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AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- On May 2007, WEA RLC released a News & Analysis posting entitled "Pakistan in Crisis: Situation Critical" (link 1), which examined Pakistan's escalating sectarianism (Sunni vs Shi'ite) and Islamisation (both of which fuel Islamic zeal and intolerance) and lawlessness (which facilitates criminal activity and intensifying religious persecution). The situation is most severe in the Taliban and al-Qaeda-administered and influenced tribal agencies and districts of North Western Frontier Province (NWFP). (Link 2)
WEA RLC's May posting also contained a section entitled "The Islamisation and Talibanisation of Islamabad" which focused on the stand-off at the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in the heart of the capital, Islamabad.
As was widely reported in mainstream news, rising tensions at the Lal Masjid mosque culminated on 3 July in street battles between security forces and militants. On 4 July Pakistani security forces laid siege to the mosque, demanding an unconditional surrender and the release of hostages and human shields. The mosque's senior cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz was arrested as he tried to sneak out of the mosque dressed in a burqa and high-heels. (The government's televising of this image enraged Islamists!)
Aziz' brother, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, subsequently took over as mosque chief and the siege continued until 10 July when last-ditch negotiations failed and security forces stormed the mosque. Death toll estimates vary widely, from the official government estimate of around 100 dead to the Islamist claim that more than 2,000 were "martyred". Abdul Rashid Ghazi was killed in the military operation.
As soon as the government forces laid siege to the Lal Masjid, jihadists in north-western tribal regions cranked up their terrorist actions against the Pakistani Army. On 16 July the Taliban and al-Qaeda alliance in Waziristan terminated their "peace deal" with the government. The subsequent violence and terror has claimed hundreds of lives including those of at least 200 soldiers.
Army morale is low as this a very unpopular fight with many believing the army is fighting its own people at America's behest. Not only are the huge losses demoralising, but many soldiers find it difficult to feel motivated about killing fellow Pakistanis and Muslims. Several weeks ago 300 soldiers surrendered to a band of some 30 tribal mujahideen in South Waziristan without firing a single shot. Whilst a few have been released, virtually all of them remain captive.
Since the highly-organised bombing of Benazir Bhutto's motorcade on18 October the government has declared its intent to unleash all-out war on the militants.
A battle for Pakistan -- a nuclear armed state -- has commenced and the outcome is far from certain. Religious liberty and the security for Christians hangs in the balance and the prospects, especially in the short and medium term, are bleak.
WHAT WILL THE PAKISTAN ARMY BE UP AGAINST?
Whilst the US bombing and invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 toppled the Taliban, most of al-Qaeda's core leadership survived and relocated to Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
In 2003 the Pakistani Army was given the responsibility of eliminating al-Qaeda and Taliban elements from the border regions of Pakistan. Over the years however a soaring death toll has included the loss of at least 1,000 soldiers as well as the execution-style murders of around 150 anti-Taliban tribal leaders. All this has taken its toll on Army morale and weakened public resolve. (Unofficial estimates are that Pakistan has lost more soldiers in the FATA than the US has in Iraq, i.e. over 3,000).
In a short-sighted attempt to extricate himself from a sticky position, President Musharraf brokered a series of "peace deals" with the Taliban-al-Qaeda-tribal alliance. In February 2005, South Waziristan was ceded to the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance and on 5 September 2006, North Waziristan was ceded. While Musharraf's capitulation brought him some (temporary) peace, it also established the two Waziristans as the most secure Taliban and al-Qaeda-run terrorist sanctuary and administrative and training base in the world.
Tarique Niazi elaborated on the "peace deal" in Terrorism Monitor (5 Oct 2006): "The deal offers amnesty to Taliban militants and 'foreigners' (a reference to Afghan-Arabs who are members of al-Qaeda) in North Waziristan for a pledge that they would desist from mounting cross-border attacks into Afghanistan; assaulting Pakistani security forces, public servants, state property, tribal leaders and journalists; and carrying heavy weapons (DAWN, 6 September 2006). They will, however, be allowed to travel across the border into Afghanistan on a 'business trip' or a 'family visit' and carry 'light' weapons such as AK-47s.
"It binds the government to cease ground and air assaults against the Taliban and resolve all future disputes according to the Rivaaj (tribal customs). It further obligates the government to redeploy its troops from North Waziristan to their designated camps and forts, and dismantle all 12 checkpoints that were set up to hunt al-Qaeda and Taliban militants (DAWN, 6 September 2006)."
Niazi also reported that subsequent to signing the deal, the government set free 132 Taliban fighters who had been jailed for terrorist violence (Daily Times, 8 September 2006), returned their seized weapons (including 24 AK-47s), restored their impounded property and reinstated their forfeited privileges, including government allowances. Additionally, the government approved a cash compensation of 230 million rupees ($3.8 million) for the material losses suffered by tribesmen (DAWN, 9 September 2006). (Link 3)
Policy and military analysts Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Bill Roggio gave a bleak assessment to the Weekly Standard (2 Oct 2006): "Together, these events [ceding territory and releasing prisoners] may constitute the most significant development in the global war on terror in the past year." (Link 4)
Their article in the Weekly Standard describes the Waziristan Accord as the "unconditional surrender of Waziristan". Concerning the signing ceremony they write: "Taliban fighters searched government negotiators and military officers for weapons before allowing them to enter the meeting, which took place in a soccer stadium in the North Waziristan capital of Miranshah. According to three separate intelligence sources, heavily armed Taliban were posted as guards around the ceremony, and al-Qaeda's black flag hung over the scoreboard.
"Immediately after the Pakistani delegation left, al-Qaeda's flag was run up the flagpole of abandoned military checkpoints, and the Taliban began looting leftover small arms. The Taliban also held a 'parade' in the streets of Miranshah. Clearly, they view their 'truce' with Pakistan as a victory. It is trumpeted as such on jihadist websites."
Whilst President Musharraf and US President Bush portrayed the Waziristan Accord as a victory, it was in reality nothing less than the ceding of territory to a hostile enemy entity. As soon as the territory was ceded, al-Qaeda declared "The Islamic Emirate of Waziristan" and established a governing Shura council. The Waziristan Accord provided the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance an autonomous mini-state within a state, a safe-haven, a sanctuary from where they could consolidate, strategise, recruit, train, deploy, enforce their writ and expand their sphere of influence.
Eric Sayers, in a report for the Washington based Center for Security Policy, quotes Bill Roggio: "The destruction of al-Qaeda's safe haven in Afghanistan during Taliban rule has essentially been negated by the rise of Talibanistan in western Pakistan." (Link 5)
Sayers adds (writing in February 2007, link 5): "According to NATO statistics, since the signing of the Waziristan Accord in September 2006, attacks into Afghanistan along the border with Waziristan have increased by almost 300 percent. Consequentially, US military deaths in the region were almost double during this period, in comparison to what they were during the same period the previous year. Further emphasising the strategic importance of the sanctuaries, recent reports have indicated the al-Qaeda fighters wounded in Afghanistan are being treated for their wounds in Bajaur hospitals." [Bajaur, the suspected home of al-Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, has also been ceded to the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance. The Bajaur Accord was signed on 17 March 2007. (Link 6)]
Bill Roggio subsequently reported (23 October 2007): "Within months the North Waziristan Accord was followed by agreements in Bajaur, Swat, and Mohmand agencies. News from the tribal agencies of Kurram, Orakzai, and Khyber has gone dark. These tribal agencies are very likely under Taliban control. Open source reporting indicates all or portions of the settled districts . . . of Dera Ismail Khan, Laki Marwat, Tank, Khyber, Bannu, Hangu, Kohat, Charsadda, Dir, Mardan, and even the provincial seat of Peshawar are under Taliban influence to some degree or another." (Link 7 -- which includes a map showing degrees of Taliban control in NWFP.)
From its sanctuary in The Islamic Emirate of Waziristan, the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance has been able to progress from a position of besieged weakness to one of organised strength. Not only are they now having a profound impact on international terrorism and the jihads in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are also now able to launch a genuinely threatening insurgency in Pakistan.
"COME TO JIHAD, to the people of Pakistan."
In late September 2007, Osama bin Laden released an audio message entitled "Come to Jihad, to the people of Pakistan". (Link 8)
Replete with Qur'anic quotations, it informs the people of Pakistan that it is their moral and Islamic duty to respond to the "Lal Masjid massacre" by joining with the Muslims following "true Islam" and waging jihad against the kuffaar (unbeliever) government of Pakistan, the Army and their supporters.
In his message bin Laden likens Musharraf's invasion of and "massacre" at the Lal Masjid to the destruction of and slaughter at the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, India, by Hindutva forces in 1992. He says the events at the Lal Masjid demonstrate that Musharraf is aligned with infidels against the Muslims. Therefore, he says, rebellion against Musharraf is obligatory. Bin Laden beckons those who have been "led astray" and are now supporting Musharraf or democracy or peace, particularly the Pakistani Army, which he says is supposed to be protecting the Muslims against the kuffaar (unbelievers), not allowing themselves to be tools and weapons in the hands of the kuffaar against the Muslims.
In his speech bin Laden condemns Muslims who spill the blood of fellow Muslims, warning that there is never any excuse: "Compulsion is not legally valid as the soul forced to kill is not better than the soul of the one killed." He appeals directly to soldiers, recommending they resign from their positions in the Pakistani Army, disassociate themselves from Musharraf and enter "true Islam", because, he says, "the government and army have become enemies of the Ummah [community of Muslims]. . . all of them have pledged to the cross worshippers to fight true Islam and its people. . . and permitted American cross worshipper forces to use the air, soil and water of Pakistan, the country of Islam, to kill the people of Islam in Afghanistan and then in Waziristan."
He concludes with an ominous promise: "We in the al-Qaeda organisation call on Allah to witness that we will retaliate for the blood of Maulana abd al-Rasheed Ghanzi. . ." and other slain Muslims, "champions of Islam in Waziristan".
THE BATTLE FOR PAKISTAN
Mark Sappenfield writes for the Christian Science Monitor (22 October 2007): "Bowing to international pressure, President Pervez Musharraf has restarted an offensive in the remote tribal areas that are rapidly becoming a hub of global terrorism. Yet early indications are that, no matter who is in charge, the Pakistani Army is ill-suited -- and perhaps incapable -- of doing the job." (Link 9)
As noted by M K Dar (Former Joint Director of Intelligence Bureau, India (Link 10)) for more than two decades now powerful elements within the Pakistani Army and intelligence services have supported Sunni fundamentalist organisations and employed Islamic militants as proxies in their conflicts against India in Kashmir and against Soviet and now Western-backed forces in Afghanistan.
It must also be noted also that foreign forces with their own agendas have encouraged and assisted this for the purpose of fighting proxy wars, including the Saudis (to subdue the Shiites) and the US (to fight the Soviets). Consequently, over the past more than two decades, the well trained and supplied ISI, the rank and file military, the Mullahs and the militants have become very close knit.
Because the conflict in the north-western tribal regions is unpopular and a high casualty rate is guaranteed, many experts do not expect the government's renewed offensive in the north-west to continue long term. Sappenfield writes: "If it does, the Army 'will get divided vertically', with officers remaining loyal to headquarters and the rank and file becoming increasingly alienated, says Ayesha Siddiqa, author 'Military Inc.', a book about the Pakistani Army. 'Cracks are appearing,' she adds."
While officers might see this as an opportunity to further entrench military control over Pakistan, an alternative scenario could be that if officers feel that military domination of Pakistan is under threat because genuine democracy is in sight, they might desert Musharraf for the Taliban for pragmatic as much as ideological reasons. There are many unknowns.
Syed Saleem Shahzad writes for Asia Times Online that a Pakistani security official, who spoke to Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity, said the goal of the government's counterinsurgency is "to pacify the Waziristans once and for all". (Link 11)
Shahzad writes: "Lining up against the Pakistani Army will be the Shura (council) of Mujahideen comprising senior al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders, local clerics and leaders of the fighting clans Wazir and Mehsud (known as the Pakistani Taliban)." He quotes the Pakistani security official as saying, "If the planned battle is successful and Waziristan is pacified, the global Islamic resistance would be back where it was in 2003, when it had fighters but no centralised command or bases to carry out organised operations."
Shahzad reports: "The safety of Taliban and al-Qaeda assets in Waziristan is a matter of life and death and, therefore, the militants have devised a forward strategy to target the Pakistani cities of Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, hoping to break the will of the Pakistani armed forces. The Pakistani military, meanwhile, is trying to break the will of the militants with ongoing bombing raids.
"Underscoring the seriousness with which the military is planning for the coming battle, it is reported that Shi'ite soldiers from northern Pakistan are being sent to the Waziristans. In the past, the Pakistani Army has been plagued by desertions of Pashtun and Sunni troops who refuse to fight fellow Pashtuns or Sunnis." [Shi'ites will supposedly have fewer problems killing Sunnis. The sectarian element could however, just introduce another layer to the conflict.]
This issue of a morally conflicted and fracturing army is without a doubt one of the greatest threats as increasingly more and more soldiers are questioning the Islamic credentials of their mission. After a major army offensive in South Waziristan in 2004 in which some 500 officers and soldiers refused to fight, "500 leading religious scholars signed a fatwa, a religious judgment, ruling that militants killed in the action are 'martyrs'. The same fatwa forbade the public to pray for the dead government soldiers." Earlier this year the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistani Army attempted to solicit a fatwa to its own advantage from the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) but was unable to do so. (Link 12) How many soldiers will heed bin Laden's call?
In July, Ayesha Siddiqa (author of 'Military Inc.') wrote an article entitled "Life after Lal Masjid" where she ominously likened the siege and storming of the Lal Masjid to the "Indian army's June 1984 attack against the Golden Temple and the dissident Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. In both situations," she says, "the rebels were created by the establishment to be later killed at the government's hands. . . It is hoped, however, that the Lal Masjid operation does not result in the assassination of a leader and the killing of hundreds of innocent people like it occurred in India in October-November 1984." (Link 13)
On 18 October, Benazir Bhutto narrowly escaped assassination and more than 130 people were killed and hundreds were wounded when her motorcade was targeted by terrorists. This is doubtless only the beginning of the terror. Al-Qaeda will seek to eliminate all bulwarks against Sharia and Taliban control of Islamabad. We can expect to see terrorist incidents and assassinations proliferate in Pakistan. Christians ("cross worshippers" as bin Laden calls them) are destined to be targeted, as the militants view them not only as expendable kuffaar and stains to be removed, but as the targets most likely to attract Western attention, breast beating and pressure for more "peace deals".
Al-Qaeda's goal is nothing less than control of a nuclear-armed Islamic state, complete with intelligence services and an Islamist Army, for the purpose of administering and waging international Islamic jihad. The battle for Pakistan has begun.
1) Pakistan in Crisis: Situation Critical
WEA RLC News & Analysis, 22 May 2007
By WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal
2) Pakistan: War and unprecedented persecution in NWFP
WEA RLC News & Analysis, 29 Oct 2007
By WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal
3) Pakistan's Peace Deal with Taliban Militants
By Tarique Niazi for Terrorism Monitor, Volume 4, Issue 19 (5 October 2006)
4) Pakistan Surrenders. The Taliban control the border with Afghanistan.
by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross & Bill Roggio. 2 Oct 2006. http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/012/738ijawx.asp
5) The Islamic Emirate of Waziristan and the Bajaur Tribal Region:
The Strategic Threat of Terrorist Sanctuaries. By Eric Sayers, Feb 2007
6) Pakistan signs the Bajaur Accord
By Bill Roggio (Military analyst) 17 March 2007
7) Crunch Time in Pakistan, By Bill Roggio, 23 October 2007
http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2007/10/crunch_time_in_pakis.php (Includes a map showing areas of Taliban-al-Qaeda rule and areas under threat.)
8) Come To Jihad, To The People Of Pakistan
26 Sept 2007. Translated From Urdu By Ahmed Al-Marid | Jihad Unspun
9) Pakistan's Army: Unprepared to tackle terrorism? 22 October 2007
By Mark Sappenfield , Staff writer, The Christian Science Monitor
10) Militants' sway in tribal areas. 23 Oct 2007
M K Dar (Former Joint Director of Intelligence Bureau)
11) Pakistan plans all-out war on militants
By Syed Saleem Shahzad 19 Oct 2007
12) Troop Defections Threaten Pakistan's Operations in Tribal Regions
By Tarique Niazi, for Terrorism Focus, Volume 4, Issue 4 (6 March 2007)
13) Pakistan after Lal Masjid
Ayesha Siddiqa, 17 July 2007
|Elizabeth Kendal is the Principal Researcher and Writer for the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC) http://www.worldevangelicalalliance.com. This article was initially written for the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis mailing list.
Elizabeth can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.