Brig Asif Haroon Raja
9/11 dramatically converted Pakistan from an international outcast under a military dictator aligned with extremist Taliban regime in Kabul to become a key strategic partner of America’s war on terror. This change in status brought about by USA did not come about out of the blue but under a well conceived design. While Afghanistan was already on the hit list of USA since 1997, 9/11 gave a ready made excuse to forcibly occupy it and bring a regime change of its liking and to then work upon the laid down regional objectives.
In its pursuit to denuclearize and secularize Pakistan, the US in concert with Israel, India and Britain worked out several contingency plans which ranged from coercion combined with inducement to destabilization, balkanization and fragmentation. Gen Musharraf was successfully coerced to ditch friendly Mullah Omar led Taliban regime in Kabul, to help US in militarily occupying Afghanistan, and to become a frontline state to fight US war on terror. Pakistan had to accept anti-Pakistan and pro-India Northern Alliance regime under Hamid Karzai in Kabul.
When Pakistan expressed its reluctance to send regular troops into South Waziristan (SW) to oust foreign terrorists since it had never done so in the past, Washington threatened that US forces would barge into FATA in case Pakistan failed to abide by its orders. Pakistan was induced to do Washington’s bidding by rescheduling Pakistan’s foreign debts and offering five-year package of $10.5 billion. By 2009, only 30% of this amount trickled into Pakistan’s kitty which barely met the expenses incurred on services rendered; the rest shifted back to US treasury. As against this puny amount the US spent $60 billion annually in Afghanistan.
Once the Army moved into SW, it was trapped and it was ensured that it got involved deeper and deeper in fighting futile war on terror. Nek Muhammad belonging to Ahmadzai Wazirs was killed by a US drone soon after he met Commander 11 Corps Lt Gen Safdar and inked Shakai peace accord in July 2005. Maulvi Nazir took over from Nek. Since Nazir reused to play American game, Abdullah Mehsud was released from Gitmo Prison and launched to accelerate militancy. His cousin Baitullah Mehsud too picked up the path of militancy but both operated separately so as to enlarge their areas of influence in FATA and beyond.
Army was pressed to shift from Wazir belt to Mehsud belt within SW. Abdullah was responsible for abducting and killing Chinese engineers working in Gomal Zam Dam project. It was RAW-CIA guided move to spoil Pak-China relations. Abdullah was killed in Zhob in July 2007 by Pak security forces. After his death Baitullah took up the mantle. The Army which had inked peace accord with Baitullah in early 2006 was pushed into North Waziristan (NW) to confront Hafiz Gul Bahadur led Othmanzai Wazir militants. Another peace deal was signed in NW in September 2006.
It was in this timeframe that Pakistani Taliban (PT) mysteriously surfaced in NW in late 2006 where Mir Ali and Miran Shah became their strong points. PT were later on duly trained, equipped, funded and protected by CIA, FBI, RAW, RAAM and Mossad foreign agencies based in Afghanistan and pitched against Pak Army to lock the two in deadly combat for a prolonged period. To prevent the Army from defeating militants, the army units operating in FATA were kept dependent upon doctored intelligence provided by CIA, FBI and satellite communication till as late as 2007. Bleeding and weakening of Army was considered essential for the success of the gory plan since without its destruction none of the envisaged objectives could be achieved. PT also helped USA in defaming Islam and Afghan Taliban.
Ranks of PT swelled after botched Lal Masjid operation in July 2007 triggering recruitment of fighters and suicide bombers in large numbers. Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Baitullah broke peace accords with security forces in July and August 2007 respectively. Mohmand Agency also came in the grip of militancy. Secular forces in Pakistan egged on by the west were responsible for instigating Gen Musharraf to launch a needless bloody operation. Revenge of killings of women and children receiving education in Jamia Hafsa became the rallying point. The Army was dubbed as a rental army on the payroll of US. Based on this analogy, killing of a soldier became a just cause. Reverses of Army at certain places in FATA further galvanized their spirits.
Taking advantage of hurt sentiments of the people of the area, RAW with the assistance of RAAM took upon itself to recruit fresh crop of fighters and to provide training, funds, equipment and reinforcement to PT from Afghan soil. Notwithstanding factor of revenge, chief causes of motivation of militants were regular handsome monthly salaries, perks and authority. Taste of adventure and heroism and easy availability of women to marry were other reasons to get lured. These were too intoxicating pleasures for the uneducated, unemployed youth belonging to poor families to go to any lengths.
Foreign agencies kept fueling their grievances and eulogizing their dare devilry. They pumped them that their cause to get rid of corrupt rulers and to introduce Sharia was genuine. Pak Army was projected as a mercenary army of the US. In the same breath it was ridiculed by USA for not doing enough and pressed to do more. It was also accused of being in cahoots with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Drone attacks which started hitting targets in FATA from January 2006 onwards remained confined to anti-US elements only or those refusing to tow US agenda. Purpose of drones was to fuel terrorism and not to curb terrorism.
Unheard of Baitullah who took over the reigns of Taliban in July 2007 surprisingly managed to establish Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) in December that year with its tentacles in all the seven agencies of FATA and in Darra Adamkhel (DAK). The TTP took a leaf out of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, whom they considered as their mentors and tried to emulate them by fighting evildoers to purge the society of immorality and dispensing speedy justice to victims. Bandits of the area who had made the life of peaceful residents miserable were nailed and many hanged to death. In order to become the dominant force in FATA, Taliban started to gun down pro-government Maliks and Mullahs in two Waziristans, the two pillars of Pakhtunwali. Police, Frontier Constabulary, Khasadars were targeted. Government officials were kidnapped and harassed to force them to abandon their offices. Other than CIA and FBI outposts, Blackwater was also moved into FATA to lend a helping hand in the killing spree. All this was done to weaken Jirga system and administrative machinery run by political agent.
RAW with easy money procured from illicit drug smuggling then started to equip TTP on a crash program. Bajaur, Swat and SW were converted into major strongholds where massive weapons, ammunition, explosives, suicide jackets, medical stores and other war munitions were stored in hundreds of caves, man-made tunnels, roofs and walls of houses and other secretive places throughout 2008.
CIA and RAW also helped TTP in getting aligned with several banned extremist groups so as to develop its capacity to engage Pak Army in a prolonged guerilla war, launch suicide attacks and group attacks against a specific defended or undefended target within cities. Idea was to enable TTP to strike targets within cities and also to show to the world that non-state actors had become strong all over the country. Its ability was however not built to hit targets outside Pakistan. Pak Army on the other and was denied requisite funds and counter terrorism equipment on the plea of Indian imaginary fears that equipment will be used against India.
CIA helped Baitullah getting aligned with Fazlullah led militants in Swat and making it part of TTP in February 2008. TTP also made inroads in southern Punjab wherefrom Punjabi youths were recruited. Unknown Fazlullah became popular in Swat and Malakand Division because of his preaching on FM radio which could not be jammed because of Israeli made transmitters. His motivational thrusts revolved around anti-Islamic lifestyle of the elite class, their insensitivity towards the poor, growing immorality and lack of justice.
The Taliban spread their influence to Bajaur which became restive after a drone attack on Damadola village in January 2006 and another strike on a madrassa in October 2006 killing 80 young students. Within a year’s time, Bajaur, attached with Kunar province of Afghanistan in north, turned into a formidable stronghold of Taliban under Maulvi Faqir where the Frontier Corps (FC) had to launch several operations. 100,000 locals got displaced as a result of Frontier Corps (FC) operation launched on 10 January 2008. FC operation under Maj Gen Tariq conducted in July 2008 ended on a victorious note in February 2009. It transpired that Bajaur militants were heavily funded and provided with all sorts of armaments and reinforcement by foreign agencies from Kunar. Uzbeks, Tajiks, Afghans and RAW agents used to assist Taliban in fighting security forces. Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh personally coordinated Bajaur insurgency.
Simultaneous to heating up of Bajaur, Swat under Tehrik-e-Nifaz-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) of Maulana Sufi, led by his son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah became turbulent. After a military operation in November 2007, another operation was launched in August 2008 which ended in Swat Treaty in February 2009 according to which Nizam-e-Adal was to be enforced in Malakand Division and in return the militants would cease militancy.
Mohmand Agency heated up and turned into another formidable front for security forces in 2007. Divided into two as upper and lower Mohmand, it shares border with Nangahar province of Afghanistan to the west, Khyber Agency to the south, Bajaur to the north and Malakand, Charsada, Peshawar to the east. Until 2007, Mohmand was the most peaceful Agency in tribal belt and known for its moderation. Banned militant groups played a role in activating militancy in this region. Consequent to Lal Masjid operation in July 2007, over 200 militants took over a huge mosque in Ghazi Abad village near Ghilanai and renamed it as Lal Masjid. An unknown figure Umar Khalid gained prominence. He had received military training from Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and had participated in Kashmir Jihad and had also taken part in Taliban last ditch battle against US invasion in 2001. All those who were pro-government were gradually put to death on the plea that they were infidels, hypocrites and American spies. This way, authority of tribal elders was gradually enfeebled.
Three militant groups including Lashkar-e-Islam cropped up from nowhere in Khyber Agency to create law and order problem in Landikotal, Tirah, Jamrud and to threaten Peshawar. Capital city was attacked by terrorists and kidnappers under a planned program. Kurram Agency was rocked by foreign instigated Shia-Sunni conflict resulting in tens of hundreds of deaths. An operation had to be launched to quell the sectarian unrest. RAAM was heavily involved in fuelling turbulence.
Besides FATA, Balochistan was also made turbulent in 2005 by cultivating rebellious Baloch Sardars of Bugti, Marri and Mengal tribes and nationalist Baloch political leaders. Baloch rebels were trained, funded, and equipped on a massive scale to fix security forces in interior Balochistan. Gradually the flames of terrorism were brought to the capital city Quetta. After the death of Akbar Bugti, RAW planted the seeds of separatism among Baloch nationalists and rebellious elements. Balochistan became a priority target for USA-UK-India because of commercial and strategic interests. Exiled Baloch leaders were sheltered in Kandahar and in London and mandated to work for independence of Balochistan.
Another peace accord was signed with Hafiz Gul Bahadur in NW in September 2008 which is still intact. Peace agreement with Maulvi Nazir in SW is also holding on. Peace accords signed between militants and security forces or any sort of parleys taking place out of security and humanitarian compulsions are deeply resented by USA since it go against their plans. They wanted Pak Army and the militants to continue fighting till death. It was this hidden urge which prompted every US official to keep pressing Pakistan to do more and more. Peace deals gave an excuse to USA, India and Afghanistan to shout aloud that Pak Army was either soft towards the militants or didn’t have heart to fight them or was in cahoots with them. This charge-sheet has not been withdrawn till to-date.
Once India felt confident that the bastion of Swat fortified with huge efforts would be able to pin down a corps size force irreversibly, it advised the US to press Pakistan to start an operation in Swat in April 2009. It was also sure that Pakistan will not be able to cope up with the burden of 2.5 million displaced persons since by then its economy had slumped and was at the mercy of IMF and the new democratic rulers duly washed by NRO were also in the grip of Washington. When reverse happened, all hopes were pinned on SW becoming the final killing ground for systematic destruction of Pak Army.
When Pak Army turned the tables on TTP, it disconcerted the plot makers beyond measure. They could not imagine in their wildest dreams that Pak Army would break the back of TTP and that too in very short time. Their wish to steal nukes shattered. Instead of defaming the Army and lowering its morale, its image up surged and morale went sky high. The Frontier Corps and other paramilitary forces including police performed brilliantly. The PAF lent full support by way of targeting sanctuaries of militants.
Orakzai Agency tucked in depth and well away from Afghan border but linked with Kohat and Peshawar had remained peaceful till as late as mid 2008. A deadly suicide attack on a Jirga that had assembled to form a lashkar to confront Taliban made this region turbulent as well. Waliur Rahman holds sway over militant group which coordinates its activities with Taliban in DAK. After loss of main base of TTP in SW in November-December 2009, Orakzai was prepared as an alternative base. This region has also been sufficiently neutralized.
Extremists bottled up in specific areas first slipped into settled districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and then to major cities of Punjab and Karachi thus spreading terrorism all over. Militant groups banned by Musharraf in 2001/2, had become sleeping cells in major cities. These groups had come under the wings of TTP and got activated once runaway Taliban sought shelter in cities. Latter having got weakened do not command effective control over the militant groups from Punjab but remain in collusion. RAW exploiting the fluid situation created new groups like Asian Tigers under Osman Punjabi. Main groups are Lashkar-Zil headed by Ilyas Kashmiri, Jaish Muhammad under Maulana Masood Azhar, Harkatul Jihadul Islami under Qari Saifullah and Lashkar Jhangvi under Akram Lahori.
Baitullah and his Shura and Mehsud belt as a whole were spared till such time he started behaving independently and giving anti-US statements in March-April 2009. When he claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack in New York in April 2009 and failed to unleash his horde of suicide bombers during operation Rah-e-Rast in Swat, he was declared a liability and a security risk and marked as a target. A warning shot was fired on him by a drone in June, but he had a narrow escape. He was eventually gunned down on 5 August and his death sparked leadership crisis in TTP. Hakimullah took over the reigns of TTP and accelerated suicide bombings and group attacks on military and civilian targets in major urban centres in Punjab so as to break the momentum of operations launched in forward areas and thus release pressure. He too apparently fell from America’s grace when he was found to be associated with Jordanian suicide bomber who killed seven CIA agents at Khost base. Although his death was widely reported in western media, however, after few months he was re-incarnated. His rebirth was timed with Faisal Shehzad’s Time Square botched attempt.
TTP and other militant groups in Pakistan are of no concern to USA and India. What concern the duo are remnants of Al-Qaeda, Haqqani network and Gul Bahadur led militants in NW, Maulvi Nazir in SW and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Punjab. Let is being projected as a global threat and blamed for current nonviolent unrest in India-Held Kashmir. The US instead of extending support to Pak Army to fight its battle with TTP and Fazlullah led militants in Swat-Shangla; it has been lending support to TTP. Hundreds of US, Indian and Israeli origin weapons recovered from Swat and SW during recent operations is a clinching proof of their involvement. It implies that the US didn’t want Pak Army to defeat terrorism in Pakistan but to preferably get defeated or as a minimum get pinned down irretrievably. India instead of tackling existential threat posed by Naxalites to Indian Union, it is myopically wasting all its energies in supporting terrorists in Pakistan, foolishly hoping that downfall of Pakistan would end all its worries.
While there has never been any doubt of Indian involvement in Pakistan’s domestic affairs, WikiLeaks has confirmed clandestine role of CIA in destabilizing Pakistan. It is now established that CIA has all along based its assessment on Afghanistan and Pakistan on the inputs provided by Afghan intelligence which gets fed by RAW. WikiLeaks has given an insight to Indo-US-Israeli-Afghan collaborative game of maligning Pakistan through an orchestrated vilification campaign with evil intentions.
Ironically, the US has different sets of laws and standards for itself. While it gets outraged on finding any sort of linkage of Pakistan with Afghan Taliban, it is striving hard to negotiate with them. It has been ignoring peace accords inked by British soldiers with Taliban in Southern Afghanistan. It is also ignoring India’s cross border terrorism against Pakistan and massive human rights abuses of Israel and India against Gazans and Kashmiris. Washington also refuses to admit its blunders and failures on the political and military fronts and has never found faults in its Generals operating in Afghanistan nor has it ever pressed them to do more. It continues to remain under the spell of Israel and India, bent upon rolling the honor and prestige of US military in dust in Afghanistan.
Much hyped strategic dialogue with America is already proving to be a big hoax when seen in context with the renewal of pressure tactics and use of aggressive language by US leaders. Extreme pressure was applied on Pakistan to launch another operation in North Waziristan well knowing that Pak Army was outstretched and didn’t have the means to stretch any further and that too without fully consolidating gains in Swat and South Waziristan. In the wake of devastating floods and engagement of 60,000 additional troops in relief operations, opening of a new front for the time being has become impossible.
As long as perceptions and threat perceptions of the US and Pakistan are at variance, mistrust and misunderstanding will not fade away and US officials would keep blowing hot and cold. Hawkish attitude towards Pakistan and visible tilt towards India will not help in bridging the trust deficit and in toning down anti-US sentiments. India and Israel will continue to sprinkle fuel on the differences and clashing interests to keep the US fearful and antagonistic towards Pakistan. Notwithstanding wicked designs of the duo, the US should strive to win hearts and minds of Pakistanis by doubling its flood relief efforts altruistically to mitigate the sufferings of flood affectees without extracting its pound of flesh. In the wake of colossal losses suffered by Pakistan in war on terror and now in floods, the US instead of extending loans or rescheduling debts, it should demonstrate its sincerity of purpose and help Pakistan in getting rid of its external debt. This step will go a long way in reversing perceptions from negative to positive and in forging mutually sustaining lasting friendship.