The Afghan-Pakistan militant nexus

29 12 2008

Source: BBC News

Seven years after 9/11, the US has declared the Afghan-Pakistan border region to be the new frontline in its war on terror. Use the map to see how militants operate on either side of the border. (Text: M Ilyas Khan)

Helmand, Chaghai

Kabul’s writ has never run strong in the remote southern plains of Helmand province. Further south, across the border in Pakistan, lies the equally remote Noshki-Chaghai region of Balochistan province.

Since 9/11, this region has been in turmoil. In the Baramcha area on the Afghan side of the border, the Taleban have a major base. The chief commander is Mansoor Dadullah. From there they control militant activities as far afield as Nimroz and Farah provinces in the west, Oruzgan in the north and parts of Kandahar province in the east. They also link up with groups based in the Waziristan region of Pakistan.

The Helmand Taleban, unlike comrades elsewhere in Afghanistan, have been able to capture territory and hold it, mostly in the southern parts of the province. They constantly threaten traffic on the highway that connects Kandahar with Herat.

Kandahar, Quetta

Kandahar has the symbolic importance of being the spiritual centre of the Taleban movement and also the place of its origin. The supreme Taleban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, made the city his headquarters when the Taleban came to power in 1996. Top al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden, preferred it to the country’s political capital, Kabul.

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As such, the control of Kandahar province is a matter of great prestige. The first suicide attacks in Afghanistan took place in Kandahar in 2005-06, and were linked to al-Qaeda. Kandahar has seen some high-profile jailbreaks and assassination bids, including one on President Karzai.

The Afghan government has prevented the Taleban from seizing control of any significant district centre or town. International forces have large bases in the airport area as well as at the former residence of Mullah Omar in the western suburbs of Kandahar city.

But the Taleban have a strong presence in the countryside, especially in southern and eastern areas along the border with Pakistan. Afghan and Western officials have in the past said the Taleban have used Quetta, the capital of the Pakistan province of Balochistan, as a major hideout as well as other Pakistani towns along the Kandahar border.

Mullah Omar is probably in hiding in Kandahar or Helmand.

Zabul, Toba Kakar

Afghanistan’s Zabul province lies to the north of Kandahar, along the Toba Kakar mountain range that separates it from the Pakistani districts of Killa Saifullah and Killa Abdullah. The mountans are remote, and have been largely quiet except for a couple of occasions when Pakistani security forces scoured them for al-Qaeda suspects.

Reports from Afghanistan say militants use the area in special circumstances. In early 2002, Taleban militants fleeing US forces in Paktia and Paktika provinces took a detour through South Waziristan to re-enter Afghanistan via Zabul. Occasionally, Taleban insurgents use the Toba Kakar passes when infiltration through South Waziristan is difficult due to intensified vigilance by Pakistani and Afghan border guards.

Zabul provides access to the Afghan provinces of Ghazni, Oruzgan and Kandahar. There are few Afghan or foreign forces in the area, except on the highway that connects Qalat, the capital of Zabul, to Kandahar in the south-west, and Ghazni and Kabul in the north.

South Waziristan, Paktika

South Waziristan, a tribal district in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), is the first significant sanctuary Islamic militants carved for themselves outside Afghanistan after 9/11. Militants driven by US troops from the Tora Bora region of Nangarhar province in late 2001, and later from the Shahikot mountains of Paktia in early 2002, poured into the main town, Wana, in their hundreds. They included Arabs, Central Asians, Chechens, Uighur Chinese, Afghans and Pakistanis. Some moved on to urban centres in Punjab and Sindh provinces. Others slipped back into Afghanistan or headed west to Quetta and onwards to Iran. But most stayed back and fought the Pakistani army during 2004-05.

The eastern half of South Waziristan is inhabited by the Mehsud tribe and the main militant commander here is Baitullah Mehsud. The western half, along the border with Afghanistan, is Ahmedzai Wazir territory where the chief commander is Maulvi Nazir. The Mehsuds only live on the Pakistani side, while the Wazirs inhabit both sides of the border.

These sanctuaries directly threaten Afghanistan’s Paktika province, where the US-led forces have a base in the Barmal region and several outposts along the border to counter infiltration. Pakistani security forces also man scores of border checkposts in the region.

However, infiltration has continued unabated and the number of hit-and-run attacks on foreign troops has been one of the highest in this region. Militants based in the region are known to have carried out strikes as far away as the Kandahar-Kabul highway.

North Waziristan, Paktia, Khost

The North Waziristan region is dominated by the Wazir tribe that also inhabits the adjoining Afghan provinces of Paktika and Khost. North and South Waziristan form the most lethal zone from where militants have been successfully destabilising not only Paktika and Khost, but other Afghan provinces such as Paktia, Ghazni, Wardak and Logar. Groups based in Waziristan region are known to have carried out some recent attacks in the Afghan capital, Kabul, as well.

Tribal identities are particularly strong in Paktika, Khost and Paktia. During the Taleban rule of 1997-2001, these provinces were ruled by their own tribal governors instead of the Kandahari Taleban who held power over the rest of the country. In the current phase of the fighting they coordinate with the militants in Kandahar and Helmand, but they have stuck with their own leadership that dates back to the war against the Soviets in 1980s.

The veteran Afghan militant Jalaluddin Haqqani is based in North Waziristan. He has wielded considerable influence over the top commanders in South and North Waziristan. He is also reported to have maintained links with sections of the Pakistani security establishment and is known to have mediated peace deals between the Pakistani government and the Wazir and Mehsud commanders in the region. Mr Haqqani is now an old man, and his son Sirajuddin has taken over most of his work.

There are many Arab and other foreign fighters in North and South Waziristan. This is due to Jalaluddin Haqqani’s close links with the al-Qaeda leadership. He married an Arab woman in the 1980s.

In view of the sensitivity of Waziristan region, US-led forces have set up a large base in Khost from where they conduct operations not only along the Waziristan region to the south but also in parts of the border region in Paktia and Nangarhar provinces to the north.

Kurram, Khyber, Nangarhar

As the Pakistani military strategists who organised Afghan guerillas against the Soviets in the ’80s discovered to their delight, Kurram is the best location along the entire Pakistan-Afghanistan border to put pressure on the Afghan capital, Kabul, which is just 90km away. But because the region is inhabited by a Shia tribe that opposes the Taleban for religious reasons, the Taleban have not been able to get a foothold here. Analysts say this is the main reason why the Taleban have taken so long to improve their strength in areas around Kabul, such as Logar and Wardak.

Some militant groups in the Khyber tribal district have carried out attacks on foreign and Afghan troops in Nangarhar province. But the Pakistani government has kept a close watch on them. One reason may be to curb the ability of these groups to block the highway through Khyber which serves as the main conduit for supplies to international forces in Afghanistan that come via the Pakistani port of Karachi.

Mohmand, Bajaur, Kunar

Analysts have long suspected Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal region to be the hiding place of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other top al-Qaeda leaders. The Mohmand and Bajaur tribal districts are also believed to be the stronghold of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the main Afghan guerrilla leaders of the 1980s. Mr Hekmatyar fought the Taleban in 1990s, but after 9/11 started working with them. The actual extent of cooperation is not known. The groups in Mohmand and Bajaur are members of an umbrella organisation which is headed by South Waziristan’s Baitullah Mehsud known as the Tehreek-e-Taleban (Pakistan Taleban).

Militants based in Mohmand and Bajaur have been striking at installations and supply lines of international forces based in the Narai region of Afghanistan’s Kunar province. In recent months, they are also reported to have crossed the Hindu Kush foothills to carry out attacks on foreign troops in the Sarobi, Tagab and Nejrab areas around Kabul.

Oruzgan, Ghazni, Wardak, Logar

For a long time the Taleban were unable to maintain sustained pressure on the country’s south-central highlands. But with safe sanctuaries in the border region – from the Baramcha area of Helmand province in the south, to some parts of Pakistani Balochistan, the Waziristan country and Bajaur-Mohmand territory to the east – the Taleban finally have the capacity to challenge the government in this region. The roads in Ghazni and Oruzgan are not as safe as they were a couple of years ago and officials are losing the will to maintain the government’s authority.

Training camps run by al-Qaeda and Taleban groups have multiplied in secure border regions over the last few years. Safe havens have also afforded the militants endless opportunities to find new recruits. The Waziristan region is also known to be a haven for young suicide bombers and trained in remote camps. The Taleban also appear to have had access to sophisticated military equipment and professionally drawn-up battle plans.

The strategy appears to be the same as in 1980s – ‘death by a thousand cuts’. Sporadic attacks on the security forces and the police have grown more frequent over the years, and have also crept closer to Kabul. At the same time, the Taleban have destroyed most of the education infrastructure in the countryside, a vital link between the central government and the isolated agrarian citizenry.

Oruzgan has mostly come under pressure from groups in Kandahar and Helmand. These groups, as well as those based in the Waziristan-Paktika-Khost region, have also moved up the highway via Ghazni to infiltrate Wardak on the left and Logar on the right. Safe and quiet until less than two years ago, both these provinces are now said to be increasingly infiltrated by Taleban fighters. The same is true of militants putting pressure on Kabul from Sarobi and Tagab in the east, with their tentacles stretching back to Laghman, Kunar and Bajaur.

Swat

A former princely state, Swat, in northern Pakistan, was governed by a British era law which a court declared unconstitutional in early 1990s, triggering a violent campaign for the introduction of Islamic law in the district.

The insurgency was effectively put down in 1994, but it re-emerged after 9/11, and was joined by many battle-hardened militants from Waziristan, Bajaur and the neighbouring district of Dir. During a 10-month long operation that still continues, the security forces have disrupted the infrastructure of the militants but is still to clear them out of the area. The militants have been targeting the security forces, the police, secular politicians and government-run schools.





Mumbai terrorists Molested Hostages

29 12 2008

Source: Metro Now, Taujionline blog

They were busy having sexual pleasure while fighting against commandos! A report on METRONOW reveals foreigner hostages particularly were first forced to strip before killed. Following is a scan of the report. Similar reports were telecast on Live India channel too. The investigation team has the CCTV footage too. Can anybody post video clippings?





Own group blasts Pak’s Indian terrorist myth

29 12 2008

27 Dec 2008, 0122 hrs IST, ET Bureau

NEW DELHI: As a Pakistani pro-Taliban group punctured Islamabad’s attempt to pin the Lahore car bomb blast on New Delhi, the Indian government
has pointed the finger of blame at the Pakistani military for manufacturing stories about “Indian terrorists’’, and warned Indian nationals against travelling to Pakistan.

Without naming either the ISI or Pakistani military, the ministry of external affairs has accused agencies “outside civilian control” for the reports in Pakistani media about the arrest of “Indian spies” in Lahore and Multan for the Lahore car bomb blasts. “Since it has also been reported in the Pakistani media on Thursday (Thursday) that the senior police officer in Lahore was unaware of the arrest in his city, it seems that this is the work of other agencies in Pakistan that operate outside the law and civilian control,’’ MEA spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said. The main agency that operates outside the civilian control in Pakistan is the Pakistani military under which falls the ISI.

In this atmosphere, the government fearing the detention of Indian citizens also issued a travel advisory warning Indians against travelling Pakistan. “Indian citizens are therefore advised that it would be unsafe for them to travel or be in Pakistan,” the spokesperson said.

Islamabad’s attempt to manufacture Indian spies was dealt a big blow with a new pro-Taliban group called ‘Ansar Wa Mohajir’ taking credit for Wednesday’s car bomb attack in Lahore.

According to a report in Pakistani newspaper The News, a man identifying himself as Toofan Wazir said he was the commander and spokesman of the ‘Ansar Wa Mohajir’ which was responsible for the blast in Lahore and earlier rocket attacks on Dera Ismail Khan city.

The report said it appeared “obvious that he (Wazir) and his men are pro-Taliban and part of the Pakistani Taliban”. Wazir, who called up the newspaper from somewhere in North Waziristan, further said that the group held the Pakistani government responsible for the attacks by the US drones in North Waziristan in which militants were killed. He said they believed that the Pakistani government was cooperating with the US in its efforts.

This claim by the local group has poured water over attempts by the Pakistani establishment to pin the blame on India. The development further demonstrates that the ungoverned areas in Pakistan continue to be terror hotspots even as the Pakistani military tries to deflect attention from the establishment’s unwillingness and in some cases inability to take action against the terror infrastructure.

As part of the effort to show India as the aggressor, Pakistani intelligence had planted stories in the media saying that an Indian national, who used to work in the Indian High Commission in London, was responsible for the Lahore car bomb blast. The reports were never officially confirmed or denied. And Islamabad also did not take up the matter officially with New Delhi even though reports claimed that visa documents and other papers were seized from the man, who is from Kolkatta. The Indian High Commission in Islamabad was also not told of the so called arrests of Indian spies.

But this latest episode further adds to the assessment that Pakistan, which is in the international spotlight, is reacting under pressure and is unable to come up with a coherent strategy resulting in constant denials and embarrassments. Even the latest diversionary tactic has ended up as a huge embarrassment for Pakistan.





2008 J&K polls: End of separatist forces

29 12 2008

NEW DELHI: The 2008 J&K assembly poll has scored over the 1996 and 2002 polls, not only in terms of minimal violence and high turnout, but als
o due to the fact that the “azaadi” rhetoric of the separatist forces was seen making way for development issues in shaping the voters’ mind.

According to a senior official closely associated with the conduct of assembly poll in J&K , the declining infiltration and militant activity in the state had laid the foundation for good voter participation in this assembly election. The official pointed out a good turnout was seen in almost all by-elections held following the 2004 parliamentary poll, the latest being the one in Baderwah where the then chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, won by an impressive margin.

The high voter interest is seen to be linked with the low levels of militancy and infiltration seen over the last couple of years, thanks to Pakistan’s pre-occupation its domestic matters and fencing of border stretches in J&K. The reduced interest of Pakistanbacked terror groups like Hizbul Mujahideen ensured that no candidate was killed this time compared to 2002 when 50 political activists, including two candidates, were killed.

The NC bore the brunt of the political killings, losing up to 30 political workers including its candidate from Lolab constituency, the then law minister Mushtaq Ahmed Lone. The absence of a similar bloody show in 2008 was enough to instil confidence in the voter to come out and exercise his franchise.

About 220 civilians and 148 security personnel were killed during the poll period in 2002. The comparative casualty figures for 2008 polls are 12 civilian and five security personnel. The impressive 86% fall in militancyrelated incidents between the assembly polls in 2002 and 2008 may never have been anticipated in the pre-poll scenario, which was marred by the Amarnath agitation and its apparent fallout in the Kashmir region.

The agitation was milked by the separatist forces to renew their ‘azaadi’ rhetoric: So much so, at one point of time, all the parties in J&K including PDP and NC were doubtful of holding assembly in the first place. But the Election Commission stood its ground and decided to call the separatists’ bluff by going ahead with the poll, even at the risk of a low turnout.

Of course, in the end, the people rejected the separatists’ call for a poll boycott with an overwhelming response during polling spread over seven phases.

The Union home ministry did its bit by not only providing the requisite Central forces — over 700 companies — for keeping vigil during the poll but also quietly restricting the movement and public appearances of key separatist leaders like Mirwaiz Omer Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani while the poll process was on.

This put the separatist issues on the back burner, enabling the J&K electorate to focus on what may well have been real issues like development and infrastructure . As a senior official put it, the six years of governance in J&K, that too reasonably peaceful, may have added to popular expectations that developments works and welfare schemes would be given a push.

The EC too left no stone unturned to ensure that poll is free of any rigging and there was no coercion whatsoever of the voter by the Army or other security forces. It is believed that the Commission had even spoken to the military brass in Jammu and Kashmir in this regard. The three-member EC mostly worked from behind the scenes, leaving the deputy election commissioners to interact with the chief electoral officer on the conduct of poll.

By deploying micro-observers , the EC ensured that each and every act of the pollrelated officials and police personnel was subject to close scrutiny, leaving little scope for any poll irregularities.

That the state administration and security forces fully cooperated with the EC is obvious from the conducive atmosphere in which the campaigning took place. Due to the secure environment provided by security forces and police , as many as 4,277 election meetings were held by various political parties across the state, up from a total of 2,031 poll rallies held during the 2002 election.

SRINAGAR: A resurgent National Conference emerged the single-largest party in a hung Assembly in Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday and is all poised to

Omar Abdullah in Ganderbal

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah waves to supporters during a victory celebration in Ganderbal, Srinagar. (AP)

stake claim for forming the next government with Congress support. ( Watch )

NC, which has got 28 seats, exactly the same number that it had in the dissolved Assembly, said it will approach “like minded” Congress, which bagged 17 seats, for forming the next government after the five-week seven-phased polls that recorded a high 61 per cent turn-out defying separatists’ boycott calls and militant guns. The Congress lost three seats.

Back-channel talks have already begun between the two parties, sources said, adding Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who is said to have good equations with Omar, is expected to play a key role in forging a partnership.

An NC-Congress combine can cross the magic half-way mark of 44 in a House of 87 but there there are six independents besides the three-member Panthers Party from whom it could also count on for support.

The PDP, which shared power with Congress on a rotational basis for last six years, came second with a tally of 21 seats, a gain of five over the 2002 elections.

Cashing in on the Amarnath land row, the BJP put up an impressive performance clinching 11 of the 37 seats at stake in Jammu region. The saffron party had only one seat in the last Assembly. The CPI-M could only win one of the two seats it had.

The 38-year-old Omar Abdullah, the scion of the Abdullah family, who steered NC for a shot at power, said his party would approach the Congress for forming the next government.

That the state administration and security forces fully cooperated with the EC is obvious from the conducive atmosphere in which the campaigning took place. Due to the secure environment provided by security forces and police , as many as 4,277 election meetings were held by various political parties across the state, up from a total of 2,031 poll rallies held during the 2002 election.





Violence in Indian Kashmir lowest in 2 decades

29 12 2008
Source: DAWN Associated press

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Militant activity in the disputed region of Kashmir has fallen to its lowest levels since an anti-India rebellion began nearly two decades ago, police said Friday.

The number of militant attacks in 2008 fell 40 percent to 709 — the first time the number of attacks dropped below 1,000 — said Kuldeep Khoda, senior police official of Jammu-Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state.

In 2007, roughly 1,100 militant incidents were recorded in Indian Kashmir, he said.

Civilian casualties also fell to less than 100 for the first time since 1989 when militants began fighting Indian rule, Khoda said in a statement.

More than 68,000 people have died in the two decades violence, most of them civilians.

Police said there are 850 militants fighting in the region, including followers of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group India blames for the deadly Mumbai attacks last month. The largest militant group in the region is Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen, Khoda said.

Khoda said government forces this year killed about “350 militants including some top ranking rebel commanders in anti-militancy operations across the state.”

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

Meanwhile on Friday, government forces clashed with hundreds of rock-throwing protesters after the main mosque in Srinagar, the region’s biggest city, opened for Friday prayers after seven weeks.

The mosque had been closed as Indian troops enforced strict restrictions following separatists’ demands for a protest and boycott of state elections, the last phase of which was completed on Wednesday.

At least 10 protesters were injured in the Friday clashes, said a police officer on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy.

“India calls it a democracy and conducts elections under curfews, arrests and military crackdown,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a key separatist leader, told worshippers at the Jamia Masjid. “Let India know that domination is never victory and our fight for freedom will continue.”





LeT is looking at India through the global lens

29 12 2008

Source: TOI
Were the masterminds and perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage influenced by al- Qaida, the chief proponent of global jihad? In future, will sub-continental terrorists prefer to attack the ‘crusader and Jewish’ target set identified by the global jihadists as opposed to ‘Indian government and Hindu’ targets? The Mumbai attack was unprecedented in target selection; of the five pre-designated targets. Was the target selection influenced by India’s alliance with the US and Israel? The method of operation was classic al-Qaida style – a coordinated, near simultaneous attack against high profile and symbolic targets aimed at inflicting mass casualties. The only difference was that it was a fidayeen attack, a classic LeT modus operandi.

With the US deepening its political, economic and military ties with India, will Muslim extremist groups in the subcontinent come under the operational and ideological influence of al-Qaida? The Mumbai attack was a watershed. It demonstrated the stark departure by the LeT from being an anti-Indian to both an anti-Indian and an anti-western group. LeT’s direct and operational role in Mumbai attack surprised the security and intelligence services of Pakistan, India and other governments. Very much a group founded to fight the Indian presence in Kashmir, LeT has evolved into operating against targets throughout India. Today, it has moved further from a national to a regional and a global group.

Although its rhetoric has been anti-Indian, its anti-western rhetoric has grown significantly since 9/11. The mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi directed LeT military operations even outside the Indian theatre. He dispatched LeT trained Pakistani and foreign operatives to Chechnya, Bosnia and Southeast Asia. And since 2003, they have been sent to assess the situation in Iraq, and later to attack US forces in Iraq. Although LeT operatives have been arrested in the US, Europe, and in Australia, LeT was not a priority group for the international community. It is because LeT did not align itself with al-Qaida and refrained from operating in Afghanistan. But it maintained relations with al-Qaida at an operational level.

Until Mumbai, LeT has been in the category of Islamist nationalist groups. Some groups such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hizbul Mujahideen remained Muslim nationalist groups. In contrast, groups in Egypt, Algeria and Indonesia that began with local agendas transformed into groups with regional and international agendas.

After the US intervention in Afghanistan, the epicentre of international terrorism has shifted from Afghanistan to tribal Pakistan. The influence of al-Qaida is profound on groups in tribal Pakistan such as Tehrik-e-Taliban and on mainland Pakistani groups. The insurgency in Federally Administered Tribal Areas is spilling to NWFP and beyond. To contain their influence, the Pakistan government proscribed a number of militant groups. By 2008, exploiting the political instability, a number of these banned groups, that adopted new names, began to operate openly.

Over time, both New Delhi and Islamabad are likely to realise the need to fight a common threat, both ideologically and operationally. Mumbai has demonstrated that the pre-eminent national security challenge facing both India and Pakistan is terrorism and not each other.

The writer teaches at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, one of the world’s largest counter-terrorism centre. He is the author of the bestselling Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror