Countering resurrection of terrorism
By Asif Haroon Raja
Terrorism was stoked in Afghanistan in October 2001 under a well-thought out plan chalked out by Indo-US-Israel-UK alliance. The plan envisaged ousting Taliban regime with the help of Pakistan and eliminating Al-Qaeda so that Afghan soil could be used for launching covert operations against targeted regional countries. The US installed puppet regime of Hamid Karzai followed by Ashraf Ghani-Dr. Abdullah unity regime complied with the directives of the occupiers pliantly.
Gen Musharraf regime in Pakistan that had agreed to become a coalition partner to fight war on terror gave a freehand to CIA and FBI to net Al-Qaeda operatives including Osama bin Laden (OBL) and Taliban runaways that were allowed to slip away from Tora Bora caves in December 2001. The two agencies exploited the open-ended liberty of action and made deep inroads in Pakistan to establish their network along with RAW-NDS-Blackwater. OBL and Al-Qaeda became reasons for the US to justify prolonged stay in Afghanistan. Further extension was vindicated under the pretext of safe havens in Pakistan.
The veiled objective of USA was to let RAW-NDS collectively use Afghan soil as a springboard to launch covert war through proxies at a gigantic scale to destabilize Pakistan, while the intelligence network was mandated to map out all nuclear sites and prepare plans to steal or disable the nukes at an opportune time. After extracting its nuclear teeth, Pakistan was to be Balkanized and made into a vassal state of India.
RAW established 70 training camps/centres and 14 diplomatic/intelligence consulates in Afghanistan to fuel terrorism in FATA and then in settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) including Peshawar with the help of Tehreek-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU); and in Baluchistan by the Baloch rebel groups (BLA, BRA and BLF). Flames of terrorism were gradually fanned towards Islamabad and Punjab after Lal Masjid episode in July 2007.
MQM on the payroll of MI-6 and RAW started making Karachi chaotic through high spate of target killings, murders, kidnappings and extortion from 2008 onwards.
Besides the supply routes from Afghanistan across the Durand Line and Makran coast, NATO containers also provided weapons and equipment to MQM, TTP and Baloch rebels. These terrorist groups and MQM were funded, armed and guided to create an environment of chaos and insecurity so as to make Pakistan ungovernable and a failed state.
Several leading TV channels, English newspapers, bloggers and social media were funded by foreign agencies to boost Indo-US-Western-Israeli propaganda war aimed at slandering Islam and promoting liberalism and secularism, and spoiling the image of premier institutions.
Kashmir focused Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad allegedly backed by ISI were blamed for all terror attacks taking place in India and Afghanistan to build a narrative that Pakistan was abetting terrorism. Later on Haqqani network (HN) was added to the list.
Pak Army was maligned by alleging that either it was in collusion with the terrorists or was incompetent to deal with them. Nuclear program was discredited by painting it to be unsafe and liable to fall in wrong hands. Offer of joint control of nuclear sites was repeatedly made by USA.
Do more mantra that was confined to northwestern region only, was sung vigorously by the conspirators to continue bleeding Pak security forces, make Pakistan politically unstable and economically weak and dependent. Additional purpose was to make Pakistan a scapegoat for covering up the failures of ISAF-Afghan regime-ANSF.
In Baluchistan, where the Baloch insurgency morphed into separatist movement after the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti in August 2006, counter terrorism efforts were dubbed as human rights violations. Security forces were accused of kidnapping Baloch rebels, torturing and dumping mutilated bodies along the roadside. Over 60 training camps run by RAW-NDS trainers were established in interior Baluchistan to detach the resource rich province from Pakistan. These were demolished by 2007 but were re-established in 2011.
The TTP as well TNSM in Malakand under Maulana Sufi Muhammad disparaged Pakistan’s constitution, its parliament, judiciary, education and dubbed Pak Army as mercenary army fighting to earn dollars. They tried to win hearts and minds of the people by chanted the slogan of Islam and enforcement of Sharia. The faceless enemy besides resorting to kidnapping for ransom, torture, extortion and forcible marriages, made full use of suicide bombers, explosive laden vehicles, IEDs and group attacks to strike civil and military targets so as to breakdown law and order, create fear and insecurity.
Terrorism peaked in 2007-2008 and TTP managed to gain sway over 18 administrative units in the northwest with major bastions in Swat, Bajaur, and South Waziristan (SW), and auxiliary strongpoints in North Waziristan (NW), Mohmand, Khyber and Kurram tribal Agencies. Peshawar was virtually besieged by LI and TTP from three directions, while Swat was converted into a state within a state.
Pakistan Army was provoked and compelled to fight pitched battles in these regions to draw maximum blood and to pin down bulk of regular Army in the three conflict zones, thereby weaken military balance along the eastern border and enable Indian military to execute its Cold Start Doctrine and destroy Pak armed forces.
To add to Pakistan’s woes, India resorted to water terrorism by building dams over rivers flowing into Pakistan to make it water scarce.
The three contingency plans made to steal or destroy nukes in 2009 ran into snags when Pak Army managed to recapture the three professedly impregnable fortresses, as well as all other regions under occupation of TTP, less NW.
Astonished and perplexed by astounding successes achieved against its proxies, the US maximized pressure on Islamabad to mount another operation in NW that was converted into main citadel by Hakimullah Mehsud, successor of Baitullah Mehsud who was killed by a drone. Miranshah and Mir Ali towns in NW were made into fortresses duly protected by human shield and self-contained in making suicide jackets, IEDS and other explosive devices. There were training grounds, centres to brainwash suicide bombers, torture cells/jails, command and communications centres. Dumps of arms and explosives were stacked to fight a prolonged battle. Shawal ridgeline/valley and Datta Khel mountainous area provided safe sanctuaries in depth close to Afghan border.
64 proscribed groups that had been banned under pressure from USA and India, joined hands with TTP in NW. Thorough war preparations together with treacherous nature of terrain made NW more formidable than any other region.
TTP leaders Fazlullah, Omar Khalid Khurasani, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad and others after fleeing to Afghanistan in 2009 regrouped their militants in two years’ time and started attacking targets in Mohmand and Bajaur tribal agencies as well as in Dir and Chitral.
2011 proved to be an extremely challenging year for Pakistan. It saw Raymond Davis episode in January, followed by aerial stealth attack in Abbottabad on May 2 to get Osama, destruction of three PC-3 Orions at Mehran naval base on May 22, memo gate scandal in October and NATO’s attack on military posts in Mohmand Agency on November 26 which broke the patience of Pakistan.
In reaction to the unwarranted attack by Apache helicopters killing scores of Pak soldiers, Pakistan closed Shamsi airbase, in use of CIA for use of drones and for clandestine operations in Baluchistan and against Iran, closed NATO supply routes, terminated training of Frontier Corps by US-UK trainers, cancelled military visits/courses and stopped intelligence sharing. Pak-US relations hit rock bottom, till Washington apologized for the brazen attack in July 2012.
Fazlullah was appointed Amir of TTP after Hakimulllah was killed by a drone in early 2014. Once peace talks with TTP failed and the terrorists attacked Jinnah airport in Karachi on June 9, 2014, Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched on June 14 and by end of the year the two major towns were taken over.
Terror attack on a school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014 further energized the operation and led to a National Action Plan (NAP) to root out terrorism once and for all. The whole of NW was cleared of the presence of all militant groups including Haqqani network, Hafiz Gul Bahadar group and IMU group by mid-2015, thus re-establishing writ of the state in all parts of the country.
The entire lot of militants pushed out from the last sanctuary of NW fled to Afghanistan where they were welcomed by NDS and RAW and settled in safe havens of Kunar, Nuristan and Nangarhar. During this time, Daesh was brought in by RAW and married up with Jamaatul Ahrar (JA), an offshoot of TTP, in Nangarhar.
The militants shifted their attacks in Pakistan from the northwest to southwest where RAW had activated several supply routes across the Durand Line as well as Makran Coast and Iran border with the help of their agent Kalbushan Yadav based at Chahbahar. Simultaneously, Indian Army kept the Line of Control and Working Boundary in Kashmir heated up in 2nd half of 2014, throughout 2015-2016 and early 2017.
In Afghanistan, after failing to defeat or contain Taliban resurgence despite two troop surges, intensification of drone strikes and night raids, bulk of 1,30,000 ISAF troops returned home by December 2014 in accordance with the 2011 withdrawal plan announced by Obama administration and left behind 12000 strong Resolute Support group to bolster the spirits of ANSF. Casualty rate of ANSF and civilians jumped up in 2015. The year 2016 was most expensive and death rate in 2017 is exceeding the figures of last year.
Like his predecessors, Gen Nicholson has called for deployment of more troops in Afghanistan. He proposed holistic review of relations with Pakistan but repeated the mantra of ‘HN’ and ‘safe havens’. Centcom Commander Gen Votel upheld Nicholson’s assessment of troops. He and the US State Department acknowledged the need for continued cooperation with Pakistan in counter terrorism. Defence Secretary Mattis is so far tightlipped and has not given any commitment to troop surge. Trump is yet to unveil his policy on war in Afghanistan and it is not clear whether he will accept or decline the request for troop reinforcement.
What should be clear to the Trump Administration and Pentagon is that seeking additional troops to break the stalemate in Afghan war is an admission of outright victory of Taliban. Induction of few thousand troops will not reverse the tide against the Taliban and convert defeat into victory.
The US military and inefficient and corrupt Afghan unity government have totally failed in nation building, in defeating Taliban, in curbing illicit drug trade and other vices and in improving the moral turpitude and fighting capacity of ANSF rived in host of shortcomings.
In Pakistan, 2016 witnessed surge of attacks in Baluchistan which was in reaction to fast paced development of CPEC. 110 terror attacks occurred in the province. All the major attacks like the ones in civil hospital Quetta killing over 70 people, mostly lawyers, Quetta Police Academy killing newly passed out 60 police officials and a shrine in Khuzdar were claimed by TTP, JA and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Alami (LeJ-AA) and not by the Baloch rebel groups. Wad in Baluchistan was made into a sanctuary.
Daesh in Afghanistan is entirely composed of militants from TTP, JA, LeJ-AA and it aspires to create Khurasan State. Several TTP leaders have pledged allegiance to Caliph Baghdadi.
Recent resurgence of terrorism in Pakistan in February 2017 in Punjab, KP and Sindh claiming over 100 fatalities in a week was again in reaction to commissioning of CPEC and Gwadar seaport and also because of the emerging triangle of Russia-China-Pakistan, seen as a threat to Indo-US strategic ambitions.
While Pentagon continue to view relations with Pakistan through the Afghan prism, Indo-Afghan-US axis suspects that Pakistan supports Taliban and HN; and the US views Russia and Iran’s linkage with Afghan Taliban with deep concern.
Indian lobby assisted by Jewish lobby, the US Congress and media is working assiduously through the US think tanks to keep Pakistan-US relations strained. Pakistan’s former US ambassador Hussain Haqqani having sold his soul is assiduously working on the Indo-US agenda to find a place in Trump Administration.
While US-India-Afghanistan block believes in exporting terrorism to the regional countries for the accomplishment of their geo-economic and geo-strategic interests, Russia-China-Pakistan grouping is non-militaristic, is peace oriented and aspires to stabilize Afghanistan to promote peace and prosperity in the region through the concept of connectivity and development. CPEC which connects Kashgar with Gwadar is the lifeline of this concept.
Purpose behind the new wave of terrorism is to convey to the world that Pakistan is still unstable and insecure and that foreign investment in CPEC will be highly risky.
Rather than getting nervous, spate of terrorism has brought the nation together and reinvigorated the old resolve that was seen in the aftermath of ghastly terror attack in Peshawar. The civil and military leadership that had seen ups and downs in their relations have come on one page and have resolved to root out the menace of terrorism that has become an existential threat because of its linkage with foreign hands and has a dangerous agenda to fragment Pakistan.
The 20-point NAP devised in January 2015 had laid out a comprehensive strategy for combating the militant threat. While the aspects required to be executed by the Army were undertaken with full vigor and commitment to re-establish writ of the government in all parts of the country, the federal and provincial governments and the judiciary lagged behind because of which the military operations in the northwest, Baluchistan and Karachi couldn’t achieve 100% conclusive results.
Operation Raddul Fassad was launched on February 16, 2017 in all parts of Pakistan in continuation of earlier operations including the last one Operation Zarb-e-Azb followed by Khyber-3 and Khyber-4 in Khyber Agency.
Piecemeal military operations in specific troubled spots had brought temporary relief but didn’t produce wholesome tangible results to cure the cancer of terrorism. This time, greater interaction between federal and provincial governments has been emphasized to accomplish far reaching and conclusive outcomes.
Intelligence driven targeted combing operations are being carried out in major urban centres in all the provinces including Punjab which till now was reluctant to seek or accept Army or Ranger’s support. These operations are aimed at preventing the terrorists from shifting from one province to the other to elude arrest, destroying sleeping cells, getting hold of facilitators, handlers and financiers hiding in urban centres.
Purpose is to break the nexus between Afghanistan based terrorists and facilitators/handlers/financiers based in Pakistan.
Facilitators and handlers of terrorists trained and launched from Kunar, Nuristan, Nangarhar and Lashkargah among the clusters of Afghan refugees in KP, Baluchistan, Karachi and Punjab are being nabbed in big numbers.
Over 3 million Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan since 1979 having become a security hazard are now being returned despite protests made by Kabul and certain elements in KP and Baluchistan. They are being sent home with dignity and hopefully by end 2017, bulk would return. Registered and security cleared refugees and married to Pakistani women would be allowed to stay if they wish to.
To prevent cross border terrorism undertaken by TTP-JA-Daesh under direct supervision of RAW-NDS combine from Afghanistan, effective border management measures have been taken irrespective of hue and cry made by Afghan regime. These include installing biometric system, improving checking and vigilance system to ensure that no one crosses without valid visa, fencing the border, digging a trench all along the border, and manning all crossing points. These border management steps have been taken unilaterally after refusing to evoke a positive response from Kabul for joint management of the western border.
Crossing points at Torkham and Chaman on Durand Line were opened on humanitarian grounds on March 20 after keeping them closed for 32 days, hoping that Kabul would address the causations that had forced Islamabad to take this unpleasant step.
For the first time forward terrorist camps/launching pads of TTP-JA-Daesh situated close to the border have been targeted with precision.
Return and rehabilitation of internally displaced persons from Waziristan and other tribal agencies have been speeded up. Army is playing a big role in reconstruction of war damaged FATA.
The government has approved long awaited reforms in FATA which includes getting rid of British imposed Frontier Crimes Regulations, bringing the people of FATA under the jurisdiction of Supreme Court and district courts KP, and merging it into KP in next five years. These steps are in the right direction and will help a great deal in removing the deprivations of the tribespeople.
The long overdue NAP is now being vigorously expedited. All three military services, paramilitary forces and intelligence agencies have been coopted. Besides activation of National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), both at federal and provincial levels, Joint Intelligence Directorate comprising 23 intelligence agencies has been activated. Counter terrorism force at federal and provincial levels have been raised. Majority of Madrassas are registered and suspected ones closed; 98.3% SIMs used by terrorists blocked; 33,800 unlicensed weapons including heavy weapons recovered from Karachi alone where there is 90% decrease in terrorism; thousands of suspects arrested; ten websites and 937 uniform resource locators in use of proscribed organizations blocked; cases against 17562 making hate speeches/distributing extremist literature registered; restrictions imposed on social media.
Since no work has been done to remove flaws in criminal justice system, military courts that had been made to function for two years from January 2015 till January 2017 have once again been revived for two years to speed up disposal of cases of terrorism. Only PPP created hurdles fearing that its top leadership involved in mega corruption and financial terrorism might not come in the grip of military courts.
PPP has run into deeper troubles due to poor governance in Sindh and recent revelations made by former ambassador to USA Hussain Haqqani about involvement of Zardari and Yusaf Gilani in Abbottabad raid in May 2011 and Memo gate scandal in October that year. It has further spoiled its image by creating hurdles in the way of much delayed population census.
Successful holding of ECO Summit in Islamabad which was attended by heads of states and PMs of 8 countries followed by PSL cricket finals in Lahore has given a healthy message to all and sundry that Pakistan will not get overawed by foreign aided terrorism and has the tenacity and capacity to defeat terrorism.
The writer is retired Brig, war veteran, defence analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, DG Measac Research Centre, Member Executive Council Ex-Servicemen Society. firstname.lastname@example.org