Where Zarb-e-Azb might be headed, and what it will counter
“Terrorism cannot be eliminated without intelligence-based operations throughout the country – particularly in Southern Punjab and Sindh,” Corps Commander Peshawar Lt Gen Khalid Rabbani said while briefing on Zarb-e-Azb at the National Defence University.
It is a late realisation and one is not sure if it represents a genuine change of heart. In fact a former COAS was directly responsible for sowing the wind in South Punjab that turned into a whirlwind which the entire nation had to reap
Appearing before a select committee of the Senate in 2012 , former director-general of FIA Tariq Khosa, who has the reputation of being a highly efficient and honest police officer, recalled how sectarian groups like the Sipah-e-Sahaba received official patronage at the highest level in the 1980s.
Reminiscing about his early days in police force, he said when he was an ASP in Jhang district, he apprehended Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, the founder of the SSP, for delivering a provocative speech. But the then president Ziaul Haq himself intervened for his release. In another incident he had hauled up a cache of weapons, but was asked to it that on directives from none other than Gen Zia.
Patronisation of the terrorists did not end with Zia. It continued under Musharraf. After 9/11, according to Khosa, dealing with al Qaeda and Taliban became an exclusive domain of ISI’s counter-terrorism wing. A survey had revealed that 25,000 young men hailing from Punjab had been trained in Afghanistan. Based on the findings, Khosa had recommended their de-radicalisation. He regretted during the testimony that not much had been done in that direction. “The mastermind of last month’s Kamra attack was also someone who had fought in Afghanistan”, the former FIA chief said.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Tayaba and Jaish-e-Muhammad were not only formed by leaders hailing from South Punjab but also have recruited the largest number of activists from the region
Tariq Khosa’s testimony ends with this. But the patronisation of terrorist networks under new names continued by those who mattered during the 2008-2013 PPP era.
Before proceeding further let me quote from another insider about the rise of extremism and how it got support from high quarters. Riaz Mohammad Khan, former Foreign Secretary has this to say:
“The Sunni fringe groups responsible for sectarian violence were at times intermingled with jihadi organisations. Religious militancy thus acquired a dual persona, complicating Pakistan’s task of rooting it out. Pakistani governments in the 1990s as well as early Musharraf government saw the problem but addressed it in largely selected and compartmentalised fashion. For example, throughout the 1990’s while sectarian violence was seen as a bane and steps were taken to counter it, the jihadi groups, regardless of their Sunni sectarian affiliations, were cosseted by the military as assets in support of the uprising in Kashmir. Lashkare-e-Tayaba and Jaish-e-Muhmmad were known to enjoy such backing.”
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Tayaba and Jaish-e-Muhammad were not only formed by leaders hailing from South Punjab but also have recruited the largest number of activists from the region.
LeJ is an off shoot of Sipah-e –Sahaba Pakistan which was considered highly useful because of its links with the Afghan Taliban. The network’s activists had fought shoulder to shoulder with Mullah Umar’s religious militia against the Northern Alliance. They were involved in large scale killings of members of the Shi’a community
The LeJ was thus treated as an asset which, along with the Haqqanis, could help create a friendly government in Afghanistan after the departure of the foreign troops. Commenting on the insurgency and unending killings in Balochistan, a retired army officer belonging to the ethnic Hazara community told a delegation in Quetta last year, “The army needs to decide if it wants to keep Balochistan or Afghanistan.”
In 2011 it suited the offstage players to bring together 40 organisations of the sort to constitute the Difae-Pakistan Council. The Council is a collection of extremist militants of various shades. It includes Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the banned LeT and currently chief of Jamaatud Daawa, Malik Ishaque, chief of the banned LeJ, Ahmad Saeed Ludhianvi, emir of Ahl-e-Sunnat wal Jamaat , and Fazlur Rehman Khaleel, a founder of Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM) and current leader of Ansarul Umma. Khalil was a signatory of Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa calling for an international front against Jews and Crusaders. The leading lights of the DPC also include former ISI chief Hamid Gul, Sheikh Rashid and a Jamaat-e-Islami representative. Samilul Haq, the so called father of the Taliban, was appointed the chairman of the DPC.
Stephen Tankel, who authored “Storming the World Stage”, maintained it was set up as a dual purpose organisation.
“The military would have many reasons to give the DPC tacit approval. It serves as a convenient stalking horse for an army which wants to maintain a relationship with the United States while also being able to insist in negotiations with Washington that the people of Pakistan will not tolerate too many concessions. It is a reminder to the civilian government not to be over-enthusiastic in improving ties with India (talks on Pakistan giving MFN status to India have stalled). And the very public rallies of the DPC also allow the army to reassert its authority after being fought to a stalemate with the civilian government in a row over an unsigned memo which purported to seek American help in reining in the power of the military.”
The DPC is a tightly controlled outfit which becomes active when required by its godfathers. In 2012 it was told to march on Islamabad against the resumption of NATO supply lines after seven months of blockade
The DPC is a tightly controlled outfit which becomes active when required by its godfathers. In 2012 it was told to march on Islamabad against the resumption of NATO supply lines after seven months of blockade. “Leaders sitting in parliament have decided to hand over the country to the US”, roared Samilul Haq during his speech. Under the PML-N government, the DPC maintained a stony silence. It wouldn’t move a finger when Imran Khan initiated a campaign to block the NATO supplies.
And now we hear about Punjabi Taliban having changed their spots and planning to join the Shariat band. Apparently the magician’s wand has brought the change about.
Ismatullah Muawiya, the chief of a blood thirsty terrorist group which was a part of the TTP till recently, has announced his group was giving up armed struggle in Pakistan.
And see who has taken lead in welcoming him! It is Pervez Musharraf. The former military ruler was among the first to issue a statement hailing the decision. “Ending terrorist activities by Punjabi Taliban is a welcome decision and a victory of the armed forces of Pakistan,” he said.
Muavia has announced a four point future programme comprising pursuit of the implementation of Shariah in the country through ‘peaceful means’ and relief activities in flood hit areas of Punjab. Further that he would limit the use of force to “infidel forces” presumably inside Pakistan and continue jihad in Afghanistan.
Implementation of Sharia through peaceful means caught the imagination of the extremist networks after the PTI/PAT march on Islamabad and the ‘peaceful’ occupation of the Red Zone. Among the first to take note was Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan emir Mullah Fazlullah, who said early this month that “30,000 people have captured Islamabad. They have made the task easy for us.” In real life, implementation of Shariat means opposition to democracy and enforcement of narrow Salfist interpretation of Islam unacceptable to the majority of this country.
Like JuD which takes part in flood relief activities besides conducting virulent campaign against India and the west, the Punjabi Taliban have also vowed to help the flood victims.
The announcement by Ismatullah Muavia regarding continuing the jihad in Afghanistan would have already led to protests and accusations from Afghanistan. Pakistan cannot afford to allow the group the use of its soil to attack any neighbouring country.
With Punjabi Taliban entering the scene, we will have once more source of worry not only in South Punjab but the entire country. With them fighting in the mountains, they were a visible target. Henceforth they would be like Hamlet’s ghost “‘Tis here! ‘Tis here. ‘Tis gone.”