Open season for jihadis

Asia Times-online publishes on 27 july 2005 the following article by Syed Saleem Shahzad:

KARACHI – Sophisticated terror attacks using the minimum possible resources to target civilians are the issue of the day, whether it be in Egypt, the United Kingdom or Spain. Invariably, Pakistan is linked to the attacks. In the case of the July 7 suicide attacks in London, three of the bombers were of Pakistani descent and had visited madrassas (Islamic schools) in Pakistan. Pakistanis are being sought in connection with the weekend’s attacks in Egypt.

Pakistan, simply, is widely reckoned as the premier breeding ground for jihadis, fueled by the Afghan resistance to the Soviets in the 1980s, the on-going troubles in Kashmir and the current Taliban-led resistance to foreign forces in Afghanistan.

The root of the “evil”, as much of the West sees it, is the madrassa system – the many thousands of schools that teach the Koran and little else, and which mostly attract underprivileged, marginalized youth highly susceptible to the extreme teachings – and militancy – that some of the madrassas offer.

Under US and British pressure, therefore, in the wake of the London bombings, hundreds of madrassa teachers and students, along with militants, have been rounded up in the past two weeks.

Yet maybe this is a classic case of not been able to see the wood for the trees.

Pakistan’s leading monthly magazine, Herald, has published a detailed eyewitness account backed with photographs on how youths are trained in militant camps in the central region of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Mansehra. The story was so accurate that the government could not deny it, although it issued orders to “fix” the publisher.

“Until 2001, thousands of fighters trained here for operations in Kashmir and Afghanistan … after the 9/11 attacks in America, though, the militants’ activities dwindled, and last year the camp was abandoned following an unequivocal warning from the government. But all major militant organizations began regrouping in April this year by renovating training facilities that were deserted last year,” the cover story of Herald maintained.

According to a manager of the training camp, the report said, all the major militant organizations, including Hizbul Mujahideen, al-Badr Mujahideen, Harkat ul-Mujahideen and others, began regrouping in April.

The Herald report says that at least 13 major camps in the Mansehra region were revived during the first week of May. As the camps reopen, managers claim trained militants as well as new aspirants are flocking to enlist for jihad.

As one militant leader put it, the organizations are now under a “regime of controlled freedom”.

The story is a severe embarrassment for the government of Pakistan as many US officials are already skeptical of its integrity in the “war on terror”.

Asia Times Online security contacts say that the US had become aware of the main Mansehra camp, but it was assured by Pakistani officials that the camp had not been in operation in the past few months.

Meanwhile, in the mountains …
The mountainous terrain between Afghanistan and Pakistan is another area where neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan have been able to eliminate training camps. The area is a rugged no-man’s-land that spans the border.

This is the hub of the Taliban resistance, where many top commanders, including Jalaluddin Haqqani, visit, and it’s a perfect training center of the Afghan and global resistance. The Afghan resistance plots its hit-and-run attacks within Afghanistan from here.

… and in the tribal areas
Asia Times Online sources in the North Waziristan tribal area say that there were as many as 40 attacks in a single day on various army posts on Monday.

“The purpose of the attacks was not to kill anybody but just to remind the Pakistani army what happened to them last year when they tried to conduct operations in South Waziristan,” commented a tribal source from Waziristan on the telephone.

Last year, under immense US pressure, the Pakistani government launched several military operations in South Waziristan to track down al-Qaeda suspects and foreign militants. They encountered fierce resistance from tribespeople, who cherish their virtual independence from the central government.

Trouble on the border
Conflict between the Pakistan army and Islamist militants along the Afghan border has led security analysts to talk of a full-fledged insurgency that poses a grave threat to the country, reports M B Naqvi of Inter Press Service (IPS).

“Frequent, bloody gun battles, heavy casualties, ambushes, attacks on military outposts and killing of informers and army collaborators are not ordinary crimes. Make no mistake. It is an insurgency,” said A R Siddiqui, commentator on military affairs and a former brigadier in the Pakistan army.

Siddiqui told IPS that he saw the conflict as an “offshoot or even a continuation” of the “war against terror” prosecuted by the US against Taliban-ruled Afghanistan immediately after September 11, 2001.

US-led coalition forces across the border in Afghanistan are coordinating operations with the Pakistani army in both North and South Waziristan as part of the efforts to capture al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The high levels of civilian “collateral damage” in recent weeks has caused outrage which has resulted in further alienation of the Pashtun tribes that dominate Waziristan and which form the backbone of the Taliban movement.

“This is inexcusable,” said Siddiqui. “Either Pakistan’s intelligence has failed or wrong information was fed by the coalition’s military sources in Afghanistan. It is going to intensify the insurgency in all the tribal areas and will mean many more recruits to the Taliban and other militant outfits in both countries.”

The Pakistan army first began operations against al-Qaeda elements holing up in Waziristan in July 2002, but quickly became bogged down in a war with fiercely independent Pashtun tribes that saw the expeditions – the first in more than half-a-century – as an attempt to subjugate them.

Pashtun tribes are spread across the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), in which Waziristan falls, the NWFP and on the other side of the Durand Line (border) in Afghanistan.

Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf has said he is particularly concerned about Pakistan’s image as a hotbed for Islamist extremism, militancy of various shades and as a support base for the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Last week, he charged two Pakistan-based militant organizations, the Jaish-i-Mohammed and the Sipah-i-Sabah, which he had ordered banned, with being “responsible for indoctrinating some of the London bombers”.

Musharraf also said he believed that some of the madrassas were “dabbling in the military training of their students and preparing jihadis”.

Now it is up to him to stop it, provided he does not get lost in the trees.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, Bureau Chief, Pakistan, Asia Times Online. He can be reached at

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