WESTERN MEDIA BRUITS
By Faheem Belharvi
Recent international media propagations have once again figured out Pakistan’s tribal areas as a global jihad hub consisting of thousands of foreign fighters from diverse countries. AFP reported that “Pakistan is still a major destination for radicalised Muslims bent on a life of jihad, despite hundreds of US drone strikes, the death of Osama bin Laden and the fracturing of Al-Qaeda.
There could be around 2,000 to 3,500 foreign fighters in the border areas from around 30 different countries”. It is strange that how a professional news agency floated such a report which is violative of it’s own standards of journalistic ethics. A bird’s eye view of this news report denoted that it projected a misleading opinion rather than presenting the factual position on the ground.
The propaganda was then, wittingly or unwittingly, picked up by some Pakistani media outlets and journalists without obtaining narrative of Pakistan security institutions over the issue. TTP also, hurriedly seized the opportunity to identify itself as a “global jihadist organization” by launching a video comprising of its slain western affiliates and gave an impression that TTP was actually organizing white jihadists in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Such misinformation spread by western media is nothing new, rather just an old wine in a new bottle, as it is aimed at maligning Pakistan for nurturing terrorist training camps against coalition forces in Afghanistan and undermining its role after US-NATO withdrawal in 2014.
Recently, Afghan authorities have categorically recognized Pakistan’s importance for the country’s security after the withdrawal of coalition troops from Afghanistan. An Afghan delegation headed by Afghan Defence Minister Bismillah Khan came to Pakistan in January on a 5-day visit and showed willingness to accept Pakistan’s offer to train Afghan troops.
The defense team’s visit manifested that Afghans are finally convinced about the role of Pakistan in both countries combined endeavours to mitigate insurgency in the region. However, some hostile countries do not want Pakistan to acquire significance and a greater role in the region, therefore projecting Pakistan in clutches of foreign insurgents, to reflect that a terrorism engulfed state would not be able to help Afghanistan stand on its feet after 2014 withdrawal.
Coming to the issue of increased white jihadists in Pakistan; it would be right to say that in recent years Pakistan’s security forces’ crackdown against foreign militants has helped in reducing cross-border militant infiltration from Afghanistan to the Pakistani tribal areas. Security forces’ operations have constrained the space for foreign operatives; besides dismantling their infrastructure and hideouts.
Security officials articulated that in a number of operations against Al-Qaeda and its foreign operatives; thousands of foreign militants have been killed and hundreds of them have been apprehended. In addition, scores of foreign militants were killed in drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas including Tahir Yuldashev, Usman Adil of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and Mustafa Abu Yazid, Abu Laith Al Libi of Al-Qaeda, which has discouraged these operatives from advancing towards FATA. Operatives from western countries say that they are now afraid to come to Pakistan because of Pakistan military crackdown and drone strikes.
Militants seeking Jihad in Afghanistan now focus towards the sanctuaries and training camps in Afghanistan’s Nuristan and Kunar provinces. These training camps comprise of thousands of local Afghan militants and foreign operatives, who are highly motivated to thrust out their anger towards invading forces in Afghanistan.
Recent surge in attacks on US and NATO troops has made the fact quite evident. These miscreants are also involved in heinous crimes like kidnapping, extortion of money, terrorist activities and drug trafficking within Afghanistan. Sources in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Tribal and Border Affairs confided that these miscreants were launched into Pakistani territory and adjoining areas to create mistrust between Islamabad and Kabul, as friendly relations between the two do not serve the long-term objectives of regional and international players in the region.
Besides, Arab spring and conflict in North Africa also diverted the focus of foreign fighters from Pakistan towards Middle Eastern and African countries. Al-Qaeda’s foreign affiliates who once travelled to Pakistan are now joining Al-Qaeda’s affiliated groups such as Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Shabab and Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), for which Al-Qaeda provides them practical expertise, weapons and communication skills.
Western intelligence officials also believe that the number of Al-Qaeda operatives and its foreign affiliates in Pakistan tribal areas has fallen to the “low hundreds”, as most of them are either on the run or finding sanctuaries in Middle Eastern and African countries. Moreover, Long War Journal cited that hundreds of foreign jihadists poured into northern Mali in recent months to help armed Islamist groups. Residents of the cities of Timbuktu and Gao, Malian security officials and Islamist commanders all confirmed that there had been a huge influx of foreign fighters over the past few months.
In a scenario where focus of the global militants has been diverted away from Af-Pak region and international community is more concerned towards conflicts in Syria, Libya and Somalia; baseless reporting regarding inflow of foreign operatives into Pakistan merits no serious concern. It is a mere propaganda tactic and a sequel to international media’s sinister designs to discredit Pakistan’s role in war on terror. Pakistani security forces are extending remarkable services to reduce infiltration of foreign militants into the country’s territory. Therefore, Pakistani media and intelligentsia must be taken on board by the concerned authorities to play their role in dispelling such misperceptions.