Death of the ‘Imam’

January 25, 2011

By Shemrez Nauman Afzal

Amir Sultan Tarar AKA Colonel Imam

Brigadier Retired Amir Sultan Tarar is suspected to have died in Taliban captivity, presumably because of cardiac arrest, but suspicions and conspiracy theories indicate that his captors, the Taliban, may have murdered him because of non-payment of ransom by his family. However, the official quarters including Military sources as well as the Frontier Corps are finding it hard to verify the reports saying they have no confirmed information in this regard.

“We have been told that his dead body has been seen near Danday Darpa Khel area in North Waziristan Agency, but the news could not be confirmed nor could we get any picture of the dead body of Colonel Imam”, a senior Army official told this scribe when contacted. Similar remarks were offered by the FC sources.

Read Complete Article Here: Death of the ‘Imam’

A Showdown In Waziristan

October 5, 2009

Tackling a Taliban Haven With Guns and Money

By David Ignatius

WANA, Pakistan – The zigzag trip to this garrison town deep in the tribal area of South Waziristan tells a story that’s more than a century old: The fierce Mehsud tribe and its allies are a law unto themselves in these rugged mountains, and wise travelers steer clear of their strongholds.

Pakistani army commander Ali Abbas, center, talks to his senior commanders at a post in Spinkai, a village in South Waziristan. (By Stephen Graham — Associated Press)

The Mehsud warriors have defied the British Raj, the Pakistani army and lately the Americans and their high-tech Predator drones. Since 2001, they have offered a haven to al-Qaeda and the Taliban and, in the process, made Waziristan one of the most dangerous spots on Earth.

A new battle for control of Waziristan is coming, as the Pakistani military prepares a ground offensive in the Mehsud areas against Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. The army has code-named the operation “Rahe Nijat,” which the commander here translates loosely as “The Way to Get Rid of Them.” The assault could start within the next month.

I traveled here from Peshawar in a single-engine Pakistani army Mashaq trainer. The route was not a straight line, which would have taken us over Mehsud territory. That’s too risky, even at 8,500 feet. So the young pilot steered a dogleg course during the nearly two-hour flight, making a sharp right over the ancient princely city of Tank.

We could see in the distance the regions where al-Qaeda has taken refuge. It’s an almost lunar landscape of dry, trackless peaks with a sparse stubble of trees along the ridges. If you were looking for a place to hide, so rugged and inhospitable that outsiders would tremble at entering, Waziristan would be it. In the days of the Raj, maps of Waziristan were mostly blank; even the intrepid British explorers usually stayed away.

We landed at Wana under a hot sun, in a valley surrounded by sawtooth mountains. To the west, about 20 miles distant, is Afghanistan. A hint of the violent life here is that family compounds are built as little forts, with steep walls and gun turrets at the corners. On Muslim feast days, it’s said, the locals have shooting competitions.

The town has two military outposts: a Pakistani army camp and the local headquarters of the Frontier Corps, the tribal force that, in theory, keeps the peace in Waziristan and the six other districts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA.

In recent decades, the government’s authority here disappeared. The Pakistani army tried unsuccessfully to regain control in 2007 and 2008, and is said to have struck a secret peace deal with Baitullah Mehsud, then the toughest fighter of the clan and the leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

Wana is relatively calm today because it’s controlled not by the Mehsuds but by the rival Waziri tribe, which in the past year has made peace with the government. The Pakistani army worked with the Waziri “maliks,” as the tribal leaders are known, to rebuild their power. The government’s campaign got a boost in August when a U.S. Predator attack killed Baitullah Mehsud.

Maj. Gen. Khalid Rabbani, the army commander here, is waiting for the ground battle to begin. “Enough is enough,” he says of the Mehsud chiefs and their allies. He’s confident that his troops can clear the area, but he worries whether economic development will come fast enough to hold it.

The army has been squeezing South Waziristan for two months now, blocking all roads into the Mehsud area, and Rabbani says the insurgents are running out of food and fuel. About 80,000 noncombatants have left, leaving an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 hard-core fighters.

The Pakistani strategy for rebuilding control here might be termed “back to the future.” Once the Taliban’s hold is broken, the army will work with the maliks to restore the old tribal power structure. The maliks will get stipends for their “jirgas,” or governing councils, and for a network of sentries, known as “khassadars.” The maliks will also revive local militias that can defend against insurgents.

A beefed-up Frontier Corps will give the system some muscle. In Peshawar, I visited the Frontier Corps headquarters, housed in a fortress called the Bala Hissar that dates to the Raj. The tribal recruits still dress in their traditional tunics and baggy pants, but their officers are getting 21st-century counterinsurgency training from about 80 U.S. Special Forces troops at a base nearby.

The burly commander of the Frontier Corps, Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan, sums up his philosophy of tribal politics this way: “If you want to be somebody, you must have a bigger caliber and a bigger wallet.” Guns and money are on Pakistan’s side in the coming showdown with the Mehsuds and their brutal friends, but this is one tough enemy.

Why Pakistan Will Never Catch Terror Leader Alive

June 29, 2009

The mess in Pakistan’s western areas is not just a battle with religious extremism. A larger part is a battle of proxies. There are credible reports that Indian and Israeli intelligence involvement in U.S.-controlled Afghanistan has deepened in the past seven years. American military and intelligence officials are impressed with the record of both countries in fighting Islamic groups in Kashmir and the Mideast. Israel invested heavily in establishing schools that study the art of Islamic indoctrination. These schools were used to learn how clerics can brainwash recruits and then exploit them politically. Israeli spymasters have used this knowledge to penetrate Islamic groups and plant agents. They have passed this technique on to the Indians to help them counter pro-Pakistan religious groups in Kashmir. In the Kargil war in 1999, Pakistanis and Kashmiris faced a direct Israeli special operations intervention on the side of the Indian military.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan-Pakistan will probably never catch terrorist leader Baitullah Mehsud alive. Why? For the same reason that we will never really know why uncircumcised dead fighters have been turning up from the bunkers of what is supposed to be Pakistani Taliban. Or why alcoholic beverages were found from some of their hideouts. Or why citizens of China and Sri Lanka – two close military allies of Pakistan – were brutally attacked on Pakistani soil by people claiming to be fighting America. Or why this new Taliban is so eager to kill ordinary Pakistanis and harass anti-India Kashmiri activists and demand they fight Pakistan.

Similarly we will never know why listed companies like Google and Facebook are speeding up Persian translations of their sites when no profit is involved. [Will their stockholders accept democracy instead of profits?] Or why the government of President Zardari exerted pressure for the removal of the Saudi ambassador in Islamabad. And why the government did not object when the U.S. and other allied donors tried to create a special fund for Balochistan and NWFP with the condition that it operate outside Pakistan’s control. And why the Saudi ambassador strongly opposed the plan when Mr. Zardari’s team almost endorsed it. Could this be one of several reasons why the Saudi ambassador became unwelcome here, received threats to his life and then was unable to meet the President before leaving despite several attempts?

The popular Pakistani understanding of the battle against Baitullah Mehsud is more American than Pakistani. This prevents us from accepting that this insurgency is wrapped in multiple layers of deceit. The entire prevailing narrative of the situation is exclusively American, tailored to suit Washington’s worldview. It talks about a uniform threat of Taliban and al Qaeda with no distinction made between the Afghan Taliban and the new Pakistani version; the American narrative does not explain how or why the ranks of the Pakistani Taliban have been swelling steadily when the Afghan Taliban is not experiencing a similar surge; and why the American narrative suppresses any discussion of Pakistani grievances about an organized anti-Pakistan terror wave emanating from Afghanistan.

The Pakistani counter narrative is missing on the government level and is probably limited to some circles within the Pakistani strategic and intelligence communities. The impression is that the Pakistani government is essentially bartering silence for U.S. aid.

This is a dangerous bargain.

It means that Pakistani officials won’t take a stand on the use of Afghan soil to export terror to Pakistan. In fact, there are strong grounds to conclude that while other parts of the U.S. government engage Pakistan, freewheeling elements within the Central Intelligence Agency are probably conducting their own foreign policy on the ground in the region. The simultaneous trouble in both the Pakistani and Iranian parts of Balochistan is but one case in point.

Another downside to our enthusiasm for U.S. aid money at any cost is our waning ability to resist the upcoming American plan to install India as the resident guardian over Pakistan and Afghanistan. A senior US national security official is expected to bring this plan to Pakistan in the next few days. Islamabad’s obsession with US aid while staying mum on vital Pakistani interest is absurd. Why is Prime Minister Gilani complaining now about the US ‘surge’ in Afghanistan when Mr. Zardari and his foreign minister wasted no time in warmly welcoming it when Mr. Obama unveiled the plan in March?

This explains why Mr. Zardari signed an American-proposed agreement to give India overland trade routes to Afghanistan. No wonder U.S. diplomats in Islamabad are so emboldened that recently some of them spent half the day camped at the federal petroleum ministry to force a rollback of the Iran gas deal.

There are also fresh questions on the extent of support the United States is getting from two of its closest allies India and Israel in Afghanistan. There are credible reports that Indian and Israeli intelligence involvement in U.S.-controlled Afghanistan has deepened in the past seven years. Some American military and intelligence officials are impressed with the record of both countries in fighting Islamic groups, especially the Indian experience in occupied Kashmir. The Israelis have invested heavily in establishing schools that study the art of Islamic indoctrination. These schools were used to learn how clerics can brainwash recruits and then exploit them politically. Israeli spymasters have used this knowledge to penetrate Mideastern Islamic groups. They have passed this technique to the Indians to help them counter pro-Pakistan religious groups in Kashmir. In the Kargil war in 1999, Pakistanis and Kashmiris faced a direct Israeli special operations intervention on the side of the Indian military.

The mess in Pakistan’s western areas is not just a battle with religious extremism. A larger part is a battle of proxies. None of this means that we should treat Washington as an enemy. But it does have an agenda that is increasingly diverging from Pakistan’s strategic interests.

A Dirty American Game In Pakistan

June 26, 2009

US weapons have mysteriously landed in the hands of terrorists in Pakistan. Now we have the Al Qaeda leadership freely accessing the foreign media in Afghanistan saying it would use Pakistani nukes against America. What is the US up to with Al Qaeda? Post-9/11 the world has had a memory lapse over the US-Al Qaeda connections – especially when Sudan offered Bin Laden to the US – but the latter allowed the Al Qaeda leader to move to Afghanistan.

The News International.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan-Pakistanis cannot be allowed to savor joy and success peacefully. Just when the nation was tumultuously enjoying the magical victory of our cricket team, the hard reality of our hostile environment post-9/11 clouded over us once again.

For anyone who thought the US was not targeting our nuclear assets, the screaming headlines from the Afghan-based Al Qaeda leadership’s interview to Al Jazeera brought the issue to the forefront once again with claims that Al Qaeda would use our nuclear assets against the US if they could. The absurdity of the statement notwithstanding, it can be explained only if seen as part of the campaign to legitimize a US/NATO takeover of our nuclear assets since our security prevents the US from taking them out physically.

We have also seen US weapons mysteriously land in the hands of militants in Pakistan – now we have the Al Qaeda leadership freely having access to the foreign media in Afghanistan. What is the US up to with Al Qaeda? Post-9/11 the world has had a memory lapse over the US-Al Qaeda connections – especially when Sudan offered Bin Laden to the US – but the latter allowed the Al Qaeda leader to move to Afghanistan!

While our military has become embroiled in a “war” that cannot be won by conventional military means, the US continues to play dangerous games with Pakistan – and at multiple levels. The drone attacks continue under Obama since the first one he ordered three days after his inauguration as US president – which killed 15 Pakistanis. In fact just as the present government has gone the extra mile in ceding ground to the US in Pakistan, the Obama administration has expanded the drone policy and according to Jeremy Scahill in the first 99 days of 2009 more than 150 Pakistanis have been killed in these attacks.

His estimate is that since 2006 and up to April 2009 drones have killed 687 Pakistanis – apart from the identifiable militants. That comes to about 38 civilian deaths a month just from these drone attacks.

Nor is this all. The New York Times gave an interesting account of US military operations within Pakistan including US Special Forces commando raids in FATA across the international Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Even more of a wakeup call of US intent should be the $.9 billion of the first year ‘largesse’ under the Kerry-Lugar Bill that has been earmarked for the construction of the new US embassy in Islamabad – a huge fortress right behind the presidency and the prime minister’s secretariat. If Iraq is anything to go by we may soon have US private security companies like the notorious Blackwater plus hundreds of other contractors. While US human intelligence will not gain in quality we will have a meddling US presence across our state institutions and civil society which will be damaging in the long term to our national wellbeing.

We are already hearing of the CIA chief visiting us followed by Obama’s special representative general James Jones. Both these officials will also be visiting India and the general thrust seems to be to push Pakistan into accepting an Indian military presence in Afghanistan. Interestingly General Jones also has strong ties to US business including Boeing and Chevron. Meanwhile there is no let down on focusing on our nuclear assets, which is why Prime Minister Gilani was compelled to finally, after a year of silent tolerance, demand that the US stop using a discriminatory approach towards Pakistan’s nuclear program, including the search for civilian nuclear power.

But there is discrimination and the new line of attack that has been opened is the Al Qaeda statement – following the numerous US official and media statements expressing “fear” of US nukes falling into militant hands! Surely just as the discovery of US/Israeli arms on militants in Pakistan raised serious questions as to the role/linkages of outside forces to militant outfits within Pakistan, so the new development is hardly without its linkage to an overall plan against our nuclear assets. Once again, the fact is that unless the Pakistan military is weakened from within, the assets cannot be accessed at all. Hence the need of the US to get the military bogged down in a conventional battle against unconventional foes in Swat and FATA – without any overarching political strategy visible from the government.

Ironically, while plots against our nuclear assets continue, it is developments in other countries that reveal the lack of strong security measures at nuclear installations in these places. On 22nd June, anti-nuclear activists managed to break through security at the German Unterweser nuclear power plant and actually scaled the dome of the plant. More disturbing has been the story, now surprisingly blocked out, about the Indian nuclear scientist Lokanathan Mahalingam, who disappeared or was abducted, and was later found dead from the Kali river. Mahalingam had also disappeared ten years earlier while he was working at another sensitive Indian nuclear location – the Kalpakkam nuclear complex.

India’s nuclear and missile security has revealed many shortcomings and in 2006 Dr. Tiwari involved in space research was also shot dead.

There have been stories of an underground network of Hindu extremists and Indian scientists involved in technology transfers to and from India and Israel. Indian scientists were also discovered at Iran’s Bushehr plant. So it is strange as to why the US and the IAEA continue to keep silent over India’s possible private proliferation rings as well as the weak safety of its nuclear and missile installations and sites? Equally puzzling is official Pakistani silence on these issues.

It is similar to the questionable manner in which our official institutions declare that there are Indians/US links to militant outfits in Pakistan, but then fail to give details or to take up these issues with the countries concerned. What is the Pakistani state playing at or fearful of? Is it not time the nation was told about the sources of funding and weapons for the militants in specific terms to give credibility to these allegations? Or will all the “militants” be “killed” before we can learn crucial facts about US double dealing and Indian destabilization of Pakistan. That is why arrest and trial of the militant leadership in anti-terror courts, rather than their killing, is essential for our nation and state’s long term security.

As for India, while Pakistan is also under pressure to resume the bilateral dialogue, our seeming haste seems to have sent the wrong signals to India. That is why we saw the sheer bad behavior on the part of India’s Manmohan Singh towards President Zardari in Russia. Too bad the latter was unable to respond in kind. But we can still send the correct message to the Indians by refusing to have a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the NAM conference in Egypt.

Dialogue is certainly desirable but only when the intent of the two sides is honest in terms of conflict resolution. So far the Indian intent is clearly not focused on this aspect. So perhaps it would be good to wait till India realizes the need to move towards conflict resolution with Pakistan in a holistic fashion. It may take pleasure in our leadership’s refusal to bring up the K word but without any movement on Kashmir, the dialogue will eventually run aground as always. For Pakistan it is also essential to know its maximalist and minimalist positions in clear terms – both, of necessity, being premised on giving Kashmiris their right to self-determination.

Things are moving fast, and there is a crucial need for the Pakistani state to step back and look at the larger picture so that inclusive policies can be formulated to deal with the threat of extremism, militancy on a long term basis by denying them space in our society; and to protect our nation and its nuclear assets from US designs.

Finally, it is sad to see that while the Pakistani state has seemingly abandoned the Kashmiris in Occupied Kashmir, these brave people continue to rally round Pakistan in a most instinctive way. So it was with the T20 World Cup where the Kashmiris in Occupied Kashmir joined the Pakistani nation in celebrating the Pakistani victory. Did anyone else in our neighborhood do the same?

Battle lines drawn

April 13, 2009

With terrorism raging with full force in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and America too receiving threats of terror attacks on US homeland from Taliban groups hiding in Pakistani tribal areas, President Obama has revised his strategy to wipe out Al-Qaeda and Taliban menace from Pakistan and Afghanistan. He said: “Elimination of Al-Qaeda will be in greater interest of both countries.”

The commander of the US forces in the region, General Petraeus, has said without mincing words: “America believes that terrorists operating along the Pak-Afghan border pose a direct threat to Pakistan’s existence.” He added that if needed: “America would take the fight to insurgents in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.” This is the first direct threat from America of the “hot pursuit” for terrorists into Pakistan territory.

There is a clear signal from the US that the Pakistan armed forces are unable or unwilling to eliminate Al-Qaeda elements from their soil. The US Commander-in-Chief Admiral Mullen recently said: “America has convincing evidence that ISI is hindering…army’s operation against terrorists.” Although Pakistan has vehemently denied these charges, but the US administration is not convinced and Pakistan’s denial cannot change its views about ISI’s shady role based on the information provided by CIA.

The recent spate of suicidal attacks in Islamabad, Lahore and even at Chakwal, resulting in a considerable loss of lives, for which the famous Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud has claimed responsibility, is an indication of significant acceleration in terrorist activities. In fact in his latest TV appearance Mehsud has proudly declared that Taliban will continue to attack targets in Pakistan at the rate of two in a week, if America continues its drone attacks in the tribal areas.

Mehsud has been around for a long time in the strife torn areas of NWFP, but amazingly despite his frequent TV appearances, the Pakistani security forces have failed to apprehend him. It is therefore incumbent upon the government to give the people of Pakistan a convincing proof of their efforts to apprehend Mehsud and his lethal network of terrorists who are shooting down innocent people in the so-called high security areas of the country like sitting ducks.

The government also owes an explanation to the people for their abject failure in controlling unhindered terrorist attacks. There is a need to take action against the PM’s advisor for home affairs and his senior staff members. In fact they should all be called before Parliament to answer for their shortcomings and lapses and punished if found guilty. The ruling party in fact should take a lead in this matter to get rid of the blame for overlooking the misdeeds of the government functionaries.

The US government which has promised substantial aid of 1.5 billion dollars a year for Pakistan to uproot terrorism as well as to prop up its sinking economy, has issued a ‘White Paper’ defining a stable civilian government and a vibrant economy as the main goals of the new US strategy for Pakistan. The paper is part of a detailed report of an interagency policy group that prepared the new strategy for the Obama Administration.

A chapter titled Realistic and Achievable Objectives describes the main goal of the new strategy as “disrupting terrorist networks in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan to degrade any ability they have to plan and launch international terrorist attacks.” To achieve this goal, the group stresses the need for “assisting efforts to enhance civilian control and stable constitutional government in Pakistan and a vibrant economy that provides opportunity for the people of Pakistan.”

The paper also recommends an important leadership role for the UN which has been asked to form a ‘contact group’ on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Countries neighbouring the two states and others with interests and influence in Afghanistan and Pakistan will be asked to join the group.

An important aspect of the new strategy is bolstering Afghanistan-Pakistan cooperation. For this purpose, it recommends institutionalising stronger mechanisms for bilateral and trilateral cooperation.

During the process of the review, inter-agency teams from Afghanistan and Pakistan went to Washington for trilateral meetings. The strategy recommends turning this into a regular forum which should serve as the basis for enhanced bilateral and trilateral cooperation. Another important aspect of the strategy is engaging and focusing Islamabad on the common threat, i.e. terrorism.

The paper notes that successfully shutting down the Pakistani safe havens for extremists will also require “consistent and intensive strategic engagement with Pakistani leadership in both the civilian and military spheres.” The engagement must be conducted in a way that “respects, and indeed enhances, democratic civilian authority,” the paper adds.

The anti-American elements, which do not have a full understanding of the situation, are clamouring against the drone attacks on terrorist hideouts. The government should take them into confidence if it has given the US airbases and permission for the drone attacks.

It is easy to say that Pakistan should cut off its relations with the US, but most difficult to do. This is an impossible demand which will destabilise Pakistan by handing it over to Taliban and ruin its economy or whatever is left of it. These are most difficult times for the country and its survival is at stake. However, the government should not accept unreasonable demands from irresponsible quarters which might plunge the country in another crisis.

The writer is former director news, PTV E-mail:

Agent Mehsud On A Mission To Prove His Worth

April 13, 2009


Dan Qayyum |

We had predicted in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai attacks:

We can now expect an intense and sustained terrorism campaign in Pakistani cities in an attempt to destabilize the country along ethnic / sectarian lines – New Delhi’s time-tested method. On the diplomatic front India will be lobbying hard to have the ISI (and Pakistan Army) declared as terrorist organisations. We can also not rule out another false flag attack in the next few weeks.

Pakistan needs to stay united. Its not over yet. [ India Defeated in the First Round ]

Seeing his influence wane in recent days in face of Pakistan Army’s continued offensive against the TTP and fearing his capture, the US had tentatively struck, for the first time since his emergence, camps run by Baitullah Mehsud earlier this year. Taking heed of these warning shots, Agent Mehsud has sprung into action.

In the last few days, efforts to destabilize Pakistan have intensified and high-profile targeted attacks are likely to continue unless the authorities take immediate action to target Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan. We have seen an attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, a bomb rip through Jamrud mosque killing 76, an attack on the Manawa Police Academy in Lahore, a suicide bombing in Islamabad last night and another suicide bombing this morning at an Imambargah in Chakwal.

Baitullah Mehsud’s warning to strike the US capital coincides with the US President Barack Obama’s visit to Europe in which he has explicitly warned Europe that it is on the hitlist of terrorists, even more so than the US.

Obama’s warning to Europe comes after several NATO members had expressed reservations on America’s plans to raise troop levels and urged for a date of pulling out of Afghanistan. On the other hand the threat of Kabul falling into the hands of Taliban this spring is greater than ever unless troop levels are increased dramatically.

Meanwhile efforts to link Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the ISI with the insurgency in Afghanistan have taken a new dimension with several top US military figures making public statements designed to put pressure on the Pakistan Army and intelligence services.

ISI has played a crucial role in unearthing the involvement of Indian embassies in Kandahar and Jalalabad in arming and funding Baitullah Mehsud’s TTP. The advisor for the Afghan Government Ehsanullah Aryanzai recently confirmed that India is “using Afghan soil to destabilize Pakistan and Afghan security agencies are unable to stop Indian intervention due to absence of centralized government mechanism.”

Inspite of overwhelming evidence, the United States continues to stab its ‘ally in the War on Terror’ in the back by not just turning a blind eye to Indian activities in Afghanistan, but actively assisting it. India is now being seen in the US as its enforcer in South Asia which will police the entire region on US direction and prove a counterwieght to China.

The US is also working with India on fine tuning a proposal that will reward India for sending its troops to Afghanistan. In return, the US will continue to stay clear of the Kashmir problem – a massive contradiction from Obama’s pre-election pledge of focusing to resolve the Kashmir issue.

Baitullah Mehsud’s conveniently-timed warning, and the failed attempt to take responsibility of the recent shooting spree in New York, is designed to inflict more damage on Pakistan and gives credence to the American and particularly Indian view calling for enhanced and direct military action into Pakistan’s tribal areas. Talking of attacking Washington D.C. is a bit rich coming from a man (if one may call him that) who despite criticism from the original Afghan Taliban, refuses to fight the American and NATO forces right next door in Afghanistan. In fact the contrary is true as Baitullah’s TTP has claimed to have on its hitlist the names militant leaders fighting the Americans and Indians in Afghanistan and Kashmir respectively.

Baitullah Mehsud and his ties to his American and Indian masters lay exposed. Its high time we take him out.

Who is Baitullah Mehsud? Watch this Video

First aired on PTV over a year ago – Ahmed Quraishi talks to Zaid Hamid on Baitullah Mehsud’s history and his links with foreign agencies.

Pakistan: Possible Militant Strikes on Karachi

April 13, 2009


Stratfor logo
Militants of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in Mohmand Agency in July 2008


Karachi police chief Waseem Ahmed said April 8 that police had arrested 5 militants belonging to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) who reportedly were planning attacks on seven government buildings in Karachi, British newspaper the Telegraph reported. The targets included the home of the interior minister, police headquarters, Shiite religious centers and suppliers cooperating with NATO forces. LJ is a jihadist group based in Punjab province allied with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. Jihadists have struck in Karachi before, but a campaign against Karachi by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) would create a serious confrontation for the city’s ruling party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a group that is itself known to engage in significant violence.


On April 8, Karachi police chief Waseem Ahmed said police had arrested five militants who were part of militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) and were planning to attack government offices (including the police station), intelligence agencies, mosques, suppliers who ship goods to Western forces in Afghanistan and counterterrorism personnel. These arrests are only the latest sign that Karachi’s ruling party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), is nervous about the jihadist threat to its city. LJ is a jihadist group based in Punjab province and allied with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) , which is led by Baitullah Mehsud.

The TTP has shown an ability to strike beyond its traditional territory in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) by expanding to virtually all of Pakistan’s major metropolitan areas with attacks in Islamabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar in recent months. Most recently, a group of 10 militants under Mehsud raided a police training facility just east of Lahore in Manawan in Punjab province. The TTP also has shown an interest in attacking Karachi, such as when Mehsud threatened in August 2008 to launch attack on MQM offices and other targets in Karachi if the party leader, Altaf Hussain, did not forfeit his rule there. Mehsud’s spokesman added that the time “was ripe for the Taliban to gain control of the city.”

An attack on Karachi by the TTP would lead to substantial fallout. Judging on past attempts of outside political groups dissenting from the MQM’s political views, the party would not tolerate the presence of the TTP.

Karachi is a strategic city in Pakistan, as it has the only major port in the country and consequently is a major nerve center for Pakistan’s economy. If the TTP wants to be viewed as a major force in Pakistan, going after Karachi would make a strong argument that the group can indeed strike anywhere. And striking in Karachi is definitely possible for the TTP. Many Taliban members come from Pashtun tribes and derive much of their political support from Pashtun populations. Karachi has a Pashtun population of 3.5 million, making up some 30 percent of the city’s population. Karachi police have reported that Taliban members are among the “several hundred thousand” tribesmen fleeing violence in the frontier regions who have settled on the outskirts of Karachi.

Jihadists already have exhibited an ability to make limited strikes in Karachi. In 2002, jihadists kidnapped and killed U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl and attacked the U.S. Consulate. Again in 2007, jihadists targeted the U.S. Consulate using explosives, killing a U.S. diplomat and injuring 52 others on the eve of then-President George W. Bush’s first trip to Pakistan. There are networks already in place that would allow for members of the TTP to infiltrate the city and carry out an attack.

However, there is a major force in Karachi that would vehemently oppose any jihadist activity – the MQM. The MQM is a political party in Pakistan’s southeast Sindh province that has come to dominate cities like Karachi and Hyderabad over the past 25 years. The party formed during the mid-1980s from a student group called the All Pakistan Muhajir Students Organization (APMSO), which protested the power of the land-ruling elite and the limitations placed upon their own ethnic group. The MQM formed out of the APMSO, a group of Urdu speakers who immigrated to Pakistan from India during the partition in 1947. They settled mostly in Sindh province, taking jobs in Karachi’s industrial sector, and were marginalized by Pakistan’s dominant Punjabi majority.

During the 1980s, Pakistani leader Gen. Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq practiced the policy of supporting smaller, regional movements to weaken the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), whose power base is located in Sindh. The Muhajirs made a power grab in a series of riots from 1986-1987, out of which sprang the MQM party. With support from the Zia regime, the MQM went on to defeat the PPP in local elections in Karachi and other cities in Sindh in 1987. While the PPP still controls rural Sindh, the MQM not only has positioned itself a major force in urban Sindh (especially the larger metropolitan areas of Karachi and Hyderabad), but also has branched out into national-level politics – albeit with little success.

The MQM survives by controlling the city of Karachi. Its various factions have been known to fight for control of Karachi, and it has also fought with other parties trying to move in on MQM turf. From 1993 to 1995, intragroup violence as well as clashes with other groups in Karachi killed approximately 1,800 people. The group is also known to crack down harshly on any dissident groups through torture or simply by killing them. In May 2007, the MQM refused to allow a political rally in support of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, resulting in clashes that left 43 dead and shut down the city for a day – an example of how the MQM does not allow political shenanigans in Karachi. This is definitely true when it comes to jihadists operating in Pakistan, and especially in Karachi.

While jihadists have been active in Karachi in the past, there is a significant difference between attacks in the past and attacks now. Previously, attacks were carried out by al Qaeda in conjunction with local allies; al Qaeda was just establishing itself in Pakistan after being run out of its safe haven in Afghanistan. The attacks were limited in magnitude and frequency, and not perceived by the MQM as a threat to their power in Karachi.

The TTP, however, has a much larger following and more political power due to greater local support, which underscores the MQM’s distaste for the TTP’s presence in Karachi. Crackdowns on the city’s large Pashtun population would be expected, as well as retaliation attacks, leading to significant violence and disruption in the city’s daily routine. Such violence would play into the TTP’s hands nicely, as it would churn up instability in yet another area of Pakistan, adding to the central government’s already flagging security efforts and threatening the economic center of Pakistan.

The situation in Karachi definitely merits watching over the coming weeks as a potential flashpoint of expanded Taliban violence. And perhaps more importantly, it is worth watching how the MQM responds to jihadist activity in its city.


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