SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Rome was not destroyed in a day. Emperor after debauched, even lunatic, emperor, and a degenerate, amoral and myopic elite, slowly hollowed out its empires from within, till the moment of eventual collapse.
Pakistan is no Rome, but it has often been remarked that each military dictator has left behind a country markedly weakened by his despotism. Regrettably, intervening ‘democratic’ regimes have fared little better. None, however, will be judged quite as harshly by history as General Pervez Musharraf’s regime of brinkmanship and deception that has provoked an accelerating hurtle towards chaos and, perhaps, disintegration.
After 9/11, Musharraf has spoken constantly of ‘enlightened moderation’ but systematically expanded the sphere of influence of radical Islamist elements in the country’s politics, even as he undermined and devastated every democratic institution and party.
For some time now, the more extreme elements within the radical Islamist fold have no longer been satisfied with the status of obedient instrumentalities of the Pakistan Army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and ‘renegade’ groups have repeatedly challenged the limits that the country’s establishment set for them. Since January 2007, however, a more profound shift was sought to be engineered through the Lal Masjid standoff , as the ‘moderate Islamist’ element – hitherto firmly faithful to their patrons in the establishment – made a bid to violently renegotiate their worth and influence within Pakistan’s equations of power.
That came to a bloody denouement on July 11, after the Army stormed and cleared the Lal Masjid – Jamia Hafsa complex, leaving, according to the official count disclosed by Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, 91 civilians and 11 soldiers dead, and 248 persons injured. These numbers remain strongly contested, particularly by the Islamists, and have been contradicted by official sources as well. Thus, Interior Secretary Syed Kamal Shah asserted that, "In the final assault, some 75 people were killed in the complex and I think 50 to 60 were militants and the rest were women and children." However, there were reports that the renowned Pakistani charity organisation Edhi Foundation chief, Abdul Sattar Edhi, had been asked by authorities to arrange for 800 shrouds. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Secretary General of the Islamist alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, and the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, claimed that a thousand civilians had been killed in the operation. Significantly, the last recorded claims by Abdul Rashid ‘Ghazi’, the leader of the ‘resistance’ inside the Mosque, put the number of people dead inside the complex at 335 even before the final Army assault commenced.
If Musharraf had hoped for some relief from this ‘victory’, in terms of greater control, or of domestic or international legitimacy, he has reason to be disappointed from in quarter.
In a swift reaction to the Lal Masjid assault, militant attacks on the military and state apparatus in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and other parts of the country, have surged, leading to at least 197 fatalities between July 11 and 20. The death count includes 72 civilians and 94 soldiers. In terms of the geographical distribution, 75 persons have died in the NWFP, 76 in FATA, 29 in Balochistan and 17 in Islamabad, in approximately 36 incidents, including at least thirteen major attacks . Significantly, most of the militant reaction has crystallized in lethal suicide bombings.
The abrupt escalation in the wake of the Lal Masjid assault overlays an already rising trend in Islamist extremist violence, with at least 351 persons, including 122 civilians and 118 security force (SF) personnel, killed in terrorism-related violence across Pakistan in just the first 20 days of July 2007. Given Islamabad's understated accounts, suppression of the media and erratic reportage, the actual numbers may, in fact, be considerably higher.
While the backlash is substantially concentrated in NWFP and FATA thus far, it is unlikely that this will remain the case in the proximate future. The speed at which suicide attacks have occurred and the diversity of their location indicates a high level of preparedness, planning and sophistication, as well as the high degree of radicalisation that has already been secured in Pakistan. Significantly, while there were 10 suicide attacks in Pakistan during the January 1 – July 3, 2007, period, in which 112 people died, there were 12 suicide attacks just between July 4 and July 20, resulting in 155 fatalities. Indeed, such is the terror, that President Musharraf, on July 13, directed troops not to wear their uniforms in public in NWFP for fear of a backlash from the extremists. Within this pervasive milieu, several latent jihadi groups and seminaries are exploring the possibilities of reactivation. The Lal Masjid operation can, consequently, be expected to have serious repercussions across urban areas, the countryside and the wide ungoverned spaces in Pakistan, where levels of radicalism are much higher. The potential for further radicalisation and accompanying violence has also been significantly augmented.
Dangerously, the current stream of extremist mobilisation and violence appears to have forged a greater unity of perceptions and objectives between the al Qaeda-Taliban combine, on the one hand, and a range of Pakistani extremist and terrorist elements who have long been thought to fall into the sarkari (officially sponsored) jihadi category. Though there has been no direct involvement or claim of the al Qaeda with regard to the incidents of backlash from Islamist extremists, al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri, in an internet video posted on July 11, called for vengeance: "This crime can only be washed by repentance or blood… If you do not retaliate… Musharraf will not spare any of you." Unconfirmed reports suggest that Zawahiri may, in fact, have been directing the militants inside the Lal Masjid. Further, an internet video – probably dated but believed to have been compiled over the preceding month – of a statement by Osama bin Laden, was intercepted on July 15, containing exhortations to martyrdom. While the broad thrust of the video message was general, referring to martyrdom as the "status that the best of mankind wished for himself", the remarks acquired significance within the Pakistani context against the backdrop of Zawahiri’s earlier statement and the Lal Masjid crisis.
Such significance is compounded by the postures of the hitherto sarkari jehadi leadership – the ‘moderate extremists’ who have been systematically promoted by Musharraf’s military regime over the past years. Thus, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, chief of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT, reinvented as the Jama’at-ud-Da’awa after its formal, though unimplemented, ban), while taking part in a 20,000 strong gathering which offered funeral prayers in absentia for the victims of the Lal Masjid assault, at the LeT-managed Jamia Masjid Al Qadsia in Chauburji (Lahore) on July 13, described the assault as an operation against every mosque and religious seminary in Pakistan and declared, "This was genocide, hundreds of innocent women and children died… This is a challenge for all Muslims and Pakistanis… It is state terrorism, it is extreme brutality and those who killed the innocent will have a horrible fate." At a recent meeting, Baitullah Mehsud, the militants’ commander in Waziristan, is reported to have announced the decision that his cadres should be ready to carry out suicide attacks against the Pakistan Army, and the commencement of large scale subversion against the Pakistan Army from North Waziristan to Islamabad. Details of the meeting and these decisions were announced over loudspeakers in mosques across the region. Further, Maulana Fazalullah, the pro-Taliban cleric of the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) at Swat in NWFP, declared, "The Government cannot imagine the repercussion, if any operation was launched against us. We are the people who have defeated Russia. We are the people who have made the lives of the Americans miserable. We can make the lives of Pakistani rulers a hell if they committed the stupidity of attacking us." Mehsud and Fazalullah were, till the Lal Masjid assault, covered under different ‘peace deals’ with Islamabad.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the Leader of the Opposition in Pakistan, proclaimed: "Ghazi is a great martyr… Ghazi embraced martyrdom like his father. His mother embraced martyrdom in his lap. Their blood will bring Islamic revolution in the country. Their blood will turn every mosque and seminary in Pakistan’s streets into Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa."
The Lal Masjid backlash is obviously straining Musharraf’s capacities both of military containment and political management. With the security situation rapidly deteriorating, the Government, on July 13, moved an Army brigade into the Tank District in NWFP. Reports indicate that the Army had started deploying troops in NWFP’s southern Districts, adjoining Waziristan, fuelling speculation that an anti-militancy operation was imminent. 12,000 troops have been moved to the Tank and Dera Ismail Khan Districts from Okara in Punjab. Troops were also being deployed in the Lakki Marwat and Bannu Districts, strongholds of the local Taliban. Further, SFs are said to have been stationed in the Swat and Lower Dir districts. NWFP also has 35,000 police personnel for a population of approximately 21 million.
In the other besieged region of North Waziristan, the Taliban–al Qaeda backed militants unilaterally annulled their 10-month-old peace agreement with the Government on July 15, 2007, after the expiry of a four-day deadline for the withdrawal of redeployed troops. They termed the redeployment of Government Forces in the region a violation of the peace accord signed on September 5, 2006. Abdullah Farhad, a spokesman for the militants, stated that their Shura (Governing Council), under the leadership of Hafiz Gul Bahadur, had decided to end the accord and ordered their fighters to start guerrilla attacks against SFs. The consequences of Islamabad’s policy of non-engagement in the region of the past ten months were quickly manifested, and 69 persons were killed in 21 incidents between July 15 and 22. Significantly, Government forces have failed repeatedly to dominate the area in the past.
If the military storming of Lal Masjid was to have boosted Musharraf’s sagging global image as the last bulwark against radical Islam, this anticipated outcome has also failed to materialize. The Lal Masjid backlash has undermined Musharraf’s image as strongman and crisis manager and has also, disastrously for him, coincided with disclosures in Washington blaming Islamabad for the resurgence of the Taliban and the restoration of the capacities of the al Qaeda. Intelligence analysts, appearing before the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, stated that the network led by Osama bin Laden had become increasingly active in the ungoverned regions of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. John Kringen, the Central Intelligence Agency’s Director of Intelligence declared: "They seem to be fairly well settled into the safe haven in the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan. We see more training. We see more money. We see more communications." Stephen Hadley, President Bush’s National Security Adviser, added, further, that President Musharraf had failed to contain al Qaeda and must regain control over areas bordering Afghanistan. He also said that Musharraf’s strategy of giving tribal leaders more autonomy "has not worked the way it should have." Worse, unclassified key judgments of the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) indicated that "al-Qaeda has protected or regenerated three of the four key elements of homeland plotting: a safe haven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Area, operational lieutenants, and its top leadership." Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has also been quoted in the media as confessing to a "gut feeling" that the US could face another terrorist attack on its soil "this summer".
This abrupt volte face cannot, of course, detract from the fact of the continuous US policies of denial and obfuscation that directly contributed to the current conditions in Pakistan. Conciliation, the search for an oxymoronic ‘moderate Taliban’, deal-making with radical elements, and looking the other way on a range of unrelenting Pakistani misdeeds in the region – even as efforts were reportedly made to use Islamist radical elements in immature US-backed attacks in Iran – created the conditions for the massive consolidation of the Taliban-al Qaeda-radical Islamist phalanx that is now manifesting itself across Pakistan. It is useful to recall, also, that when Musharraf rigged elections in 2005 to help Islamists consolidate their position, particularly in the NWFP and Balochistan, but substantially in other parts of the country as well, this met with almost universal condemnation. The US, however, enthusiastically endorsed Musharraf’s fraud, which brought Islamist to power in the very areas that are now the epicentre of Islamist terrorist dominance. Self-serving and short-sighted US policies and unaccounted aid to a dodgy dictator, despite overwhelming evidence of duplicity and direct Pakistani support to and involvement in terrorism across the world, are the essential but neglected backdrop of the current crisis. All this was pointed out again and again, but was deliberately and obstinately ignored by the Bush administration on grounds that were anything but rational. The fact that US leaders are now singing a slightly different tune cannot exculpate them from almost six years of the most extraordinary and abysmal incompetence in their counter-terrorism policy in South Asia.
This blinkered approach had long and strongly been supported by a number of South Asia ‘experts’ who tailored assessments and policy commentary to the projections and expectations of perhaps the most inept regime in America’s history, limiting US strategic options in the region to near-unqualified support for Musharraf’s duplicitous dictatorship. But the intellectual opinion in the US also appears to be shifting, and there are concessions, as Bruce Hoffman of the Georgetown University now notes, that "The reluctance to take risk or jeopardize our political relationship with Musharraf may well account for the fact that five-and-a-half years after 9-11, we are still trying to run bin Laden and Zawahiri to ground."
The US is now abruptly compounding Musharraf’s difficulties by threatening direct interventions on Pakistani soil. National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell justified calls for direct US military strikes inside Pakistan’s tribal belt on the grounds that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was hiding on the Pakistani side of the Afghan-Pakistan border. He criticized the peace agreement with radicals in Waziristan, saying, "because of this agreement, al Qaeda has been able to regain some of its momentum… The leadership is intact. They have operational planners, and they have safe haven. The things they’re missing are operatives inside the United States."
All these observations, however, come with reiterations of continued faith in Musharraf and his capacity "to correct" the errors of the past. Nevertheless, White House spokesman Tony Snow has declared that "There’s no doubt that more aggressive steps need to be taken." But ‘aggressive steps’ by the US at this very late stage will only accelerate Pakistan’s spiral into an Iraq-like situation.
Other elements further exacerbate the crisis in Pakistan. The Lal Masjid crisis has reflected adversely on relationships with China since the abduction of seven Chinese nationals on June 22, 2007. While they were subsequently released, on June 24, after hectic negotiations, Musharraf conceded, after the Lal Masjid assault, that Chinese pressure had been key to his decision to use extreme force against the radicals holed up in the madrassah complex. It is now clear that Musharraf will have to pay a heavy price for attributing his decision to direct Chinese pressure. This has already put Chinese lives in Pakistan in jeopardy, and, if these trends persist or worsen, may have significant impact on future Chinese involvement in Pakistan.
In more ways than one, the real fight in Pakistan has only just begun. A violent diversification of extremism and terrorist action must now be anticipated, and there are strong indications on the ground of the rise of a ‘new jihad’. Beleaguered by too many fronts, Islamabad is bound to find it difficult to steer the course.
Crucially, Musharraf is now unambiguously part of the problem. Any marginal gains he may have promised appear to have vanished, and his continuance in power is rapidly transforming into a liability. Retaining him will evidently become increasingly expensive for the Army and for Pakistan. It is inevitable, therefore, that a calculation will eventually be made as to whether sacrificing him could create the opportunity for a new military leader to sue for peace with an apparently clean slate. There are at least some elements among the radical Islamists who have left a window of conciliation open. Thus, Maulana Fazalullah, of the TNSM had prefaced his threats of vengeance with the remarks, "I can guarantee that the wave of suicide attacks will disappear and there will be no more attacks in future if Musharraf appears on national TV to confess that he committed an atrocious act by killing the sons and daughters of Islam by ordering military action against the Lal Masjid." A new military leader would possibly have greater leverage with such groups, though it is uncertain that any ‘compromise’ with the radicals, or sub-group of radicals, by Musharraf or a successor could now significantly alter Pakistan’s disastrous trajectory. ‘Democracy’ and the scheduled elections, regrettably, offer no way out at this juncture. Unless there is a tremendous and unprecedented mass upsurge in their favour, the feeble ‘democratic’ forces in the country would simply be chewed up by the Islamists in little time.
Musharraf’s brinkmanship and manipulations have brought Pakistan’s inherent contradictions to a knife edge, and the long-projected prospects of a failed or disintegrating state are now a more proximate reality than ever before.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
July 16-22, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina arrested on extortion charges: On July 16, 2007, the former Prime Minister and Awami League (AL) President, Sheikh Hasina, was arrested from her Dhanmondi residence in national capital Dhaka on charges of extortion. She was produced at the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court in Dhaka which sent her to a sub-jail, located at a two-storey house in the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban (National Parliament) complex. On June 13, 2007, the Managing Director of East Coast Trading Ltd, Azam J. Chowdhury, had filed a case at Gulshan Police Station, accusing Hasina and AL leader Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim of extorting Taka 29.6 million from him for the installation work of a 210-megawatt power plant at Siddhirganj. Daily Star, July 17, 2007.
Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, says US National Intelligence Director: Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is alive and sheltering in the lawless parts of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan, US National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell said on July 22, 2007. McConnell blamed President Pervez Musharraf’s Government for allowing al Qaeda to regroup via a peace deal with the militants in North Waziristan in September 2006. Asked about bin Laden, he told NBC Television, "My personal view is that he’s alive. I believe he is in the tribal region of Pakistan." McConnell added that if Musharraf were forced from power by the Islamist violence and pro-democracy unrest sweeping Pakistan that could have a "severe impact" on the US struggle against terrorism. Daily Times, July 23, 2007.
Chief Justice of Pakistan restored unanimously: A 13-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) on July 20, 2007, reinstated the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, ruling that his suspension by President Pervez Musharraf was "illegal". By a 10-3 vote, the judges also quashed a case of alleged misconduct against Justice Chaudhry, which the President had referred to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC). Following the SC’s verdict, Chaudhry resumed charge of his office at 4:20pm. He had been appointed as the CJP on June 30, 2005, and is due to retire on December 12, 2013. The SC gave its short order on a petition filed by the CJP challenging the presidential reference against him, after hearing the case for 43 days. The full court unanimously declared the two restraint orders and one compulsory leave order against the CJP illegal, and also annulled the notifications of the appointment of Justice Javed Iqbal and Justice Rana Bhagwandas as acting chief justice of Pakistan passed on March 9 and 23 respectively. Jang, July 21, 2007.
22 civilians and seven police personnel killed in suicide attack in Balochistan: 22 civilians and seven police officers were killed and around 50 people wounded in a suicide car bomb attack at the Gadani Bus Stop in the industrial town of Hub in Balochistan on July 19-morning. Inspector General of Police Tariq Masood Khosa, said, "It was a suicide attack that was targeted at Chinese engineers working in Balochistan." Daily Times, July 20, 2007.
Suicide attacks kills 24 persons in NWFP: 15 persons were killed and several people sustained injuries when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a mosque in the Kohat Cantonment area of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on July 19, 2007. Most of the victims were reportedly Army personnel. Separately, five civilians and two policemen were killed and 35 others injured when a suicide bomber set off his explosives-packed car at the Hangu Police Training College. Dawn, July 20, 2007.
16 persons killed in suicide attack in Islamabad: A suicide bomber struck outside the venue of a lawyers rally in Islamabad on July 17, 2007, killing 16 people and wounding at least 63. Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said "It was apparently a suicide bombing." The blast occurred at about 8:27 pm outside the main entrance of the corridor leading to the venue of the event in F-8 Markaz, shortly before the reinstated Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was to pass through the site to give a speech to lawyers of the Islamabad District Bar Association. Daily Times, July 18, 2007.
War or peace, LTTE must decide, says President Mahinda Rajapakse: President Mahinda Rajapakse declared on July 18, 2007, that it was now up to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to decide between war and peace. "War or peace, we are ready. It is in their hands. It is now up to the Tigers to decide which path they want to tread on," he told Daily News in an interview. Responding to a question on whether the Government intended to extend military action to the North in the aftermath of gaining total control over the East or whether it intends to negotiate with the LTTE from a position of strength, Rajapakse said the Government would act in accordance with the option that is chosen by the LTTE. He stated: "We have never hesitated to negotiate and we never left the negotiating table. It was the LTTE which always abandoned talks midway. This happened in Geneva, Oslo and on many other occasions. It is the LTTE which has no desire for peace." Daily News, July 19, 2007.