the right direction by killing and capturing members of ‘external’ al Qaeda, attempting to restore order in the tribal areas and corralling the extremist madrassa. The glances eastward from Britain and Egypt show the problem with groups such as the LeT cannot be ignored indefinitely. When the time comes, Musharraf will have to decide which bite is worse.
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