Originally Published 2005-08-03 13:19:28 Published on Aug 03, 2005
Two immediate observations can be made from Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's address to the nation on July 22, 2005. One, he is not willing to take strong and decisive action against extremist and terrorist groups in Pakistan. Two, he cannot take such an action.
The General is helpless
Two immediate observations can be made from Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's address to the nation on July 22, 2005. One, he is not willing to take strong and decisive action against extremist and terrorist groups in Pakistan. Two, he cannot take such an action.

Both these observations might seem conflicting in nature; they are not. The second observation flows from the first. During the past five-and-a-half years, not only have various religious and terrorist groups been allowed to function from Pakistan, they have also been encouraged to flourish, and build partnerships and networks.

For this, Mr Musharraf should take the full responsibility. In the past five years since his coup, the General has time and again announced crackdowns on terrorist and extremist groups. In January 2002, he announced stern measures against such groups, simultaneously banning Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba and threatening to shut down madarsas that fell in the jihadi category.

Some token measures were indeed taken, which forced the groups to go underground or change names. From the events that have unfolded since then it can be verified that President Musharraf's actions were at best superficial, and have only encouraged terrorist and extremist groups to remain functional.

In fact, what happened after January 2002 needs to be studied in depth. As US jets bombed the Taliban and Al Qaeda hideouts and camps in Afghanistan, terrorists fled in hordes to the bordering tribal areas in Pakistan to seek shelter and to regroup. Many of the leaders moved east and southwards to regroup in cities like Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

Their natural allies were religious extremist groups that ran influential madarsas in these cities. A large number of these madarsas had spawned 'jihadis' for the Afghan War in the early 1980s. One such prominent madarsa is the Jamiat-ul-Ulum ul-Islamia, set up by Alama Yusuf Binori in Binori town, Karachi. Part of the Binori Mosque, the school has about 12 affiliate schools and an enrolment of 8,000.

Another seminary that took part in the US-led jihad was Dar-ul Uloom Haqqania at Akhora Khattak, NWFP, headed by Maulana Samiul-Haq, chief of a splinter group of Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JuI), a powerful religious political party which is today an important partner in the coalition that rules Pakistan. The Taliban had risen from these madarsas. Several layers of Al Qaeda leadership, including Osama bin Laden, have associations with these madarsas. First at the madarsas and then in the battlefields of Afghan jihad, almost all the top leadership of various terrorist and religious extremist groups shared a common bond with members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

What needs to be understood is that between the US bombing of Afghanistan, which began in October 2001, and the brutal murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi, Al Qaeda and Taliban had merged with local religious extremist groups in Pakistan like Sipah-e-Saheba (SSP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), both of which were rabidly anti-Shia and had become notorious as sectarian terrorists for their killing spree against Shias in Karachi and elsewhere.

In any case, for the fleeing Al Qaeda and the Taliban terrorists, returning to these madarsas was like home coming. A large number of them had an organic link with sectarian terrorists from SSP (and LeJ, a splinter group of SSP), dating back to the Afghan jihad days. 

A substantial number of mujahideen for the Afghan jihad was drawn from the SSP cadre and sent to training camps set up by the CIA-ISI combine in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Two incidents - the Daniel Pearl murder case in 2002 and the assassination attempts on President Musharraf in December 2003 - clearly revealed the nature of this unholy alliance. In both the incidents, not only were LeJ terrorists involved but also members of Harkat ul Jihad al Islami (HuJI) and Jaish-e-Mohammad besides, what the Pakistan police called, the Dissident Jihadi Elements (DJEs), a euphemism for Al Qaeda and Taliban elements. 

No less significant was the revelation that a few intelligence and armed force personnel were also involved in the assassination attempts on President Musharraf.

Since then, there has been mounting evidence that this coalition of terror has struck deep roots in Pakistan. According to a presentation titled Terrorism in Pakistan - an Analysis made by Mr Tariq Pervez, the Additional Deputy Inspector General of Police, Punjab, at the Pakistan National Defence College in December 2003, of the 100,000 to 200,000 jihadis trained in Afghanistan since 1979, at least 10,000 had crossed over to Pakistan after September 2001.

The senior police officer said a significant number of foreign jihadis from the 35,000-odd trained in Afghanistan had also crossed over to Pakistan. An analysis carried out by Mr Pervez showed that the average age of these DJEs was 15-30, 60 per cent of them belonged to middle class families and were better educated than other terrorists (79 per cent were at least Matriculates) and at least 14 per cent of them were schooled in madarsas.

This profiling helps in analysing the roles such terrorists played in first establishing partnerships with sectarian terrorist groups like LeJ, mostly peopled by madarsa-trained (33 per cent) and poor (85 per cent) activists, and in leading terrorist operations both within Pakistan and elsewhere in the world.

Testifying before the US Senate Committee on Intelligence on February 11, 2003, Defence Intelligence Agency Director Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby said, "Al Qaeda appears to maintain an operational presence in Pakistan. 

The Government of Pakistan has been a key partner in Operation Enduring Freedom and in our global war on terrorism, but despite its best efforts Al Qaeda continues to use Pakistan for transit, haven, and as a staging area for attacks."

What Mr Jacoby chose not to mention was that Al Qaeda had successfully merged with local extremist groups like LeJ and such a coalition of terror could not be possible without the overt or covert support of the state apparatus, especially its Army and the intelligence wing, the ISI. 

Religious extremism or terrorism has been a state policy since the days of President Zia-ul Haq who pitted Sunnis against Shias, first to get out of the political mess he got into by his concessions to Sunnis and then to seek assistance in the US-planned jihad in Afghanistan to oust the Soviet occupational forces.

With the jihad in Afghanistan ending with the Soviet withdrawal, the Pakistan Army (and the ISI) extended the policy to Kashmir by openly supporting the establishment of jihadi madarsas and terrorist training camps. 

This has been documented extensively in the declassified documents available from the National Security Archives maintained by Georgetown University, Washington at http://www.gwu.edu/nsarchiv/ as well as in Ghost Wars, the best selling work by Steve Coll, a Washington Post correspondent.

Terrorism is today an intrinsic part of Pakistan's domestic and foreign policy. It is one of the cornerstones of its Kashmir policy and a critical element of its Army's strategic doctrine. 

Since the Afghan jihad, Pakistan has systematically used terrorism in various forms, first to capture parts of Kashmir and subsequently, after successive military failures, to bring the Kashmir dispute into the international arena.

Without Kashmir policy, the Pakistan Army will have no leg to stand on and claim superior powers to govern the country. It is a question of survival for the Army. President Musharraf is the Chief of Army Staff. It will be unthinkable for him to control the jihadis, without whom the Pakistan Army will lose its legitimacy to rule the country.

The author is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Source: The Pioneer, August 3, 2005.

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