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War of Words Affecting War on Terrorism

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The war of words between the employer and employee i.e. United States and Pakistan respectively has been affecting the war on terrorism. Pakistani rulers and politicians have been making talling that attack on the US side in the tribal areas will be reteliated. In this whole scenario no one has been asking from the tribesmen what they want.

Still attempt is being made from Pakistani side to impose Taliban government in tribal areas. Now this clear to all and sundry that Pakistan has been supporting Taliban and terrorists. Pakistan is the main beneficiary of the war on terror and this is the reason it wants the trouble to continue.

According to a report, Pakistani foreign minister uttered some words against the attacks from US side on terrorists staying in the tribal areas. Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri said that statements from the United States threatening Pakistan with direct action were irresponsible and must not be made. Kasuri said that such statements were counter-productive and were propelled by the US elections race that has started already. “It may be election season in the US but it should not be at our expense,” he said. Kasuri welcomed the congressional testimony of US Under Secretary Nicholas Burns in which he said that Pakistan was an indispensable ally of the United States. He said that Pakistan had floated a number of proposals to tighten border control but the world community had not responded to any of them so far.

According to comment in a leading newspaper, Al-Qaeda has been strengthening its root in tribal areas and North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. It stated that Bannu city came under renewed terrorist attacks Tuesday, with rockets fired indiscriminately into the population. At least nine people, including a woman, were killed and 40 others injured. Everybody is guessing, as usual, about who did it. Was it in retaliation against the suicide of Abdullah Mehsud, a deputy of South Waziristan’s Al Qaeda warlord, Baitullah Mehsud? Was it a part of the ongoing post-Lal Masjid assault ordered by Al Qaeda’s second man in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri?

The districts of Bannu and Kohat are important army posts in the NWFP. They lie on the way to the tribal agencies of Aurakzai and Kurram and have been a well-beaten path for local militants aligned with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. A police recruiting centre and a mosque inside the cantonment were recently targeted. Many girls’ schools have been forcibly closed down or have received threatening notes asking them to shut down, in accordance with the belief shared by the Taliban and Al Qaeda that girls should not be educated.

While North Waziristan has been made into a battlefield, the districts of Kohat and Bannu remain under pressure, perhaps from local proxies that Al Qaeda has developed through strategic funding. Because of problems of security, public loyalty has shifted from the state to the local strongmen and the population seems completely alienated. In this respect, the twin cities form the cutting edge of Al Qaeda’s foray into the settled areas of the NWFP. Already its hold on South Waziristan is unchallenged and its proxy Maulana Fazlullah controls the region of the provincially administered tribal areas (PATA) of Malakand, Swat and Dir. The Pakistan army has been ambushed there by suicide bombers, after which the local jirga, clearly scared of the power of Al Qaeda, has requested that the army should leave Swat.

Kurram Agency has been the centre of Pakistan’s longest lasting sectarian war. It was also the first geographical point where fleeing Al Qaeda members from Afghanistan landed after 9/11. The route to Kurram goes through Kohat where permits are obtained to travel to Kurram. The sectarian conflict has come down from Kurram into the Aurakzai Agency in recent times; but it caused upheavals in Kohat and Bannu from the 1990s onwards, allowing ingress to the anti-Shia Sipah Sahaba into the area. A local lawyer and ex-MNA, Mr Javed Ibrahim Paracha, with Sipah Sahaba and PMLN affiliations, has been the defender of the faith in the region and has become famous as a “human rights lawyer” for those captured in Pakistan as Al Qaeda activists.

The first encounter between Pakistan’s security agencies and Al Qaeda took place in Bannu in 2001. After the smoke settled down, the local population sided with Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda dead were dubbed martyrs and people swore that their blood was divinely perfumed as evidence of their martyrdom. A memorial was raised to Al Qaeda in the middle of Bannu town and people took away the congealed blood of the martyrs in small bottles as mementos of the occasion.

On 12 September 2003, GEO TV’s Hamid Mir investigated the well known mystery of the “perfumed soil” of Bannu after Al Qaeda mujahideen were gunned down there. The champion of the mujahideen cause was Mr Javed Ibrahim Paracha who narrated the incident. After 9/11, Bulgarian (sic!) and Chechen mujahideen fled from Afghanistan and came down to the Tribal Areas from where they came to Kohat where already 27 Arab mujahideen were in jail. They were met by an ISI officer (hassaas idaray ka afsar) who assured them safe passage to Bannu, but when they approached the town they saw troops. Upon this, they shot the ISI officer. After that the Flying Coach in which they were travelling was subjected to a barrage of bullets and all of them were killed.

Al Qaeda’s drive into the NWFP has to be understood in light of Osama bin Laden’s organisational work in Peshawar during the 1980s and his later development of the Tribal Areas as his training hinterland for the local and Arab mujahideen. As he did in Sudan later on, he invested a lot of money in Waziristan, preparing the area for jihad. Later, after he had moved to his camps in Kunar and Khost, his Arab legion — considered to be 4,000 strong — followed him there. After 9/11, however, the “foreigners” moved into these Tribal Areas where some of their brethren had settled down after marrying local Pushtun girls. Today, the ground Osama bin Laden prepared for Afghan jihad has become handy to launch attacks inside Pakistan.

Everybody is guessing about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. Because of the state of the “ungoverned space” developed in our Tribal Areas and the subversion of local loyalties, some “speculators” in the West think that he could not be anywhere else in the world and be safe. There is so much information deficit in Pakistan about the dark underside of Afghan jihad that people here are shocked at this “irresponsible” guesswork and become angry. But the discovery of new information never stops in Pakistan and should make us pause and rethink our angry assumptions and denials.

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Muhammad Khurshid, a resident of Bajaur District, tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border is journalist by profession. He contributes articles and news stories to various online and print newspapers. His subject matter is terrorism. He is (more...)

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