Events over the past week highlight the deteriorating situation in the country
NWFP/FATA map. Red agencies are openly controlled by the Taliban; yellow are under threat. Click map to view.
Over the past week, the Taliban have been very active in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. The Taliban attacked the town of Tank, re initiated its turf war with the Uzbeks in Waziristan and continued to consolidate gains in Kohat and Bannu. But perhaps most disturbing event isn’t the slow disintegration of the Pakistani state at the fringes, but the open defiance from the Taliban in the heart of Pakistani capital. At the peripheries, Pakistan is either engaged in a full scale civil war or is abandoning territory. At the core in Islamabad, the Islamist see real weakness in the Musharraf regime, and are growing bolder each day.
The Talibanization of Islamabad & the Las Masjid
The recent developments in Islamabad prove the Taliban and al Qaeda are not satisfied with remaining confined to the tribal belt or even the Northwest Frontier province and Baluchistan. The pro-Taliban leaders of the Las Masjid have become emboldened by the weakness of the Musharraf government of late, and are now openly challenging the rule of law in the very heart of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.
Zaffar Abbas, in an article titled “The creeping coup,” explains how two brothers, Maulana Abdul Aziz and Maulana Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, run a pro-Taliban movement in and around Islamabad. Aziz “heads Islamabad’s biggest Jamia Fareedia madrassa” which “at any time… boasts over 7,000 students seeking higher degrees in Islamic education.” Ghazi “manages Lal Masjid, which is situated in central Islamabad between the prime minister’s office and the headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence. Ghazi “is now spearheading the Islamic ‘brigade’ which includes several thousand madrassa students, both men and women.”
“Lal Masjid and its adjacent Hafsa madrassa have not only managed to enforce the Taliban-style system of ‘moral policing’ in matters of ‘vice and virtue’, to date they remain in control of the situation” in Islamabad, notes Mr. Abbas. Bands of burka-clad women wielding batons patrol the streets enforcing Sharia, just as Saudi Arabia’s notorious ‘Department for Virtue and Vice,’ or the religious police, do. “Within no time [after becoming emboldened by government weakness over the past few months] groups of men and women from the brigade started visiting shops, threatening them with dire consequences if they didn’t stop selling DVDs, CDs or music cassettes,” reports Mr. Abbas. “People were also issued directives about dress codes and other ‘moral and ethical’ issues.”
This week, members of the Lal Masjid militia kidnapped a woman, her daughter in law and her infant, and held them until the older woman admitted to running a brothel and denounced her crimes. Two police were held inside the Lal Masjid, and were later released. No arrests were made. The Lal Masjid is off limits to the Pakistani government.
On March 30, flush with success from the kidnapping standoff, Aziz has taken upon the government’s weakness and has called for the implementation of universal Sharia law in Pakistan. Aziz even gave a deadline.
Maulana Abdul Aziz, the prayer leader at Lal Masjid and principal of Jamia Hafsa, on Friday gave the government a week’s deadline to “enforce Sharia” in the country, otherwise “clerics will Islamise society themselves”. “If the government does not impose Sharia within a week, we will do it,” Aziz told a gathering after Friday prayers. Similarly, he gave the Islamabad administration a week to shut down “brothels”, otherwise “seminary students will take action themselves”. “If we find a woman with loose morals, we will prosecute her in Lal Masjid,” he said. Sources told Daily Times that the Jamia Hafsa administration would compile a record of brothels and gambling dens over the week, and then launch a drive. They said the seminary believed these places were being run in collaboration with civil society organisations. “Jamia Hafsa will hold a conference on April 5-6 at Lal Masjid, where ulema will finalise a strategy against brothels and gambling dens,” said Aziz, adding that the drive would not be limited to Islamabad.
A suicide bomber hits a military camp in Punjab
As the crisis inside the capital deepens, the Pakistani military was stuck by a suicide attack. Two recruits were killed and 8 wounded when a suicide bomber walked up to trainees outside a military base in Kharian in Punjab province. The Kharian base “is considered to be an important military installation and is the headquarters of an army corps,” notes the New York Times. “Mechanized infantry, armor and artillery are stationed in the garrison.”
A similar attack in Dargai in northern Pakistan last fall killed 45 recruits and wounded scores.
Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud has been directly implicated in this year’s suicide campaign, where bombers struck in Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Mir Ali and elsewhere.
A Bajaur Accord, the TNSM and the death of an ISI agent
The Bajaur tribal agency has long been both an al Qaeda sanctuary, and a command and control center. On March 26, the Pakistani government essentially codified the ugly truth on the ground in Bajaur, and signed off on the Bajaur Accord, which ceded control of the region to the local Taliban under the guise of dealing with the tribes.
Within 24 hours of the signing of the ‘peace agreement’, the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (the TNSM, or Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad’s Sharia Law) flexed its muscles, and demanded the release of Sufi Mohammed, its leader, or it will prepare to unleash over 100 suicide bombers nationwide. The deadline has passed and there has been no further news on the status of Sufi or the suicide campaign.
Also, on March 27, Major Hamza, an Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agent assigned to tracking al Qaeda in Pakistan, and Subedar Saeedur Rehmanan, Hamza’s deputy, were murdered in Bajaur province along with two other ISI officials. Hamza and his team were traveling incognito and according to Alexis Debat, were hunting Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command.
Mr. Debat’s Pakistani military sources told him “they believe ‘elements close to al Qaeda’ carried out the hit on the four officers” and “denied the attack was an ‘inside job’ aided or carried out by rogue ISI officials sympathetic to al Qaeda.” However “Pakistani officials conceded the attackers knew closely-held details of the men’s journey, including the timing of the men’s trip, their route and their purpose.”
The evidence certainly points to an “inside job.” The rental car was identified by two masked men on motorcycle, who attacked with grenades and assault rifles. Hamza and Rehmanan, the two prime targets, were the first two killed. Days later, Pakistani police arrested 11 suspects in the Hamza murder, including two ISI agents. Pakistani military claims that the ISI was not involved ring hollow, as Hamid Gul’s hidden hand is at work to eliminate men like Major Hamza from the service.
Waziristan fighting continues to be manipulated by the government
South Waziristan remains a Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold, despite the fighting between the Taliban of Mullah Nazir and al Qaeda Uzbeks. After a ceasefire was brokered between the two factions, fighting resumed yesterday. The Pakistani government claimed 56 more Uzbeks were killed, while locals put the number at 11.
The Pakistani government has claimed all along this fighting is evidence of the effectiveness of the Waziristan Accord. The government claims Mullah Nazir is a ‘pro-government’ tribal leader working to eject all foreigners. But in fact the fighting is equivalent to a mafia turf war, with Nazir seeking to gain power, prestige and land at the expense of the Uzbeks, who settled in the region after the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Nazir backs the “Arabs” (or al Qaeda) and has pledged to continue the jihad in Afghanistan.
While enemy infighting certainly has its advantages, the political mileage the Pakistan government is getting out of the fighting outweighs any body count racked up in South Waziristan. The Pakistani government will use this fighting to demonstrate the success of the peace accords, and press for further surrenders in the Northwest Frontier Province.
Tide turning red in Tank
In the district of Tank in Northwest Frontier Province, the Taliban fighters of Baitullah Mehsud made a bold attempt to openly seize power in the city of Tank. Over 200 Taliban fighters massed and attacked the town’s police stations, looted and burned two banks and destroyed a the office of a cable provider. The government claimed 25 Taliban and one police officer were killed, but the Pakistani military has inflated enemy casualties in the past while hiding their own. Tank, which is a ‘settled’ district of the Northwest Frontier Province, is now under curfew after Army units moved in. The Taliban are still holding positions outside the town.
The fighting in Tank began after the principal of a local high school asked police to prevent the Taliban from recruiting. A skirmish ensued, and the Taliban later returned and kidnapped the principal. Over 100 students have been recruited by the Taliban in this single school.
Tank borders South Waziristan, where the Taliban openly rule and Baitullah Mehsud is strongest.
Kohat turns, Bannu is next
Last week, we noted that Kohat should now be considered Taliban influenced territory – meaning the Pakistani government has yet to sign a ‘peace deal’ as it has in the Waziristans or Bajaur, but the district is essentially under Taliban control. Isfandyar Wali, the leader of the Awami National Party, recently said the Taliban control Kohat. “I am constantly saying that Taliban are very rapidly getting powerful in the North West Frontier Province, but nobody is listening to me,” said Wali.
The Taliban are now enforcing Sharia in Kohat. “Taliban militants seeking to impose Islamic law blew up two video shops and torched a cable television operator’s office in Kohat,” the Daily Times reported on March 31. “The attackers forced people out of the local office of World Cable 2000 and sprinkled kerosene over it before setting it on fire. Later they detonated crudely-made bombs at the video shops.” Events such as these are becoming commonplace in the Northwest Frontier Province.
In Bannu, the Taliban kidnapped female poll worker on March 30. “The staff-members are being kept at the Government Primary School, Khidry Mohammad Khel,” the Daily Times reported on March 30. “According to a private TV channel, the Taliban have said that ahead of the election, candidates and militants agreed that women would not poll votes.”
Bannu, like Tank, borders North and South Waziristan, where the Taliban are strongest. Bannu should be considered Taliban influenced territory. Other districts and tribal agencies are sure to follow as Pakistan’s unspoken civil war proceeds apace.
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The real Taliban was always in Pakistan, but often it spilt into Afghanistan to the West and/or India (Kashmir notably) to the East.
However it now seems to be consuming Pakistan (especially Punjab, the ‘core’ of the Pakistani state). Which should be a concern to New Delhi. Pakistan’s nukes must be dismantled before Musharraf falls.
Btw great job report, love your work.
Amid mounting pressure from the US and EU to crack down hard on al-Qaeda and Taliban militants holed up in its tribal belt, Pakistan is rushing an additional 8,000 troops to the restive region to “reinforce” the 80,000 security men deployed along the borders with Afghanistan.
The troops are being rushed ahead of a major operation planned in the North and South Waziristan tribal agencies, ‘the news’ daily quoted officials as saying.
Two brigades of infantry troops have been sent to the trouble spots near the Pak-Afghan order, it said.
Thanks for posting that ECH. That’s a Press Trust of India wire coming in, it is important to note that it coincides with CENTCOM Chief Fallon’s meet with Musharraf.
We have this story regarding the same: //www.india-defence.com/reports/2983
It’s also interesting to note that Dawn reports Security forces aiding the Anti-Uzbek campaign with artillery.(Pak military denies, but Dawn quotes eye-witnesses.)
The UN has shut down their checkpoint for returning Afghan refugees, they are getting flooded due to the $100.00 travel money (many refugees take the money, then just return to Pakistan later,) but they shut down when a riot erupted after a murder at the checkpoint. The deadline for the $100.00 offer is 4/15, so expect a flood of refugees returning before that date, which could bode ill for Helmand.
How many of those 8,000 are in Tank… If an extra 8,000 troops are even being deployed…
I have learned to take Pakistani government statements on casualties, troop movements and the motivations of ‘tribal fighters’ with heavy mountains of salt. As Srirangan notes, and I have stated repeatedly in the past, the Pakistani government seems to only take seemingly meaningful actions when a senior dignitary is in country. Dog, pony, etc.
The Associated Press is reporting that the Taliban in Afghanistan executed three men on Sunday accused of spying for NATO and government forces in southern Afghanistan, according to a local militant commander and villager.
The three men from the southern province of Helmand were arrested and allegedly “confessed to their crime” of being spies for NATO and the Afghan government, said Mullah Abdul Qasim, a Taliban commander in the north of Helmand. Qasim said information from the three men led to the deaths of two Taliban commanders.
My Way: Taliban Hang 3 Alleged Afghan Informers
Philip Smucker has an article today from Khost, Afghanistan about the suicide bombers arriving from North Waziristan.
Gazing out at the wheat fields, a haggard police chief pointed to the distant goat paths leading from Pakistan’s territory of North Waziristan. Known here as “Osama bin Laden’s children” or “the walking dead,” nearly two dozen suicide bombers entered Khost province over those paths in the past year.
At least some of the bombers cross the border with a blessing from Ayman al-Zawahri, bin Laden’s bespectacled ideological lieutenant, said Lutfullah Mashal, a senior intelligence official with Afghanistan’s National Security Council.
Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in nearby Pakistani community of Miram Shah, mimicking similar martyrdom celebrations in the West Bank and parts of the Arab world, throw lavish parties for the families of the suicide bombers.
U.S. soldiers in the 82nd Airborne Division have trained in advance of their deployment to spot suicide bombers, said the unit’s combat operations chief in Khost, Lt. Col. Scott Custer. “We look for gestures in their eyes,” he said.
Col. Custer said it was “not blind luck” when a young U.S. sergeant last month spotted a bomber disguised as a surgeon when he arrived at a dedication ceremony for the recently renovated Khost hospital.
“He spotted his nervousness and shouted for him to halt,” said the colonel, who witnessed the attack.
The Afghans had time to scatter and the sergeant, later rewarded for his bravery, tackled the bomber and shot him once through the leg before retreating as several U.S. officers riddled the bomber with bullets.
In his death throes, the bomber was able to clasp his hands together and detonate his explosives, causing minor injuries to the tackler and bystanders.
Washington Times: ‘Walking dead’ cross line into Afghanistan to kill
New Generation Of Qaeda Chiefs Is Seen On Rise
Although the core leadership was weakened in the counterterrorism campaign begun after the Sept. 11 attacks, intelligence officials now believe it was not as crippling as once thought.
“To say that Al Qaeda was out of business simply because they have not attacked in the U.S. is whistling past the graveyard,”
Afghanistan’s Eastern Front
Across the border from Custer and his 82nd Airborne forces in Khost is what one government official refers to as “Suicide Inc., an al Qaeda and Taliban joint venture” based near the extremist stronghold of Miram Shah, Pakistan. Several loosely affiliated suicide cells send more and more young men into battle strapped with increasingly potent explosives. Suicide attacks increased sixfold in 2006 to 150, spiking after a September “peace deal” between Pakistan’s Musharaf and leaders in the country’s tribal areas, where Taliban and al Qaeda interests still hold sway.
Pashtuns never used to buy into the 72 Virgins spiel. Either that has changed or non-Pashtuns are doing the exploding.
General: Pakistani border deal fails
CASTEAU, Belgium – Pakistan’s decision to hand control of a remote region along the Afghan border to tribal leaders has failed, leaving foreign fighters there free to train and recruit militants, NATO’s top military commander said.
“It hasn’t worked since it went into effect” in September, U.S. Army Gen. John Craddock told USA TODAY. “That’s why we think it should be ended.”
Battle Brews Over Rule By Military In Pakistan
. . . the general remains popular among the top brass. “How could he not be?” the diplomat said. “He personally signed off on every senior promotion that has occurred over the past 10 years.”
That “desintegration of the state” part is not quite appropriate. Pakistan never had control over so called “tribal” territories. Under the US and NATO perssure they tried to gain more control, but failed.
That does not change the fact that Musharaff and his regime are in trouble.
Every mass movement has that stage where the next move decides its direction, greater or smaller. I suspect you are witnessing the forming of such a reality, such a showdown. Would it be so bad if India really got involved with their military?
I can very easily envision a scenario where OEF and ISAF link up with elements of the Indian Army on the Indus, which becomes the new eastern boundary of Afghanistan.
The US and NATO forces in Central Asia are out on a precarious limb. If they have to cut their way out due to Pakistan alowing the LOC to be closed, marching through Waziristan to the Indians may be the only course of action left.
Trackbacked by The Thunder Run – Web Reconnaissance for 04/02/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.