A new dimension of suicide terrorism

6 04 2009

A new dimension of suicide terrorism

M Abdul Vasiq Eqbal

After the successful escape of the Liberty Square attackers it was being assumed that Lahore has to face another attack in the same way, but right in the nursery of protectors was unexpected. Around 900 trainees and staff personnel were there when the “Suicide Attack” was launched. This brazen attack has given totally new dimension to the phenomenon of suicide terrorism. High value targets are no more accessible through the single perpetrator as they cannot penetrate within the security establishments blocked by barriers and security checks. Ramming vehicles is also not a worthy solution to this as it can damage the building infrastructure and that’s it. Police Training School was a “gold mine” of security personnel which were not even completely trained. Assailants were clearly ordered to kill themselves before getting caught; and out of one dozen four blew themselves up. However, two of them have been apprehended and rest of them managed to runaway in the police uniforms. They were aware that their target is place of no-return, reinforcements would be called up and even if they would use hostages to get an escape way, they would be chased till their den, still they came and did what they were indoctrinated to do. But why Police Academy was targeted? Question to this answer is that academy was located at the outskirts of the city neighbouring Manawan viallage, an urban locality just few miles away from the border line of India. Police training school is located in a city which is strategically very important and historical as well, this was the mightiest reason for the perpetrators to encircle the police training school on the map. Other reasons could be “pre-gauged” inadequate security measures and densely populated area which could provide them hindrance or easy escape way. Despite the current security situation and given warnings of Corps Commander Lahore, nothing was done to preempt the attacks. We are well aware of the ill-equipdness, inadequate training and limited resources of the police. With this kind of infrastructure they cannot maintain the law and order in the country but can just exist. Condition of the attacked police school, especially the rear side of the building clearly demonstrated the capability of police to face such kind of incidents, through the media. There were some reports in the media that according to post-event accounts of some eye-witnesses, assailants had also taken control of the arms store inside and due to that, security guards at the main gate ran out of bullets and could not resist for long. Albeit the precious lives of the policemen had been lost and number of them wounded and traumatized, Eight hours long battle is too short which has resulted in the capturing of two perpetrators which is enough to tail the storming brain. But on the contrary it is too long if the time was consumed to take the help of other security agencies through the systematic rules of engagement. Coordination of all the four agencies was praised in the media, but unfortunately one thing was neglected. If calling up army was the ultimate solution then why rangers and elite groups were mobilized to the location?

Displacement of entire security structure could have provided another and open battlefield to the “unseen” hand. If rangers were their just to cordon off the area, then I think our police can do this at least. Elite members were waving their weapons on the rooftop of the building after capturing the lost castle, the way they were moving in and out around the area, their body language was depicting the level of their training and the way they were raised up from within the existing police structure. Regular police personnel were also there, on the same scene but their inability to retaliate quickly and wisely, on such kind of assaults were in their demeanor. Do we have any contingency plan to face such kind of situation? Pakistani security forces are being attacked since Pakistan started the operation against al-Qaeda and Taliban in FATA, Swat and Waziristan. Police, the first defence line of civilian and government infrastructure has suffered the most in the country and particularly in Lahore, suicide attack at Lahore high court, another attack in front of Allama Iqbal town police station and recently on the Sri Lankan cricket team were the examples to hit the civilian security agency. A unified contingency plan for all the security agencies should be defined regardless of their type and style of working, whether they are from civilian or military setup. A well-established line of communication and chain of command that who will assist who, when, where, how and through what? A worst case scenario should be constituted to manage such kind ofhappenings. We are still onboard and the ship of war against terrorism is facing storm of Taliban but we cannot rule out our other rivals. Enemy of my enemy is my friend, quote goes with the time we are living in. Pre-defined set of rules, applicable anywhere in the country will provide basic platform to minimize the response and rescue time. It would decrease the damage and increase the chances of success simultaneously. The sooner the formation, the greater the fruitfulness, “a stitch in time saves nine”.

The author can be reached at: vasiq.eqbal@gmail.com

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The Death Throes of Pakistan’s Hindus by: Dr. Richard Benkin

6 04 2009

Hindu Temple in Pakistan

I just returned from a month in India during which time an incredible number of significant events were occurring. My primary mission in going was to document and raise awareness of the ethnic cleansing of Bangladeshi Hindus. I found plenty, including evidence of ongoing attacks on them both in Bangladesh and in West Bengal, India. The border between the two is so porous that terrorists and contraband move freely with and without the help of India’s Border Security Force or West Bengal police. But I also witnessed the tragic beginning of the end for Pakistan’s Hindus. Once one in five Pakistanis, they have been reduced to one percent of the population.

But as the Taliban take over ever larger chunks of that country, that remnant of a people is streaming across the border into Indian Punjab. The stream became a torrent with the Taliban’s seizure of the Swat Valley earlier this year. Hindu refugees report attacks and threats by the Taliban, as well as officials telling them to leave the country “or else.” The February agreement between the Taliban and the Zardari government ceded the area to the former and allowed Sharia law to be imposed on Swat’s 1.2 million inhabitants.

President Obama has used this agreement as a model in his stated quest for “moderate Taliban.” But not only does the agreement countersign ethnic cleansing, it also failed even before Obama’s anticipated speech on US policy in the region. Just hours before the President spoke, one of the Taliban parties to the agreement, Tehrik e Taliban, abrogated it with a terror attack on a mosque in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, and has engaged in other terrorist attacks subsequently.

One Hindi language channel quoted a Taliban spokesman confirming that his group was pulling out of the agreement not to attack elsewhere in Pakistan because, he said, it would be contrary to Allah’s wishes to limit Sharia to the Swat Valley. Yet, no major media in India, the US, or elsewhere made this connection.

Even more shameful, no media or government has protested the ethnic cleansing of Pakistan’s Hindus, who are being finished off by the Taliban. All governments involved in the region are just allowing it to happen,too. What kind of a world do we live in when India will not defend Hindus attacked for being Hindus; when the US ignores the atrocity; when not a single human rights group or the UN utters a word of protest?

What is happening to Pakistan’s Hindus is a crime, but a crime that is largely accomplished. There remain 13,000,000 Hindus in Bangladesh subject to the same attacks, the same racist laws, and the same intention to eradicate them. Worse, the battle is spilling across the open border into India, and it is changing the demographic balance in the region. It is also allowing terrorists into the country whose intention is to undermine the very nation of Hindustan.

My mission is to prevent that, to prevent the murders and other atrocities, even if I am the only voice of protest to cry out about this crime against humanity.





NY shooting: Pak Taliban claim responsibility

5 04 2009

TALIBAN STRIKES BACK: Baitullah Mehsud (center) says the New York attack was carried out by his men.

TALIBAN STRIKES BACK: Baitullah Mehsud (center) says the New York attack was carried out by his men.

New Delhi: Pakistan’s Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud on Saturday claimed responsibility for the attack on a US immigration centre in New York in which 13 people were killed, Pakistan’s Geo TV reported.

He said it was carried out by a Pakistani and another man to avenge the missile strikes by US drones in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

“I accept responsibility. They were my men. I gave them orders in reaction to US drone attacks,” Mehsud told media men by telephone from an undisclosed location.

The chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan warned that “such attacks would continue” to avenge missile strikes by US drones in tribal areas and “brutalities in Palestine.”

Mehsud also pointed out that he had said a few days ago that his militants would carry out attacks on American soil.

The claim by the Pakistani Taliban commander came hours after a US drone attack in North Waziristan tribal agency killed 13 people, including women and children.

A man armed with two handguns killed 12 people at an immigration services centre before turning the gun on himself, said authorities in Binghamton, upstate New York.

They identified the killer as Jiverly Wong, an immigrant from Vietnam.

Mehsud had recently claimed responsibility for the terrorist siege of a police training centre at Manawan near Lahore that killed eight persons and injured over 90 as well as for two recent suicide attacks.

WHO IS BAITULLAH MEHSUD?

  • He is the leader of militant group Tehreek-i-Taliban

  • He belongs to the Mehsud tribe from South Waziristan

  • Mehsud commands about 20,000 pro-Taliban militants

  • His group includes some foreign fighters

  • He is known to provide sanctuary to militants fighting NATO forces in Afghanistan

  • Mehsud is the main accused in the assassination of former Pakistan prime minister, Benazir Bhutto





Pakistan Taleban in Bajaur truce

24 02 2009

Pakistani soldiers in the north-west

Pakistani soldiers launched an operation in Bajaur in August

Source: BBC News

A senior Taleban figure in Pakistan’s Bajaur district has announced a unilateral ceasefire.

Faqir Mohammad made the announcement in a radio speech.

Faqir Mohammad is thought to be the deputy of Baitullah Mehsud, who the Pakistani authorities say is the main Taleban commander in the region.

The military says it has seized the strategic Bachina heights in Bajaur and it remains to be seen whether it will agree to a ceasefire.

The military began its operation in Bajaur last August and has used it as proof of its commitment to tackle the Taleban in the restive north-west.

The truce move comes a week after a deal was signed between Pakistani officials and Taleban representatives to end an insurgency in the Swat region in return for the imposition of Sharia law.

Alliances

Faqir Mohammad said in his 30-minute speech: “We made this announcement of a unilateral ceasefire in the interest of Pakistan and our region.

“We advise our people not to take action against security forces.”

He stressed that “Pakistan is our country and the Pakistan army is our army”.

Tribal areas map

Faqir Mohammad said: “We don’t want to fight the army, but some elements have been creating misunderstandings between us.”

He said there were no foreign fighters in Bajaur.

“However, if we found any foreigners here, the Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP) would take action against them.”

He warned that if drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas continued “we will avenge them by attacking Western troops inside Afghanistan”.

The announcement comes a day after the security troops dislodged militants from the strategic Bachina heights.

Military action has been lessening in Bajaur with the capture of several strategic points by the military.

It also came two days after the head of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud, announced a new strategic alliance with two important non-TTP groups in Waziristan.

One is led by Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan and the other by Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan.

The announcement did not specifically mention the militants of Swat, Bajaur and Mohmand as forming a part of the new alliance.

The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says many observers take this to mean that the Waziristan groups have decided to fend for themselves.

The Swat chapter of the TTP has already called a truce and the cleric, Sufi Muhammad, is brokering the peace talks between the Taleban and the government.

Our correspondent says observers believe some militants are on the retreat due to people’s war fatigue, the recent realignments within different groups in anticipation of the new US strategy in the region and increasing international pressure on Pakistan to eliminate militant sanctuaries.





Single-faith nation is an open invitation to Taliban

24 02 2009

Source: TOI

22 Feb 2009, 0000 hrs IST, M J Akbar

Breast-beating has its dangers. You could lacerate yourself while the assassin laughs all the way to the graveyard. The international lamentation
over the negotiated surrender of Swat in Pakistan to what might broadly be called the Taliban is high on moaning and low on illumination.

There is a symmetrical irony. Benazir Bhutto handed over Afghanistan to the Taliban. Her husband Asif Zardari might have laid the foundation stone of Talibanistan inside Pakistan by accepting Sufi Mohammad’s Tehrik-e-Nifz-e-Shariat Mohammadi as the law for the former princely state of Swat. This demand was first heard in November 1994, the month in which Kandahar fell to the Taliban.

Many questions demand answers. The Pakistani army has an estimated strength of 12,000 in the region of Swat. Why was it unable, or unwilling, to subdue an insurgent force of some 3,000? The Pakistani army is not a pushover. Why was it pushed over in Swat? Is the Pakistani soldier increasingly unwilling to confront an ideology it implicitly sympathises with? How much of such sympathy is shared by the middle-ranking officer, who entered the force during the seminal leadership of General Zia ul Haq? To what extent has Ziaism become the secret doctrine of sections of the Pakistani forces?

What price will Pakistan’s polity pay as the last civilian hope degenerates into a national heartbreak? The legacy of Benazir, the charismatic romantic, has been usurped by a semi-literate authoritarian who has seized executive power through a virtual coup against his own government. Zardari was elected to a ceremonial office, not an executive one. His principal achievement so far has been to make the era of Pervez Musharraf seem like a golden age. If she had been in charge, Benazir may have been able to mobilise her country’s youth by lifting the economy and offering a liberal horizon. Zardari’s ineffectual rule, wafting along compromise and mismanagement, can only create the space for a theocratic impulse that has been waiting to find its moment ever since Pakistan was born. Musharraf doubled the GDP of an insecure economy. Under Zardari, Pakistan is dwindling into a “basket case”, a term Henry Kissinger coined for the eastern half of united Pakistan. While Bangladesh is leaving that stigma behind, Pakistan is entering the vortex of the begging bowl.

Military chaos opened the door for the Taliban in Kabul. Could economic chaos open the door in Islamabad? Has Pakistan begun to realise that faith-based nationalism is not synonymous with peace?

The Frontier and North Punjab, the principal catchment areas of the Taliban, have had a Muslim majority for perhaps a thousand years. It is not widely known that Mahmud of Ghazni’s territories extended to what is roughly the line of the Indo-Pak border today. (This fact is not lost on terrorists who want to use Pakistan as a base from which to launch assaults on the heart of India.) But this area was never a single-faith entity. Hindus and later Sikhs created, along with Muslims, a dynamic shared culture that blossomed through partnership. The presence of the other also became an antidote to puritanism of any hue. The region was ruled successively by Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. No ruler, not even Ghazni, drove Hindus and Sikhs out. It was only after 1947 that the region became a single-faith hegemony, and from that point a breeding ground for theocratic militancy.

The power of a minority is rarely acknowledged by those who seek to turn it into an enemy. A minority is the yeast that enables the national flour to rise. Hindus and Sikhs were the yeast of the North West Frontier and Pakistani Punjab just as much as Indian Muslims are the yeast of Hindu-majority India. Their existence was a daily lesson in co-existence. Their absence has shifted the gears of social evolution and driven the people into rancid and arid territory.

Will the answers be more optimistic than the questions? That too remains a question.





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.

9/11: THE NEW FRONTIER
More coverage throughout the day on BBC World News and BBC World Service

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.