Category Archives: Pakistani Taliban

Tal-Qaeda After Osama

My Outlook op-ed on May 09

The death of Osama Bin Ladin has been making the titles of opinion pages in the Af-Pak region where it matters the most. In Afghanistan, there are different perspectives. Optimists of the Taliban talks say Osama’s death will help the negotiations process. Such views are shared both among some Afghan and the US officials and Western think-tank pundits. References are made about personal ties of Osama with Taliban leadership. They say it was Osama whom Mullah Omar refused to hand over to the US, not Al-Qaeda fighters, making the conclusion that with his death, Taliban leadership feel easier to cut ties. The top US commander in Afghanistan General Petraeus also says “the deal between the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida was between Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, not the organizations.”

The common myth is that Taliban is a national movement for local control in Afghanistan, not with global aims. But the fact is that, Taliban have never fought for power or rule, otherwise they would have easily handed over bin Laden to the US and saved their rule in 2001. The driving force for their fighters and leadership is the Salafi Jihadi ideology. And there is no local or global difference of goals in such Jihad. It all depends on Taliban’s capability. If they have the means and resources to reach and carry out a major attack in the West, elements of Taliban will certainly do.

In reaction to Osama’s death, the most authentic Afghan insurgent group, Taliban’s so-called Quetta Shura, led by Mullah Omar, in a statement said, “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan extends its deep condolence to the family of the martyr, to his follower and to fighter Mujahideen of the way of Truth and to the Islamic Ummah [nation] on this occasion of the great tragedy.” In the official statement Taliban said, “Sheikh Osama bin Laden was the ardent advocate of the legitimate cause of the occupied Palestine. He was an indefatigable fighter against the Christian and Jewish aggressions in the Islamic World.”

Groups of frontline Taliban fighters have vowed to avenge Osama’s death. According to Reuters, in a video message Taliban insurgents from southern Afghanistan have said Osama’s death is a motivation to continue Jihad. “We will continue with our Jihad and sacrifice against infidels until the judgment day and we will avenge our martyrs.” Another field commander Dawran Safi has said “we created special units for avenging the martyrdom of Sheikh Osama bin Laden. We will avenge him and follow in his footsteps.”

If Taliban had no operational, tactical and strategic links, they would not be able to launch the regrouping after 2004 and an intensifying insurgency since 2006, which was only possible with Al-Qaeda’s support. The other day, Afghan intelligence, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) spokesman while addressing a press conference in Kabul said Osama was an important player behind the intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan.

NDS spokesman Lutfullah Mashal was saying Osama’s death is a success in this war, and “Afghans feel safe now after Osama’s death.” Hours after this statement, Kandahar was terrorized by groups of Taliban suicide bombers, who besieged the city for more than two-days, in revenge for Osama’s death, panicking the Afghan security forces who despite the help of foreign troops, were unable to control the situation.

The fact is that Osama was not playing it all alone. He was hiding in a house for the past six years, sending messages only through couriers. The ground commanders of the movement are more crucial than Osama himself. How could bin Laden alone make all the financial support and Jihadi fund raising for Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Middle East, while hiding in a compound in Pakistan, communicating through people-couriers? Indeed he was an inspirational icon and manager, but the actors are more crucial. Al-Qaeda was not all in the person of Osama Bin Laden that will evaporate in the air after his death.

The US Defense Secretary Robert Gates was saying Osama’s death could be a “game-changer” in Afghanistan. I don’t believe Osama’s death will make any difference to the situation in Afghanistan. There are far more evil Al-Qaeda leaders for his succession. More dangerously, local Af-Pak militants are now in the top cadre of the organization. Osama’s hideout in Pakistan for the last six years has brought non-Arabs in the leadership of Al-Qaeda. After the influx of their fighters and leadership in the safe havens of Pakistan’s tribal areas in 2001, they built deep ties with militant outfits having regional goals. Af-Pak guerilla commanders are now among the leaders of Al-Qaeda. The organization has also given rise to Al-Qaedism. There are half-a-dozen local militant sectarian and Kashmir-oriented groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba, 313 Brigade who were with local goals previously, but now operating on international level as evil as Al-Qaeda.

Taliban groups in the safe havens of Waziristan are linked with Al-Qaeda. A single example is the group of Maulvi Nazir, Taliban commander in Waziristan who is behind insurgency in Afghan provinces of Paktika, Zabul and Helmand. In a recent interview to Asia Times Online, he said “Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are one and the same. At an operational level we might have different strategies, but at the policy level we are one and the same.” The US and NATO is now looking for talks with Taliban, who have the same view what Maulvi Nazir says.

The Haqqani Network, who are behind insurgency in Afghanistan’s southeastern provinces, has grown stronger links with Al-Qaeda during the last years. Many Kashmir Jihadi commanders have come close and affiliated with Al-Qaeda. The funeral prayers for Osama in Pakistani cities were called by Jamaat-u-Dawa, the charity wing of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was behind the Mumbai terror attacks. It has been with the help of such local militant groups that Osama bin Laden was able to hide in a compound next to Pakistan’s military academy in Abbottabad 60 miles away from capital Islamabad. Such Kashmir-centric militant outfits are now affiliates of Al-Qaeda, with clear global agendas. Veteran reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad says, “Al-Qaeda had restructured its organization as a parent body of local Jihadi organizations world over. They called those local Jihad youths as Ibnul Balad son of the soil.

It has been years that local Af-Pak militants are in the top command of Al-Qaeda. One example is a former Kashmiri Jihadi, Ilyas Kashmiri who heads Al-Qaeda’s global military operations. He is considered one of the most dangerous militant commanders in the world. After joining Al-Qaeda in 2005, he was behind regrouping of Taliban and redefined insurgency in Afghanistan by his military expertise of the guerilla warfare. He taught the insurgents with special operations tactics targeting foreign troops, bases and Afghan security compounds and with particular focus on cutting NATO supply lines.

Osama’s death is a blow to Al-Qaeda for organizational reasons, but it won’t affect their operations, and certainly not a game-changer in Afghanistan.

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Osama’s Death No Game-Changer

My Outlook op-ed May 07

The man who was responsible for mass murders of thousands of innocent people from America to Afghanistan, deserved that miserable death without a proper burial on earth. The leader of global terrorism who founded Al-Qaeda, in his will written in December 2001 told his children not to join the group of bloodthirsty Jihadis. This coward living in hiding for the last 10 years was an icon of inspiration for global terrorists, but for his own children he didn’t want the life he urged others to adopt. This should be the legacy of Osama Bin Ladin for all the radical Islamists who want to follow his path of bloodshed for political agenda.

There were funeral prayers for Bin Laden in Pakistani cities. I was horrified to watch one such prayer in Karachi where people were crying for him. Another homage rally was taken out in Quetta, the city where Taliban Shura under Mullah Omar commands insurgency in South. The homage rally reminded me of a similar violent protest in Quetta in 2001, on the day when US airstrikes were launched on Taliban in Afghanistan. I was in Quetta in those days, and have seen the widespread public sympathy for Bin Laden and Taliban in that city.

Religious political parties in Pakistan held rallies against the US raid and Osama’s death on Friday after the noon prayers. While in Afghanistan, where Bin Laden lived for years under the protection of his Taliban hosts, not a tear was shed. Rather, more than 10,000 Afghans in an anti-Taliban rally in Kabul on Thursday were saying “death to Osama”. Street reaction in Afghanistan was joyful. No reaction was shown in Kandahar, the heartland of Taliban hosts of Bin Laden or in the Tora Bora mountain region where Osama used to hide in caves.

Of course the small funeral prayers and homage rallies in Pakistan do not represent majority public opinion in that nation. But those rallies were called by groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba—close to Al-Qaeda—and Jamaat-u-Dawa or Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Kashmir-oriented militant outfit whose chief is a most-wanted terrorist in India, but he was leading the Osama funeral prayers in Pakistan, without any action by security officials. The two –sided policy of Pakistan’s security establishment towards militants has been under criticism by their media in a different tone than before, following the death of Osama in a compound next to Pakistan’s military academy in Abbottabad, 60 miles away from capital Islamabad.

The reaction in Kabul was, as expected, stirred with criticism of Pakistan. President Karzai said the death of Osama in Abbottabad proved Kabul’s stance that Osama was not in Afghanistan, and like many other Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, he was hiding across the border. Interior and Defense ministers Rahim Wardak and General Bismilah told the Senate that Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI was “keeping” the Al-Qaeda leader. They demanded the US Special Forces to target Mullah Omar and Gulbadin Hekmatyar also, suggesting that the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami leaders were also hiding in Pakistan.

An Afghan intelligence official has claimed they helped the US pinpoint Osama hideout. He said the Osama mansion was under surveillance since August last year. They thought a Taliban leader Mawlvi Abdul Kabir was hiding there, and informed the US. Former NDS Chief Amrullah Saleh also said he had told Musharraf 4 years ago about Osama’s presence around Abbottabad, but former Pakistani President had smashed his fist on table saying “Am I the President of the Republic of Banana?” Such stout was the denial from a General who is now surprised on Osama’s hideout in Abbottabad.

The accusations of Pakistan Army as an institution having links with Al-Qaeda or ISI being aware of Osama’s presence in Abbottabad might not be true, otherwise the US should be more outspoken on this. But the fact that the most-wanted terrorist was hiding in their backyard for five years should make them hear concerns of Afghan officials, and not deny when the US intelligence officials say Taliban leaders are in Pakistan.

It’s very obvious that all the important leaders of the Afghan insurgency are hiding in Pakistani cities of Karachi and Quetta, while those of the Haqqani Network are operating from the safe havens of Waziristan. Pakistan knows about most of the Taliban leaders. The US has to further push Pak military and intelligence establishment for Osama-like manhunt of Taliban leaders.

The hunt of Osama should make Taliban and other insurgent leaders worried. President Karzai has sent his former Chief of Staff Omar Dawoodzai as Ambassador to Pakistan and the purpose of this deployment is talks with Taliban. Instead of a political surrender on the terms of insurgents, President Karzai should ask Pakistan to carry out military operations in North Waziristan and hunt down insurgent leaders. The US should conduct such special operations after Mullah Omar, Hekmatyar and the Haqqanis who are responsible for deaths of thousands of Americans, Afghans, and troops from other countries in Afghanistan, and countless innocent Afghan civilians.

The Pakistan military should now conduct operations in North Waziristan and Quetta, and arrest the Taliban leaders. Many senior leaders of Al-Qaeda are in Pakistan, and most probably the succession of Osama in replacing Al-Qaeda’s leadership will also take place somewhere in tribal areas or any safe compound of a city, but the challenge for Pakistan is to stop it, and launch a manhunt of the remaining Qaeda leadership. Only this way, the world will believe presence of Bin Laden in Abbottabad was a major intelligence failure, not any double-game.

Unfortunately in the US, the news of Osama’s death has sparked calls for early withdrawal from Afghanistan. Afghans fear it very much, and it was this widespread concern that Ambassador Eikenberry had to issue a statement saying “this victory will not mark the end of our effort against terrorism. America’s strong support for the people of Afghanistan will continue as before.”

Death of Osama Bin Ladin is indeed the most important success of the war on terror. However, his demise won’t make a big difference in this campaign as a blow to Al-Qaeda. He was a symbolic figure for the past many years, and there are far more radical masterminds to carry global terrorism as his successors. Al-Qaeda has threatened attacks on the US in retaliation of Osama’s killing.

I am still skeptical of any success in the talks with Taliban. My belief is further strengthened with the latest self-revelation by Mawlvi Nazir, a Taliban commander in Waziristan, of his Al-Qaeda membership. He is behind the insurgency in Paktika, Zabul and Helmand. In a recent interview to Saleem Shahzad of Asia Times Online, Mawlvi Nazir has said Taliban won’t talk unless all foreign troops leave. “Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are one and the same. At an operational level we might have different strategies, but at the policy level we are one and the same,” he said. Saleem Shehzad writes “Nazir’s affiliation with al-Qaeda seems to have passed unnoticed by the United States and NATO, which are investing heavily in a reconciliation process with the “good Taliban” and they appear not to understand the drastic changes that have taken place among the top cadre of the Taliban.”

The demise of Osama is neither an end of Al-Qaeda, nor a game-changer in Afghanistan.

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Hate-mongers of Pakistan and Khalid Khwaja Mystery

Son of the slain former ISI officer, Khalid Khwaja–who was killed a couple of weeks ago in North Waziristan by “Asian Tigers”–has said he will go to court against the renowned Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir. This comes after the audio-tape leaked in Pakistani media in which allegedly Hamid Mir is talking with a member of Taliban. In the audio-tape conversation, published by some Pakistani newspapers, Hamid Mir accuses Khalid Khwaja of being a CIA agent and close to Ahmadiya sect. Khwaja’s son, Usama Khalid says Mir published a report in The News and Jang newspaper on May 02 with same contents discussed in his conversation in the tape. Mr. Mir says the audio is fake, while his employer Jang Media Group, that runs top Pakistani newspapers Jang and the News and the most watched Geo TV has said it will investigate the issue.  Hamid Mir hosts a prime time talk show “Capital Talk” live from Islamabad on Geo TV every night.

The audio-tape be fake or true, however its true that there are some top Pakistani journalists having idealogical orientations with extremists. These journalists, whose shows and columns i follow regularly include Hamid Mir, Dr. Shahid Masood, Zaid Hamid, Amir Liaqat Hussain, Ansar Abbasi, Abdul Qadir Hassan and some others. Mr. Mir has interviewed Usama Bin Ladin twice. When nobody had access to Baitullah Mehsood, former Amir of Taliban in Waziristan, this guy went to North Waziristan, interviewed him and came back safe and sound. How is it possible unless you are close to extremists?

In the tape, Mr. Mir conecting Khalid Khwaja with Ahmadiya sect makes derogatory remarks against this minority religious sect in Pakistan. In one of his shows “Aalim (scholar) Online”, another hate-monger top journalist Amir Liaqat Hussain had made remarks full of hatred against Ahmadiya sect, due to which there was a wave of violent incidents and several followers of this minority sect were killed across Pakistan last year.

These journalists host prime time shows on top TVs in Pakistan and write daily columns on top Pakistani newspapers. They are very much responsible for the promotion of idealogical extremism in Pakistan. They not only write and defend Taliban and other terrorist groups, but also make conspiracy theories linking anything that happens in Pakistan to America and Israel. A liberal senior Pakistani journalist Nadeem Paracha has written a good note about this all.

Coming to the Khalid Khwaja mystery, former ISI officer was kidnapped by militants in Waziristan, and later found dead with bullets on his head and chest. Just a week before his death, “Asian Tigers”, the militant group that claimed responsibility of his abduction, released a video of Khalid Khwaja confessing his “role” against the militants and that he works for CIA. It shocked everyone in public, as people were habitual of his media statements favoring Taliban and condemning the US. Online Jihadi Forums are still confused. Activists on these online forums talk in favor, while some against Khalid Khwaja.

In that video confession, Khalid Khwaja admits he worked for CIA and ISI. He also talks about the Lal Masjid operation in Islamabad in which hundreds of armed students were killed. Apparently under fear and depression, Khalid Khwaja seemed to be forced for the confession statement. It also shows how vast impacts the Lal Masjid operation conducted in 2007, had on militants. Dozens of armed students of the Madrassah were killed in the commando operation ordered by former President Pervez Musharraf. Lal Masjid issue later led Musharraf’s resignation as President. In the video, Khwaja also talks about the Kashmiri militant leaders like Maulana Masood Azhar and others, that they are given free hand by ISI and military for activities in Pakistan.

However, “Asian Tigers” is still a mystery. It seems more like any Kashmiri Jihadi outfit, given its English name and the statements about Kashmiri leaders in that video. After it was aired on media that Col. Imam and Khalid Khwaja, the active supporters of Taliban, have been arrested, some Taliban groups like the Haqqani Network started efforts to release the abductees, but failed. It’s most probably the Kashmiri groups, as they are welcome in Waziristan and other Taliban controlled areas, but Taliban do not control them militarily or keep an eye on their “Jihadi” activities. Previously Taliban leaders have not talked about Kashmir in their video statements. Secondly, a purely Taliban group would never come up with name of English words. Many of the Jihadis in Kashmir are those baccalaureate-educated youngsters who join the “Jihad” after being “impressed” by the promises of heaven and need of war against “infidels” by Jihadi Mullah recruiters for Kashmiri outfits. But strange is, if it was a purely Kashmir-related militant group, why the abductors demanded release of Taliban leaders arrested recently. There were names of some Punjabi-Taliban groups. They are mostly those anti-sectarian outfits involved in terror attacks in Pakistan. It could also be any smaller new group of militants related to Lal Masjid. Many students, who were armed inside the Madrassah just before the operation, were let go home without a proper investigation, partly due to heavy public pressure on former President Pervez Musharaf.   While many of those who lost brothers and sisters in the mosque during the operation are on their “holy” mission of “revenge”! Though most Pakistani journalists strongly criticize Musharaf for Lal Masjid Operation and say most of the suicide bombings in Pakistan are due to the massacre in the mosque, but the fact is that the situation was getting worst and out of control at that time. I was in Pakistan in those days and following the happenings around Lal Masjid in Islamabad. Lal Masjid had become a platform of Sharia Movement in the capital of Pakistan. Nothing was best option other than the bold operation.

The mystery of Khalid Khwaja is complicated. His funeral prayer was led by Maulana Abdul Aziz, the cleric whom the “Asian Tigers” say was deceived by Khwaja during the Lal Masjid operation negotiations. Pakistan’s former DG ISI Gen (R) Hameed Gull and former Chief of Army Staff Gen (R) Mirza Aslam were also in the funeral. They all praised Khalid Khwaja as a honest person. In the video Khwaja talks about having deceived Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid. Being retired from Pakistan Air Force by resignation, Khwaja was an active behind-the-scene player in Pakistani politics. He was a master of disinformation and making alliances among political parties always against the ruling party. He also mediated for direct contact between Clinton Administration and Kashmiri outfits. While he was also used as a mediator for peace deals between Taliban and Pakistan Army.

What makes it even more curious is that militants have not threatened to kill Col. Imam, and yet there is no news of his whereabouts.

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Godfather “Kidnapped” by Children, Col. Imam and Taliban

Taliban in Waziristan have released a video of former ISI official, Brigadier Amir Sultan A.K.A Col. Imam, another former Pakistan Air Force officer Khalid Khwaja and a Pakistani-British citizen Asad Qureshi. Its very strange, the godfather has been arrested by his children. First the news appeared last week in Pakistani media saying Col. Imam and two others were missing on their way to Waziristan, to make a documentary with Taliban leader Waliur Rehman Mehsood. After these confusing reports, a Taliban commander contacted by the News, had said they are safe and sound in South Waziristan with Commander Mehsood. And it was later when the video confirmed their kidnap. Apparently depressed, the two former ISI officials in the video talk about their service in the intelligence agency. The British-passport holder Asad Qureshi, said to be a journalist, talks in English saying “I am an England citizen, detained by Asian Tigers. Please help us”. Taliban demanded release of Mullah Baradar, the second-in-command of Taliban after Mullah Omer, arrested recently from Karachi city, Mullah Mansoor Dadullah and Mullah Kabir, two other notorious Taliban leaders.

There are some very confusing aspects of this incident. Firstly, why would Taliban arrest a former godfather, who was the most prominent defenders of Taliban in international media? “Asian Tigers” is heard for the first time; generally Taliban groups are named after Arab commanders during and after Prophet Muhammad. Its first time they are claiming responsibility with a name of English words. In the video, the two former ISI officers say they came to Waziristan on suggestions of Former Chief of Pakistan Army General Aslam Baig and Former Director General of ISI, General Hamid Gul, whom the US tried to declare a terrorist from the UN Security Council. While Hamid Gul has denied about his suggestion, talking to BBC Urdu. He says “its seems like a conspiracy of the US against me. And I don’t believe they are arrested by Pakistani or Afghan Taliban. Taliban would never do this. It’s any criminal group.” If they are not kidnapped by Taliban, why militants have not denied this yet? As quoted above, a Taliban commander had earlier confirmed arrival of the three “detainees” as “guests with Commander Waliur Rehman.” In the video, Taliban declare the former intelligence officials as the “enemies of Islam and Muslims”. Secondly, if abductors are a criminal group, why would they demand release of Taliban leaders? And one cannot believe Taliban—having full control in the areas of Waziristan where they have been kidnapped—are unaware of “criminal groups”. Actually, Hamid Gul himself is trying a conspiracy in the mid of extreme shock and confusion on this act of his children—Taliban.

Col. Imam played the most important role in making Taliban after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. He trained Mullah Omer, Hekmatyar, Massoud and all other “Mujahideen leaders”. Col. Imam received training in Explosive Sabotage in the United States of America during Afghan Jihad against Soviet Union. He remained as Consul of Pakistani Consulate in Herat during that period. He was in Pak Army for 18 years in the Special Service Group (Commando Division) of Pakistan Army. Former President Pervez Musharraf was also an SSG Commando, the most elite force of Pakistan Army. Later he was in ISI for 11 years from 1974 to September 2001, just days before the US forces landed in Afghanistan. He was among those ISI officers rescued from Kandahar to Quetta after the US forces launched attack against Taliban in Mullah Omer’s birthplace.

Col. Imam used to defend Taliban, both Afghan and Pakistani, in his interviews and regular press statements in Pakistani media. He was a de facto spokesman of Taliban defending them in international media. Recently he had suggested the US to talk with Mullah Omer. There are also rumors that he was on a mission to talk with Taliban in Waziristan, when they were abducted.

In the video below, his interview with Geo TV, he admits training Mullah Omer and Hekmatyar with some interesting and funny sentences. Also to your utter surprise, he says Hamid Karzai worked as his interpreter with Mujahideen leaders. “I knew Hekmatyar and Massoud from the days when they used to throw acid on face of girls of Kabul University.” He also says, “Getting together the Afghans is like catching frog from muddy waters,” while talking about the problems of uniting the Mujahideen factions during and after Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Also watch other parts of the interview coming as “Related Videos”.

There have been claims that Afghan and Pakistani Taliban have only ideological links. They used to operate altogether in Afghanistan before the US arrival, but have no operational links now. Why Pakistani Taliban would demand release of Afghan Taliban leaders, if they have no operational links? Mullah Mansoor Dadullah is the brother of notorious Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah—infamous for killing thousands of civilians during Taliban rule—who was killed by US forces in Afghanistan in 2007. Their all family members—from Chaman city of Pakistan near Kandahar city of Afghanistan—are in the ranks of Taliban.

All the confusing accounts on abduction of Col. Imam and others will be clear within a week, as militants in the video have given deadline of 10 days to Pakistan Government to release the arrested Taliban leaders.

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